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Posted: December 27, 2008 5:00 a.m.

At the service of the county

BOC bids farewell to outgoing commissioners, chairman

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Serving Newton: County Commissioners Monty Laster, left, Ester Fleming and Chairman Aaron Varner chat at a reception honoring their service on the Board of Commissioners Monday. The outgoing officials served Newton County for a combined total of m...

A reception was held Monday at the Newton County Historic Courthouse for outgoing Newton County commissioners Monty Laster and Ester Fleming as well as Chairman Aaron Varner.

District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing spoke to the assembled crowd, thanking all the county employees for the assistance and advice they give the commission. He said that the BOC relies on consultants and experts in a number of areas to help them make important decisions, but said that God is who the board members look to most often.

"That's the guidance we need and depend on most of all," Ewing said before introducing speaker, the Rev. Ronnie Brown of Prospect United Methodist Church.

Brown said he often attends BOC meetings and gives an invocation whenever called upon. He expressed his gratitude to the board members for their dedication to Newton County.

"One of the words that came to mind when I was thinking about these three and the board in general," Brown said, "was the word ‘meekness.'"

Brown said because meekness rhymes with weakness it is often given a negative connotation. He defined it as "power under control."

"When I look at these three, when I think about the hours they put in at the cost of family, at the cost of friends, at the cost of children, at the cost of rest and relaxation for this community," Brown said, "I think we have truly been blessed and they will be missed."

He said their devotion has made Newton County a wonderful place to live.

Ewing said being a commissioner he understands the sacrifice board members have to make in order to serve. He asked the family members of the three to stand so the audience could applaud them. He then called Fleming, Laster and Varner up to the podium separately to give them a framed print of the Newton County Historic Courthouse and allow them to say a few words.

Fleming first took office in 1990 and was elected to serve four terms. He decided not to run again in 2008.

"It's been an honor and a privilege to be an elected official," Fleming said, "and it's an honor to be around that long, especially in today's political climate."

Serving with 14 different commissioners and under three different chairmen and representing both districts 2 and 3, he said he said the commission has been fortunate to have a good working relationship with other county departments.

"We may have had our disagreements on certain issues, but in the end we agreed to do the right thing for Newton County," Fleming said.

He concluded by saying to call him if he could ever be of any assistance to the county.

Monty Laster was appointed to serve the remainder of Billy Strickland's term after his death and was reelected to serve his own four-year term in 2004. He served on the commission for four years and 11 months.

"A lot of times when we were sitting up here discussing issues, we were not on the best of terms," Laster said, "but we get by it."

He said his family was always supportive of his service, but ultimately they were the reason he decided not to seek reelection.

"After one year, my granddaughter said she wanted her grandfather back," Laster said.

He shared with the crowd a funny story about how Sheriff Joe Nichols had come to a meeting asking for assistance in a matter involving two neighbors. Apparently the neighbors had no indoor plumbing and went outside to use the restroom. After an altercation, the neighbors would carry a shotgun with them and fire it into the ground after they had relieved themselves.

Word got out around the county that the commissioners were going to ban deer hunting in the county and at the next meeting they had a lot of explaining to do as the board room was filled with angry, camouflaged men.

He said his family has been in Newton County for 160 years and that he wanted to continue to serve the county in a volunteer capacity.

"Be part of the community," Laster said to the crowd. "I implore you to do that because it makes you feel better."

Varner was the last to speak. He took office in 2001 and did not carry the county vote against Democrat Kathy Morgan in this year's election. Ewing said giving Varner the print of the courthouse was very appropriate since he oversaw its renovation.

"He said ‘if they can make a silk purse out of this sow's ear, they'll be doing good,'" Ewing said of Varner's initial comments about the courthouse's renovation.

Varner had to hold back tears to make his statements.

"I think the last eight years have been tremendous," Varner said. "I've gotten to know y'all and I love y'all."

He told a story about how Tommy Craig said one night after a meeting, "let's go home and get some sleep and do battle tomorrow." He said those words often echoed in his mind throughout his tenure.

More like the Varner the public has come to know, he slammed his hand on the lectern and gave this general advice to those who now hold office in Newton County.

"Always respect the process whether you like the person in that seat or not," Varner shouted.

He said men and women have died for democracy and if the political process is not upheld then this county and country will revert to chaos.

Varner then calmly thanked the county staff for all they do for the commission and residents. He concluded with a sentimental statement.

"Most of all, I've upheld the name of Varner," he said, "and that means more than anything."

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