Ernie Padgett is home again, back where he was many moons ago, having recently been selected by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners as the County Administrator for Jackson County.
Bill Stanton introduced Padgett, “I’d like to introduce him this way. What I want to say about him is I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on behalf of getting the jobs for Jackson County for almost 40 years. He’s played several roles in that area. He’s not going to brag about himself so I’m going to brag about him. Two of those rolls that he played, one was in 1985 when we successfully recruited the federal prison and he in the year before was a county commissioner and continued to be involved in the project and was a part of the team. Without Ernie Padgett that federal prison would not have been successfully placed here. Secondly, as county administrator subsequently and at a time that I come back to become a manager in the late eighties we decided to go after another state correctional institution and specifically putting it in Malone. That partnership that put that project together is what is now known as Jackson Correctional Institution. Including the town of Malone, West Florida Electric Co-Op , and the Jackson County Board of County Commissioners, between those three bodies the monies were put together and the project took place. Of course, that has been an integral part of our job picture for many years. Ernie was the key part of that team. So I want to reintroduce to you somebody that most of us know, those of you who don’t know him he is the County Administrator for Jackson County, Ernie Padgett.
Padgett said, “That’s typical Bill Stanton isn’t it? Bill is one that I call “orchestrator” actually the lady over here on this camera I came in and Bill was talking to her and he told her to move that camera out of the way because Johnny McDaniel was next door and he was going to be walking through and I said “Why can’t he walk around like everybody else?” But Bill you got it organized, right? I tell you. I do appreciate the opportunity of being here of course Lydia is here and she’ll be critiquing on account of this. I’ve drug her across the state of Florida for the last 20-something years so she’s hung with me and kind of kept me on the straight and narrow. Of course, this is my home county, I was born and raised here and I actually got into local government here. Whether it was good or bad I got an idea of one time back in the 1980’s I thought I would run for County Commissioner whatever that job does. I ran and I was elected and I wouldn’t trade that four years’ experience for anything. I was younger then of course like a lot of you folks who were also. But I’ll tell you I’m a firm believer, I’ve always been partial to local government not that I have anything against state and federal government but local government that’s where the action is. You’re closer to the people and you’re usually a local phone call away and those folks know right where to find you. They can find you wherever you are in your office, your home, or whatever and I’ve always thought that’s a good position to be in. Now as my good friend Bill said I have always been, you know I came through school, got out of school in the sixties and back then and probably still somewhat the same today as back then in this area you got out of high school at about eighteen years old and then you had to think of what am I going to do? Either you went off to college, you went into service, or you moved somewhere and made a living. I’m thinking that is still pretty prevalent today when you’re looking at the job market. In the four counties, I’ve been in with my career, the most value I’ve gotten in serving in any of those four counties has been dealing with economic development and job creation, now there’s other things in local government that you got to do. You have to run the organization, you have to cover the bases, but there’s something about job creation that you get a lot of reward from that and I’ve always enjoyed being part of a team. I’m not going to tell old war stories here but back in the eighties we had county wide, it was a good team. The cities across our county were working together with the county, the cities, our chamber, and economic development. We were all part of a team. Johnny Mac and I spent some time riding around the state looking at jails, I don’t know how many we were in and out of back then there was a lot of them. I mean in and out voluntarily. Johnny Mac and I become professionals in the architecture of jails and I’m going to get on that in a just a few moments. The most satisfaction I’ve gotten out of serving the local government in Florida counties is being involved with a federal prison. Of course, a lot of you remember that story. The federal prison was going to go to Brunswick, Georgia to start off with. The group had come down to visit this area, mostly out of courtesy probably to U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles. There was a lot of oppositions in Brunswick and guess what? They came back again because they liked what they saw to start with. To make a long story short it became a reality. There was a lot of hard work put forward and the Federal Bureau of Prisons liked what they saw in this community. As a result, we have what have and we’ve had it for a long time. Same thing with the state prison in Malone. We were going to go Graceville to start with, the top people with D.O.C. was leaning but originally it was up in Graceville and we had the media center and it looked like you looked out at the audience and about half of them were in favor of the prison locating there at the time and about half of them were opposed. I knew theD.O.C. guy, I noticed he kind of shut his books up and he leaned over and says “Ernie you might want to adjourn this meeting. There ain’t no way we’re coming to a community that is counting neighbor against neighbor.” Now that changed later but for that prison it went to Malone. I think maybe in Graceville they saw the light little bit later and some good things happened on that front. I’m back home to stay now, you can quote me on that. I’ll tell you there’s so many good natural things I think, and I’m not just saying this because it’s my home county. I’ve been to other places and I’ve compared and I’ve seen and we’ve been in some good counties. I think Jackson County has performed over all very well and we have a lot of capable folks and community minded people and I look out in the audience