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History of the County Government
by J. Michael Brewer, 2021

©️2021 by J. Michael Brewer, Deputy County Manager

Counties, unlike cities, are political subdivisions of the state government, created to carry out certain mandated services, mostly related to courts, roads and public safety. Although Butts County was formed and created on December 24, 1825, it didn’t have a formal government until 1899, some 74 years later. Prior to that, all of the affairs of county governance were handled by the courts, with day to day responsibility falling to the Judge of the Ordinary Court, the predecessor to today’s Probate Court. As counties grew, it became increasingly difficult for the courts to manage their own affairs and look after those of the counties as well, and in the late 1800’s, many counties voted to create a separate office to look after the affairs of the government. These took the form of the “Commissioners of Roads and Revenues” and consisted either of a sole Commissioner, who functioned like the CEO of the County, or a board of Commissioners which usually consisted of three or five individuals elected at-large. In cases of a board and depending on the language that created the board, the Chairman was either elected directly by the citizens or chosen by the commissioners themselves, or some variation of this theme.

The birth of the government of Butts County arose from a “Citizens Convention” which was convened in Flovilla on December 17, 1897. This group was formed to work with the Courthouse Building Committee that was studying and making preparations to build the new Butts County Courthouse. The Grand Jury that had ordered the building of a new courthouse had placed a recommended price ceiling not to exceed $20k; however, the Courthouse Building Committee, which was appointed by the Superior Court and chaired by the judge of the Ordinary Court, disagreed with this and decided the ceiling would be $30k.

The citizen’s committee, fearing the resulting taxes that would be required, retained lawyers to enjoin the Courthouse Committee to restrain itself; the Courthouse Committee, in response, hired two Superior Court Judges from adjacent counties as their lawyers to represent their position to…the Superior Court. The Citizens Committee and their attorneys, seeing the deck heavily stacked against them, reluctantly withdrew from their position and, citing a desire to “prevent future complicated transactions, exorbitant taxes, extravagant expenditures and inexcusable mistakes”, requested that the Grand Jury recommend an act of the legislature to create a “Board of Commissioners of Roads and Revenues” for Butts County. While they had lost the battle over the courthouse, it was their hope that this would diminish some of the power the Courts had in the affairs of citizens, including the levying of taxes, and give them a directly elected local government, answerable to the people.

In December of 1898, a bill was introduced to the Georgia Legislature by Representative Ogletree to provide for such a board, with language specifically stating that said commissioners would have charge of county business, which in those day centered mainly around building and maintaining roads. This was apparently endorsed by Judge James F. Carmichael, Ordinary for Butts County, who was reportedly pleased at the prospect of relinquishing the onerous responsibilities of looking after the county’s business, on top of all of work associated with the Ordinary Court. Immediately upon its passage, he ordered that an election be held to elect the new board of three commissioners, each of whom would run for the balance of a two-year term that would expire on January 1, 1901, and every two years thereafter.

As soon as it was announced, a scramble ensued, with interested candidates submitting their candidacy directly to the local newspaper, either in person or by allowing others to float their name as a candidate. Twelve candidates, all Democrats, qualified in this manner to run for the three seats, and included Alex Aiken, Caswell Franklin Etheredge, Julian W. Fletcher, Obediah Hendrick, W.F. Huddleston, Jesse C. Jones, William M. Mallet, J.M.T. Mayo, John O’Rear, Riley Thaxton, Seab L. Thompson and B.F. Watkins.

The election was held on Thursday, February 2nd, 1899, with the winners declared as Etheredge with 409 votes; Mallet with 250 votes and Fletcher with 246. All total, these three won the election with 905 votes, even though a total of 2,109 votes were cast, meaning 1204 voters didn’t vote for them! They received their commissions from the Governor a week later and were promptly sworn in to begin the first session of the Commissioner’s Court, which is what the commission meetings were called back then. William Mallet was selected as Chairman by his peers.

On March 1st, 1899, Judge James F. Carmichael, Ordinary, submitted a report of finances from the previous year of 1898 (which was the year the current Historic Courthouse was built) to the new Board of Commissioners of Roads and Revenues, who had taken office the previous month. From this point forward, the Board would function as the governing authority of the County, separate from the Courts. With this action, Judge Carmichael ended one aspect of a distinguished career, though he carried on in his primary capacity as Ordinary until he was defeated the following year by Judge J.H. Ham.

The election of 1900 brought sweeping changes to the courthouse, with the defeat of several county officials, including all of the County Commissioners. Eight candidates qualified for office and the ones receiving the highest number of votes for the board was Jesse Carter Jones with 683 votes; L.A. Cawthon with 431; and Robert Andrews Woodward with 395. Ironically, the three incumbents received the lowest number of votes. Before the first serving board could even conclude their first term of office, however, Chairman William M. Mallet died suddenly of a brief illness in December of 1900, which shocked the entire community as he was very active in civic affairs and relatively young for the time. He was the first County Commissioner to die in office.

When the 3rd Session of the Butts County Commissioner’s Court convened in January of 1901, the new board elected Robert Woodward as Chairman and appointed Joseph Jolly as the County Clerk, replacing James O. Beauchamp, the first serving Clerk of Butts County. These men served a two-year term through the 3rd and 4th session.

The election of 1902 saw seven candidates qualify for election to the Board of Commissioners. Cawthon chose not to seek a second term, while Woodward and Jones sought re-election. Neither were re-elected as the citizens once again replaced the entire board with new candidates in the form of John L. Fincher (from whose farm Fincherville gained its name); Alfred Mack Watkins and N.H. Greer. This board took office for the 5th session of the Commissioner’s Court.

