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Posted: October 30, 2011 12:00 a.m.

The challenges of political life

 

After 14 years as mayor, my husband, Jim, decided to “hang it up” and declined to seek another term.  He feels strongly that 14 years is long enough, that a change in leadership is in order, and that he would like to pursue his other interests

There are currently four individuals who are seeking voter approval of their candidacy for the office of mayor.  Recently, I attended a political rally at which all of these candidates introduced themselves.  As I listened to the lofty goals and aspirations expressed by these candidates, I could not help but wonder if they fully understood what being mayor is all about and how much time and commitment is required in doing the job.  

As mayor, Jim came to the job fully prepared in terms of education and professional experience.  He holds an advance degree in public administration as well as in law.  His entire professional career has been devoted to city government, beginning as an assistant city manager in Valdese, N.C., and ended up retiring as executive director of an organization that lobbies on behalf of more than 500 Georgia cities in the state legislature.  As a new mayor, consequently, there was a minimal learning curve in dealing with municipal issues.  The real learning curve was in dealing with citizens issues.  This can be pretty tricky. 

Some of the candidates talked about “uniting the community,” presumably behind some common cause or interest.  Ideas about “reaching out” to our citizens or getting to know them personally were also suggested. These ideas are wonderful concepts, but their execution may prove something of a challenge.  As demonstrated in the national media, people are rarely of the same mind when it comes to government programs and services, except of course for keeping taxes low.  Nobody wants high taxes, including me.  So it’s a mine field every time you propose any kind of change in programs or policies.  Many people here in Social Circle are receptive to proposed solutions and appreciate what you do on their behalf.  However, there are others who aren’t. It’s one of those “you’re dammed if you do and you’re dammed if you don’t” propositions.  Particularly troublesome are those folks who are dissatisfied with just about everything the city tries to do. Fortunately, there are not a lot of them, but their effect is magnified by the strength of the noise they make.

Cities exist to serve a higher level of services to the more concentrated populations.  Under state law, the courts and social welfare services are provided by the county.  Jim spends many hours most weeks dealing with a great variety of service delivery concerns - environmental, transportation, infrastructure, economic development, zoning, and many other issues that affect our city.  Personnel issues are another sensitive area to be dealt with since law suits by former employees can claim substantial amounts of city tax monies. He serves as an ex-officio member of the Walton County Chamber of Commerce, the Walton County Development Authority, and the Social Circle Better Hometown Board of Directors.  He communicates and consults with Social Circle schools on a variety of interrelated issues such as traffic control and public safety.  Jim also represents the city in its dealings with the state.  He consults with and often negotiates with officials in the Georgia State Departments of Community Affairs, Transportation, Environmental Protection and other state agencies relative to state regulations. On occasion, he has even testified on behalf of the city in the Legislature.

Responding to citizen requests for assistance and involvement also takes a great deal of time.  Jim receives many requests to speak at local events and for financial support of worthy local clubs and organizations.  There are so many of them - the churches, the S.C. Boys and Girls Club, the Lions Club, the Rotary Club, the S.C. Better Hometown Program, school athletic organizations, etc.  He responds to as many of these requests as possible.  In fact, during many months more money goes out of our office than comes in from the $400 monthly “salary” Jim receives as mayor.

Citizens frequently express a need for “more transparency” in government.  Others desire to become “more involved” in the community.  I suggest that if citizens want to learn more about things going on in our city, they should attend monthly City Council meetings.  Since we don’t have a daily newspaper or other avenues of regular, daily communication, it is almost impossible for the mayor or council members to contact citizens individually about items coming up for discussion.  The agenda is posted on the board in City Hall as required, and there is also a Citizens Comments item on the agenda at the beginning of the meetings.

Another way for citizens to get involved is by participating in volunteer programs and committees through our Better Hometown Program.  This is a great way to learn about “what’s going on” through contact with community activists, city leaders and your elected officials.  In other words, “reaching out” becomes a two-way street between citizens and their elected leadership.

Our city is widely regarded throughout the state as a friendly, charming, historic place with excellent schools, a strong industrial base, and of course the Blue Willow Inn.  The relationship between the mayor and City Council members is strong and mutually supportive.  Members may not always agree with each other, but they disagree respectfully; there’s no public drama, strong words or grandstanding like situations we read or learn about in the news.  One of Social Circle’s biggest challenges is revitalization of its downtown – an ongoing struggle since the “big box” shopping centers diverted shoppers away from town centers in small cities throughout the country.  Other continuing challenges include renewal of the mill village, further upgrade of our infrastructure and dealing with issues of public safety.  The new mayor, in my opinion, should bring to the job strong leadership skills, knowledge and wisdom to meet these and many other challenges in the future in order to preserve our strong and cherished way of life in Social Circle and to maintain our image as “Georgia’s Greatest Little Town.”


 

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