Mike O'Neal

The 2016 elections — the results of which will be debated, dissected and detested for years to come — are behind us and next Thursday a new commander-in-chief will be sworn in. With the election of President Donald Trump the nation as we know it could very possibly undergo extreme change.

We'll all have to wait and see.

Closer to home, Shannon Whitfield ran a campaign by portraying himself as a agent of change, one so successful that he was elected — by a more than 3-1 margin — Walker County's first new commissioner in 16 years.

Since assuming his new duties on Jan. 1, 2017, Whitfield has been busy fulfilling some of the promises made before general election.

While a President is usually judged on the accomplishments and tone of administration during the first 100 days in office, that timeline was never considered locally.

Within days of taking office, more than a changing of the locks at the commissioner's office was underway.

New faces have been named to oversee all emergency and first responder services (except for those handled by Sheriff Steve Wilson), the position of county coordinator has been eliminated, a new communications director has been hired — and this has all transpired within the first 10 days of Whitfield's taking the reins of local governance.

The commissioner has announced a set schedule of public meetings. Twice each month there will be regular open meetings to both allow residents to bring issues before the commissioner in a public setting while at the same time making the county's business a matter of record.

Whitfield consistently stressed a need for transparency in government and in how the taxpayer money was being spent. Open accounts and accountability are central to a new way of doing business in Walker County, according to Whitfield who has been a businessman his entire adult life.

And with a business background, he is aware that a handshake and a personal pledge are keys to building a reputation for honesty and fairness business dealings. The same is true in government.

Even before he won the GOP primary, Whitfield said he intended to run on a platform that would make it possible, if elected, to make his job obsolete. His goal, repeated again and again, was to guide the process that will allow voters to decide if the sole commissioner form of county government should be replaced by a multi-member commission.

Such a change requires legislative action by state government, adoption of a local referendum and a careful consideration of how a multi-member board would be structured and how it would be led. The process takes at least four years — so it could be possible that Whitfield could be the last sole commissioner and among the first of a board of commissioners.

Though much of what is to come remains uncertain, that change is underway in Walker County is certain.

The sun today is shining brightly in our county.

Let's hope it is a harbinger of bright days ahead as we welcome a new year and a new leader for our county.

Mike O'Neal, assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger, can be reached by email at moneal@npco.com or by phone at 706-935-2621.

Mike O'Neal is assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga. He can be reached at the Messenger office at 706-638-1859 and by email at moneal@npco.com.