Apparently during the 1903-1904 term, there was some financial issues that got out of hand, with the County taking on debt from both the Jackson National Bank and even a local individual who loaned the County money. In 1904, Joseph O. Gaston was elected to replace Fincher, becoming the 10th person to serve as a County Commissioner in five years, when he took office in January of 1905. A man with a shrewd mind for business and a forward-thinking passion for roads, Gaston would go on to become one of the most distinguished public officials of the 20th century to come from Butts County, but he first had to deal with the resulting financial crisis that came to light when it was learned that Butts County was in debt to the tune of about $30,000.00, about three times the annual budget.

This had a profound effect on the elections of 1906, which saw angry voters replace both Watkins and Greer with H.G. Asbury and Jenous Monroe Maddox. Gaston was re-elected and named Chairman of the Board, and he, along with his fellow commissioners sought to right the County’s financial condition. As a quirk of law would have it, the loans that had been given to the County by good spirited bankers and citizens were determined to be illegal, because counties could not issue warrants for debt in one budget year to repay debts incurred in previous years. In other words, the County wasn’t obligated to pay the money back, and could have legally walked away from the debts incurred (which was argued for by some in the community). Fortunately, the citizens, as well as the commissioners, felt that the debt belonged to everyone and that honor demanded it be repaid and eventually it was. Gaston, who led this effort, found his reputation enhanced considerably among the citizens.

The election of 1908 saw the replacement of Maddox with William L. Wilder, while Gaston and Asbury were re-elected again for another two-year term. This, however, would be the last term for the Board of Commissioners of Roads and Revenues, because the public had grown tired of constant changeover and questions about finances. Moreover, at a local Democratic convention, it was felt that the County would be better served by a single Commissioner, paid a decent salary, who could devote the time needed to the office, rather than three who could not devote more than a day or two per month to the job. The biggest single issue in Butts County was the condition of the roads that served the county, which were little more than a cart path once you got outside of Jackson. By 1909, this had become the central platform for a citizenry that had elected 13 individuals to the office of Commissioner of Roads and Revenues in just ten years, but which had seen little done in that time to improve them.

In 1910, the Representative from Butts County to the General Assembly passed an act to abolish the Board of Commissioners and to replace it with an Office of the Commissioner of Roads and Revenues, to be held by a single elected commissioner who would be paid a $1000.00 per year. The existing board would continue through the end of 1910 and be replaced when 1911 began. Joseph Gaston was the people’s choice to serve as sole commissioner, and he would serve eight more terms in office as the single head of the County government, from 1911 until the end of 1926.

During Gaston’s tenure, he proved to be a capable road commissioner, and the roads of Butts County that we know today began to take shape. He also found ways to obtain and leverage state dollars to help the County, and his stature only increased when he managed the successful election campaign of Governor Clifford Walker of Georgia. Walker was grateful to Gaston for his work on the campaign, offering him two different cabinet-level positions in his administration, but Gaston felt obligated to Butts County and politely turned them down.

In his final term of office, Gaston led the county to successfully pass a bond referendum for the tremendous amount of $150,000.00, getting this accomplished on the assurance that the state would match dollar for dollar any local funds put toward road improvement projects. The referendum was not an easy one, as it required a two-thirds majority of the registered voters of Butts County to vote in favor of it. Ironically, on the day the election was held, the weather was rainy and the roads became so bad that most people could not get to the polls and they didn’t have enough voter response to validate the election, which helped make the argument. The election was held again the following month, and well over the two-thirds majority required voted in approval of the bonds.

A month later, the bonds were ready and they were sold for the highest price ever sold for public bonds in the state of Georgia at that time. When it was over, the bonds actually brought in $162,000.00. The following month, Gaston and the state highway department surveyed and began to build the new road from Jackson to Spalding County, originally made from a sand and clay mixture, and which included a bridge over the Towaliga River, for $30,000.00, half of this to be paid by the state. They soon followed with a similar road east to Jasper County, and these first projects comprise what is today Georgia Highway 16. Gaston also saw the road from Jackson to Indian Springs developed as well, which became Georgia Highway 42, plus numerous other county roads surveyed, laid out and graded.

Gaston was popular with the citizens, for no one had done as much for developing county roads as he had, but he had enemies too, one being State Representative J.L. Lyons of Jackson. Lyons began attacking Gaston through a series of editorials, ghost written by him through friends of his in the local paper about county finances and road building activities. Gaston responded eloquently with assurances that the books of the County were in proper order (and I can attest to this as I have actually seen the books and curate them). Nonetheless, the battle escalated and Lyons hit upon a plan to get Gaston out of office.

In 1926, without any direction from the citizens or even a referendum, Lyons dropped a bill in the legislature to abolish the position of Commissioner, and replace it once again with a Board of Commissioners. He felt that Gaston would not want to serve as just one of three again after having been a sole commissioner for 16 years and he was right. The bill was passed, and Gaston elected not to run for commissioner again, choosing instead to run against Lyons for an open Georgia Senate seat representing Butts, Spalding and Henry county. When the election was over, a new Board of Commissioners was elected that did not include Gaston, and a General Assembly was elected that did not include Lyons. Lyons did try to run for commissioner in subsequent elections, but was defeated each time, never to serve in elected office again.

