At 9 a.m. on the coldest day so far this winter, Statesboro's elected city government ceased to be an all-boys club.
Founded in 1803, incorporated in 1866 and now with 29,779 people (2012 U.S. Census estimate), Statesboro never before had a woman mayor. As far back as anyone interviewed remembered, no woman had even been elected to City Council, and the council remained all male when Jan Moore was sworn in as mayor Tuesday.
Later during the mayor and council's brief first meeting of 2014, Moore took note of the weather. The temperature outside was in the teens.
"The symbolism of how cold the day is has not been lost on me," she said, pausing for the laughter. "I mean, it just had to be this way. It had to be the coldest day of the year."
Interviewed afterward, Moore explained that she was having fun with a prediction that "it would be a cold day" before she would be mayor. But she also said that nobody had discouraged her because of her gender.
Smaller towns in the area have long since preceded Statesboro, the university town and regional shopping hub, on electing women to city government. For example, in the Screven County seat, Sylvania, population 2,553, Mayor Margaret Evans has been in office 10 years. In the Bryan County seat, Pembroke, population 2,289, current Mayor Mary Warnell took office two years ago, succeeding Mayor Judy Cook, who had served 12 years.
"I don't think it's because Statesboro is backward in a sense. I really don't," Moore said. "There are women that serve in very powerful positions in our community. They're the head of our technical college here, they're vice presidents of Georgia Southern University, they're head of the Chamber of Commerce."
She noted that other Statesboro women are business leaders, doctors and lawyers.
"Women are well-received and well-respected here," Moore said. "You know, maybe nobody thought about it. Maybe it wasn't of interest to them, but I don't think it's because women have been not encouraged, or have been discouraged, from seeking this office."
Moore, 51, stood with her husband, Bill Moore, and daughters Cecilia, 20, and Virginia, 17, as Bulloch County Probate Judge Lee DeLoach administered the oath of office. Cecilia, who is studying international affairs at the University of Georgia, and Virginia, a senior at Statesboro High School, both helped with their mother's campaign, although Virginia noted that she, still a Statesboro resident, had helped more.
City Clerk Sue Starling, who has held that post since 2008 and been a city employee for 24 years, had searched and found no female mayor in the city's records. Nor had she found anyone who remembered a woman on council.
City Manager Frank Parker, who has served in that position for three years and was a City Council member in the 1990s, recalled that a woman might have filled in as an interim council member, but he did not know of any ever having been elected.
Parker also commented that he had worked first for his mother and then his wife in their real estate businesses, and so he is used to working for women.
"I look forward to working for and with Mrs. Moore," he said. "The public voted to make this happen, and it shows the public that their opinion and views are being heard."
Moore succeeds Mayor Joe Brannen, who came in third in November's election. Brannen made positive changes in the way the city operates, Parker said, adding that he believes Moore will do the same. After struggling with its finances, the city has improved its reserves each of the past two years.
"We have a very bright future," Parker said. "Change makes you re-evaluate what you're doing and if you approach it in a proper sort of way, it's beneficial, and I think in our case it will be."
Councilman Gary Lewis, the only African-American on the council, is also the longest-serving current member, first elected in 1998. Lewis said he had never imagined a Statesboro city election cycle like 2013's, in which Jonathan McCollar, an African-American man, and Moore went to a runoff for mayor.
"But it happened. History is being made every day," Lewis said. "Either way it would have been history."
He predicted that the mayor and council will work together.
"She wants to move the city forward, and we're going to help her do that," Lewis said.
Council members Phil Boyum and John Riggs were also sworn in for new four-year terms. Boyum, first elected in fall 2012 to fill an unexpired term last January, sustained an election challenge in November. Riggs begins a second term after running unopposed.
Councilman Will Britt, as mayor pro tempore, presided over the meeting until Moore was sworn in. Then the other members unanimously elected Britt to a third two-year term as mayor pro tem. He has served 11 years on the council.
Down to business
Also Tuesday, the council, on a motion from Boyum seconded by Britt, unanimously approved a resolution asking the Georgia Legislature to authorize a local referendum for the city to exercise powers under the state's Redevelopment Powers Law.
This is the same law Bulloch County used to create a Tax Allocation District around the Interstate 16 interchange on U.S. Highway 301. City officials are eyeing the creation of a TAD around South Main Street.
"This is not a tax increase in any way, shape or form," Boyum said.
Instead, if voters authorize a district, existing property taxes in the designated area will be dedicated to improvements in infrastructure in the district for a period of years.
A meeting of people interested in the revitalization of South Main Street will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Quality Inn & Suites, 230 S. Main St., said Allen Muldrew, the executive director of the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority.
Revitalization was a plank in Moore's campaign.
"We do have a revitalization effort that's going on on South Main in the downtown corridor, but I would like to see what we can do to augment that, bring some more stakeholders into that and generate some additional excitement there," she said.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.