WARNER ROBINS — Ned Sanders says he is ending his political career because he wants to devote more time to family and outside interests while he’s still healthy.
He’ll be 79 when his second full term as chairman of the Houston County Commission winds down in December.
“I’m in reasonably good physical and mental condition, even though some people may doubt that,” Sanders said Thursday morning to laughter from the supporters and local officials who packed the commission chambers at the Houston County Annex. “There are many things I would like to do while I’m still able to do so, and there’s a little time left for me to enjoy a few years, hopefully, of my life.”
The announcement came just shy of 10 years since Sanders was elected. His predecessor, Sherrill Stafford, died May 9, 2000, while still in office. Sanders, who ran unsuccessfully against Stafford for the post in 1998, was elected in a July 2000 special election. Since, he has become the go-to official when information was needed on any topic affecting county dealings.
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Former Houston County District Attorney Kelly Burke is the only person who has publicly announced intentions to run for the chairmanship. County Operations Manager Tommy Stalnaker may be the next to announce an intention to run for the post. He has called a news conference for 11 a.m. Friday in Perry.
Qualifying for the election begins April 26.
Before Thursday’s announcement, Sanders seemed sure for another run, citing projects he wanted to see to completion. He has said that several of Burke’s ideas, including making the chairman’s job a part-time position, would be impossible to execute. Thursday morning, he would not speak on Burke’s candidacy.
“I’d prefer to wait and see who the other candidates are before making any prejudgments,” Sanders said. “As for things left yet unfinished in the county, I believe that the county is progressing and neither I nor anyone else will be able to see everything completed when it comes time to call it quits. However, I am pleased and content with the progress of Houston County while I have been honored to serve as the chairman of the commissioners.”
Currently one of the longest-serving elected officials in Houston County, Sanders has served as a mentor to those coming after him, most recently the three new mayors in Houston County’s three main cities.
“He’s a very knowledgeable person, I’ve got a good working relationship with him,” Perry Mayor Jimmy Faircloth said. “The county has progressed under him. I wish him well in his retirement.”
Centerville Mayor John Harley, who was present for Thursday’s announcement, said he is disappointed for the county over the loss of a great leader. More than anything, he said, the county will lose the know-how Sanders brought to the position as a former engineer.
“It was a reality grasp as opposed to a political grasp,” Harley said of Sanders’ leadership. “Houston County wouldn’t be in nearly as good a shape it’s in without him.”
Sanders’ win in 2000 was his first success in six tries for political office, including a loss to Gov. Sonny Purdue in a state Senate campaign in 1990. As commission chairman, he oversaw several major projects, including the completion of the Houston County courthouse and detention center on the Perry Parkway just outside city limits. County road projects also took priority to help ease congestion from population growth.
He paid tribute to county employees Thursday, many of whom he said were vital to those projects being completed.
”Without their help and support, I would not have been able to do what has been accomplished because I certainly didn’t do it myself,” Sanders said.