and I see a lot of you that we knew each other many, many years ago and you were involved in the community then and you’re still involved in the community. So why is that? Because you want to. You’re not getting paid to do it, you want to do it. That’s the ingredients of a good team together is people are doing what they want to do for their community. I think if we keep on that road and I said, “Even though we’re there, I do believe there’s a chance to change gears and let’s even be I don’t want to use the word ‘aggressive ‘that’s a good term and even be more focused and aggressive on courting and doing things we need to do as a team moving forward in lock step to where we can attract some of these business or people looking to relocate or expand. Let me tell you something that I’m sure you already know and I made it a point most of the years in counties that I’ve been in and we’ve attracted some good industry once they got there I remember to down in Manatee County we were there for 12 years. I made it a point to get to know the people once they got everything on the ground and all and I was curious and I would ask, tell me something, what made you come here? When you had other places here, here, and here. They were falling all other themselves for you to come there. Why did you come here? When we were in Santa Rosa, why did you come here? Well, it’s interesting in what they say and what I’m about to share with you and you all know. Industry is looking at your area, and our area for a long time before we ever know about it, a long time. These industries hire these consultants that are very good at what they do and they are out there roaming and looking. They know what’s going on locally, they know what the headlines in your newspaper are, they know what kind of school system you have, and they know what kind of protentional training programs you have locally. They know all about that, because sometimes you get discarded, you get passed over and you don’t even know it. You learn something from that, that’s why it’s important that when we not only try to court an industry but just in the day to day activities of our governments, our community, our clubs and all that want to move this county ahead. My motto is, Let’s work well together, let’s treat people the way that we want to be treated. You know I’ve got a challenge with my organization here in a few areas. I’ve got a couple or three people that don’t seem to get along and I’ve served notice on two of them. I said, Now, I’m telling you folks, you guys are going to get along. They have to get along because their job is interfacing each other on a management level. I said y’all can get along one way or the other. I remember the old days when I would send two people to some meeting together and make them ride in the same vehicle. Back in the eighties you could make them rent a room with two double beds and make them stay together. I threatened to send them off two or three days together and make them spend a little time together. They didn’t like that idea. One guy said ‘Ernie I don’t know if you’re kidding or not.’ I said ‘Well, good.’ My real emphasis is going to be economic development and job creation. You write about places that you were a little apart of getting that here and that makes you feel good. Lydia probably gets tired of me every time we go up to Dothan the back way and we ride by Malone. She says, “I know what you’re going to say and it’s basically this, ‘Lydia see all those cars out there? That’s people going to work and earning a paycheck and carrying it home to their family.” I think that’s says it all. I believe that even the good thigs that Jackson County has historically done, I’m not sure that we’re not operating a little below our potential. I’m not saying that slamming, it’s not a negative but I think we can ratchet this up a level. We can operate even better and be more successful. I bet you that all of you in this room agree with me that there’s room of us to improve as we move forward and the things that we see that we want to do. Let me give you a quick example, Bill remembers this. Lydia and I got to be friends with Mr. Beall, their big distribution center is all the way down in Bradenton. I got to know Mr. Beall and Lydia got to know him and when we moved up here. He called me or something and they were going to close Beall’s, so I give Mr. Beall a call. He said, “Ernie aren’t you somewhere in north Florida?” I said, “Yeah I’m up here right in the middle of God’s creation.” We talked and I said, “By the way this is a social call but let’s take care of a little business. We got a store up here a lot of people like but the rumor is y’all are going to close it.” He said, “Ernie let me do some double checking.” At the time, it was a family owned business. He checked and called me back and he said, “Yeah Ernie we are but we are going to open another one pretty quick’, and they did. But in the conversation, this was a few years ago he said, “You know we’re opening up stores all over the place. In several different states. I predict the day will come when.” He asked “Where are you located?” I knew what he was about to get at I thought. I said, “We’re located I-10 runs right in the middle of us. east and west.” He said, “What about north and south?” I said, “We have a north or south port or two.” He said, “Well one of these times in the future once we locate our stores, where they are going, we’ll probably be looking to where we can put a distribution center.” I said, “Mr. Beall we have a perfect place.” Now this was a number of years ago. Things like this I was telling Bill, I’m going to resurrect that conversation, give him a call and see. I think his family is still involved in it. These are the kind of things that can sometimes break your way. I don’t think we would be disappointed in another distribution center. Those are the kind of things you want to see work. This is only my sixth week on the job and I’m still coming up to speed. Jackson County has some challenges when it comes to our organization and Jackson County government as a whole. These are things that need to be worked on. What I’d like to do is, I just want to leave with you: As it says here “The focus of economic development and job creation and I believe we can ratchet up and can move at a better speed. So, with that I want to stop there and see if there are any questions or comments.”
Padgett had a short question and answer session with information shared from those present before the meeting was adjourned.