A transformation is under way in Liberty County that affects all municipal governments.
The Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission on Monday welcomed incoming Executive Director Jeff Ricketson, who officially replaces outgoing Executive Director Sonny Timmerman on July 1.
Timmerman was hired nine years ago to help establish the commission, which was created in late 2004 by local ordinances adopted by municipal governments within the county, according to the commission’s website. The organization handles zoning and permitting processes as well as regional-transportation planning.
The consolidated planning body opened in January 2005 with three employees working under Timmerman.
“When I came, this didn’t exist,” he said, proud to be part of the commission’s creation. “It’s been something good to start something from scratch and get it to the stage it is.”
Funding for the Hinesville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, which addresses transportation planning, enabled Timmerman to be hired.
Eight years later, the organization has a staff of eight and a budget of roughly $900,000 between the planning commission and HAMPO.
Timmerman will begin his own consulting venture after departing the LCPC. His exit makes way for Ricketson’s return to Hinesville.
Ricketson was hired by the LCPC governing board, which includes the mayors from each municipality and the chairman of the Liberty County Board of Commissioners. Flemington Mayor Sandra Martin typically is chairwoman of the board, but Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas spearheaded the hiring.
Thomas said Ricketson’s salary is approximately $101,000 but said the exact numbers were not available. His contract also includes a requirement that he reside in Liberty County.
“We think, the mayors together and the chairman of the county commission, we think we selected the best person for the job,” Thomas said. “We had very good candidates, but we considered him the best because of his knowledge of the county from a previous job here.”
From 2009-12, Ricketson was director of the Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership, a four-county regional planning collaborative under direction of an 18-member board of directors. Federal funding for the position ended last year.
“He knows the people, he knows the political landscape,” Timmerman said about Ricketson. “But they know him, so there’s the advantage, because if Jeff were brand new in this community, there would need to be more time to acclimate.”
In that role, Ricketson worked alongside LCPC staff. One of his final projects was a comprehensive development-code revision, which the Liberty County Board of Commissioners adopted last summer.
The city of Hinesville still is weighing the revision, as are other municipalities, Ricketson said.
In the year since, Ricketson has worked with Vismor, Ricketson and Associates consulting, a role that has brought him back to the area.
“During my three years here, I built a lot of personal and professional relationships, and during my year of absence, I missed them,” Ricketson said. “Doing my consulting business, I was brought back to the area a few times on business, and I met with people I had known here and thought about how much I missed the area.”
Ricketson also was a member of the Rotary Club of Hinesville and served as its president from 2011-12.
He said he’s excited to be back in the area and believes the role will call upon skills he has developed throughout his career.
“Since I began my career in 1989, I’ve worked with small and medium cities, and this certainly being an agency that’s responsible for planning for Hinesville and six other smaller communities, it certainly fits within the skills I’ve been developing my whole career,” he said.
The county’s coastal lands present a new challenge, as well as planning around Fort Stewart, Ricketson said. Like other LCPC staff and commissioners who at the Countywide Planning Workshop in May, Ricketson said he also feels developers should be mindful to protect the area’s tree canopy when building.
The change is coming at an opportune time, he added.
“We’re in process of updating the comprehensive plan for Liberty County, and each of the cities is involved in that,” he said. “One of my main goals for the near future is to try to engage the citizens of Liberty County in putting together this comprehensive plan, because when you make this comprehensive plan something that a lot of people buy in to, it makes the job of approving developments a whole lot easier, because when people come in and say they want to build, you know what people want to see.”