When Joe Brannen began his service as a Statesboro city councilman in 1998, the city had a population of about 20,000 and an annual operating budget of about $17.5 million.
As Brannen prepares to leave public office 15 years later — the last four of which he has served as mayor — the city’s population has grown to 31,500, and the budget has ballooned to nearly $50 million.
“We have grown into a big city. It isn’t like what it used to be,” he said Tuesday afternoon during a called City Council meeting, the last during which he presided as mayor. “So you can see what has happened in your great city.”
Brannen ran for re-election but finished third in a four-way race in the November general election. Jan Moore defeated Jonathan McCollar in the Dec. 3 runoff and will be sworn in as the city’s new mayor Jan. 7.
After the meeting Tuesday, council members ushered Brannen outside City Hall to the city’s Development Annex next door. There, council members lined up and unfurled a white banner with large black, block letters reading “The Joe R. Brannen Hall.”
“Everybody bumps into this building and they say, ‘Well, where is it?’ And they say, ‘The annex.’ And folks go next door to the courthouse, and they don’t know where that is,” said Councilman Will Britt, the mayor pro tem, just before council members unfurled the banner. “So council thought that since you were instrumental in this building being what it was, that we decided we wanted to name this building ‘The Joe R. Brannen Hall.’”
The banner was temporary; the permanent sign will be installed when the measurements are finalized and the weather is not quite so windy as it was Tuesday afternoon, Britt said.
After Brannen and city staff joined council members behind the banner to pose for pictures, the outgoing mayor said he was surprised by the gesture.
“I had no idea,” he said. “They did a good job of covering that up. I’m very appreciative. I don’t deserve something like that.”
During the meeting itself, which lasted less than 10 minutes, the council unanimously approved a special event permit for the Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County, allowing alcohol to be served during a New Year’s Eve party at Paulson Stadium’s Gene Bishop Fieldhouse. The event serves as a fundraiser for the nonprofit organization.
City staff also informed the council that the city received the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report Award for fiscal 2012 — Statesboro’s ninth consecutive year. The award, given by the Government Finance Officers Association, recognizes excellence in financial reporting by governments.
After those two quick items, council members gave statements of tribute to Brannen. Britt presented a gold watch and a plaque with a gavel honoring his service.
“You get your gavel. You get to keep it,” Britt said. “This is from the council, from the city and from all the employees just to tell you thank you very much for everything you’ve done. It has our city seal on it and then the gavel that — you know, your personality, you didn’t hit the gavel a whole lot with us, so we appreciated it.”
For his part, Brannen said he was humbled by the council’s celebration of his service to the city.
“It’s been a good ride, and I appreciate the opportunity,” Brannen said. “I want to thank the citizens of Statesboro, who we all work for, for giving me this opportunity for being councilman and mayor for 15 years.”
Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.