By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
A Heart for Rockdale: Van Ness looks back at eight years of representing the county
JaNice Van Ness during her 2006 swearing in for her first term in office, with Post 1 Commissioner Jason Hill and Commission Chairman Roy Middlebrooks. Previous Post 2 Commissioner Glen Sears is to the left. - photo by Submitted Photo

Post 2 County Commissioner JaNice Van Ness has about two and half weeks left in her eight-year run as a Rockdale Commissioner after losing her election race for the seat during the general election last month.

Yet, while things should be winding down for the commissioner, she's been working diligently trying to get legislature passed and initiatives started before her time is officially up.

"It's helped me realize a lot of things I needed to tie up as loose ends legislatively over this last month," Van Ness said about her impending leave from office. "It's as busy as ever."

So, Van Ness has been working tirelessly on getting some of her last minute initiatives - a new ethics ordinance being the main one, approved by the Rockdale County Board of Commission. Her opportunity to get some changes complete came during the board's final voting session of the calendar year Tuesday morning.

There were a lot of important topics up for discussion, as the board had the opportunity to approve the county budget for 2015, but prior to any discussion taking place, County Chairman and CEO Richard Oden declared Dec. 9 JaNice Van Ness Appreciation Day.

Ironically, Van Ness stole the show with her ethics ordinance proposal finally getting approval after months of back and forth between the board, and the board adopted Van Ness' salary raise proposal for its employees when they approved the county budget.

Yet, even with those victories under her belt, she still wants to do more with the little time she has left.

She'll still be working with the ethics ordinance trying to get a board enacted before she leaves office.

"I would love to see that the appointment of at least two (ethics board) members by the end of the year," said Van Ness. "That will make it active."

She's also working with code enforcement to try to reduce the time it takes to get owners of blighted homes to clean up their property and she's still working on getting "No Litter" signs put throughout Rockdale.

But, through her dedicated work on these matters, there shines a small part of Van Ness that is happy this chapter of her life is coming to a close.

She's worn a variety of other hats during her tenure being commissioner. She's the owner and founder of Peachtree Academy, a daycare and private Christian school, and mother to four school-aged children, her oldest is 17 and her youngest is 9, and a wife to her husband Ken.

Van Ness says she'll enjoy the extra time not being on the BOC will allow her to spend with her family and business.

"It will definitely free me up on Tuesdays," she joked.

Life under two administrations

Van Ness was elected to the board in 2006 and began her tenure in 2007, with former County Commission Chairman Roy Middlebrooks and former Post 1 County Commissioner Jason Hill.

She was new to local government then but knew she wanted to make a difference in the community, especially in the economic development sector.

"I think that I was really passionate about strengthening economic development and building the business relationships in the community," she said.

Before she could achieve that, she had to learn the process of how local government operated. She turned to Hill, who was a friend prior to her being elected, for assistance.

Hill says that he encouraged Van Ness to run for the Post 2 seat and that it was a pleasure working with her for the two years they were on the board together.

"She was always respectful and willing to work to find solutions even when the two of us didn't agree," Hill said. "Rockdale County will certainly miss having her in office."

Van Ness echoes the same sentiments as Hill. She says that thanks to the chief-of-staff at the time, Julie Mills, the three-member board was able to get on the same page before public meetings.

"She would meet with us and go over the agenda, talk to us like, ‘Commissioner Hill wants to do this,' or ‘Chairman Middlebrooks wants to do this,'" said Van Ness. "She would help build support for things. It was just a very calm, unified experience."

Overall, her two years working under the Middlebrooks administration are some of her fondest memories working as a commissioner.

"With the previous administration it was a much more comfortable experience," she said. "It was everybody working towards the same goal and problems in Rockdale County and doing what's best for the citizens in the community. And there weren't power struggles, like I feel go on today.

"So I have good experiences and memories of that time working together, and I probably didn't appreciate the access I had to department heads like I do now."

Her six years under the Oden administration has been "very different" compared to that time period.

"We just don't function that way and it's unfortunate," she said. "Chairman Middlebrooks and some of the other chairman in the past have had that trust relationship with the other commissioners and felt comfortable letting commissioners have access to department heads and having those open lines of communication, and unfortunately now, they have to sign a statement saying they will report back to him anything that's said. So very different."

She also believes the leadership for the community was better under Middlebrooks compared to Oden.

"I think Chairman Oden's intent is good, and let me just say all the commissioners I have served with are really passionate about (helping) the community," Van Ness said, but thinks that the county would be served better with a county manager handling operations.

A commonality between both administrations that Van Ness couldn't stand to put up with was the bureaucracy. She gave an example of the Rockdale Transportation department needing to go back and forth between the board and the Georgia Department of Transportation to approve documents.

"I knew from working in the federal government that the bureaucracy would bother me, and it's the one thing that bothers me today," she said.

Life after the BOC

When Van Ness took office in 2007, she had a one-year-old daughter. That child is now nine years old and gave Van Ness a different perspective on the situation.

"It's kind of unusual to think that that's all she's known," said Van Ness. "In fact, she said, ‘I get my Mommy back!'"

Van Ness, who says she spends a lot of time researching ideas and legislation that could benefit Rockdale County in some capacity, anticipates doing more activities in her role as a mother as opposed to her role as a commissioner.

"I go to community events representing Rockdale County," she said. "(This) will definitely give me extra time on my schedule and free me up as mom, which will be nice."

This transition may also free her up for more time to spend with her husband, but conflicting work schedules may still prevent that from happening. Nonetheless, Van Ness says that she couldn't have made it through these past eight years without Ken, the athletic director for her school in Covington, by her side.

"(He's) been great to allow me to focus on the county initiatives I've wanted to work on," said Van Ness. "I'm so grateful to have a partner in life that will do those things. He's 100 percent in the game and I'm so extremely grateful."

Van Ness she won't attend county meetings that much next year, unless something dire is on the agenda. However, she still plans to watch them occasionally on TV or the internet, and will also look to be a useful tool the community can use if they need assistance or have a problem with county operations.

"Now, I have the knowledge to be helpful to people and direct them to a different set of people to work with," she said, but, Van Ness also has faith that Post 1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt will be attentive to the voices of the community.

She says that when Nesbitt came on the board in 2009, with Oden, she didn't know much about him but they would eventually build a bridge of understanding between each other.

"I can definitely say it's been a growing relationship of trust between us," said Van Ness. "I think I and Commissioner Nesbitt have built a good enough relationship for me to feel comfortable that he will take care of those citizens."