State Rep. Wendell Willard, who helped found the city of Sandy Springs and has represented it for 15 years, said he plans to retire in 2018 at the end of his next term.
Willard, a Sandy Springs Republican who is running unopposed for re-election in House District 51 this fall, said he is “looking at my last term…[I will have] served 18 years and that’s probably enough for anybody. [It’s time to] get some fresh ideas down there.”
Willard also serves as the city attorney for Sandy Springs, a job he said he is willing to retain after his retirement from the legislature.
Willard was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2001. He is running for another two-year term this year. House District 51 includes Sandy Springs’ panhandle area and parts of Johns Creek and Roswell.
Rumors of Willard’s retirement became an issue in the recent race for an open seat in neighboring House District 52, but he had not directly confirmed his retirement plan.
House District 52, which covers parts of Buckhead and Sandy Springs, also has a long-time incumbent who is retiring: Joe Wilkinson, who has served since 2000. In March, Wilkinson made a surprise retirement announcement that set off a heated race between Graham McDonald and Deborah Silcox. Silcox won the seat in the May 24 Republican primary election.
Wilkinson fired the race up with controversy by claiming that Sandy Springs leaders—including Willard—had a “plot” to replace him with McDonald, which the city officials in turn denied. But McDonald did say that city officials, including Willard, urged him to run as part of a changing of the guard with Wilkinson and Willard poised to retire soon.
While the plot allegations were complicated, the clear underlying theme was the future of Sandy Springs’ Gold Dome representation after some of its key founding legislators leave office.
Willard called the HD 52 primary “a strange race” and said his own interest in it “wasn’t this person or that person,” but in making sure Sandy Springs had a skilled representative.
“[With] Graham, I was talking about the chance to mentor him,” Willard said, adding that he is open to doing same for Silcox “if she’s interested…I’m happy to do the same with her.”
“In the past, I have tried to be very much a guardian” for legislation affecting Sandy Springs or other cities, Willard said. “You don’t have a lot of people down there who have…a background in local governments.”
Meanwhile, Willard’s own retirement plan sets the stage for another open-seat local race in 2018. Does Willard have any potential candidates in mind to mentor in his own district? He says he will “leave it wide open. No endorsement.”