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franklin county times

Secretary of State candidate tours county


A statewide candidate who is very familiar with Franklin County spent the day Tuesday touring area businesses and visting local leaders.

State Rep. John Merrill, who represents parts of Tuscaloosa County in the state House, met with officials throughout the day as he made his first stop in the county since announcing his candidacy for Secretary of State back in January.

Merrill is married to the former Cindy Benford, of Phil Campbell.

“This feels like home to me,” Merrill said in between stops Tuesday morning.

“I have been coming here with my wife for 30 years, so I feel like I’m at home when I’m in Franklin County.”

Merrill, who currently works as a Business Development Officer for First Federal Bank in Tuscaloosa, is serving in his first term in the legislature.

Merrill said he had been interested in that particular office since he was 14 years old.

“There are three areas that the Secretary of State’s office can be a valuable asset and that’s elections, working with businesses and with adoptions,” he said.

“In the area of elections, we want to strengthen the election process so people know that there is integrity within the system and everyone is encouraged to participate. It’s also important that our military folks serving to protect us have their votes protected and counted.

“We can send a man to the moon and back several times but we can’t find a way to safely, securely allow our military personnel to vote online,” he asked.

“Other states are able to do it. We can find a way here in Alabama too.”

As far as the office’s role in working with businesses, Merrill said that “what they do, we need to do well.”

The Secretary of State’s office works with licenses and trademark issues. Merrill said that in some cases, it can take three to four months to get things done that in some states can be handled in a week’s time.

Another critical area that he wants to improve upon is the office’s handling of international adoptions.

“We need to make it easier for a family to adopt a child and not more difficult,” he said.

During Merrill’s visit to Franklin County, he toured the area of the new Phil Campbell High School, Mountain View Baptist Church, G&G Steel, Tiffin Motorhomes and visited Community Spirit Bank in Red Bay.

“I have been to 42 counties and this feels just like I’m at home,” he said.

“There are a lot of good things happening in Franklin County and I will always do whatever I can to help the people here.”

Merrill attended the University of Alabama where he served as President of the Student Government Association in 1986-1987. He served as a Congressional intern for Congressman Bill Nichols (1983) and Senator Howell Heflin (1984).

After his term as SGA President, he became the governmental affairs intern at the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama in 1987-88. He then served as a national advertising account executive and manager for Randall Publishing Company. In 1990, he became the Assistant Director for the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority where he assisted in the recruitment of Mercedes-Benz. He then served as the Director of Business Development for the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama in 1993-94. From 1994 until 2010, he was the Director of Community Relations and Community Education for the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education. In this capacity, he served as the spokesperson for the Tuscaloosa County School System and coordinated twenty after school programs. In 2011, he became a Business Development Officer for First Federal Bank in Tuscaloosa.

On Nov. 2, 2010, Merrill was elected to represent the people of District 62 in the Alabama State House of Representatives. He serves as the Secretary/Treasurer of the House Republican Caucus and is a member of the powerful Rules Committee, Economic Development and Tourism, and Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections Committees. He is also a member of the House Fire Caucus and the House Steel Caucus. Regionally and nationally, he is a member of the Southern Legislative Conference and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

He has been married to the former Cindy Benford of Phil Campbell for 28 years. She is the principal at Westwood Elementary School in Coker. The couple has two children, Brooks (23), a graduate of the University of Alabama and graduate student at the University of South Florida, and Allie Grace (20), a junior at the University of Alabama.