Newest county commissioner hints of great things ahead

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Jay Purcell is the first new county commissioner Cape Girardeau has seen since 2001. On New Year's Day, he replaced Joe Gambill, who stepped down after two terms.

He joins Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones, who has been in that seat since 1995, and Larry Bock, who has been the 1st District commissioner since 1993.

Last year, Purcell was one of 10 candidates, including nine Republicans, who duked it out for one of the county's most powerful positions.

The race was filled with accusations that the current commissioners weren't working full-time hours, yet still raking in more than a $50,000 salary. There were other hot issues in the race, including the county's dispute with the city of Jackson over road and bridge taxes.

Purcell took office one month ago today. He has indicated that big news, good news, is just a few weeks away. The following is an interview conducted with Purcell on Monday about his first month on the job.

You've been in the office a month now. What are your first impressions?

Purcell: Well, I think the first thing that I noticed is the misconception that the county commissioner is not a full-time job. It is truly an untrue perception. There are meetings, governmental meetings that happen all over the county at all times of day and night. It's an extremely positive job, but also a very busy job.

So what specific types of meetings have you been going to?

Purcell: We have mental health board meetings, all types of transportation meetings, dinners, industrial recruitment, anything that happens in the county. We try to make sure we stay busy and stay interactive with all those groups and agencies so we keep our finger on the pulse of the community.

You mentioned the full-time status. Some of those complaints were coming from county employees. There were some complaints that commissioners weren't spending enough time around the buildings and could only be found in the office on Monday and Thursday mornings. You talked about spending more time around the county offices. Have you done that and what were your impressions?

Purcell: Yes. I think the biggest thing we can do as a commission is go around and meet with people and let them realize what we're doing. Just because we're not here in the office, it doesn't mean we're not involved in county business. I think that's where we've gone wrong. We haven't educated the public. And we need to give praise and talk about the good things that are happening.

Here's your opportunity. What are some of those good things that are going on?

Purcell: Well, there's been a lot of things. Some of it I can't elaborate on right now, but I will let you know I've been in on many meetings with the city of Jackson. I've been in meetings with the court system. I've been in meetings with the juvenile system. And many things that were headed toward legal avenues are now averted. Some are not as far along as we'd like, but they're all headed in a positive direction in my opinion.

What is your sense of morale among county employees?

Purcell: I think overall it's good. It may not be fair for me to judge only being in office a month. But employees are receiving raises on an annual basis. I think that's the first step -- to make sure people are paid properly so they like their jobs.

Let's go back to the legal issues. You say some are being averted. Is that something you've seen changing as you've been in office?

Purcell: Without a doubt. One of the things I've said all along is that citizens are very unhappy when they see their officials arguing and fighting. We all live in the same community. We attend the same churches, the same parks. It just makes sense that we should work together and I intend to promote that. I think I've been effective in doing that my first month.

What are your thoughts on how the meetings are conducted?

Purcell: I think there may be some room for tweaking, but it's still early on yet. I want to watch the process a little longer and make an informed decision later.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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