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The Quiet Commissioner

By Alex Goble, Staff Writer

            Jerry Barnes announced his candidacy for Pickens County District 1 Commissioner in April 2012. A lifelong resident of the west district, he was well-known in the Hinton community and a Georgia Farm Bureau agent for 23 years before retiring “to fully dedicate myself to representing my fellow District 1 west residents,” according to his original 2012 announcement.

            Over the decade that ensued, if you attended any county meetings, you probably knew very little about your quiet District 1 commissioner, but if you lived nearby him in the west end of the county then you probably knew quite a bit.

            The list of Barnes’s extensive volunteer and civic organization efforts is a long one: Appalachian Cattleman’s Association, The Future Farmers of America Alumni, Hinton Volunteer Fire Department, Leadership Pickens, Jury Commission, USDA Farm Services Agency, Hinton Precinct Poll Manager, Coosawattee Regional Water & Sewage Authority, Hinton United Methodist Church Chairperson and Choir Director, to name a few.

            It’s the kind of resume citizens should want to see in a commissioner.

            Barnes was elected when the county successfully moved from a single commissioner to a board of commissioners, adding what many refer to as the “side commissioners.”

            Barnes was a quiet “side commissioner” with the public, but there’s no rulebook on what a “side commissioner” can do or should do. Each is there to represent their side of the county in whatever way they see fit, whether that’s loudly giving opinions in public or quietly working behind the scenes.

            Whether he was quiet or not, Barnes’s seat was untouchable while he was in it; he was always returned to office easily and the seat only became someone else’s when he voluntarily stepped down due to health concerns last week. He never caused a ruckus and kept his work behind the scenes. And maybe that’s what we need more often.

            Barnes stepping down last week reminded me of something important – that making progress, real progress, the kind that actually changes the outlook of a county or a city, comes mainly from dull,  patient work across a longer timeframe than many of us care to think in.

            Good public servants put hours upon hours into the details of public policy, organization, volunteer work and public service, a community needs people like that.

            Combining ideas and opinions and helping to create policies that few will thank them for and even fewer will read is not fun or exciting, but good government at any level and good community work comes from people who are willing to work like that. Running meetings that can range from well-attended and contentious to empty and slow is part and parcel of the job.

            It’s easy to shout or comment from the outside, but it’s more difficult to work inside making sure things keep rolling in the right direction. So here’s to Jerry Barnes and all the quiet workers with name tags on, sitting in government meetings and offices. And to all the community leaders and volunteers that make this county tick forward one day at a time. They deserve some recognition and some occasional light shed on what they do.

            As Barnes said in his original announcement “I look forward to the opportunity to give back to the community that has had such a profound and positive impact on my life.”

            As all who feel the same should.

            See tribute to Jerry Barnes from Rep. Rick Jasperse on Page 6A.

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