It should be noted that while serving his final year as a commissioner, Gaston was instrumental in getting the state-owned property at Indian Springs improved by the county, including having a road built through the area occupied by the park today. When he moved to the Georgia Senate, he secured its place in history, getting the state-owned property at Indian Springs designated as an official “State Forest Park” in 1927, the first of its kind created in the United States. Gaston today still holds the distinction for having served as the only sole commissioner of Butts County, an office held for the last 16 of his 22 years of service to the Board of Commissioners. He also holds the record for successfully running for the most terms of office, a total of eleven elections to the County commissioner’s office (terms were 2 year terms at that time). While his history is probably one of the most significant of any elected official from Butts County, nothing in Butts County, be it road or building, bears his name.

The 1927 session saw the seating of a new Board of Commissioners for the first time since 1910, a board which was now elected and operated by a different set of rules than had been done in the past. The top three vote getters in the election would be considered the winners of the three seats, with the highest vote getter usually being selected as Chairman for a four-year term; the second highest vote getter being elected Commissioner for a four-year term; and the third highest vote getter being elected Commissioner for a two-year term, after which the term would become a four-year term, thus staggering the terms.

John W. Maddox became Chairman that year, with Gales W. Jinks and B. Harvey Hodges as the new commissioners, in order of highest votes. John Howard Ham, who also served as Judge of the Ordinary Court, was appointed as Clerk to the Board of Commissioners when the board was seated. Maddox would go on to serve just four years, or one term of office, while Jenks would serve eight years, or two terms. Hodges, however, would sit on the commission through some of the most trying years in the county, serving from 1927 through the end of 1944. His eighteen years on the county commission would see Butts County enter and survive through a Great Depression, and then do its part to support a World War before his tenure came to an end.

1929 began as a year of prosperity in Butts County and ended in the throes of economic turmoil. Harvey Hodges had finished his two-year term the year before and was re-elected for a full four-year term. Butts County wasn’t a rich county by any stretch and as the Great Depression unfolded, local governments struggled to provide services on diminished taxes and revenues, a problem everyone was facing.

1931 saw Commissioner Maddox depart after just one term, to be replaced by the respectable Dr. Olin B. Howell, who joined Commissioners Jinks and Hodges as the Chairman of the Board. He would serve for 10 years in this capacity, along with Hodges and a plethora of commissioners who kept the second seat in turnover. Jinks departed at the end of 1934, to be replaced by Joseph L. Bailey, Sr. in 1935. Bailey in turn was replaced by Elmo Ponder Colwell when his first term ended in 1938.

The 41st session of the Board of Commissioners began in 1939 with Howell, Hodges and Colwell seated. Colwell, elected for a full four-year term, and Howell, who had been re-elected for a four-year term, ended up short changed when the local State Representative decided to drop a bill to abolish the present board and replace it with a new Board of Commissioners operating under yet another set of different rules. From items written at the time, there were some who felt that Chairman Howell ran the County on his own, despite letters actually written to the newspaper by Hodges and Colwell vehemently denying this theory. No matter the reasons, it was done and a new election was forced.

Under the new system, staggered terms would be abolished and all three Commissioners would run for four-year terms at the same time. Once elected and seated, the board would choose from among its own members who its chairman would be. This forced another election midway through the terms of Howell and Colwell, while Hodges fell where he would have under the old staggered system. When the election was over, only Hodges retained his seat, while Howell and Colwell were defeated in their re-election bid. Elmo Colwell holds the distinction of being the only commissioner elected to a four-year term and then effectively removed from office midway through, due to a change in local law.

In 1941, the Board of Commissioners began its 43rd session with Harvey Hodges as Chairman, joined by E. Dena Patrick and Pratt A. Smith as new commissioners. Hodges steered the board through the war years, finishing out his final term at the end of 1944 with 18 years of service as a Commissioner, making him the second longest tenured commissioner at that time.

The 1945 term began with the return of Elmo Colwell, who had decided to throw his hat in the ring again after four years off the board. He was joined by returning commissioners E.D. Patrick and Pratt Smith, who was elected to chair the board that term. These three men served together for the full four-year term, leaving office at the end of 1948.

In 1949, a completely new Board of Commissioners took office, with Augustus A. White, Albert Crawley Finley and Luther Joseph Washington elected and seated. White was chosen to chair the board and William H. Wilson returned as the County Clerk after an eight-year absence. White and Washington each served one term, and Washington would go on to serve as Ordinary and Probate Judge in later years. Much to the misfortune of the County, Commissioner Finley died suddenly near the end of his third year in office, necessitating a special called election to fill the seat. D. Bailey Woodward, the grandson of former commissioner Robert A. Woodward was elected to finish the fourth year of the term. Woodward later went on to serve one term in the Georgia State Senate and three terms in the Georgia House of Representatives.

In 1953, another new Board of Commissioners was elected to office consisting of Thomas W. Nelson, a returning E.D. Patrick and Ralph Elmo Evans. Nelson was chosen as Chairman. Four years later in 1957, Nelson was re-elected, while Patrick and Evans were defeated in their re-election bid by A.F. Maddox and Van M. Freeman. William Wilson retired as Clerk of the County and he was replaced by William Morris Redman, who had formerly been Mayor of Jackson. The board chose Van Freeman to be chairman but his tenure was short, as he was killed the following year in an automobile accident. Nelson resumed the chairmanship and Paul Maddox was elected to fill the remainder of Freeman’s term. They would serve together through the end of 1960, when elections brought changes once again.

