Meetings of the Walton County Board of Commissioners are pretty perfunctory affairs.
Board members handle the county’s business with efficiency, usually taking about half an hour or so and rarely needing an executive session. (Other boards in this county could learn a thing or two, because a closed-door meeting is never required.)
But last week’s meeting was different.
Kevin Little said his goodbyes after 20 years as the chairman. It was his last meeting, and clearly he was in his feelings about it.
His family packed the front row of the old courtroom — including twin sons who weren’t even born when Little took his oath.
Little was the director of traffic operations for the county when he knocked off incumbent Chairman John Krieger and two other Republican candidates in 2000. He’s survived challenges since then, notably from Commissioner Gerald Atha in 2012, and then 2016 was unopposed.
But Little decided not to run again this time around. I’m certain he would say David Thompson’s campaign, which started with full-page ads in The Tribune in 2018 as the county dickered over the budget and ultimately raised our taxes — yes, it’s holding the rate, but you and I paid more — had nothing to do with that decision.
But Thompson ran hard from the jump and had the backing of Sheriff Joe Chapman — and no one is getting elected in Walton County without Chapman’s support.
So we found ourselves at the Historic Courthouse last Tuesday night, with Little saying goodbye to fellow board members. It was really touching to watch him say his farewells and to see the district commissioners present tokens of their affection.
But as Little spoke off the cuff, he had some rather pointed words for Thompson. He told the incoming chairman it’s important to take care of the full-time staff in the commission office, a lesson Little said past chairmen like Krieger and Rick Holder learned the hard way.
But what seemed to set people off the most — particularly Thompson’s supporters — was his caution to the incoming chairman: “I hope when you get up here in this chair, you realize Kevin Little wasn’t as bad as you think he was.”
Let me say this: I like Kevin Little. He’s been a friend to the paper and while we’ve definitely had our disagreements, he’s always been fair. And I think he has tried to do what’s right for the county.
It’s fair to argue this decision or that, but reading articles from 20 years ago, it’s obvious he is leaving Walton County better than he found it.
But everything has a season and his as chairman is coming to a close. I’m looking forward to seeing how Chairman Thompson serves, but I can’t shake the feeling this transition, such as it is, doesn’t serve the county well.
It’s not Joe Biden-Donald Trump territory, but you can see it from here.
Will the county be fine if Thompson is left just to show up on Jan. 1 and find the keys on the desk? Sure. We’ve got solid department heads who will continue their work professionally.
But Walton County would be better served if both men could put aside their differences, whatever they are, and make the transition of this government for 100,000 people as smooth as possible.