‘I have enjoyed my time here’

Rick Fulmer retires after almost 21 years of service in Cullman Planning and Zoning

Mayor Woody Jacobs, right, presents Rick Fulmer, left, his retirement certificate and a new Cullman coin at Wednesday’s celebration. (Photo courtesy of Leanne West)

CULLMAN, Ala. – On Wednesday, the City of Cullman said an official farewell to Rick Fulmer, its Building, Planning and Zoning director of the last 17 years. Friends and coworkers past and present gathered at city hall for a reception food, fellowship, a lot of conversation and the presentation of Fulmer’s retirement certificate by Mayor Woody Jacobs. 

Afterward, Jacobs said of Fulmer, “Rick’s been here since 1999, so he’s got a good long history with Cullman. He’s been here through some historic things that’s happened: the tornado, Cullman passing legalized (alcohol) sales. The thing I’ve been most proud about him here in the end: the subdivision rules have not been worked on for over 40 years; zoning has not been worked on for a long time, either.

“We made a commitment and we hired a firm to help us work with it. But Rick has been instrumental in helping redo the subdivision and the zoning to where it’s simplified, it’s easier to read and look things up, trying to make it user-friendly. He stayed with us an extra month just to get that complete.

“Rick, he’s just a good guy. You know, he’s been involved: he helped make the farmers’ market happen, he helped put the timber frame school together that the community was able to participate in that. And Rick, in economic development projects, he’s worked behind the scenes with Dale Greer and the economic development team- very quietly, but helped with all kinds of things like that.”

Former Mayor Donald Green, under whom Fulmer became Planning and Zoning director, said of him, “He was an outstanding worker. He was somebody you could rely on, that if you asked him to do something, it got done. I told him it was one of the best things I did while I was Mayor. He was a good employee, and we were good friends and still are.”

After the reception, The Tribune sat down with Fulmer for a little Q & A.

What will you remember as the biggest accomplishment of your time as director?

“Getting through the 2011 tornadoes, because that was a nightmare for the whole city. Most destruction, probably, we’ve ever seen- here’s been a number of storms, but I think the most destruction we ever saw here. And that’s one where the whole city and county pulled together as a team.

“There’s still some recovery going on related to that, believe it or not. It’s just that, you know, we lost landmarks, we lost trees- luckily no people. In the entire time I’ve been here, that’s the worst thing I ever saw happen to Cullman, and the best thing I ever saw, because of the way everybody pulled together. It was a team: fire, police, street. Everybody was trying to recover, working, helping folks, volunteers showing up from everywhere. It was a good time. We couldn’t have recovered the way we did without all the help we got from around the state.”

In the aftermath of the storm, the Planning and Zoning Department worked to determine what structures could be repaired or rebuilt and which could not, and worked with other government agencies to determine the best courses of action for affected properties.

What will be your fondest memory of your time at Planning and Zoning?

“Festhalle, without a doubt; being involved with Festhalle and seeing it come to fruition, being involved in the design and building of it, and seeing it used now for all the events, the farmers. I think that was one of the best things I was involved in, and have never been shy about saying that.

“It was criticized a lot. The mayor and the council really stood up in building that, and they were criticized a lot. It was called ‘the hay barn’ and everything else. It was said that it was built strictly for Oktoberfest, and I think we’ve proved that wrong. Seeing all the events occurring there- a lot of weddings have occurred- that’s probably the project that I’ve enjoyed being involved with the most.”

When we asked Fulmer, as we often do with government officials, what building he would like to see bear a plaque with his name on it, there was no hesitation on the answer that was already obvious.

“Festhalle,” said Fulmer with a smile. “It’s already there as part of the design team! If you google timber frame structures and all that, you’ll find that in Cullman, Alabama. Nationwide, they’re going to talk about Festhalle. That’s good for Cullman.”

Any memories you’d just as soon leave behind?

“You know, there’s really not, other than the destruction from the tornadoes is the worst thing. I grew up here, so I miss things that are gone. That’s probably the worst part.

“But we’ve done so many good things. We were involved when alcohol came, and that was a real hot topic with a lot of people, but I think we accomplished what we were after, in that you can drive through Cullman right now and not know that it’s wet, but if you want to go to a restaurant and sit down and have a glass of wine or a drink, it’s available. I don’t see that it has been a huge detriment to us. 

“We’ve been able to do the special district downtown to have people to walk up and down the street with a drink which, you know, I’ve always said I copied from Huntsville. I took that idea to the council and they did that on an experimental basis for 90 days. What really brought that about is when we did Oktoberfest with alcohol, we had to put all that orange fence around it. I don’t know if you were here then, but it had to be fenced and they put orange construction fence around it, and I thought it was the absolute ugliest thing we could ever have done, and started looking for an option, and that’s when the downtown special events district came about. That one is another one that has worked well. We don’t have drunks laying in the streets, and we’re still here, and the sun still comes up on Sunday morning.”

What would you like for the people who have known and worked with you to tell the next generation of Cullmanites about you?

“That we were good about trying to work with developers and with the residents. We’ve always been known as a developer-friendly town, if it was a good development. There have been developments who have looked at Cullman, that we didn’t think were a good idea. We didn’t tell them not to come here, but we may not have been as helpful as we could, because we wanted developments to be good for Cullman. And I think we did that.

“I think we’ve changed the ordinances and made them friendly for the folks in general, and that’s been our goal. I think they will continue to do that. I have every confidence in them that they will continue what we started.”

Fulmer took time to commend his Deputy Director Brian Lendreth at Planning and Zoning for his dedicated service, and also wanted to mention: “The whole crew, we’re more like a family. We’re a small department, and we’ve had a lot of illnesses and other things happen, and we’re very close. And nobody in that department works for me; they work with me. There’s a difference. I’ve always felt that way, and that’s the reason we have the success that we’ve had.”

Thus ends the chapter, but not the book. What’s next?

“No specific plans. You know, I’m involved with Traditions Bank, and I’m on the board there. I’m on the board at Camp Meadowbrook, and on the advisory board for Soil and Water Conservation- teach some classes with them. I’m going to continue. I’ve got a lot to keep me busy!”

Fulmer concluded, “I have enjoyed my time here, the good and the bad- been able to work with a good group of folks, and we’ve seen a lot of progress that I’m proud of. I just hope it continues that way, because we’re a growing community, we’re a close-knit community, and I think we’ll see development continue. That sounds like a political speech, but that’s actually the way I feel.”

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Former Cullman Mayor Don Green, left, with Rick Fulmer, right (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

W.C. Mann