The 63rd Session of the Board of Commissioners convened in January of 1961 with Stacey Leonard Gray, Haywood Hodges and Dave W. Bailey as the new board. Gray was elected chairman by his peers and he, along with Hodges, would serve one full term in office. In 1963, County Clerk William Redman died in office and was replaced by Billy Sutton, who also served as the elected County Treasurer. Dave Bailey would be re-elected to three additional terms, giving him a total run of 16 years on the Board of Commissioners for his first length of service.

In 1965, Robert W. Cook and Aubrey Girden Cook took office as newly elected commissioners, joining David Bailey, now in his second term. Robert Cook was chosen as Chairman for the four-year term. Both of them served one term in office.

In 1969, the two Cooks were replaced with local attorney Alfred Daniel Fears and Hammond Barnes, joining David Bailey for his third term of office. Fears was selected as Chairman and under his tenure, considerable improvements were made to the now-71-year-old Courthouse, including the building out of the basement space to add more offices to the building.

The 1972 election was an interesting one. Incumbent commissioner Fears ran for re-election and was opposed by incumbent commissioner Barnes, who chose to run for election to Post 1 against Fears rather than run for re-election in his own Post 3. Fears defeated Barnes in the second primary, which was held because the courts invalidated the first primary on technical reasons. Because Barnes chose to run in a different post, he effectively left his seat wide open and several candidates jumped into the race to try and win it. Ultimately, local businessman Robert W. “Bob” Taylor won the seat, while incumbent David Bailey was re-elected in his own post for a fourth four-year term.

The 75th Session of the Board of Commissioners took office in January of 1973, but just six months into his second term, Chairman Fears suddenly resigned from office, citing increased workload in his attorney practice, and becoming the first County Commissioner to resign from office. Commissioner Bailey was selected as Chairman two months later, when William Albert “Buster” Duke, Jr. was elected to finish the remaining 40 months of Fears’ term. Then in February of 1976, Commissioner Taylor resigned, citing work demands from his businesses. Another special election was held, pitting local accountant Geneva Smith Bennett against businessman Michael “Mac” Collins to fill the seat. Bennett won the special election in May of 1976 by just over 300 votes, becoming the first woman to be elected to the Board of Commissioners. Her tenure would be very short, however, as the office of Tax Commissioner became vacant the following month and she elected to run for that office rather than qualify to run for a full term as County Commissioner. She lost in the primary. The 1976 election would also mark the end of service for longtime commissioner David W. Bailey who, after serving 16 years as a commissioner, lost the seat to Everett Douglas Briscoe. Commissioner Duke chose not to seek re-election.

1977 saw a completely new Board of Commissioners sworn in, with election winners Mac Collins, Everett Briscoe and Dr. William Mitchell taking their turns on the commission. Collins was selected to be chairman and the three worked on various issues facing the county in relative harmony when compared with the previous term. This wouldn’t last though, because the election of 1980 shook the board up again.

The election of 1980 was a strange one. Post 1 Commissioner Mac Collins faced opposition from former county commissioner David W. Bailey. Post 2 Commissioner Everett Briscoe and Post 3 Commissioner William Mitchell faced no opposition but suddenly, Mitchell qualified to run for the Post 2 seat against the incumbent Commissioner Briscoe, pitting two incumbents against each other for one seat while leaving the Post 3 seat completely open for the taking. When it was all said and done, Bailey defeated Collins, Mitchell defeated Briscoe and political newcomer J.B. (Jimmy) White won the Post 3 seat, following in the steps of his uncle Bailey Woodward and his great grandfather Robert Woodward. They took office in January of 1981 and David Bailey was elected to chair the board.

Eleven months later, Commissioner Mitchell resigned from office, triggering a special election that resulted in Nevin Duffey being elected in February of 1982. The following month, Commissioner White submitted his resignation, effective March 8, 1982, citing an inability to make positive change to the system and inefficiency in the running of the County government. Another special election ensued, resulting in local dairyman George Noah Martin, Jr. winning the seat and finishing out the remaining two and a half years of White’s term. The following year, County Clerk Billy Sutton, who had been serving in this capacity since 1963, as well as County Treasurer, was replaced as Clerk by Ruby Kate Moore. Sutton continued to serve as County Treasurer until his retirement.

Legislative changes once again shaped the board of Commissioners in the 1984 election cycle. The composition of the board was changed so that Post 1 ran county-wide as an elected Chairman of the Board, while Post 2 and Post 3 would be at large Commissioners. Incumbent Post 1 commissioner David Bailey sought a sixth term of office and ran for the Chairmanship. He was defeated by Jimmy White, who had previously served and who now came back to run for chairman. Incumbent Nevin Duffey fell to political newcomer Russ Crumbley for Post 2 and Charles J. Brown defeated incumbent George Martin, to comprise the three-member board that took office in 1985.

The 87th Session of the Board of Commissioners convened in January of 1985 with Chairman J.B “Jimmy” White, Commissioner Russ Crumbley and Commissioner Charles (Charlie) Brown in office. They appointed Jeanene Fitzgerald as County Clerk, replacing Ruby Kate Moore who had served the previous two years. Later that year, a Federal lawsuit challenging the current practice of “at large” elections as being disadvantageous to minorities was filed and ultimately Butts County settled this out of court. As part of the settlement, the Board would be newly constituted, adding two more commission posts, 4 and 5, which, along with the other posts in the future, would be filled with candidates who resided only in that district and could be voted for only by voters living in the district from which they ran. Additionally, terms would become staggered once again for the first time since 1940. This model of voters electing only a direct representative to the Board continues to this day.

