Cunningham, currently the chairman of the Talladega County Commission, received the Tenure in Office Award, given by the association annually to honor commissioners who have served at least 16 years in office.
“Commissioner Cunningham deserves the thanks of all Alabamians for his dedication to public service and his personal sacrifice,” ACCA President Debbie Wood said. “Considering the extraordinary challenges county commissioners face every day, he has continually served his constituents with honor and pride, and he deserves a pat on the back from everyone in Talladega County!”
The journey into county government began for Cunningham in January 1993 when he assumed his first four-year term as commissioner after being elected by county citizens.
Cunningham discussed some of the commission’s notable successes during his tenure.
“When I first came on, Talladega County had been in extremely dire straits financially — as a matter of fact, almost at the point of bankruptcy,” Cunningham said. “Our legislative delegation stepped in (and added) the two-cent sales tax. That two-cent sales tax legislation at the time said that the county could only use those funds to pay off debts that had been built up prior to a certain date, and we couldn’t use it for any dates beyond that. We paid that debt off early, and that’s probably the most significant thing for us was to get that burden off the shoulders of the taxpayers.”
Reestablishing order in the county’s finances paved the way for the commission’s most recent successes, having secured a clean audit three years in a row.
“I don’t want to take credit for that,” Cunningham said. “We’re up there, but it’s the accounting staff and department heads really making it happen for us. They do a great job. I truly believe in giving the every day people the credit because they’re the foot soldiers and they’re where the rubber meets the road.”
Even with the finances in tip-top shape, Cunningham insisted there’s always a challenge to face when it comes to money.
“There’s never enough money to do some of the other things (the commission) would like to do,” Cunningham said. “That’s one of the biggest challenges we face other than striving to maintain quality service without having to lay off any employees.”
Cunningham also serves with the county school board as a coordinator of student services, and though he doesn’t have too much face-to-face commission business with the parents, he said he believes working with the parents has its advantages.
“It helps that I know a lot of the people and it forges a pretty decent relationship when trying to solve any issues they may have,” Cunningham said. “Working for the school system in some ways with the job that I have is similar to being a commissioner in that you’re trying to solve a problem or letting them know why you can’t solve that problem.”
Carrying himself in a personable, friendly manner, Cunningham stated he enjoys interacting with the community as a whole in order to resolve issues that may arise.
“I don’t have a lot of talents, but I think one of my talents is that I’m able to communicate with people and do so in a way to where I don’t talk down to them, try to work with them and help solve their problems,” Cunningham said. “If I can’t, I try to be honest with them to let them know we can’t and why we can’t. I think I owe that much to them.
“I enjoy going out and talking to people, whether I’m going out to their homes to talk about their roads or when I see them at Wal-Mart or at ball games,” Cunningham added. “When you’re able to bring some water to a community that has not had county water, or when you’re paving a road or taking a dirt road and turning it into a paved road, that’s the rewards of this position in knowing that I’m helping someone.”
Contact Shane Dunaway at firstname.lastname@example.org