When Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver adjourned the board’s Dec. 20 meeting, he was adjourning more than that session.
With the pound of his gavel, McIver effectively made his last move in a public service career that spans 30 years, with his 10 final years dedicated to the chairmanship.
On Thursday, former District 2 Commissioner Donald Lovette will be sworn in as McIver’s replacement, alongside the other commissioners and members of the board of education, whose seats were up for re-election.
“This is my last meeting for the board,” McIver joked Thursday. “I hope you don’t have an emergency arise. If you do, I may be out of town.
“I just wish you all continue all the great successful work we’ve been doing and continue moving forward. I know I’m leaving a lot on paper to continue forward,” he said.
McIver’s closing advice for the council was to update the county charter — created in 1777 and “almost obsolete” — a project the board discussed in a March planning retreat. Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown said the county recognized McIver at a luncheon earlier this month.
“The chairman assumed office during a very difficult time for the county. His background in government operations and ability to lead collectively were very important in bringing stability to the government,” Brown said.
The Riceboro native was the fourth of eight children born to Hagar and James McIver. He graduated from Liberty County High School and began working at Interstate Paper.
In March 1967, McIver married Gloria Grant, with whom he has seven children and 16 grandchildren.
His political career began in 1978, when he and several Riceboro residents were concerned about the lack of service they were receiving. When they sought the county’s help, officials told them it was a municipal problem.
The group presented its case before a grand jury, which recommended contacting the Department of Justice and petitioning for a municipal election.
McIver intended to serve as one of four council members, but he threw his name in the ring for mayor after no one else qualified. He was elected alongside Bobby Hughes, Jack Helmuth, John Williams and Alexander Gardner and was the third African-American elected to office within Georgia, he said.
He would serve as Riceboro’s mayor for 20 years.
In what he calls one of his greatest accomplishments as mayor, McIver secured grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide and later expand public water service in the incorporated area, which helped attract a SNF Chemtall plant.
The council also implemented garbage collection, improved the local volunteer fire department and annexed nearby areas.
McIver first retired from office in 2000, prompting recent jokes like, “I’ve already attended one other retirement party for you, so this better be the last one.”
He said former constituents asked him to run for chairman.
“Initially, it wasn’t my aspiration to say, ‘I need that chairmanship.’ No, they came to me. …,” McIver says. “It’s not like I needed name recognition or I needed status. That’s not John McIver; I don’t seek that kind of thing.”
He was reluctant at first, especially because he had promised his wife and mother he was done with politics.
“She said, ‘Boy, just get out of that thing,’” he said of his late mother. “She used to ride me pretty hard. She’d say, ‘You can’t please everybody. You don’t need the headache. Just get out of it.’”
Gloria McIver said, “When he decided to run for chairman, he talked to me about it, and I said, ‘Yes, you have my blessing. Go for it.’ But now that his time is up, he has my blessing to go ahead and get out.’”
In the 2002 Democratic primary, McIver took on Hinesville businessman Reggie Sage, former commissioners Harry R. Rogers, and then-District 5 Commissioner Edna Walthour.
McIver and Rogers went into a runoff before McIver advanced and beat incumbent Jimmy Smith, who ran as a Republican.
McIver’s first term as chairman was two years long. The commission was moving to staggered four-year terms. Despite his mother’s initial suggestions to avoid “all that mess,” McIver was re-elected in 2004 and in 2008.
During McIver’s tenure, the county has overseen:
• creation of the $10.5 million MidCoast Regional Airport, a joint venture with Hinesville and the Liberty County Development Authority, built in 2007
• completion of a $790,000 county-owned fire station in 2012 at Gum Branch
• construction of the $20 million Liberty County Justice Center in May 2011
• the $1.5 million purchase of land on the North Newport River for a public marina
• construction of a $4.8 million, county-owned Division of Family and Children Services building that the state will lease.
This story borrows details from an extended profile on McIver in the fall 2012 edition of Liberty Life magazine.