A special election was held that fall, with Frederick J. Head and Eddie Lee Travis defeating several challengers, bringing the number of Commissioners to five for the first time in history. Head and Travis, being elected, sworn in and assuming office at the same time, hold the joint distinction of being the first African Americans to be elected as a County Commissioners, and Travis would be notable for surpassing Joseph Gaston’s record of 22 consecutive years in office, serving a total of 23.8 consecutive years as a County Commissioner. Both assumed their duties on August 29th, 1985.

Because of the new staggered terms, some commissioners were required to serve short terms and then run for re-election. Travis and Brown were required to run for re-election again the following year in 1986, and both won a full four-year term that ran from January 1, 1987 through December 31, 1990. Likewise, Head’s partial term expired December 31, 1988, which now coincided with White and Crumbley; they ran for re-election and won a four-year term that ran from January 1, 1989 through December 31, 1992. Once White’s initial term as Chairman was completed, all Commissioners ran by district and changes to the structure went back to a method of the board choosing a Chairman. Jimmy White holds the distinction of being the only County Commissioner elected Chairman of the Board of Commissioners by the voters at large.

In 1988, Commissioners White, Head and Crumbley ran for re-election and won. In the election of 1990, Commissioner Brown chose not to run again and was replaced by Commissioner Wesley Haley, who was the first Republican ever to be elected to the County Commission. Commissioner Travis ran for re-election and won his seat for a second full term.

In March of 1991, following several years of discussion and a straw poll referendum, the Board of Commissioners appointed its first full time executive charged with the running of the day-to-day operations of the County. Henry Thomas Williams was appointed as the 1st County Manager of Butts County; prior to the establishment of this office, the overall responsibilities for county management was vested in the Board of Commissioners, with the County Clerk overseeing the various departments on their behalf. Later that year, Commissioner Jimmy White resigned from office in the 3rd year of his term. His seat was filled by David Bailey, Jr., the son of longtime former commissioner David W. Bailey.

In 1992, upon seating of the full board in the 94th Session of the Board of Commissioners, County Clerk Jeanene Fitzgerald was not reappointed by the board and was replaced with Jacqueline Rainwater Cavender as the 14th Clerk of Butts County. That fall was an election year for Butts County, but due to a legal issue that arose, the election was delayed for nearly a year. All incumbents held their seats as per the order of the judge. When the election was finally held in 1993, Dave Bailey elected not to run for re-election; Fred Head and Russ Crumbley did and were re-elected, while Jimmy B. Hardy ran for and won the remainder of the term that Dave Bailey held.

In 1994, Commissioners Eddie Travis and Wesley Haley were up for re-election. Travis ran unopposed and was re-elected, while Haley was defeated by former Sheriff Barney Lee Wilder. They took office in January of 1995 with new posts, which had been changed by recent legislative actions. When the board convened for the 97th Session that year, Hardy held Post 1, Head held Post 2, Wilder held Post 3, Travis held Post 4 and Crumbley held Post 5. Wilder was elected Chairman at his first meeting as a Commissioner but later that year was diagnosed with cancer. He succumbed to the disease in December of 1995. A special election was held early in 1996 and Jimmy Moore was elected to the seat to finish out the balance of three years left in the term.

Shortly after Moore was sworn in, County Manager Tom Williams resigned his position and the Board hired Dr. Van G. Whaler as Interim County Manager. He was charged with reorganizing the County’s finances and eventually conducting a search for a replacement County Manager. He would serve 2 years as Interim.

In the fall election of 1996, Commissioner Jimmy Hardy was defeated in a re-election bid by Raymond Marvin McEwen for Post 1, while Fred Head elected not to seek re-election and was replaced by retired educator Grover McIntyre. Commissioner Russ Crumbley finished his third term on the board and also decided not to seek reelection; he was replaced by businessman Harry Marett. These three new commissioners joined the board in January of 1997 and the County began a major exterior renovation of the Butts County Courthouse, the first substantial one since the building was built in 1898.

In December of that year, Commissioner McEwen died suddenly of a heart attack, and his seat was quickly filled by retired DNR Ranger Gerald Kersey. That fall, Commissioners Moore and Travis ran for re-election in their respective districts and were returned to office. This would be Travis’s fourth term of office and Moore’s first full term.

In March of 1998, retired banker Paul S. Penn, Jr. was hired as the 2nd County Manager to work for Butts County. The exterior renovation of the Courthouse was completed in time for the celebration of its 100th birthday in the fall. The following year, the Board of Commissioners celebrated the centennial of the creation of the County government in 1899.

For the next four years things remained more or less stable with the five commissioners in office. The election of 2000 saw a new century begin, and also saw Commissioners Kersey, McIntyre and Marett returned to office for another term. County Manager Paul Penn accepted a position offer with the local Development Authority and transferred on November 6, 2000 so the board brought Dr. Van Whaler back to serve as Interim and conduct a search. County Clerk Jackie Cavender decided to retire from office on January 1, 2001 and the commission chose to disseminate the duties of the position to various county employees. The board selected Gregory Popham as the 3rd County Manager of Butts County soon after and be began his position the following month on February 5, 2001. His tenure would be the shortest of any County Manager, a total of 19 months, when in September of 2002, the Commission made sweeping changes that included removing most of the senior staff. The position of Clerk of County was reconstituted and J. Michael Brewer was appointed as the 15th Clerk of Butts County. Commissioner Jimmy Moore decided not to run for reelection and he was replaced with John T. Harkness, Jr., who won a full term, along with Eddie Travis, who won his fifth term of office.

