Outside, the temperature hovered barely above 20 Fahrenheit, but in the warm and crowded council chamber, new Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar called for unity immediately after being sworn in.
His first meeting was not entirely a paragon of unanimity, with the council voting 2-3 and then 3-2 on the choice of a broker for the city’s employee health insurance services after contentious discussion. But the members were unanimous on a compromise offer to the Bulloch County government on shares of revenue from a proposed sales tax for transportation projects, and on all other votes at Tuesday’s 9 a.m. meeting.
Bulloch County Probate Judge Lorna DeLoach administered the oath of office to McCollar, who raised his right hand and placed his left on a Bible held by his wife, Adrianne McCollar.
“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully discharge all duties devolving on me as mayor of the city of Statesboro, during my term in office, according to the best of my ability and understanding, so help me God,” Jonathan McCollar recited.
With that and by the votes of 53 percent of residents who participated in the election Nov. 7, Statesboro, founded in 1803 and incorporated as a city in 1866, has its first African-American mayor. He said nothing about that aspect of the occasion in his first public statement as mayor.
“I want to thank everybody for coming today,” McCollar said after taking his seat in the middle of the council dais. “I’m really excited to work with the men that we have up here on the council.
“I’m extremely optimistic about what the future holds for our city, but the one thing I do want to share now and I’m going to share over the next four years is that everything that we do, we’ve got to do it together,” he said. “Statesboro is about all of us.”
DeLoach also swore in returning District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum and District 4 Councilman John Riggs to new four-year terms. Both were re-elected in November without opposition.
Riggs new pro tem
District 5 Councilman Travis Chance, as the 2016-17 mayor pro tempore, had called the meeting to order.
Turning the meeting over to McCollar, Chance announced that his service as mayor pro tem was done. McCollar then asked for nominees for mayor pro tem from among the council members.
By a 5-0 vote, Riggs is now mayor pro tem for 2018 and 2019, to lead council meetings or represent the city at events when McCollar cannot attend.
Chance, who nominated Riggs, noted that he is currently the second longest-serving council member. Chance has served longer, but Riggs has now served eight years.
Down to business
The council unanimously approved a $124,750 contract with EMC Engineering for pre-construction engineering services on the Blue Mile streetscape project along the South Main Street corridor. The city is to pay $68,250 of this from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue, and the Blue Mile Foundation is to pay the remaining $56,500.
The council also awarded a construction contract for extension of sidewalks on East Main Street to Southeastern Civil on a bid of $477,928, the lowest of three bids, but with approval to spend up to $525,000 based on unit pricing to cover additional sidewalk. This project is being funded with $350,000 available from the SPLOST and a $235,510 grant from the Georgia Department of Transportation.
But the decision on which company should provide brokerage services for the city’s employee health insurance was already a contentious one last fall. After voting in September on a recommendation from a staff committee to contract with ShawHankins, the council heard appeals from the two other firms that submitted proposals, Capstone Benefits Consulting LLC and Glenn, Davis & Associates. The council voted 3-2 in October to rescind the contract award and unanimously agreed to have an outside professional review the proposals.
But after receiving a recommendation from Michael Mark of Care Coordination of America, the council split its votes again Tuesday. A motion from District 3 Councilman Jeff Yawn, seconded by Boyum, to award the contract to ShawHankins failed 2-3. Then a motion from District 2 Council Sam Lee Jones, seconded by Chance, to award the contract to current provider Glenn, Davis & Associates, passed 3-2, with Riggs also in favor but Yawn and Boyum opposed.
Details will be reported in a later story. But the debate gave the new mayor a taste of how contentious council meetings can be sometimes. The council did not accept his suggestion to delay the decision two weeks.
“It was an exciting meeting,” McCollar said afterward. “You could tell that everybody up there is dedicated to doing what’s best for the city. So, you know, it was a good meeting in that sense, but again, any time that City Council and myself get together, what we’re praying is that we’re making the best decisions for the city, based on the expertise of the employees as well as the judgment of the council.”
After discussions with county officials on revenue distribution from a proposed Transportation SPLOST stalled in early December, Chance met individually with Bulloch County Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson and offered a compromise.
Chance reported Tuesday that Thompson had agreed for the city to receive a 43 percent share of the revenue.
“If we accept 43 percent, then T-SPLOST can move forward, and I think that will give us resources to be able to help you in the community, and I think that is what you deserve,” Chance said.
The council unanimously accepted Chance’s motion. If the county commissioners and the other three cities agree, the county could now move forward with a May 22 referendum.
McCollar also spoke of compromise when he addressed the crowd during the reception the city held for him from noon until 2 p.m. in a building next to City Hall. Citizens lined up to give him handshakes, and some hugs, as some had already done in the council chambers.
“The sign of a great compromise is when two sides come together and they both feel like they’ve lost a little bit but it’s all for the greater good, and that’s what it’s ultimately about,” McCollar said.
‘We are Statesboro’
Pearl Brown, president of the Bulloch County Branch of the NAACP, called McCollar’s becoming mayor “a blessing from God.”
“I really think it’s a blessing, and I think it was past time that we had a minority as mayor of Statesboro, so I am just totally, totally in agreement with it, and I just thank God for it,” she said.
During the meeting, at the reception, and also reportedly at an inaugural ball that friends and supporters hosted for him Saturday night, McCollar quoted a favorite three-word phrase from a wall at the Statesboro High School gym.
“‘We are Statesboro,’ and that’s what we are,” he said. “We expect greatness.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.