After 17 years on the Statesboro City Council, Gary Lewis says he will not seek re-election in November and will retire from council at the end of the year.
Lewis, 65, is the council’s longest-serving current member and his District 2 seat is one of three up for election. The others are District 3, held by Councilman Will Britt, who said he is running, and District 5, held by Councilman Travis Chance, who said he is undecided. Candidates must qualify and pay fees Aug. 31–Sept. 4 for the Nov. 3 city election.
“My health is not that good and I feel like I’ve got more years behind me than I’ve got in front of me now, and I’m just going to take some time off and do some things that I want to do,” Lewis said in an interview, “but I will be doing some community work.”
Lewis is a colon cancer survivor, having undergone surgery and treatments after a 2008 diagnosis. He is clear of cancer now, but wants to reduce stress in his life, he said.
Meanwhile, Lewis is not retiring from Donaldson’s Barbershop, where he has worked as a barber for 35 years.
The kindness shown him by the Donaldson family and the relationships at the shop are a source of joy and relaxation, he explained.
“Barbering here, to me, is a therapy,” Lewis said. “You can come to the barbershop feeling bad and feel good when you leave because there’s a joy that we have inside this barbershop, the love that we have, things that we say. We just have a good time. It’s a brotherhood, really, you know.”
City Council is a different story.
“City Council is not like it used to be,” Lewis said. “It used to be a good thing. It’s good now, but there is so much other stuff going on that’s not good, as far as I’m concerned.”
He did not cite specifics.
The council fired City Manager Frank Parker in June 2014 and is now beginning a search for a permanent replacement. The city faces a lawsuit from Parker and a threat of a lawsuit related to the death of an 18-year-old after lapses in enforcement of alcoholic beverage laws. After some self-investigations, the city in recent months has received requests from the FBI and GBI for various documents.
But Lewis did not mention any of these things in the interview. Instead, he said he knows that he is not liked by some of the other council members.
“Some people smile in your face and be digging a hole behind your back, and they know who they are,” Lewis said.
Activist and musician
So he intends to make his exit, potentially opening the way for someone younger, and become a community activist, he said.
“I feel like I can be more effective in the community now not being on the council than I can on council — you know, because I do know a lot of things are going on that are not fair, not right that need to be brought to the attention of the people,” Lewis said.
His activism, he said, would include conducting a mass voter registration drive.
In working with the public, activists are freer to “really say what you want, what you feel” than elected officials are, Lewis said.
Lewis also plans to continue as drummer and featured vocalist with the Statesboro Blues, a large ensemble led by Ross Kelly. The band has performed for three annual meetings of the Georgia Municipal Association, including the GMA’s June 2015 convention in Savannah.
Earlier in his council tenure, Lewis represented the city for a decade or more on the Regional Development Center board, which has since been renamed the Coastal Regional Commission.
Long before his City Council service, he was a Statesboro Police Department officer for more than five years in the late 1970s. Lewis said he was Statesboro’s third black police officer and its second black council member.
First elected in a 1998 special election, Lewis replaced David Shumake as District 2’s council member. Shumake, who resigned that year to run for the Georgia Legislature, served about 16 years on the council.
One yes, one maybe
Britt and Chance were asked about their intentions Tuesday as they left a council work session on alcohol regulations.
“I’m running and looking forward to it,” Britt said.
He is now completing his third term, and 12th year, on the council, and has been selected by other council members as mayor pro tem for four years.
Chance said he does not know yet whether he will run. He is now in his second term, and eighth year, on the council.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.