Chris Collett, who was also over animal control, said he decided to retire during a meeting with County Manager Jerry Cooper. But Collett said he had been thinking of moving on because of the heavy load he carried as the head of multiple agencies.
Collett said his native Cherokee County has given him more than he could repay, but it was time to take it easy.
“Sometimes, quality of life becomes more important than anything,” Collett said Wednesday. “I just felt like it had gotten too much. I’ve given the county 20 years. I’ve tried to give them a good 20 years ... Seven days a week is fine when you’re 30, but when you get 51, about to be 52, that becomes quite a bit.”
Collett has been replaced in his role as chief marshal by June Killian, who had been deputy chief. The Cherokee E-911 operation will be headed by Priscilla Bridges, previously assistant director of communications. They are both serving on an interim basis until the Board of Commissioners makes permanent appointments.
As he settled into retirement, Collett’s now former colleagues praised his service to the county.
“Chris has served the county and citizens of Cherokee County well the past 20 years, and I thanked him for his invaluable service and leadership,” the county manager said. “Under his leadership, the county Marshal’s Office retained state certification and the E-911 center was awarded Call Center of the Year and received national accreditation, becoming one of only a few nationally accredited E-911 centers in the state of Georgia.”
Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens praised Collett’s leadership and ideas, which have “raised the bar” for the marshal’s office, the 911 center and the animal shelter.
“We wish him well in his retirement and pursuit of personal interests,” Ahrens said.
Commissioner Ray Gunnin, formerly county fire chief, said Collett will be missed on the job, but he looked forward to more golf games with his friend.
“I worked with him for many years, and he always worked hard to resolve issues in a professional manner,” Gunnin said. “I do wish Chief Collett success and good luck in whatever he does.”
Collett said he plans to pursue other interests, though he isn’t quite sure what they’ll be. Whatever happens, he said he sees no full-time work in his future.
“I would like to work part time and enjoy life a little bit more,” said Collett, who also writes a weekly column in the Tribune. “You know, my dad retired at 57, but at 70 he got Alzheimer’s. That terrible disease runs in our family. We only got one shot at this life and I want to spend the next 10 years, 15 years (enjoying it).”
Collett started with Cherokee County in 1994 as a sheriff’s deputy. Collett left the sheriff’s office with the rank of major, serving as jail administrator. He went on to be appointed director of the county’s 911 division and, in 2011, took over as chief marshal after Ray Waters retired.
Collett said Waters’ retirement was in the “absolute valley” of the Great Recession, and the county decided to consolidate the jobs of 911 center director and the marshal’s office chief. He said it ended up being too much for one man to handle, and he sees why the county has appointed two different people for the jobs.
Still, he was clear Cherokee County has treated him well over the years.
“The commissioners have been very good to me, Mr. Cooper’s been very good to me,” he said, adding: “Sheriff (Roger) Garrison gave me an opportunity 20 years ago that I will forever be in debt to him for.”
Collett’s interim replacement at the 911 center says she is in debt to her predecessor, because of his mentorship.
“He was really good about helping us with our professional development,” Bridges said. “He prepared us to take over. We think really highly of Chris. We really appreciate him preparing us for this.”
The interim head at the marshal’s office feels the same way.
“Chris Collett has been a friend and mentor to me for my entire career in Cherokee County, which began in 1999,” Killian said. “His absence from our team is going to be a big adjustment for those of us who look up to him for his leadership and insight. Collett had a way with people that few can surpass.”
Collett said if Bridges and Killian weren’t ready to take over, he wouldn’t have retired.
“That’s how much confidence I have in them,” he said.