Citizens filled the chambers at Statesboro City Hall till only standing room remained Tuesday morning for the swearing in of three new council members. One of them, District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers, was then voted mayor pro tempore by the rest of the council.
Separately and in series, Chavers, District 3 Councilwoman Venus Mack and District 5 Councilwoman Shari Barr each raised her right hand and was administered the oath of office by Bulloch County Probate Court Judge Lorna DeLoach.
She asked each to recite a promise to “faithfully discharge all duties devolving on me as councilwoman of the city of Statesboro … according to the best of my ability and understanding, so help me, God.” One of the three actually said “councilperson,” but otherwise these were probably the first times “councilwoman” was used in the oath in Statesboro’s history.
Although Statesboro had its first female mayor with former Mayor Jan Moore, who served 2014-2017, the City Council is not known to have had any women members elected by the districts before Chavers, Mack and Barr.
The first order of business after the swearing-in was the council’s election of the mayor pro tem for the next two years from among its members.
Barr made the motion to nominate Chavers, and Mack seconded that motion. Chavers indicated she was not voting for herself, and the two men continuing on the council joined in the 4-0 vote.
As mayor pro tempore, she would be expected to lead any council meetings that Mayor Jonathan McCollar is unable to attend and could fill in for him at other events.
“It’s pretty exhilarating,” Chavers said after the meeting. “The mayor pro tem is there to help move the city forward, and that’s what I’m here to do, to serve the constituents of Statesboro, so I’m very, very, very excited about this new appointment.”
Barr, also interviewed afterward, explained the thinking behind her nomination of Chavers.
“I had a couple of different, private discussions with other council members in advance, but my thinking was the people of Statesboro, the voters, voted for a change, and so I really felt like they would want one of us to serve in that capacity, and Paulette was willing,” Barr said. “And she also had the largest margin coming in. More Statesboro people voted for her than anybody else.”
Many of those who filled the room for the brief ceremony and meeting were relatives and friends of the new members.
Chavers’ mother, Evelyn Chavers, held the Bible her daughter placed her left hand on as she raised her right hand and repeated the oath.
Afterward, Councilwoman Chavers also noted the presence of her older brother, Pastor Donald Chavers Jr., of Agape Worship Center, and several other siblings.
For Mack, her mother, Wanda Mack Johnson, did the honor of holding the Bible.
“I have a lot of family members here,” Mack said after the meeting. “I just realized that my sister came from Alabama to surprise me. My dad is here; I have a lot of family from out of town.”
For Barr, her granddaughter, Grace Stanfield, and pastor, the Rev. Jane Page of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro, held the Bible.
Invocation for 2020
At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor McCollar called on the Rev. Francys Johnson, senior pastor of Magnolia Missionary Baptist Church and Mount Moriah Baptist Church, to give the invocation. Johnson is also a Statesboro-based attorney, and on Nov. 5 the three now-councilwomen attended an election victory celebration at his law office building.
“It is good that we are here to witness the elevation as elders of three magnanimous, wonderful and courageous women within our community, to join together with the other elders to make up this City Council,” was part of Johnson’s prayer, during which he spoke to the new members and public.
“It is our prayer that you would understand your role, that you would appreciate your position and that you would walk worthy of the approbation placed on you by the citizens of the city of Statesboro,” he continued.
District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum and District 4 Councilman John Riggs began the second half of their current four-year terms. Riggs, previously mayor pro tem, is the longest serving member.
“I’m excited and looking forward to it,” Riggs said of serving with the new members. “I think we’re going to continue to do good things just like we have been, and we’ve got three good new councilwomen.”
“I think it’s great for the city,” Boyum said. “Change is always good, especially if we have change for the better, and I honestly think that today is indicative of change for the better for the city of Statesboro. I’m a big believer in representative government, and the residents of those districts selected these three new members to represent them, and collectively we’ll work together to move the city forward and do great things.”
Delinda Gaskins, president of the Bulloch County Branch of the NAACP, attended Tuesday’s 9 a.m. meeting and said she couldn’t think of any other place she would rather be.
“Today’s swearing in is a historical moment for the City of Statesboro for many reasons,” Gaskins said in a statement afterward. “Since 1889 all City Council seats have been held by men. Today that all changed, and I am elated. Today, three women took the oath to serve the city of Statesboro representing their respective districts…. In addition … Paulette Chavers is the first female, African American to serve as mayor pro tem. What a difference one election has made.
“I am thankful I had the honor to witness this moment in history,” Gaskins said.
After the meeting, citizens and guests crowded into the conference room at Joe Brannen Hall, next door to City Hall, for a reception honoring the new members.