MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 9, 2014

Wallace in final commission term

District 1 office will be vacant for first time in 16 years

Muskogee County Commissioner Gene Wallace plans to step down from his District 1 post when his fourth term expires at the end of the year.

Wallace spent most of his professional career as a public servant, working as a municipal judge in Spencer while he attended law school. Wallace went on to work 16 years beside the late U.S. Rep. Mike Synar and was elected in 1998 to his first term as county commissioner.

“You know, the reality eventually comes to everybody that you have to make choices in life, and I have some personal choices I have to make,” Wallace said, acknowledging the health problems his wife is experiencing. “But one of the greatest feelings I will leave with is that I have helped shape public policy for many years, and that is something my family and I are extremely proud of.”

Wallace said his service to the community has included work with rural water boards, church treasury and long-term investment committees, and as chief of a volunteer fire department serving the Donkey Lane area in Muskogee County. He serves as president of one state association made up of county commissioners and another one made up of all county officers across Oklahoma. Wallace has served the past eight years as chairman of a regional board for the Office of Homeland Security.

“To be involved in public service and public policy is a hard job, and not everybody enjoys it — it’s not without complaint and not without conflict,” Wallace said. “But the government I have been involved with and witnessed, working in the government at the local level, is by far the most satisfying.”

Wallace said that is particularly true in Oklahoma, where the framers of the state Constitution “got it right.” They did that by granting local government officials “the ability, the presence and the power to solve most of the local problems.”

The planned departure of the longtime public servant could open the gates for a flood of potential candidates who might want to succeed him.

Wallace said he has people who work for him now who are “well trained, prepared to run and would do a good job, but voters will make the decision” during this year’s election cycle.

“I have been extremely fortunate to have a family that has supported my commitment to do these things,” Wallace said, adding a good public official must have the mentality of an NFL defensive back who is ready to tackle anything. “And I have one of the most dedicated and well-trained staff, as good as any man could be blessed with.”

Even though Wallace plans to step aside at the end of the year, he said his work will continue unabated.

Some of the projects he would like to see through completion include a new bridge across the Grand River at Fort Gibson and two road projects for which the county is partnering with the Muscogee (Creek) and Cherokee nations.

“We are not going to coast to the end,” Wallace said. “We will work as hard today as we did 16 years ago.”

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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