Brown began working for the county in the roads department under commissioner Olin Tatum for a number of years before serving as county administrator for Frank Moore. When Moore passed away, Brown said a number of people wanted him to run for commissioner. It was something he had never really considered.
“I think after [Moore] passed away there were just a lot of people asking me to run. I hadn’t really thought about it. I had no intention of being the county commissioner,” Brown said. “As a matter of fact, I had gotten into the race and backed out.
“... I backed out for about a week, and when it hit the newspaper on Monday, it was front page news and then my phone did light up on that one. I mean at home. Even at night, like 12 o’clock at night, I’d be in bed and it would be ringing.”
After hearing from so many residents urging him to stay in the race, he decided to run.
“By Friday I was back in the race, so it didn’t last but a week,” Brown said.
After two decades of holding the county’s highest office, Brown said it was difficult to name an achievement he was most proud of; both Georgia Highlands College and bringing manufacturing jobs to Bartow ranked high on his list.
“It’s hard to put one before the other. I was really proud of the college. I really thought that was very important for our county,” he said. “I’m really proud of [the manufacturing jobs]. We’ve done well with manufacturing by joining up with the chamber and joining up with the city and working together.”
Even after so many years, though, he felt there was more he could have accomplished and more still he wanted to accomplish before retiring.
“I could do better,” he said. “I don’t have many days left, but I’d like to do another groundbreaking.”
County Administrator Steve Bradley, who has worked with Brown since his first election, said working for the commissioner was “like working with a good friend” and that the two of them had “a great relationship.”
“Clarence is the type of boss everybody would want to work for. He’s strong in his positions. He lets you know when he thinks you’re going down the wrong path, so to speak, but he does it in a kind way. He’s always set the tone, the leadership tone, but he’s allowed us to do our jobs. He doesn’t stand over us,” Bradley said.
One of the most important parts of his job, Brown believed, was listening to his staff as he trusted them to have the knowledge he needed to make a decision. It was advice, he said, that he passed on to Commissioner-elect Steve Taylor.
“Listen to what they have to say and learn from them because they’re going to have the knowledge. The department heads, you can’t come in and know what they know,” he said.
Bradley agreed, and he believed it was one of the best aspects of Brown’s leadership.
“That’s been the great thing about Clarence — he’s listening. He’s not doing all the talking, he’s mostly listening. I think that helps [him] come to those wise decisions...because he takes in the information. He kind of chews on it a little bit, kind of chews on the end of that pipe a little bit when he does that, before he makes that tough decision. He’s got this information in hand before he makes that decision,” Bradley said.
Among the toughest decisions he had to make was putting employees on furlough, Brown added. It was something he did not want to do, but declining revenues eventually forced the county to start making cuts.
“That’s probably the only thing that kept me awake on anything I’ve done. I hated doing that,” he said. “Then I had to keep cutting, buying people out on retirement — we lost a lot of good people.”
However, he said he was proud of the remaining county employees — who he believed have worked hard to deliver the same services to residents with less manpower.
While he has been preparing to leave office for the past few months by working with Taylor and County Administrator-elect Peter Olson, Brown has given little thought to what he will do in his retirement.
“I’m going to wait and see what maybe comes along. I don’t think I want to just retire ... I’m really not sure about it,” he said. “I keep thinking I might like to work two or three days a week somewhere if the right thing comes up.
“I’ve been offered a few things, but nothing interests me right now.”
The retirement celebration is scheduled to run from 2 to 5 p.m., with a presentation given at 3 p.m. The organizers ask that attendees do not bring gifts.
Brown’s retirement will not be official until Taylor takes office in January.