The Director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, James Sumner Jr., announced on Wednesday that he plans to retire on Oct. 1.
Sumner has served as the director for 17 years, and after 40 years of public service in various offices, Sumner said it was a good time to enter into the next phase of life. “The significance of the date is that Oct. 1 is the 40th anniversary of my first job with the Alabama Attorney General’s office,” said Sumner.
Right after his graduation from the Cumberland School of Law in 1974, Sumner got his first job in public service, and as he put it, “one thing led to another, and now here I am.”
He admits that he never thought he would be working with the ethics commission. “It was an evolution over time,” Sumner said. “If you would have asked me a year before I took the job here, I never would’ve thought this is what I would be doing.”
But that doesn’t mean Sumner doesn’t take great pride in what the Alabama Ethics Commission has been able to accomplish in his tenure.
“The main thing I want to point out is that for eight or 10 years we carried around a list of eight or 10 ethics reforms we wanted to change in the state. In 2010, the governor called for a special session, and at that time we were able to enact all of those ethics reforms,” Sumner said as he explained what he believes his legacy will be with the commission.
One of the occupational hazards when working within ethical gray areas is that sometimes the decisions can be tough. However, Sumner said he wouldn’t do anything different.
“I think we called every single one like we saw them,” he said. “I wouldn’t change any of it.”
Besides making tough decisions, Sumner said that another hazard was “holding the ship steady on course,” and not letting the politics influence the decisions of the commission.
“Keeping the commission fair and impartial was a big thing for me,” he said. “A lot of political leaders in the state want to pull you one way or another. We just wanted to look at the facts while keeping the politics and personalities out of it.
“I am very happy with the way we were able to accomplish that in my time there,” Sumer said.
As for what lies ahead, Sumner said he’s not quite sure yet.
“I only made the announcement yesterday, so I haven’t made arrangements yet. But I can say I’d like to teach. Maybe do a combination of that and consulting work.”