Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Well-Loved' Retiring Labor Commissioner Leaves with Pride; NOT AN ISLAND He Praises the Department's Staff for Its Handling of the Great Recession

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Well-Loved' Retiring Labor Commissioner Leaves with Pride; NOT AN ISLAND He Praises the Department's Staff for Its Handling of the Great Recession

Article excerpt

Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA - On his next-to-the-last day of work Thursday, retiring Labor Commissioner Mike Thurmond spent part of the afternoon hugging employees who crowded the ground-floor lobby of the Labor Department, and he wasn't the only one dabbing away tears.

"He's well-loved," said Richard Eskridge, director of administrative services at the department.

They gathered to watch him unveil the official portrait that joins those of his seven predecessors on the lobby wall.

Thurmond calls the staff the unsung heroes of the Great Recession for dealing with the frustrations and anger of those left jobless.

For 12 years, Thurmond has led the agency, announcing his retirement last year when he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. In his tenure, the Athens native said he's tried to change the perception of the agency from "the unemployment office" to the "career center," modernizing processes and creating at the same time the Georgia Work$ training program that's been copied by 30 states.

However, the achievement that is most satisfying to him is in an area out of the limelight and that most of the public little associates with the department: It's occupational rehabilitation for people with physical handicaps.

He points to construction of a $20 million building at the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation and the ongoing erection of a $10 million structure at the School for the Deaf in Cave Springs.

"This is by far, in my mind, my most significant accomplishment," he said.

Getting the funding wasn't easy at a time when the state budget is so stretched that the Labor Department has had to borrow $533 million from the federal government to keep paying unemployment benefits. He convinced Gov. Sonny Perdue to come up with half to match federal grants for the balance, even though Perdue is a Republican and Thurmond is a Democrat. …

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