WOODSTOCK – Retired fire chief Raymond Gunnin of Woodstock will join the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners in January, after defeating incumbent District 2 Commissioner Jim Hubbard in a run-off last August.
The former chief of Cherokee Fire and Emergency Services is a Cherokee native who served 32 years with the fire department before retiring and throwing his hat into the political arena.
Gunnin said he decided to run for office because he didn’t want to sit at home and do nothing.
“A lot of people encouraged me, and I just felt that it was God’s path for me,” said Gunnin, 52. “There are some things that I’d like to see try to get implemented.”
One of the first things he said he would like the commission to get its arms around is the so-called “Bobo boondoggle.” The controversy started after the county-created Resource Recovery Development Authority issued $18.1 million in bonds in 2006 to Jimmy Bobo to move his Ball Ground Recycling company off county property to a site in Ball Ground.
A grand jury recently recommended the county recover all costs from Bobo related to the project after commissioners learned last year that taxpayers were on the hook for bond payments that Bobo had failed to make each month into an escrow account.
Gunnin said he hopes the county can find a new buyer as quickly as possible for the recycling center because the longer it sits idle the more difficult it will likely be to get it fully operational. He said he supports the grand jury’s other recommendations as well.
“I want to get that resolved and see if we can move forward with something that’s going to get the citizens their money back,” he said.
With Cherokee’s unemployment rate at 7.5 percent, Gunnin said jobs will also be high on his priority list after he is sworn in.
“I’d like to see more jobs created in the county,” he said. “I look forward to working with the development authority on that.”
In addition, Gunnin said he wants to work closely with all public safety officials in the county. Regarding taxes, he said would like to see the millage rate remain the same unless there is an absolute need to increase it. Until that point, officials should explore other ways of funding necessary projects, especially capital improvements, he said.
In January, Gunnin will join funeral home manager Brian Poole — who beat challenger Chris Hampton in July for the District 3 seat held by Karen Bosch — as the five-member commission’s two newest members.
In 1977, Gunnin graduated from Etowah High School and began volunteering with the Little River Fire Department. In 1980, he became one of the first paid firefighters on staff. He worked his way up the ranks until becoming county chief in 2005. He retired in September 2011.
He has touted increasing the EMS revenue collection rate from 38 to 58 percent during his tenure and placing into service the county’s first ladder truck without incurring debt.
As chief, Gunnin said he was responsible for managing the department’s personnel and annual budget of roughly $22 to $25 million. That experience, he said, taught him how county government works.
“I handled the budget for the fire department and I remained under budget while I was there,” Gunnin said.
“I feel confident going into it that I’m not going to have to learn everything and I’m going to know a lot of it already just by being there because I was there almost every work session and most of the commission meetings.”
Gunnin earned an associate’s degree in fire science technology from DeKalb College, as well as professional certificates from several accredited fire protection and emergency management institutions.
He and his wife Cindy have been married 32 years and have a 16-year-old son, Noah, a junior at River Ridge High School in Woodstock. He and Cindy are active school band boosters, he said.
The family attends Antioch Christian Church in Hickory Flat, where Gunnin serves as a deacon and is active with the Teen Youth Group.
In his spare time, Gunnin loves working with his father on his antique car collection, which presently includes a 1976 Chevrolet Corvette, 1968 Ford Mustang, 1950 Ford pickup truck and 1923 Ford Model T hot rod built from the ground up.
He said he has managed to pique the interest of his son with his hobby.
“I’m hoping he’ll carry on the tradition,” said Gunnin.