By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
The Escambia County Commission will soon have its third chairman in slightly more than eight months.
Karean Reynolds, who replaced Raymond Wiggins as the panel’s presiding officer on December 9, 2019, announced July 31 that “a future opportunity which will allow me to better serve our community” has prompted him to step down as commission chair.
Reynolds, who was elected to the District 5 commission seat, said he will continue in his role as commissioner.
“I would like to formally announce my resignation as Chairman of the Escambia County Commission effective August 9, 2020,” Reynolds wrote on his Facebook page. “I would like to thank my fellow commissioners for placing their trust in my ability to lead the commission.”
The local attorney said his decision was not hastily or easily made.
“This resignation weighs heavy on my heart, as serving the citizens of our county remain one of my main priorities,” he wrote. “However, I am proud to announce that I will continue to serve this county and community as Escambia County District 5 Commissioner.”
District 4’s Brandon Smith currently serves as the commission’s vice-chair and will assume the chairman’s duties, at least until a new chairman can be selected. That probably won’t happen until a replacement is found for District 1 rep David Stokes, who resigned his seat earlier this year due to health reasons.
“I’ll do it for a little while,” Smith said. “I think it’s an automatic succession, from vice-chair to chair. The county will move on; it has to. Whenever we get the District 1 seat filled, we’ll have a new member. Right now, since I’m vice-chairman, I can pretty much oversee everything. I might end up having to take it; we’ll see what the county’s attorney says.”
Reynolds wasn’t chairman long enough to carry out some of the plans he had outlined, but Smith pointed out that whoever is chairman will have a hard time handling the bagful of problems facing the county as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage.
“He was made chairman just before all this COVID started,” said the District 4 rep. “The chairman’s job is not an easy position at all, so he was probably glad to get rid of it. Whoever the new chairman is, he’ll have to deal with the COVID, and that’s been a mess so far.
“We’re having to pay overtime to our workers to make up for the inmate labor we had, now that the prison is on lockdown. We’ve got issues with the courthouse, issues with the jail, and we’re working half-shifts at the courthouse in Brewton and at the satellite office (in Atmore) to keep everybody kind of staggered so the whole office won’t get sick at one time, if somebody does get sick.”
Smith said he would support a return to the chairmanship by Wiggins.
“He was fair; he helped me 100 times; he’s helped Reynolds; he’s helped (District 3’s Scottie) Stewart; he’s helped everybody. He lives and works up there (Brewton); he has a flexible schedule, and he’s up at the courthouse nearly every day.”
But, he pointed out, life goes on. (The selection of Reynolds as chairman and Smith as vice-chair marked the first time the commission’s top two positions have been filled by residents of the county’s southern end.)
“If you’ve got a good commission, good people helping you, it doesn’t matter which end of the county you’re from,” he said. “If everybody works hard for their district, things will get done in their district.”