LIVINGSTON — The longtime parish clerk of court, known for leading efforts to build a new courthouse and modernize the records system, will retire Dec. 31.
Tom Sullivan Jr., 66, is resigning a year and a half before his fifth term expires.
"I always had a great admiration for people in the public sector that knew when it was their time to go before the public knew it was their time to go," Sullivan, said by way of explanation during a recent interview at his office.
"Just as I was young and eager and had new ideas when I came in, it's time for someone to succeed me and bring in their fresh, new young ideas and keep the office headed in that direction, and the time has come," he said.
Sullivan said health problems from a few years ago did not contribute to his decision, but the catastrophic flooding of 2016 did.
His Denham Springs home flooded, and he believes the stress from the disaster also caused the premature death of his wife's parents.
"The flood took a lot of wind out of my sails," he said.
The clerk of court took office in 2000, winning his seat in a runoff against incumbent Lucius Patterson. Sullivan had previously worked as a real estate appraiser for 16 years.
Sullivan, a Republican, said that in his former job, he would come to the clerk's office and felt like he could "take the office in a different direction."
The clerk said he is proud that he has received few complaints in his years.
"I think that's a credit to my staff," he said. "I think they've bought into the philosophy that this is a public agency, that you treat people with dignity and professionalism and respect, and that you have a smile on your face when they walk in the door and you do what you can to help them."
Parish Assessor Jeff Taylor, who won his first election the same year as Sullivan, credited the clerk with leading a turnaround at an office he said was previously "in a little bit of disarray."
"He took an office that was lacking in upgrades and computers and books and conveyances, and he turned it into a first class operation," Taylor said.
During his first years in office, Sullivan modernized the parish's court record keeping system. Scanning and indexing thousands of documents, Sullivan's team built and populated a computerized court records system.
The public can use that system to review civil court and land records online. Criminal records can be viewed through the same system on computers at the courthouse.
He said the system was purchased by a private company and is now used throughout the country.
In addition, Sullivan collaborated with Taylor to build an online portal the public can use to search property records, assessments and the myriad, overlapping taxing and voting districts in the parish.
But the achievement that earns him the most credit from local officials is his drive to build and fund a new courthouse.
"He was just so instrumental in helping us get the new courthouse constructed and had dogged persistence when it came to getting that project done," said District Attorney Scott Perrilloux.
For years, officials complained that the old courthouse was unsafe, with too many unsecured doors and narrow hallways. The roof leaked, Sullivan recalled, and one time an acoustical tile opened in the ceiling, dumping water all over a minute clerk and her desk full of documents.
But the multi-million dollar courthouse project needed funding. Sullivan hiked up court filing fees in order to pay for revenue bonds for the construction. The new courthouse opened in December 2014.
Top parish leaders had good words for Sullivan as he quits office.
"Our parish had gotten to the point where you could advance, or meander in the maze of mediocrity," said Taylor, the assessor, speaking of Sullivan's election in 2000. "Tom Sullivan thought mediocrity was not what Livingston Parish deserved. He quit meandering there and he took us to the next level."
Sheriff Jason Ard said Sullivan took his job seriously and would help whomever he sent down to his office.
Parish President Layton Ricks called Sullivan a personal friend and political ally, saying he has a lot of respect for how the clerk ran his office and the improvements he made in it.
Sullivan said he'll find something to do after his retirement but does not plan to run for political office again.
"I look forward to the day when my phone is not ringing 24 hours a day," he said.
A special election for his seat will be called in November, Sullivan said. Qualifying is in July.