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Chairman takes a bow
Laughinghouse ends final term on board
laughinghouse
Charles Laughinghouse served two four-year terms as District 1 county commissioner. His last term ended Dec. 31. - photo by File photo

 

Charles Laughinghouse thinks of three words when he remembers why he first got interested in local government: Bill's Fast Lube.

A "spot zoning" in 1995 near his home got him fired up enough to get involved and later make his first run for the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners in 1998.

In 2002, Laughinghouse won and went on to serve two terms as the District 1 commissioner.

For the past four years, he's also headed up the board as chairman, having been elected by his fellow members.

He opted not to seek a third term in office, citing spending more time with family as a main reason. Commissioner Pete Amos won the election for the open spot and began his term Saturday.

Laughinghouse's term ended with 2010, but he jokes that he's like "a bad penny"-- you just can't get rid of him.

He plans to take a couple months out of public life and reconnect with his family, and then continue to be involved in county issues.

"I did it for the four years before I came into office, and I don't see any reason why I can't continue to do that being out of office," Laughinghouse said.

Before entering the political realm, Laughinghouse worked as a principal engineer for a company in Roswell.

After taking office, he said, "I discovered very quickly that to do the job right, it was more than a part-time job."

He retired from his engineering post and switched gears to a more social position, developing his skills in listening and negotiating, something he's proud of.

"Being an engineer," he said, "people don't really think that you're people-oriented or have any people skills, but in eight years, I think I have demonstrated [that I do]."

Laughinghouse said success as a commissioner comes from listening to the county's citizens before opening one's own mouth.

Over the past eight years as the county's population has boomed, he's listened to a lot of people.

He recalled logging more than 200 miles on his car some weekends as he drove around to view areas involved in rezoning matters.

He felt one of the biggest accomplishments during his time on the board were the county's advances in transportation to try and accommodate growth.

By urging on and partnering with the state, several improvements in safety and traffic were made to Hwys. 306, 369 and 9.

"Traffic was perhaps the biggest issue that the citizens faced," Laughinghouse said. "I think I put forth a great deal of effort ... and I think I've been successful in alleviating some of those traffic nightmares."

He also fondly remembered progress toward infrastructure for safety and recreation, such as opening fire stations or the Central Park Recreation Center addition.

Laughinghouse also recalled sitting down with the mayors of Roswell and Alpharetta to envision the Big Creek Greenway trail project for the municipalities.

The rapid growth of the county also led to some challenges.

"In a sense, we were such a fantastic place that by building and zoning and all the things we did, we sure sickened the goose that laid the golden egg in Forsyth County," he said. "We are recovering from it probably better than any other county in metro Atlanta."

Laughinghouse also had a few disappointments during his eight years of service, such Forsyth County being unable to negotiate a water contract with the city of Cumming, which sells water to the county.

Also, bond referendums for a jail and courthouse failed multiple times, which Laughinghouse said "still wrangles [him] a little bit" because he said the county needs those facilities so desperately.

Through good times and hard times, Laughinghouse said he always worked to serve the county to the best of his ability.

"I can say this quite honestly: I'm going out of office with no regrets and no shame for any decisions or actions I've taken," he said. "There are times when you have to bite your tongue and do things that your heart or your head tell you isn't what you really want to do, but it's what the rules require."

Those who worked with him said that Laughinghouse was dedicated to his position.

County Manager Doug Derrer applauded him for his hard work.

"The long hours and tireless effort he has put in to serving as chairman of the board of commissioners are to be commended,"
Derrer said. "He has definitely dedicated 110 percent to this county during his time in office."

Fellow board member Jim Harrell agreed.

"No commissioner worked harder than he did," Harrell said. "He served the county well. We couldn't have asked any more from him."

Laughinghouse was also an "instrumental leader" in the Taubman project, said James McCoy, president and CEO of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber Commerce.

While the south Forsyth development project is mostly on hold for now, McCoy said it is "critical to the long-term future of the community."

The project is billed as an upscale live-work-play community on 164 acres between Union Hill and McFarland roads.

McCoy also said that Laughinghouse was a great person to work with.

"I always found Charlie to be very affable, somebody that you could always call on and talk to. He always listened," he said. "My personal experience was that he was someone of his word and has a great deal of integrity."

Laughinghouse was also known for his unique sense of humor, which he said he used in meetings to remind the commissioners "this is not life and death."

"If we can't laugh at ourselves and with ourselves, then we've got a problem," he said.

Often at the start of a meeting, he would welcome people to the "greatest show on earth."

Laughinghouse will be playing a smaller part now, but the show must go on.