After 25 years as Franklin County’s highway superintendent, Johnny Woodall is moving on into retirement.
Woodall announced his decision to the County Commission on Dec. 2, and a special reception was held Dec. 5 at the Franklin County Annex Building to allow those who have worked and been affiliated with him throughout his Highway Department tenure to say thanks and wish him well.
Woodall addressed the commission and its audience amid tears about his decision to call Jan. 2, 2020, his last day on the job.
“I would like to take this time and thank each and every one of you and the employees working in our local governments for being part of my life for the past 25 years,” he said. “You see, our county, as a whole, is very special to me. It is my home, my family’s home, as well as yours.
“We should not neglect it, but cherish it and strive to protect it for future generations.”
Woodall said that it has been an honor and privilege to serve Franklin County and its citizens.
“To my highway commissioners, county and city mayors, county commissioners and aldermen, it has been a privilege to work beside you to better our beautiful community,” he said. “People all around ask me why I work for government. As a wise Latinate governor once told me, all government is not bad, it is how much we respect and put into it to make it better.”
Woodall referred to 1994 when he became highway superintendent after working nearly 20 years in highway construction with Rogers Group Inc.
“At the young age of 37, I was the youngest highway superintendent in the state of Tennessee,” he said, adding that after 25 years, he is now the third-longest-serving highway superintendent.
Woodall said that the department and its administration have accomplished a great deal for Franklin County in its road and bridge systems.
He said that in 1995, he presented the county’s first road construction manual that included rules and regulations for all present and future road structures that were to be adopted into the county’s highway system.
He added that the manual was adopted by the full County Commission and is still in place and used as a model in several other Tennessee counties.
Woodall said that the Highway Department moved into the 21st century with a uniform roads list and work orders on computers.
He said that when the County Commission approved a geographic information system committee to oversee aerial mapping and develop a computer database of land tracts, roads and infrastructure, he made sure the Highway Department was at the forefront of the operation.
“Our office did a formal inventory of the road system, including culverts, bridges, roads and signs, so that the Highway Department staff would be able to utilize this pertinent information through GIS mapping software in the office and on the road, saving time and money,” Woodall said.
He said that the Highway Department’s staff worked side-by-side with the Tennessee County Technical Assistance Service to make the information available to all county road offices throughout the state.
In 1995, department staff and the Highway Commission developed a long-range plan to replace and improve available equipment for the Highway Department, beginning with a $500,000 capital outlay note to set the process in motion.
Woodall said that he also worked with the Highway Commission to assess and create a plan for the road system which led to a $1 million capital projects campaign in 1995, followed by a $6 million capital projects plan in 2004 and a $3 million capital projects plan in 2014.
“I not only care about the road system and the citizens of Franklin County, but I also cared about my employees and my staff,” he said.
In 2003, the Highway Department and the Highway Commission created the department’s first employee safety manual that addresses safety issues and guidelines for employees to follow and express their safety concerns, Woodall said.
He said that in 2005, the Highway Department and its commission adopted a safety program for its staff and employees.
“This program encouraged and promoted a safe atmosphere and rewards highway employees monetarily on an annual basis for their efforts in not having lost-time accidents,” Woodall said. “This, too, was a model for other counties in our state and is being used by other counties.”
He also referred to accomplishments at the state level.
“I am also proud to have served our county as a member of the Tennessee County Highway Officials Association in Region II,” he said.
Woodall served as president, secretary and treasurer for the Region II Board of Directors for several years.
He was also on the Tennessee County Highway Officials Board of Directors from 1994 to 2017. At that level, he served as the statewide president from 2003-04 and was a first through third vice president and organization secretary.
“One of my most memorable moments in my career as highway superintendent was on Oct. 11, 2012 in Memphis,” he said, adding that he received the prestigious Robert M. Wormsley Outstanding County Official of the Year award, presented by the Tennessee County Services Association in recognition of his support of county government.
Woodall highlighted some of the changes he has seen during the past 25 years with the Highway Department.
He said when he came aboard in 1994, the budget he had to work with totaled $283,000. In the past two and a half decades, that amount has increased to $3.4 million.
Woodall said the county has had a perfect audit the past three years, and in the past 25 years, the Highway Department has secured $3.5 million in road grants, plus a $780,000 federal grant to improve the UTSI Road in early 2020.
“We have improved 339 surface road miles of the 700 total in our county road system and replaced 50 of the 96 bridges over 20 feet in length, and on the 9,127th day, I am going to rest,” Woodall said. “Now it has come time for me to live the dream of retirement.”
He said he gets continually asked what he’s going to do in his soon-to-be off time, and he referred to his wife, Melissa, and fulfilling her “to-do list.”
Woodall said he going to relearn a vocabulary word he’s seldom used — “No” — and he’s going to travel, work for his lord and savior, and “last, but not least, spend time with my family and my grandchildren.”
His final words to the commission were:
“And now at this time, I want to thank all of you, my highway commissioners and the citizens of Franklin County for allowing me to serve the last 25 years as your superintendent of highways, and always remember, the most important road in the county is the one that runs in front of your house and the ones all your constituents use. Thank you.”