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Election 2014: Oakley finds successor in POA president

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County Council Member Jerry Oakley noticed the job that John Thomas Jr. was doing as president of the Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association.

Thomas listened to his neighbors and found ways to solve problems, so Oakley approached him about running for the District 1 council post when his third term ends next year.

“Jerry thought I could take on his position,” Thomas said. “It’s the same thing with more constituents.”

Garden City Beach and most of Murrells Inlet and Litchfield are in County Council District 1.

Oakley endorsed Thomas, a former naval intelligence officer, during the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners annual meeting Monday. Oakley, also a Litchfield resident, said 12 years in office was enough.

“John has the background and ability,” he said. “He has demonstrated his dedication, diligence, energy and political savvy as an effective leader of a large POA. John is a conservative Republican, committed to preserving our quality of life. He is the ideal candidate. I hope John is elected because he will represent us very well.”

Thomas said he supports low taxes, cost-efficient government, job growth, smart land use planning, and environmental stewardship.

“The Waccamaw Neck is a great place, and we want to keep it that way,” he said. “I think that it’s important that we as a county carefully plan for the future, especially in better balancing the county’s tourism and manufacturing economies. Georgetown County badly needs the tax base and job growth that can occur through development of the western portion of the county.”

A native of Columbia, Thomas has family connections to South Carolina dating to 1694. His ancestor William Waties surveyed the line between North and South Carolina. Waties is Thomas’ middle name. An ancestor from the Thomas family fought with Gen. Francis Marion and was captured by the British. Another was an Anglican missionary in Charleston in 1704. Albert Thomas was Anglican bishop of South Carolina from 1925 to 1944.

Thomas graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1975 with a degree in civil engineering. He spent four years as a traffic engineer for the Tennessee Department of Transportation but wanted to be an urban planner and left Tennessee hoping to get a job with Wilbur Smith and Associates in Columbia.

An economic slowdown closed that door, so Thomas visited a U.S. Navy recruiter and listed the Seabees as his first choice and naval intelligence as his second. Luckily, he didn’t get his first choice. He rose to the rank of commander during a 20-year career. He began as a squadron intelligence officer aboard an aircraft carrier and advanced to the position of watch officer in Korea in 1981. From there he went to Washington, D.C., as an intelligence analyst at the Navy Operational Intelligence Center and advanced to imagery collections operations officer in 1986. He was deployed aboard an aircraft carrier as an air wing intelligence officer in 1989. He became deputy chief of the Joint Intelligence Center in Panama in 1991, managing the intelligence production of 50 analysts of the Central and South American political and military situation. He was promoted to commander in 1993 and transferred to the Pentagon where he developed U.S. Navy imagery intelligence policy and was principal adviser to the Chief of Naval Operations on imagery related issues. In 1996 he helped start the Navy’s National Imagery and Mapping Agency in Bethesda, Md. The agency, now called the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, produces satellite imagery and other intelligence.

Thomas left the Navy in 1999 and worked as a manager for Raytheon in Springfield, Va., for a time before joining Northrup Grumman in Chantilly, Va., as a system engineering manager. He provided systems engineering, financial management and budgeting and policy development to the government agency involved in the development and operation of intelligence systems from 2000 to 2009.

Thomas said he had vacationed at Pawleys Island as a child, and his wife had vacationed at Cape Cod. “The water was too cold for swimming in August up there,” he said, “so we came to Litchfield.”

Thomas helped establish the Winyah Master Naturalist Association, which promotes stewardship of South Carolina natural resources through science-based education and community service. He is also a volunteer with South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts, dedicated to sea turtle conservation in Georgetown and Horry counties.

He said he would call on his naval experience as a member of county council. “If your bosses needed something on an aircraft carrier, it was OK to say, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out.’ I have a lot to learn, but this is something I can do to contribute to the community. I’m not a politician. I don’t want to be. There’s not enough two-way communication between government and citizens. I’ll try some town halls or some other two-way mechanism.

“Problem-solving is a satisfying thing. If I can do something for people as well, all the better.”

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