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County manager in Lee tackles new set of challenges

Ron Rabun, the new county manager in Lee County, stands with the county seal. (Staff Photo: Danny Carter)

Ron Rabun, the new county manager in Lee County, stands with the county seal. (Staff Photo: Danny Carter)

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Lee County Manager Ron Rabun came to Leesburg following five years in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Staff Photo: Danny Carter)

LEESBURG — Stacked high on a conference table in the Lee County Manager’s office are three tall loosely arranged mountains of documents.

Ron Rabun considers them his textbooks for the first few weeks on the job. There’s no light reading here. Many of the papers are financial in nature as Rabun becomes familiar with the county sending plan he has to manage.

Other papers deal with the creation of the Department of Public Safety, how to improve fire protection in a mostly rural county where you can drive miles without seeing a fire station or hydrant.

And when he gets up to speed on that, Rabun can move to the pile of paperwork on SPLOST VI. It’s his duty to get costs researched to accomplish what Lee voters have asked the county to finance with their sales tax money.

While the paperwork is a little intimidating, it’s nothing compared to Rabun’s last assignment. He was in Afghanistan serving the federal government as a senior governance advisor.

“It was much like the military surge,” Rabun said. “We were the civilian surge, stationed with the military and traveling in armored vehicles. There was no such thing as walking down the street unguarded.”

Rabun served two years in Afghanistan and three years in Iraq assisting with governance and democracy issues.

“We worked to rebuild and stabilize local government in both Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “We helped them manage public works, water systems, how to use computers, how to do a budget, how to start and complete projects, how to do planning and development … basic stuff.”

Rabun admits helping those communities transition from a war-torn society to a functioning society was challenging.

“They were very receptive in Iraq,” he said. “Less so in Afghanistan, with some notable exceptions.”

Rabun said the foreign duty had its own set of disappointments. “We might oversee the building of a clinic and then see it blown up,” he said.

In addition to the daunting task and constant safety concerns, the assignment took Rabun away from his family. He and his wife would meet occasionally in Turkey or other sites. Occasionally, he would fly back to the United States so he could visit with his wife and his three grown children and their families. The family now includes two grandchildren.

The duty was tough, but financially rewarding, earning him a salary more than three times the $90,000 he accepted to come to Lee County. He had been living in Griffin since returning from Afghanistan. He still lives there but is house hunting in Lee County.

Considering the challenges of his foreign duty, Rabun says he’s looking forward to a more stable public administration role.

“I have learned there is a lot to be done here,” he said. “I have learned that we have a very active and caring commission. They want to see things done. We have a good staff that cares and has a good work ethic.

“I think we have the building blocks for a good progressive government. … I want to be conscious of history, but I don’t think anybody is satisfied with remaining at status quo. We want to be a model county in the state.”

Asked to describe his management style, Rabun said he believes he is a collaborative manager. He tries to provide a general direction but leaves his managers to deal with the specifics.

“I delegate, but I won’t delegate it away so it doesn’t come back to me,” Rabun said.

And, patience is not at the top of his list of attributes.

“I am time sensitive,” he said. “I want to see things done in a timely manner, so I am a little bit icky about getting things done. I don’t want to study things to death.”

Back in a more traditional management role, Rabun says things have changed a little.

“I think it’s become more demanding with the financial squeeze. … We’re trying to do the same or more with less,” he said. “There has always been a demand to do things cost efficiently, but I think that has accelerated since I left in 2007.”

In his spare time, Rabun loves to run, exercise and lift weights to “stay in shape.”

He also loves to read.

“I like international espionage, World War II stuff,” he said. “Ludlum, Lee Child.”

But, after serving in numerous government management roles for decades, Rabun said the challenge of work is still what inspires him.

“If it lands on my desk, it’s not easy or someone else would have handled it,” he said.