When Commissioner Harry Marett decided to resign midway through his term, a special election was triggered, whereby all eligible candidates ran at-large. Four qualified and when the election was over, William Lovett Fletcher, Jr. was elected by 1 vote to succeed Marett. He was certified by the state, sworn into office and attended one meeting as a voting commissioner before his closest opponent filed an injunction against the election results. When the smoke cleared, two votes for Fletcher were invalidated and his commission was revoked. Ousley Lester Peek was then declared the winner and took office immediately. Fletcher has the distinction of having served the shortest time as a Butts County Commissioner, being in office less than one month.

In 2004, Commissioners Kersey, McIntyre and Peek were returned to office by the voters. This would be Kersey’s second full term, McIntyre’s third term and Peek’s first full term of office. In July, County Clerk Michael Brewer was promoted to another job and former Deputy Clerk Margaret Dianne Holloway became the 16th County Clerk. That year, the Board made the decision to change the form of government from a County Manager to County Administrator form of government. This decision was invalidated 16 years later as having been done improperly and was rescinded, effectively reversing the decision with retroactive effect. Van Whaler, who had served twice as interim County Manager accepted the position full time that year and became the 4th County Manager in 2004.

In March of 2006, the Board of Commissioners moved for the first time since it was established from the County Courthouse to the new County Administrative Office Building and held its first meeting in new chambers. The new building was actually an existing 40k square foot vacant grocery store building, which the County acquired for $1.6 million in 2005 and then expended an additional $1.3 million to completely gut the building and construct new interior spaces for. The reconstruction of this building, at a total cost of $2.9 million, not only won an American Institute of Architecture award the following year but was done at a cost far less than construction of a brand new building would have cost.

2006 was also an election year for Commissioners Harkness and Travis. Harkness sought a second term and Travis sought a sixth term of office, both running in the Democratic primary. Harkness lost his election in the primary that spring to challenger Jim Trenton, who in turn fell that fall to Republican challenger Mitchell M. McEwen, son of the late Commissioner Marvin McEwen. Travis was reelected to office and began his sixth and final term of office in January of 2007.

2008 turned out to be an interesting year as the Board of Commissioners made a controversial decision that didn’t resonate well with the public. The board, concerned about the ability to expand and grow in the future,  chose to purchase three vacant lots adjacent to the Administration Building for future expansion. Although the price paid was later proven to be in line with and in some cases, less than prices paid for other properties on Third Street, many felt the price paid was too high and took issue with the commissioners.

A recall attempt was made against Commissioner McEwen, the first such attempt in County history, but ultimately failed. Meanwhile, three commission seats were up for election that year. Commissioners Gerald Kersey and Grover McIntyre ran for reelection that fall, while Commissioner Lester Peek chose not to run for office again. Kersey lost in the Republican primary to challenger Genous “Gator” Hodges, a relative newcomer to Butts County, while McIntyre lost in the Democratic primary to Reverend Robert L. Henderson, Sr, a local pastor. The unopposed seat in District 5 went to Roger D. McDaniel, a quality control manager for Georgia Power, in the Republican primary.

This created another unique situation, in that you had a majority board-in-waiting for half a year while also having virtually a lame duck board in office. Despite the land controversy, however, the outgoing board had made remarkable progress on improving buildings, including a new Administration Building, an expanded and enlarged Public Library and Clerk of Court office, as well as a large expansion to the County Detention Center.

In 2009, the new commissioners took their seats alongside Commissioner Mitch McEwen, who was chosen as Chairman, and veteran Commissioner Eddie Travis. On April 20th of that year, County Clerk Dianne Holloway retired from her position; the following month, Jessica Erin Reynolds was appointed as the 17th Clerk of Butts County. This commission grouping was not to last long though, for in July of that year, Commissioner Eddie Travis made the decision to step down from office due to concerns about his health. Travis, in addition to being one of the two African Americans first elected to the commission, also held the record of being the longest serving commissioner in the history of the county, having served a total of 8,719 days as a County Commissioner, or 23.8 years in office. A special election was held in December, and Jalaludin Keith Douglas was declared the winner and immediately sworn into office. Additionally, Dr. Van Whaler was replaced in August of 2009 by Dr. Alan White, the retired Butts County School Superintendent, who became the 5th County Manager that year.

Douglas, along with McEwen, were both up for reelection in 2010. McEwen sought a second full term, while Douglas sought a full term in his own right. During the primary, Mike Patterson, who had tried to force an earlier recall against McEwen, garnered the most votes in the Republican primary, eliminating McEwen from the race. He then defeated Democrat Nancy Samuel in the fall to win the District 3 seat. Douglas was unopposed and earned a full term in his own right.

With McEwen gone from the board when it was seated for the 113th Session, the Chairmanship passed to Commissioner McDaniel. He would serve as Chairman that year and the following year, which was an election year again. In the fall of 2011, Dr. White retired as County Manager and interviews were conducted with several candidates to succeed him. Ultimately, the Board was unhappy with any of the candidates and appointed Michael Brewer, who had served as Deputy County Manager since 2007, to serve as Interim until the position could be advertised again. After serving as Interim for most of a year, the Board asked Brewer to accept the position and he became the 6thCounty Manager in October of 2012.

