Statesboro Mayor-elect Jonathan McCollar has a transition team working on naming three citizen commissions to pursue initiatives in job creation, youth development and diversity and inclusion.
With McCollar’s swearing in, 9 a.m. Jan. 2 at the start of City Council’s first meeting of 2018, Statesboro’s first African-American mayor will succeed its first female mayor, current Mayor Jan Moore. McCollar received almost 53 percent of the votes cast Nov. 7 to Moore’s 41.7 percent in a three-candidate contest.
McCollar, 43, holds a Master of Public Administration degree from Georgia Southern University. He campaigned with a “People over Politics” theme and identified poverty as Statesboro’s greatest challenge. He and his transition team chair hope that the commissions, which McCollar plans to have advise him and the council on these assigned topics, will consist of 12 people each.
“We believe that the more ideas we have, the more individuals with great ideas surrounding these issues, the better we’re going to be able to serve the people,” McCollar said in an interview Thursday.
The citizen commissions would meet once every two months, but could call additional meetings, and after each meeting would report to City Council, he said. He plans to ask the council to vote to recognize these panels.
“The vision is for us to be able to present them to the council members so they can be formally adopted,” McCollar said. “However, if we’re not able to get them formally adopted by the council, then we will operate as independent commissions around the subject matter.”
The workforce development commission will focus both on preparing local people for higher-paying jobs and bringing those jobs to Statesboro, he said.
“Our role as city government is to help create the environment that’s going to attract good-paying jobs here,” McCollar said. “One thing that’s of extreme concern for me is that so much of our economy is based on service-sector jobs, and so what we want to do is bring in jobs that are going to be more prone to building wealth within our community.”
He invokes North Carolina’s Research Triangle – the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area with its three prominent universities – as a model for his long-term hopes.
“That Research Triangle has transformed that region economically, and I would love for five, 10, 15, 20 years down the line for us today to lay the seed work that would end up coming into fruition something along those lines, but we’ve got to begin that process now,” McCollar said.
That isn’t the only area where he wants the commissions to take a longer-range view than a four-year term as mayor.
During pre-election forums, McCollar mentioned a Children’s Zone as something he would like to see in Statesboro. The Harlem Children’s Zone Inc., founded by Geoffrey Canada in New York City, operates a preschool program, charter schools and other programs designed to help lift children out of poverty.
This week, McCollar said a Children’s Zone is something he would love to see the community be able to create “five or 10 years for now.”
For the near term, he wants his youth development commission to find ways to help young people prepare for better jobs and suggests that its programs could qualify for federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funding.
“When I talk about youth development, I’m speaking specifically in the form of workforce development,” McCollar said. “There’s millions of dollars in (WIOA) funding that we can tap into that’s going to begin to help get our young people ready for the work force.”
These funds can be used for programs to help people who did not complete high school to further their educations and find jobs and to help prepare people seeking to change careers, he said.
He mentioned professional mentorship programs for young people as something that could be introduced immediately.
“If we’re able to build the infrastructure for workforce development within our community, with the city taking the lead on this for our young people, it makes our area that much more attractive when companies are looking to move back to this area,” McCollar said.
McCollar first spoke of his proposed commission on diversity, equity and inclusion in general terms.
“The idea that we want to promote here is that there’s one Statesboro and that we’re all a part of a great city and we all bring value to it, so I’m extremely excited about it,” he said.
But he also observed that promoting diversity and inclusion “has been a best practice for Fortune 500 companies across the board” for years now.
“What I want our city to do is to adopt this best practice so that we can bring new, fresh ideas to the table, as well as different perspectives, so that we can be the best community that we can be,” McCollar said.
So, he links all three of the commissions to economic development goals.
“I believe that our poverty rate that we’re seeing within our community is a result of the lack of diversity in ideas when it comes to what city government can do,” he said.
April M. Schueths, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology at Georgia Southern and a licensed therapist, chairs McCollar’s 14-member transition team.
“We definitely want to bring in some new ideas, but we want to work with some of the systems that are already in place that are working on some of these goals,” Schueths said on the phone Saturday.
In addition to organizing the commissions, the transition team is working to put McCollar in touch with business and community leaders. He has already met with several.
“Our top goal is to improve the quality of life for everyone in Statesboro,” Schueths said in a longer, emailed statement. “We can do this through smart economic growth that creates jobs, raises incomes, and reduces poverty. We also intend to capitalize on one of our greatest resources, our young people, by giving them opportunities today and reasons to stay here for life.”
Meets city staff
McCollar has also met with the city’s department heads as he prepares to take office.
“At the end of the day, what I found was that these are some very good people that care about the city of Statesboro, and I’m excited to work with them all,” he said.
City Manager Randy Wetmore, chosen by Moore and the council last year, and Chief of Police Mike Broadhead, hired earlier this year, received the mayor-elect’s endorsement when he was asked about them specifically.
“I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Randy and Chief Broadhead, and I believe that those two are very good people with some great ideas, and to be honest with you I think that it is a perfect match,” McCollar said.
He has a full-time job as assistant campus director at Armstrong State University’s Liberty Campus in Hinesville. Slated to become Georgia Southern’s Liberty Campus with the pending consolidation of the two universities, it is more than an hour away.
But McCollar has obtained a flextime agreement from the university, which he said will allow him to be in Statesboro for council meetings and otherwise meet the demands of being mayor.
“So I’m extremely excited about that, and it’s wonderful to work for an institution that recognizes the importance of civic engagement,” he said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.