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franklin county times

David Palmer retires as Franklin County engineer

A little more than 31 years ago, David Palmer began paving the way forward for his engineering career in Franklin County, getting his start Jan. 7, 1991, as assistant county engineer. Sept. 11, 1995, he took over as the county engineer. June 30, 2022, he retired from the department.

The Franklin County Commission issued a resolution June 17 honoring Palmer on his retirement, and a party June 28 at the Franklin County Courthouse Annex celebrated his career and achievements.

“I’ve always been a person who really enjoys helping other people,” explained Palmer. “It has always been very gratifying to me to be able to take the skills I’ve learned and to be able to work so closely to help people have a better quality of life. That’s always been really important to me.”

As county engineer, Palmer has had the responsibility of 800 miles of county roads and more than 300 bridges, including around a $7 million equipment fleet, as well as 26 employees, including permanent and temporary positions. He’s also been responsible for helping develop the annual budget and get it approved by the county commission.

“I think the biggest challenge for any county engineer anywhere is that no local government is going to have sufficient funding to do all the things that you’d like to do in any given year,” Palmer said.

“The biggest challenge here has been to work to more efficiently manage the revenue that we’ve had and develop systems through the years to help us model our road and bridge system so we can be more efficient and better utilize the funding we’ve had available. We’ve spent a lot of time working on that. We’ve worked on ways to stretch the funding and other resources.”

Palmer explained county engineering is one of the few rural opportunities for a professional engineer, and he has been “fortunate and blessed” to have the role.

After graduating from Hackleburg High School in 1985 and the University of Alabama in 1989, Palmer first worked for a consulting engineering firm in Jasper. He said he got to be friends with an engineer in the Alabama Mining Commission, who one day asked him if he would be interested in a career in county engineering.

“I had no idea what a county engineer was back then,” explained Palmer. “I’d never had any contact with county engineers or commissioners or city councils or anything that had to do with local government.”

Shortly thereafter, Franklin County posted a position seeking an assistant county engineer. Getting hired for the position represented an opportunity for Palmer to work closer to home and be near his parents and the parents of his wife, Kim, who he was then dating and had plans to marry.

“It really fit like a glove. I just enjoyed the job from the very beginning,” said Palmer. “I knew I’d made the right decision coming here because I really love the people and relationships, working with folks and having the opportunity to make their lives a little better.”

He said he’s made a lot of friends over the years and had a lot of help.

“I’ve had a lot of really great relationships with a lot of super people,” said Palmer. “I’ve been blessed with people around me that have been as passionate as I am about finding ways to think outside the box and find innovative solutions for problems so we can stretch things and be more efficient.”

Some of those people, of course, are members of the Franklin County Commission.

He noted they’ve always been “very aggressive” in going after whatever grants they could get, explaining they were very successful in doing that, having been able to bring in a lot of extra funding. “I honestly couldn’t have done anything without them, and I’m very appreciative to have had those kinds of people around me,” Palmer said. “They’re really good people on a personal level as well as professional.”

The commission’s congratulatory resolution praises Palmer’s “outstanding and commendable service to the citizens of Franklin County and the Franklin County Commission,” as well as “diligent work and demonstrated ability.”

“I appreciate David Palmer for what he’s done for Franklin County throughout the years,” said Commission Chairman Barry Moore. “I really enjoyed working with him during my time as county commissioner, and I wish him the best in his retirement. It is well-deserved.”

Commissioners echoed similar sentiments. “I didn’t really know Mr. Palmer until I became a commissioner,” explained Commissioner David Hester, “but through meetings, projects and budgets, I’ve got a lot of respect for the way he’s handled himself and what he’s done for Franklin County. I wish him the very best and God’s blessing on him and his family.”

In May, Palmer was named the 2022 County Engineer of the Year by the Alabama County Engineers Association in recognition of his service to the profession. He was selected for the distinction by a committee of his peers from around the state. It’s the highest honor awarded at the annual ACEA conference.

“County engineers do a tremendous job managing county road and bridge systems, and they often accomplish this with limited resources,” said ACEA President John Mark Davis. “David’s work ethic and supervision represent the best qualities of public service and set an example of leadership to engineers all across the state.”

Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, also praised Palmer, saying he is “often consulted by other county engineers in the state because of his extensive knowledge of the profession, and he always makes himself available to lend a hand.

According to the ACEA, through his expertise and position, Palmer has secured more than $30 million in extra funding through grants while leading the county’s engineering department. He also served as a member of the ACEA leadership from 2014-2017, including a term as ACEA president from 2016-2017.

“Franklin County, along with Alabama’s 66 other counties, and the ACEA have benefited tremendously from his decision to devote his career to sharing his well-established skill set with county government,” Brasfield added.

So, what’s next as Palmer moves forward into retirement?

“Russellville and Franklin County are home. This is where we’ve raised our kids, and we call this home,” said Palmer. “I can’t imagine a better place to have spent the biggest part of my life or a better place to have raised my family. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity I’ve had to do that here.”

In retirement Palmer said he plans to spend more time enjoying the hunting and fishing opportunities in the county. He will also continue as a volunteer football coach, currently at Phil Campbell.

Palmer, who played defensive linebacker in high school and college, said football and sports in general are very important in his life.

“I believe that football and sports in general teach kids a lot of life lessons you can’t get any other way,” he explained, “and I really enjoy volunteering my time that way to be able to continue being a part of that sport and to have the opportunity to teach kids those lessons in the same way coaches taught me through the years.

“It’s rewarding, and it’s a way to continue doing something I’m passionate about.”

Palmer said he might do some consulting in the private sector for engineering firms, but he’s probably going to take a little bit of break as he sorts out precisely what comes next.

“I want to take the time I need to make a good decision for myself and my family moving forward,” he said.

“To the people of Franklin County, I want to express how thankful and appreciative I am for the opportunity to have served them over the past 31 years.”

Palmer, a Russellville city councilman, is a deacon at the First Baptist Church in Russellville and a member of the Franklin County Cattlemen’s Association.

He and wife, Kim, have three children. Their oldest, John David, will be graduating from the University of Alabama in August with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Middle daughter Callie is heading into her sophomore year at the University of Alabama, studying operations management. Youngest daughter Kinsley will be a junior at Russellville High School.

Palmer said he’s ready to move forward but will miss things, too. “It’s time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life, and I’m not exactly sure what that’s going to be, but I will certainly miss serving as the Franklin County engineer.”

Jason Baggett, who has served as assistant county engineer for the past year and a half, will be taking over the role of county engineer. “I’ll have some big shoes to fill,” Baggett said.

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