Tommy French

Baldwin County commissioner Tommy French (center) accepts the gavel to become the 2018 commission chairman from Commissioner Sammy Hall following last Tuesday night’s Board of Commissioners meeting at the courthouse in Milledgeville. Commissioner Johnny Westmoreland, (far left), was elected the commission panel’s new vice-chairman for the year.

Now that the new year has begun, several big changes have been made in the leadership of government in Baldwin County.

Two of those changes came last week with the appointment by members of the Baldwin County Board of Commissioners naming Steve Somers as the county’s new fire chief and director of Emergency Management Agency, along with Commissioner Tommy French being elected the new commission chairman.

Earlier, commissioners hired Carlos Tobar as the county’s new manager. He replaces Ralph McMullen, who held that position for several years until he retired late last year.

Before Tobar was hired, commissioners re-established a position that had been abolished after McMullen left his position as assistant county manager to become county manager. Now that the position has been re-created, Dawn Hudson will fill that position, as well as serve as the county’s finance director.

During an interview with The Union-Recorder last Wednesday, French said he was looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead for him and fellow commissioners this year.

“I’m truly humbled to be elected the new commission chairman,” said French, noting that commissioners discussed last year changing who holds the position of chairman.

French, who previously served as vice-chairman, praised Hall for his role as chairman of the county commission the last five years.

“He’s done a great job facilitating the meetings,” French said of Hall’s leadership.

As Baldwin County’s new commission chairman, French said he plans to approach the new position from a business manner.

“I want to make sure that all the commissioners’ concerns are heard, and that we establish a good working relationship with our new county manager and new assistant manager,” French said. “And I want to make sure that the business of the people of Baldwin County continues to move smoothly.”

One of the most pressing issues going forward at this time deals with commissioners making a decision about whether or not to go adopt the International Property Maintenance Code, French said.

“It’s certainly not the only issue, but it is something that we have to decide upon sometime soon, I believe,” French said. 

The topic already has become a controversial one, and has drawn favorable, as well as unfavorable comments at two public hearings.

“The issue is not actually the IPMC,” French said. “It’s finding a way to get the citizens to clean up certain property, and in a way that’s not going to oppress anyone - that’s really the true issue.”

French said commissioners and other county government officials were not trying to adopt the IPMC so they could look into the homes of residents.

“And we’re not trying to take anyone’s home or to penalize anyone,” French said. “Our major concern is to have people clean up blighted areas on their property. That concern isn’t just for aesthetic reasons, but, economically when people come and build in this county, they come here to build their families, too. We want new people who decide to come to live in Baldwin County to have a good impression of the county, not a bad one.”

The new commission chairman said commissioners want to do everything they can do to attract new industry to Baldwin County and in order to accomplish that goal the county needs to be as attractive as it possibly can be in all ways.

French said he believes there would be some resolve to the problem in the near future.

He said he wanted all residents to know that the county wasn’t trying to take anyone’s property.

“It’s a nightmare when you have so many abandoned houses being used for everything in the world, and people living next door to them are being terrorized by it,” French said. “It’s a shame. We haven’t been able to do anything about this problem as commissioners. It’s sad and now we need to do something about it.”

When nothing gets done, people begin to lose hope, he added.

“It’s time we did something about this problem in Baldwin County,” French said. “When you’re talking about moving into a community and investing millions of dollars to bring hundreds or thousands of jobs and bringing your family to live in our school system and for your family to live and eat in that community, you want to look around at the recreational facilities, etc. Those things are primary to those thinking about moving to our county.”

French said if Baldwin County’s corridors and neighborhoods remained unkempt, that such could effect an economic decision by a large company or industry to come to Baldwin County.

“We have to take that into consideration,” French said. “We want to try and make Baldwin County as conducive as possible, not only now but for the future, too.”

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