SCOTTSBORO, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has appointed Jackson County Emergency Management Agency director Mike Ashburn to fulfill the remaining term of outgoing County Commission Chairman Matthew Hodges, who will leave the post Saturday.
Hodges is resigning to take a job at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, while Ashburn on Sunday will assume the helm as chairman.
Hodges, a Democrat, won the post in 2012 when two Republicans became the first GOP candidates to win seats on the Jackson County Commission since Reconstruction. At the same time, the county commission adopted staggered terms, which made Hodges' post a six-year term until 2018 when it returns to a four-year cycle.
Hodges announced his resignation in August, citing the need to devote his full attention to a new job that was too good to turn down, according to his Aug. 18 letter of resignation.
The appointment is effective Oct. 1, and Hodges' vacated term expires Nov. 13, 2018.
Assistant EMA director Felix Jackson will be acting director for the agency over the next 90 days while applications are taken for a new director.
Ashburn, who last Friday learned he was the new chairman, will be sworn in this Friday. He will serve about 13 months. The 62-year-old Jackson County native said he'll spend Sunday getting ready for Monday's commission work session.
It's a quick switch of hats for Ashburn, who said he appreciates the chance to serve his county in the new position. He has never run for elected office and doesn't plan to run to hold the seat.
"It's been a tough five years for Mr. Hodges," Ashburn said, pointing to the county's looming deficit five years ago of more than $1 million. "But this year, they're going to have a balanced budget."
The county's revenue problems are the biggest challenge Ashburn sees ahead for himself and the commission, he said, noting that the county's Tennessee Valley Authority in-lieu-of-tax funds — money the county has depended on in its budgeting for years — will continue to decline.
"The shortfall in revenue will continue to be the biggest challenge," he said.
Ashburn said he'll seek a way to generate more county revenue so county employees can get a raise and work can be done on the county's sprawling road system.
He said he also wants to work to boost tourism and prepare the county for the growth that will eventually come with the Google Data Center coming to Bridgeport.
"I think in five years, we'll see a Jackson County in a better place than it is now," he said.
In her Sept. 22 letter to Ashburn, Ivey told him the appointment "was not to be taken lightly," and advised him to "set a standard for others to follow."
"I have made honesty and integrity a priority in my administration, and I know that you will embody these two virtues while serving the people of Alabama," Ivey said. "Please plan to attend all meetings within reason, be a good steward of the taxpayers' money and work in your position to instill trust in state government."
On Wednesday, Hodges sat in an office that was clean and ready for its new occupant.
"I think Mr. Ashburn will do a great job," Hodges said. "And I have loved what I've done for the last five years, but I've got to do what I think's best for my family."
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.