If one theme stands out for 2021, it would have to be the changing of the guard.
New people have filled numerous positions of authority, replacing longtime figures whose names frequently appeared in our pages. They include two new school superintendents, Brian Jett and Wayne Liles, taking over for the retiring Jim Cunningham and Guntersville’s new head Jason Barnett. Mayor Brian Baine occupying the retiring Larry Chesser’s old office at Fort Payne City Hall and Council members Phillip Smith and John Smith now have seats held last year by Wade Hill and Red Taylor.
Chief David Davis replaced Randy Bynum at the Fort Payne Police Department, while Chief Michael Edmondson took over at the Rainsville Police Department for Kevin Smith. Bynum took on a new role with the Fort Payne school board.
The search for a CEO continues at DeKalb Regional Medical Center, where Bob Moore now serves as the interim CEO following Patrick Trammell’s announcement he would step down after five years in that role in August; I hope Moore stays with us for a spell. Paul Nail told me he is working toward his much-deserved retirement from the Fort Payne Water Works Board in the near future. Our former publisher, Tricia, worked as city treasurer with the soon-retiring City Clerk Andy Parker to produce Fort Payne’s new budget well ahead of the start of the fiscal year, which never happens. I’m sure I’m leaving out others worthy of mentioning.
Maybe there have been equal moments of musical chairs in the past, but I don’t recall this much change all occurring within a couple of years. There’s potential for much growth if we make wise choices, invest in future leaders and adopt the correct mindset.
This week, we saw Cunningham go out on top, sharing the stage with Jett at both a retirement event at the new school he was instrumental in creating and at Fort Payne High School, where the governor visited to break ground for what looks to be an amazing new vocational training facility. It makes me happy imagining Jim trading his suits and ties for a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, playing with his grandson and traveling around the country behind the wheel of a Winnebago. He has certainly earned his retirement.
We’re fortunate to have someone as experienced as Jett to take the reins, ensuring a seamless transition. I’d be willing to bet there’s someone working his or her way up through our extraordinary school system to be ready to compete for the gig when Jett eventually retires. The trick is staying around long enough to leave with a record as incredible as Cunningham’s while avoiding the land mines on that career path.
Also announcing plans this week to hit the road soon (well, starting January 2023) is DeKalb County District Attorney Michael O’Dell, who has worked in the DA’s office since 1981 and was appointed by Fob James to replace the retiring Richard Igou in 1996. He’s seen a lot in those four decades and shaped the way local law enforcement dealt with serious problems in our society. We owe him our gratitude for all of those hours spent helping our area deal with a huge drug problem, getting child support and justice for families and children, shaping the next generation of law enforcement and prosecutors with the establishment of the Alabama Investigator Academy as it held its first session on February 23, 2021, along with his advisory work for Northeast Alabama Community College’s Center for Applied Forensics.
O’Dell manages five attorneys who handle as many as 2,500 felonies and between 5,000-10,000 misdemeanors between the two county offices. About 3,000 citizens have witnessed O’Dell conducting 320 Grand Jury sessions. During his career, he successfully prosecuted more than 200 homicide cases and dozens of child abuse and sexual assault cases. Remarkably, since taking the top job, his office has not lost a single homicide or child abuse case. Equally amazing is the fact that he won re-election four times without any opposition. He stands as the second-longest serving prosecutor in Alabama history, topped only by retiring DA Ken Davis of Phenix City, who has served for almost 44 years.
Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s inevitable. And to quote the wise Yoda, “the shadow of greed, attachment is.”
Fresh faces bring fresh ideas. I am grateful that we’ve had things so good for so long and appreciate those willing to step up to the plate, take on leadership roles and serve their communities.
— Steven Stiefel is the Times-Journal’s publisher. His column appears in Saturday editions.