"It's a good opportunity to put the past behind us and move forward," said Sam Lee Jones, who will be sworn in Tuesday as Statesboro City Council member from District 2. Jeff Yawn will be sworn in as the new member from District 3.
Also, when City Council begins its first 2016 meeting at 9 a.m., one returning member, Travis Chance from District 5, will be sworn in for a new four-year term. All three ran unopposed, so no actual election was held. Jones replaces Gary Lewis, and Yawn replaces Will Britt, after Britt and Lewis did not seek re-election.
Jones, 56, a combat veteran from two years in Afghanistan with the National Guard, retired in April 2015 as a staff sergeant after a 32-year military career that included past service in the Army and the Army Reserve. Now a home-based independent insurance agent, he has also worked as a corrections officer.
Yawn, 43, is executive director of Eagle Dining Services at Georgia Southern University, where he has worked for almost
10 years. He grew up working at the former Snooky's restaurant, owned by his parents, and was first a partner in and later sole owner of the former Archibald's restaurant.
Neither Jones nor Yawn has served in elected office before, but both have records of volunteer service with various organizations and their churches.
Both said they are excited about becoming council members and ready to get started. They were interviewed separately about what it means to join the city government when their arrival is not the only change.
City manager qualities
Statesboro has been without a permanent city manager since a majority of the council fired then-City Manager Frank Parker in June 2014. Now the council is narrowing a pool of applicants for the job. The members-elect, according to Yawn, have been involved in reviewing the applications since November.
"Fortunately, the city decided to include us, Sam and myself, in the reviewing of these city manager candidates," Yawn said. "So we've had the opportunity to go ahead and get started and be acclimated because they felt it was important for us to be well versed coming into that process."
What qualities do the new members insist on in a city manager?
"I'd like to see the city manager be a person who's mission-oriented to get the job done, but also be a team player, because right now I think there's a lot of good people in the city of Statesboro staff," Jones said.
The manager, he said, should provide guidance to other city employees and help them "go to another level as opposed to reaching on the outside hiring new people."
Yawn, at first, said the city manager should obviously be "very astute at financial planning" and well versed in economic development. But he added remarks similar to those Jones had made about the need for a manager to offer support and guidance to staff members.
In December, both council members-elect said they had already met with department heads in the city government.
"I've had an opportunity to meet with those folks, our department heads and a few more, and I'm very excited about their leadership," Yawn said. "I'm looking for someone who can give them guidance and support that they need moving forward, and someone that will be a sounding board for them."
Police chief hiring
After Public Safety Director Wendell Turner left in October for a job with the Canton Police Department, City Council eliminated Statesboro's public safety director job as such, re-establishing the position of police chief. The new city manager will have authority to hire the new chief, but council members, including the new ones, want input.
"I think the council definitely should have input on hiring the chief of police," Jones said. "Hopefully the city police chief who will come on board will be one who will respect the law and the people of the community, and stick with the motto, 'To protect and serve.' "
Jones also said he hopes the new chief will do more hiring from within the community.
Yawn suggested that the council's input in selecting the police chief will follow naturally from choosing the right city manager.
"One further thought I would have on the city manager is someone who is going to have a great working relationship with the mayor and the council, someone who will keep us well versed in any decisions that have significant impact in the city, and that would be one for sure," Yawn said.
Openness and ethics
Parker's firing followed a remark he made about having met with a majority of City Council members at times in private. Some council members a year and a half ago said this was either a violation of the Georgia Open Meetings Act or a slander of the council. Parker, in a still-pending wrongful firing lawsuit against the city, maintains he acted as a whistleblower.
In another matter from the past council, Britt paid $2,074 in penalties last May for late city property taxes from 2010 and 2011, penalties that had been waived in past years by someone on the city staff. Officials revealed that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was looking into some of the city's actions, and Britt said he made the payment after discovering that no employee had authority to waive the penalties.
But it was the FBI, not the GBI, which carried out an investigation that led to a Dec. 3 federal grand jury indictment accusing Lewis of attempted extortion. Federal prosecutors alleged Lewis attempted to get $2,500 from a local businessman in return for passage of an ordinance permitting drive-through alcohol sales.
Where do the incoming council members stand on openness and ethics?
Jones noted that he made openness a main point of his campaign. He suggested holding town hall meetings in his district to make people aware of what is going on at City Hall.
Ethics training, as he also observed, is included in training that city elected officials receive. The members-elect haven't attended the training provided by the Georgia Municipal Association yet, but will after being sworn in.
"We just need to take it and expand it, and (ethics) is part of openness," Jones said. "If you're being open with folks and utilize the Golden Rule, 'Do to others as you'd want them to do to you,' then I don't see a problem. ... And, hey, if I make a mistake, let's straighten it out."
Yawn said he would keep his comment on this topic simple.
"I will insist on being part of a council that is very open and forthright with the community and the city as a whole" he said. "I want people to know that I think I'm a very open and honest person, and I feel confident that we'll agree that we'll be very open and honest with our community in any decisions we make."
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.