Etowah County Commission President Johnny Grant reflects on a career of service while looking forward to a brighter future for the county he calls home. Katie Bohannon/Messenger.
From 1975 until today, Etowah County Commissioner Johnny Grant’s contributions to his county, state and country prove evident of an illustrious lifetime of service.
As Grant assumes the role of Commission President in 2022, he remains resolute with the same character that inspired decades of dedication to his community, gazing ahead toward a brighter future for Etowah County.
Born and raised in Alabama City as the eldest of six siblings, the Emma Sansom High School graduate’s adolescence featured working on vehicles with his father, who owned truck stops, and driving trucks for former Etowah County Probate Judge Wiley Hickman, who operated a local trucking company. The trajectory of Grant’s life shifted when former City of Altoona Police Chief (and current Altoona mayor) Rick Nash approached Grant about a career path that would soon morph into something far greater: law enforcement.
“I just fell in love with law enforcement,” said Grant, who attended the Northeast Alabama Law Enforcement Academy and after just six months – at age 25 – discovered a passion for the profession that spanned almost 50 years. “It was different, and I felt like it was a career where I could help people. I miss it – I miss it today.”
Initiating his vocation as an auxiliary officer with the Altoona Police Department, Grant transitioned to his role as Etowah County Deputy Sheriff prior to obtaining a position with the Etowah County District Attorney’s Office, under Jim Hedgepeth. While working alongside the county’s drug enforcement unit, Grant served the state office of prosecution services. As Chief Investigator for the D.A., Grant was involved in the investigation of all major crimes committed throughout Etowah County, assisting local agencies in reaching resolutions and maintaining a presence at court when the time for prosecution arose.
“There are mean people in this world,” said Grant, reflecting on countless cases where he witnessed indescribable actions. “It was a different criminal element back then. [Serving to me meant] doing something to help my fellow person, and just being there for somebody if they needed it. [Sometimes] bad things happen to good people, but a lot of times, bad people just do things that nobody will understand. People smarter than me can’t justify what people do.”
Grant described the evolution of law enforcement throughout the years, discussing how advancements in technology, the progression of forensic science and training requirements have influenced the manner in which officers respond to various situations. He recalled traveling across the country on numerous occasions chasing leads to solve cases and following trails of breadcrumbs from state to state. Grant cooperated with fellow officers from local and outside agencies without infringing on their territory, simply performing his responsibilities and allowing them to do the same, sharing they grew accustomed to his presence and accepted him. While in 2022, a simple search engine might generate instant answers to vital questions pertaining to suspects, Grant spoke with neighbors and witnesses face-to-face to gather crucial information, piecing intricate fragments together until each puzzle materialized complete.
“I’ve seen some bad situations, but I’ve seen some good opportunities too,” said Grant, who remained motivated to obtain justice for families and those affected by crimes throughout the entirety of his career. “It’s good to be able to tell somebody you’ve found the people who killed their loved one or solved a crime [that affected them]. That all comes from the people I’ve worked with throughout the years – in our cities, county and state. I’ve worked with some good people, and Etowah County has always been ready to go if someone needed help. [Despite the bad] there are a lot of good people in the world.”
That imperishable sense of good illuminates the darkness that plagues the world, combating injustice through those who adopt a mantra of morality and persevere for the betterment of others, regardless of what circumstances surface. Grant carried that torch from decade to decade, demonstrating his pledge to a grander purpose. During the aftermath of the 2011 tornadoes that descended upon North Alabama, Grant risked his life attempting to rescue trapped residents. His actions earned him the Etowah County Sheriff’s Department Medal of Valor with commendations from the Alabama House and Senate.
Likewise, as Grant served his county daily, he responded to numerous national catastrophes. He aided in several relief, recovery and rescue efforts across the country, leading multiple groups to New York City following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and traveling to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Grant attributes his personal involvement as a reflection of his fellow officers, first responders and the county’s sheriffs, who all sought to assist when disaster struck, however possible.
“Catastrophes happen and [unfortunately] people die, but there are still a lot of people out there who are trying to survive,” said Grant, sharing how time spent at Ground Zero and the Crescent City influenced his perspective. “Those people need someone to help them. Fortunately, a couple of times, we could help – what little bit we did. That’s the way Etowah County has always been.”
