I am honored to have been elected by the citizens of Baldwin County and Milledgeville. It was recently my privilege to attend four days of required state training for new county commissioners in Athens. The training was extremely well presented by the Carl Vinson Institute and the Association of County Commissioners at the University of Georgia. It was a unique opportunity to participate in such a quality learning event with our county’s two other new commissioners, Tommy French and Johnny Westmoreland. We know we will work well together.
Participating in new commissioner training with over 220 other new commissioners was very informative and enlightening in many ways. Perhaps the most important result was the opportunity to exchange views and ideas with commissioners and state experts from all parts of Georgia. Our community issues are not totally unique. It was engaging to hear how other communities deal with issues similar to ours.
I was startled to have it so plainly stated that every county and city in our state has one common goal. Everybody’s top priority is new businesses and jobs. It is likely the same goal in every community across the country. Our country’s economic challenges have affected all. It was made perfectly clear, communities that worked together and focused their time, energy, and resources towards common goals are recovering and surviving best.
There were many presentations and discussions about the best community characteristics to attract significant/real businesses and jobs. I was listening for specific keys to attract businesses with careers and benefits for our children and grandchildren. I was assuming development authorities, unified governments, chamber of commerce, tax benefits, and many more would be the most important influences. I was surprised to hear the overwhelming repeated comment, the number No. 1 consideration is the condition of public education in the community. When I looked at the maps of the counties in our state with new significant business growth, that common thread of high education achievement existed; Caterpillar to Clarke County; Baxter International to the Morgan/Walton/Newton counties; and several businesses in Columbia County.
Of great interest were many specific comments on how important it is for communities to work together. Cities and their counties must work together to succeed. The perception that city and county government do not work together is destructive.
The city/county governments of Thomson/McDuffie County made a memorable presentation about their challenges. Their success is demonstrated in recent completion of a new city/county building that houses both city and county governments.
Both the mayor of Thomson and the chairman of the McDuffie County Commission stated the absolute importance of working together. They gave examples of how they worked to maximize community resources and to assure the public that all their elected officials were working together for the good of county and city. They both agreed that they did not always agree, but it was private and not personal. Their disagreements were not for the public to be distracted with in the headlines. One of the two made a statement, so simple, so profound. “The city is in the county.” All the residents of the city are citizens of the county. The residents of the city pay county taxes. The residents of the city vote for a county commissioner.
One of our community’s greatest challenges is for our elected officials to work together to the benefit of every citizen of Milledgeville/Baldwin County. Making education of our children, families, and adults a community priority is absolutely necessary to insure greater opportunity for future generations. County and city governments working together professionally to insure the resources of our entire community are used in the most beneficial manner for all is absolutely essential to winning new opportunities. We must find ways as an entire community to combine our resources to achieve better benefits and quality of life for all. Creating redundant services in our city and county is divisive for all by creating physical barriers in our community and decreases the opportunity to maximize precious few resources. We must find ways to unify our community’s resources, not further divide them.
I believe our community is expecting more from our elected leaders. Our citizens want their leaders to re-earn their respect and confidence. They want integrity, professionalism, honesty, and transparency. I believe the community wants more information from those they have elected. They want information in a form that is understandable and readily available. More than anything, I believe they want assurance their elected leaders are using all our community resources for the benefit of the entire community. Many in our community are cynical about our local governments. Too many believe there is manipulation of declining community resources for the benefit of one government organization or another.
I am excited about our community and its potential. I have a greater understanding of our issues and the tools to find solutions as a result of recent training. I look forward to hearing the plans and dreams of others. I look forward to working with all other elected officials in our community because I know it is essential for all of us to work together. Encouraging opportunity for our community organizations to participate in county decisions will bring great benefits. Seeking the counsel of our community experts in community decisions will lead to better solutions to old and new problems. I will be listening and learning.
I am looking forward to 2013 and an opportunity to work with my colleagues to earn the confidence of our community.
Henry R. Craig is a newly-elected member of the Baldwin County Board of Commissioners, District 4