That fall, Commissioners Hodges, Henderson and McDaniel were all reelected to a second term of office with minimal opposition and were seated in 2013, where Hodges was elected as Chairman. On September 1st of that year, County Clerk Jessica Reynolds resigned from office and was replaced on November 25th, 2013 by Crystal Griggs Epps of Monticello as the 18th Clerk of Butts County.

In 2014, Roger McDaniel was selected as Chairman again, and that fall was time for a general election. Commissioner Mike Patterson chose not to run again and he was replaced by Joe Brown, Jr., a former School Board member. Commissioner Keith Douglas won the Democratic primary in the spring and then faced an Independent challenger that fall for the first time, ultimately prevailing.

The 117th Session of the Board of Commissioners convened in January of 2015 with Roger McDaniel selected as Chairman again. In March, County Manager Michael Brewer announced his intention to step down from the position once a suitable replacement could be found. He continued to serve until July of 2015, when Dr. Keith Moffett of Macon was selected as the 7th County Manager. The following year, Commissioner Keith Douglas was tapped to be Chairman for 2016. An election fell that year, and Commissioners Gator Hodges and Roger McDaniel elected not to seek a third term of office. Ken Rivers, an insurance agency owner, and former Commissioner Russ Crumbley, who had served three terms of office previously, ran for and was elected to replace them respectively. Commissioner Robert Henderson ran for a third term and was elected in the fall against a Republican challenger. On November 4th, County Clerk Crystal Epps resigned from her position to accept a job with another government.

The 119th Session began in January of 2017 with Ken Rivers beginning his first term of office, Robert Henderson beginning his third term and Russ Crumbley back after a 20-year absence to begin a fourth. They joined Commissioner Joe Brown, who was midway through his first term and Commissioner Keith Douglas, who was midway through his second term. The board tapped Robert Henderson to serve as Chairman for the year. In April of that year, the Board chose to replace the unfilled County Clerk position by assigning the job to County Finance Director Chiquita Barkley, who was appointed Clerk on April 11th, 2017.

Four months later in August, County Manager Keith Moffett resigned and his duties were assigned to former County Manager Michael Brewer and Chief Financial Officer Chiquita Barkley. In October, the board selected former Bibb County Administrator Steve Layson to serve as Interim Manager for a period of six months, to help the County search for a permanent replacement and to oversee a reorganization of the government. This reorganization reassigned the Clerk’s position from Chiquita Barkley to Michael Brewer, who had previously served as County Clerk from 2002-2004.

In 2018, the board selected Russ Crumbley to be Chairman in January and County Finance Director Chiquita Barkley resigned from her position. Rhonda Blissit, a Certified Public Accountant, was chosen to replace her and elections were held that fall, with both Commissioner Joe Brown and Commissioner Keith Douglas running for reelection. Brown was reelected to a second term, while Douglas was reelected to a third term of office. Steve Layson also accepted the position of actual County Manager on a contract basis.

2019 marked the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Board of Commissioners, in all its various forms and shapes. At the opening of the 121st Session of the Board, Ken Rivers was elected as Chairman, supported by Vice Chairman Keith Douglas, Commissioners Robert Henderson, Joe Brown and Russ Crumbley. Staff included County Manager Steve Layson, Deputy County Manager Michael Brewer, also serving as Clerk of County, Chief Financial Officer Rhonda Blissit and Human Resources Director Ellen Glidewell.

2020 began with Chairman Rivers and Vice Chairman Douglas being re-elected by their peers again for the start of the 122nd Session. The year started out well with both an expansion of the Administration Building underway to accommodate the Courts and a major restoration of the interior of the old Courthouse being conducted to bring the building up to modern safety code. Three months into the year, however, a global pandemic shook the government, resulting in the first extended shutdown of much of the County government to help contain the spread. Despite personnel shortages, quarantine and temporary shutdowns, work on these two major projects would continue through the end of the calendar year. 2020 was also an election year for Commissioners Ken Rivers and Russ Crumbley, re-elected without opposition to a second and fifth term respectively, and Commissioner Robert Henderson, who defeated challenger Mary Atkins for a fourth term of office. In the fall of that year, County Manager Steve Layson announced his intention to fully retire at the end of the year and a search process was begun for a replacement. This resulted in the appointment of Brad Johnson, a former Butts County Fire Chief who was then serving as Deputy County Manager of Henry County. His appointment was ratified in November of 2020 as the 9th County Manager of Butts County and he assumed his duties on January 1st, 2021.

