Haywood County Commissioner Mark Swanger has found himself in a comfortable old seat after taking over the chairmanship at the board’s Monday meeting.
It was the first meeting of the newly-elected board, though it bears only one new face — Michael Sorrells, who snapped up the seat vacated by the departing Skeeter Curtis.
Ahead of the vote for chairman, Kirk Kirpatrick, who spent the last term as chair, asked not to be nominated again. He cited a busy family and work schedule that would leave little room for the extra work of chairman.
“I do enjoy it but it is difficult,” Kirkpatrick told the crowd before pulling his name from consideration. He was, however, voted vice chairman, a position he accepted.
After a quick, unanimous vote, second-term commissioner Swanger was appointed to the post, which he held during his first term from 2002-2006. He also has a tenure as school board chairman under his belt, garnered during his six-year service there.
Swanger expressed thanks and support for Kirkpatrick before taking the helm of the meeting.
“Over the last two years, he has done an exceptional job and had he chosen to continue, I would have enthusiastically supported him,” Swanger said.
When asked where he intends to lead the board over the next two years, Swanger cited the economy as continuing to be the most pressing issue facing Haywood County.
“I think that probably the biggest challenges we’ll have, of course, are the budget issues and finding ways to provide services to the citizens of the county,” said Swanger in an interview. “The recession is allegedly over, but revenues certainly don’t support that notion.”
Swanger said that the board will have to navigate the uncertain waters of the state budget, which is likely to change — and possibly change the game for counties and how they operate.
“It will be a challenge, and much of that challenge will depend on the state budget, how it affects counties,” said Swanger. “Will there be a transfer of responsibility from the state back to the county, will there be cost sharing that was not previously a part of the challenge?”
One of the other big projects on the new board’s plate will be getting the Department of Social Services and the health department into their new home in Clyde’s former Wal-Mart while pushing through the revamp of their old digs into housing for low-income seniors. Swanger said he hoped the new board would make this a priority.
As he takes on this new role, Swanger, who just turned 60, said he’s not sure if there’s an end in sight to his public service career.
“I’ve been in public service my entire adult life, with the military and FBI and school board and two terms as county commissioner,” said Swanger. “I don’t know when I’ll say enough’s enough. I’ll just have to see.”