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Bentley names former opponent to rural development post

New Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley turned to an unlikely source Wednesday to head a new rural development office — his former opponent, Democrat Ron Sparks.

Sparks, the former commissioner of agriculture, will head the Alabama Rural Development Office, which Bentley said will replace the Black Belt Commission and the Alabama Rural Action Commission.

The purpose of the rural development office, Bentley said is to improve and advance education, healthcare and economic development in the state’s rural areas.

“During the campaign, I got to know Commissioner Sparks well and the one issue we could always agree upon is the need to improve the lives of those who live in our rural communities,” Bentley said in a statement. “This is an example of how we can put politics aside and work together for the common good of all Alabamians. I appreciate his willingness to serve.”

Bentley created the commission through an executive order.

Sparks said he looks forward to leading the Alabama Rural Development Office and working with the governor.

“It’s an honor to work with Governor Bentley on rural issues,” Sparks said in a statement. “I look forward to implementing the Governor’s policies improving the quality of life in some of our state’s poorest regions.”

The Executive Order provides that members of the Alabama Rural Development Office be appointed by the governor. The order also requires the director to work with existing department heads, commissioners and directors to coordinate the efforts of their organizations to support, aid, or assist in the education, healthcare, and economic development in rural areas of Alabama.

The fiscal agency of the Alabama Rural Development Office is the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.