  • Longest Serving Commissioner: Eddie Lee Travis, who served 23.8 years in office.
  • Shortest Serving Commissioner: William Lovett (Bill) Fletcher, one month.
  • Elected to the most terms of office: Joseph O. Gaston, elected/reelected 11 consecutive times to office
  • Only commissioner to serve as Sole Commissioner: Joseph O. Gaston, 16 of his 22 years in office.
  • First Commissioner to serve in the Legislature: Joseph O. Gaston, Georgia State Senate
  • Only commissioner to serve in both the Georgia House and Senate: D. Bailey Woodward
  • First woman elected to the Board of Commissioners: Geneva Smith Bennett, 1976
  • First African Americans elected to the Board: Eddie Travis and Frederick Head (Shared), 1985
  • First Commissioner to die while in office: William Mallet, 1900.
  • First Commissioner to resign from office: Alfred D. Fears, 1973
  • Number of Commissioners to resign from office: 6 persons have resigned, 1 twice
  • Number of Commissioners to die in office: A total of five have died in office.
  • First Republican to win a seat on the board: Wesley R. Haley, 1990 election.
  • Only Commissioner to resign from office twice: Jimmy White, 1982 and 1991.
  • Only Commissioner to be elected by the voters as Chairman: Jimmy White, 1984 election.
  • Only Commissioner to be removed from office: Elmo P. Colwell, 2 years into term, due to legislative changes.
  • Youngest Commissioner to take office: Keith Douglas, 29 years old.
  • Only Commissioner to be subjected to a recall attempt: Mitchell McEwen (Recall failed)
  • Only Commissioner to also serve in the Georgia Legislature and US Congress: Michael A. Collins
  1. Caswell Franklin Etheredge 2 Years
  2. Julian Webster Fletcher 2 Years
  3. William Maurice Mallet 2 Years
  4. A. Cawthon 2 Years
  5. Jesse Carter Jones 2 Years
  6. Robert Andrews Woodward 2 Years
  7. John L. Fincher 2 Years
  8. Alfred Mack Watkins 2 Years
  9. H Greer 2 Years
  10. Joseph O. Gaston 22 Years
  11. G. Asbury 4 Years
  12. Jenous Monroe Maddox 2 Years
  13. William L. Wilder 2 Years
  14. John W. Maddox 4 Years
  15. Gales W. Jinks 8 Years
  16. Harvey Hodges 18 Years
  17. Olin Brian Howell, MD 10 Years
  18. Joseph L. Bailey, Sr. 4 Years
  19. Elmo Ponder Colwell 6 Years
  20. Dena Patrick 12 Years
  21. Pratt Smith 8 Years
  22. Augustus A. White 4 Years
  23. Albert Crawley Finley 3 Years
  24. Luther Joseph Washington 4 Years
  25. Bailey Woodward 1 Year
  26. Thomas W. Nelson 8 Years
  27. Ralph Elmo Evans 4 Years
  28. F. Maddox 4 Years
  29. Van M. Freeman 2 Years
  30. Paul Maddox 2 Years
  31. Stacey Leonard Gray 4 Years
  32. Haywood Hodges 4 Years
  33. David W. Bailey 20 Years
  34. Robert W. Cook
  35. G. Cook 4 Years
  36. Alfred Daniel Fears, Sr. 5 Years
  37. Hammond Barnes 4 Years
  38. Robert W. Taylor 3 Years
  39. William Albert Duke, Jr. 3 Years
  40. Geneva Smith Bennett 1 Year
  41. Michael Allen Collins 4 Years
  42. William Mitchell, DVM 5 Years
  43. Everett Douglas Briscoe 4 Years
  44. James Bartholomew White 9 Years
  45. Nevin L. Duffey 3 Years
  46. George Noah Martin, Jr.
  47. Charles J. Brown 6 Years
  48. Russell Crumbley 16 Years (Current Member, Non-Consecutive)
  49. Frederick J. Head 11 Years
  50. Eddie Lee Travis 24 Years
  51. Dave W. Bailey 2 Years
  52. Wesley R. Haley 4 Years
  53. Jimmy B. Hardy 3 Years
  54. Barney Lee Wilder 1 Year
  55. Jimmy Moore 7 Years
  56. Marvin McEwen 1 Year
  57. Grover N. McIntyre 12 Years
  58. Harry Marrett 6 Years
  59. Gerald Kersey 11 Years
  60. John T. Harkness, Jr. 4 Years
  61. William Lovett Fletcher, Jr. 1 Month
  62. Ousley Lester Peek 5 Years
  63. Mitchell Marvin McEwen 4 Years
  64. Genous Hodges 8 Years
  65. Robert L. Henderson, Sr. 12 Years (Current Member)
  66. Roger D. McDaniel 8 Years
  67. Jalaludin Keith Douglas 11 Years (Current Member)
  68. Mike Patterson 4 Years
  69. Joseph Harvey Brown, Jr. 6 Years (Current Member)
  70. Ken Rivers 4 Years (Current Member)
  1. James O. Beauchamp 2 Years
  2. Joseph Jolly 18 Years (Died in Office)
  3. James W. Benson 1 Year
  4. Threatt Moore 8 Years
  5. Joseph H. Ham 4 Years
  6. William H. Wilson 18 Years
  7. John G. McDonald 3 Months
  8. Clarence M. Compton 2 Years
  9. Asma Forest Taylor 6 Years
  10. William Morris Redman 7 Years (Died in Office)
  11. Billy Sutton 19 Years (Longest Tenured)
  12. Ruby Kate Moore 2 Years
  13. Jeanene Fitzgerald 7 Years
  14. Jacqueline R. Cavender 9 Years
  15. James Michael Brewer 2 and 6 Years
  16. Margaret Dianne Holloway 5 Years
  17. Jessica Erin Reynolds 4 Years
  18. Crystal Griggs Epps 3 Years
  19. Chiquita R. Barkley 6 Months
  1. Henry Thomas Williams 5 Years
  2. Paul S. Penn, Jr. 2 Years
  3. Gregory Popham 18 Months
  4. Van G. Whaler 5 Years
  5. Alan E. White 2 Years
  6. James Michael Brewer 4 Years
  7. Keith Moffett 2 Years
  8. Steven H. Layson 3 Years
  9. Brad Johnson (Incumbent since 2021)