Twelve years, two presiding commissioners, and a quarter-cent road and bridge sales tax later, Newton County associate commissioners Jerry Black and Jack Sanders have decided to retire.
The two men, both elected to their posts in the November 2000 election, will be stepping down at the end of the year, making way for their successors, Jim Jackson and Alan Cook.
For Sanders, of Neosho, his position on the Newton County Commission was his first time holding elected public office.
He described his experience serving on the commission as an honor.
“I saw an announcement in the newspaper that Jerry Carter was running for presiding commissioner and I’ve known Jerry all of my life and I thought you know that’s something maybe I could do,” Sanders said. “It’s been very rewarding to me. It’s especially appreciated at this time in my life, kind of in my twilight years of my life, to have the satisfaction that the voters and citizens of the county have entrusted me with the office.”
This wasn’t Sanders’ first time working with Newton County, though. Sanders had spent 11 years as a juvenile officer for Newton and McDonald counties.
Meanwhile, Black, of Joplin, had served two terms on the Joplin R-8 school board and operated his own business, Miners Ice, for 28 years, but had not experienced working with county government.
He said he saw some problems going on in the county that year, and thought he might have something to offer.
“I had a background in business and also in government, so to speak, and just felt that I had the experience to help the county,” Black said. “In the 12 years, things have been stable. We went through some tough times, but we knew how to manage our way through it. There has not been controversy in this county.”
Sanders said he and Black didn’t know each other prior to winning office, but have worked well together. Black said it is that cooperation that has helped business to run smoothly in the county commissioner’s office.
“That’s what’s made us successful really over the 12 years, or contributed to our success,” Black said. “With Jack and previously with Jerry Carter (former presiding commissioner) and now the last two years with Marilyn Ruestman (current presiding commissioner), there’s just always been the ability to work together.”
Both Black and Sanders point to the county’s financial stability as one of their greatest accomplishments while serving on the commission.
Black, who has spent much of his time on commission working with the county’s roads and bridges, also listed the passage of a quarter-cent road and bridge sales tax as an accomplishment.
Page 2 of 2 - “The thing that stands out the most with me is getting the sales tax issue passed in 2011, to in the future have the funds available to improve the roads county-wide,” Black said.
Black and Sanders were elected to the commission the same time Carter was elected as Newton County Presiding Commissioner.
The three men worked together through 2010, when Carter opted not to seek re-election.
Ruestman joined the commission in January 2011, and said she could not have received a better welcome.
“When I came I felt very accepted, I never was uncomfortable,” Ruestman said. “They’ve always been supportive and I never feel like anyone here is left out on the limb. We really do function as a team and these two gentlemen I think are responsible for that.”
As the end of Black and Sanders’ terms near, upcoming commissioners Jackson and Cook have been spending time in the commissioners office, where the present and future office holders are working to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“I think the county will be in good hands,” Sanders said. “They’re both knowledgeable men and I think well qualified for the job.”
After 12 years of public service, what will Black and Sanders do next?
Sanders said he will likely volunteer with Church Growth, International, where he was employed prior to his time on the commission.
For Black, a lot of family time is on the agenda, as during his time on commission his family expanded from two to ten grandchildren.
Both men say they will miss the day-to-day work of the commission and especially the people they have worked with while on the job.
Ruestman said that feeling is mutual.
“I’m very sad to see these gentlemen go, because they’ve really done a great job and I think they have practiced integrity,” she said. “Jack and Jerry are both fine men and they are the type of men that you should have in public service, without a doubt.”