While Grant retired from the sheriff’s office in 2012 and his involvement with the D.A.’s office ceased two years later, during his profession he occupied every chief position of all divisions excluding administration, which his wife Vicki held. Both employed at the sheriff’s office, the pair often worked cases together, enjoying the opportunity to collaborate with one another.
“I’m blessed I have a wife that’s so supportive of me and what I do,” said Grant. “She’s always been there for me.”
Grant garnered a collection of valuable skills from his time in law enforcement that filter into his role as commissioner, which he officially assumed in 2016. Following his retirement, Grant sought to continue his service to Etowah County. When the seat for District 2 became available, residents prompted Grant – who was familiar with the commission and its duties during his years overseeing the jail – to consider filling the absence. Grant reacquired the District 2 seat in 2020, furthering his impact, continuing his contributions for the betterment of his constituents and the county as a whole.
“One thing I’ve always tried to do is be an advocate for getting along with everybody,” said Grant, who commends the current commission’s united front and recognizes that although disagreements are inevitable, relentless division and senseless strife hinder all positive progression. “I’ve learned from a lot of good people how to deal with the public [and those I work with]. I worked with some of the best law enforcement officers around and I work with some of the best commissioners. The commission we have now, if we have a little bit of a difference of opinion, we try to work it out. We can’t all have the same opinion on something, but as long as we respect the right of the other commissioners, and we talk it out [which creates progress].”
Grant’s experience interacting with the public, speaking with individuals from all backgrounds and walks of life, alongside his knowledge concerning the best methods of response to a wide array of situations aids in his approach to serving on the commission. He understands that communication proves essential in propelling the county forward, from personalized problems residents present to him to developments affecting all facets of the community.
“People react by how you treat them,” said Grant, who believes listening to others generates better understanding between people. “If you show them you’re interested in their problems, they are more willing to listen to you and understand what you’re trying to say. In dealing with the public, you should listen. They may not always be right, and you may not always be right [in your opinion], but you can at least listen to what they have to say and try to help.”
County employees are instrumental in ensuring operations continue successfully, Grant noted, applauding their work and recognizing individuals such as Chief Administrative Officer Shane Ellison and Chief Financial Officer Kevin Dollar who endeavor to make productive decisions with the county’s best interest at the forefront. He shared his ultimate vision for Etowah County coincides with his goal as a commissioner to bring industry to the area, establishing job opportunities for residents countywide.
Grant attested to recent exciting developments throughout Etowah County, including further advancements at the Little Canoe Creek Mega-Site. Earlier in January, Governor Kay Ivey announced a $231 million A-USA Rail Corridor Expansion expected to connect to the mega-site from Mobile, with the commission recently approving a partnership with Goodwyn Mills Cawood to develop plans for the future installation of sewer and water infrastructure at Little Canoe Creek. Grant feels hopeful that the current momentum revolving around the Mega-Site will only continue.
Grant addressed other incentives the county pursues regarding industry and its relationship with education. Grant expressed his support of Gadsden State Community College and its instructors, alongside municipalities within Etowah County striving to promote opportunities for students seeking training to directly enter the workforce. From welding to robotics to automotive services, GSCC provides ample technical programs of study for those choosing an alternate route to a traditional four-year degree.
An effective commissioner, Grant deciphered, is someone whose considerate heart aligns with his or her home – who treasures citizens as neighbors, family and friends and whose actions represent a genuine character seeking to uplift, encourage and improve the county each day. Rather than a person striving to fulfill a political position, Grant’s years of dedication signify a commitment to a higher purpose, with his role as commission president evident of yet another opportunity to contribute to his community, cultivating goodwill among his constituents and fellow elected officials, and reinforcing that nature of benevolent service that personifies his life.
“We try to do what is best for our county as a whole,” said Grant. “All I can do is represent my district, but [in doing that] I’m representing Etowah County [collectively]. I’ve dealt with the County Commission over the years, and I think we have the best commission we’ve had in a long time. That’s not to say there was anything wrong with the others – but working together right now is a group of six individuals who are for the betterment of Etowah County. I think [the commission and citizens] can be proud of that. We might not always do what the citizens want done when they want it done, but with what we have available we do our best. They are guaranteed of that. We’ll do everything we can to help the citizens of Etowah County and the elected officials.”