Stalnaker remains a novice at campaigns

wcrenshaw@macon.comApril 20, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker will start his second term in office next year without ever having to actually campaign.

When the longtime county employee first ran for the seat four years ago, no one qualified against him. In March, no one qualified to oppose him for his second term.

Commissioner Tom McMichael cited four reasons for that.

“Number one, he’s well-liked by the people,” McMichael began. “Number two, he does a good job. Number three, he builds consensus. And number four, I don’t know of anybody who can beat him.”

Stalnaker, 63, is a Houston County native and graduated from Warner Robins High School. He played on the school’s basketball team and later went on to serve as a high school referee for 28 years.

One player he remembers well is Herschel Walker, who is from Wrightsville.

“Everyone knows him as a football player, but he was an outstanding basketball player, and one of the politest young men you would ever meet on a basketball floor,” Stalnaker said.

Refereeing basketball actually turned out to be good training for serving as commission chairman.

“You are making decisions that are not going to make people happy,” he said. “You are trying to enforce the rules in basketball, and the rules and laws of the county government on the other side, and as long as you enforce those rules fairly to the best of your ability, people will respect you.”

With the speed of the game, refereeing basketball also instills another quality important to success in most any job, and that’s laser-beam focus.

“When you are officiating basketball, you are in deep concentration all the time,” he said. “If you let your mind wander, things start slipping away from you. At the end of a game, you are physically and mentally exhausted because of the deep concentration.”

He was good enough at it that he was selected to officiate championship games.

Stalnaker graduated from Georgia Southern University in 1972 and was hired by Houston County to direct the recreation program. He did that until 1989, when he was asked to start working in public works.

He was serving as director of operations in 2010 when Commission Chairman Ned Sanders announced he would not run for re-election. With 38 years working for the county at that time, Stalnaker decided to retire and run for Sanders’ seat.

He said he felt honored that no one qualified to run against him the first time, and even more so when no one did after he had served for three years.

“When you don’t have opposition, at least the way I take it, it’s not something you should take lightly,” he said. “Actually, I think there is probably a little more self-imposed pressure put on you because of the expectations you feel others have of you.”

At a time when the growth of the county’s tax digest has slowed, Stalnaker said he is proud of the fact that during his term the county has stayed within budget, while giving employees a raise each year and avoiding furloughs without raising taxes. Continuing that in his next term is his top priority, he said.

He is known to be tight with a dollar.

“He’s a penny pincher. There’s no doubt about it,” McMichael said. “He can account for every nickel the county spends. Through his leadership, the county is financially strong.”

Stalnaker said he isn’t so tight that he fails to recognize when money must be spent to make sure employees have what they need to do their jobs.

Until recently, he worked on a computer that was 12 years old, one of the oldest among all county employees. He said he finally had to get it replaced because it just became too slow.

Although he didn’t use the word “consolidation,” another priority in his next term is to look at services the cities and county provide to consider whether at least some of those can be combined.

“I think economics will force merger of some services, and I hope we don’t wait so long that economics forces it,” he said “I hope that people holding public office will make things happen without being forced. I don’t see how economics can support the multiple level of services that we have throughout this county.”

Stalnaker is still at an age where he could serve quite a while longer, but he didn’t make any commitments for his plans beyond the next term.

“I’m not making holding public office a second career. I will tell you that,” he said. “I’m not looking for a lifelong journey.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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