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Women surge to majority on Statesboro City Council
Challengers Chavers, Mack and Barr all win
women take council
Councilwomen-elect, from left, Venus Mack of District 3, Paulette Chavers of District 2 and Shari Barr of District 5 gather with supporters on election night at a victory party across the street from City Hall in November. (Photo courtesy SHARI BARR)

With the results of Tuesday's election, Statesboro City Council will go from consisting only of men to having women in the majority.

Three female challengers defeated three male incumbents in the only districts with elections. So as of January, the council will consist of three women and two men, not counting Mayor Jonathan McCollar, who has a tie-breaker vote and limited veto.

Brooklet elects a
new Mayor Grooms

Boyd and Jones win
Register council seats

Brooklet residents have elected a new mayor, Joseph “JoJo” Grooms III. He will succeed outgoing Mayor William Hendrix in January.

“I knew William Hendrix was not going to run, and I wanted to step in as a citizen of Brooklet,” Grooms said in an October interview. “People who live here have a very strong vision and care about the community and helping each other.”

In a very close race, Grooms received 143 votes to Charles Howell’s 136 votes through the election that concluded Tuesday.

Grooms is a lead lineman with Canoochee EMC and has been with the company for 14 years. The new mayor-elect is no stranger to Brooklet and its people. His father, Joe Grooms, was also the town’s mayor for several years.

Interviewed during qualifying week, Hendrix, 77, who has been mayor eight years and served on Brooklet City Council for eight years before that, said he was ready to retire from the city government but not from business. He owns and operates a service station.

Brooklet residents also elected Lonnie “Nicky” Gwinnett won council Post 1 with 164 votes to Jason Knight’s 111, and Bradley Anderson  to Post 2 with 164 votes to Edward Dinello’s 85.

In Register, incumbent Tonya Boyd held onto Seat 3 on the Town Council with 28 votes to Shannan Grubbs’ five votes. Alfred Jones won Seat 4 with 20 votes to William Ingram’s eight votes.

—from staff reports

"I think it's very significant because now we have a different perspective on the council," said District 2 councilwoman-elect Paulette Chavers. "So we will have more than just one gender's point of view; you have female and male point of view."

The election of the councilwomen appears to be a historic first, however belated. That no woman had ever been elected to a district seat in the council was also noted in January 2014 when the first woman to be Statesboro's mayor, Jan Moore, took office. She then served one four-year term with men representing the five districts beside her at council meetings. 

But this time, in District 2, Chavers captured 300 votes, 61% of the total, to 186 votes, or 38%, for one-term incumbent Sam Jones. There were also four write-in votes but no qualified write-in candidate. The vote total here has been updated since Tuesday night, with Chavers having received one additional vote after election officials received an answer about the voter's address.

Only one ballot remained provisional in any of the races Wednesday afternoon, said Bulloch County Election Supervisor Patricia Lanier Jones.

In District 3, Venus Mack, now councilwoman-elect, received 115 votes, or 53.2% of the total, to 101 votes, or 46.8%, for one-term incumbent Jeff Yawn.

Meanwhile in District 5, now-councilwoman-elect Shari Barr garnered 101 votes, or 52.3% of the total, to 91 votes, or 47.2%, for Derek Duke. Duke was elected in spring 2018, through a special election and runoff, to serve the last year and a half of an unexpired term.

One thing not of historic proportions was the turnout, about 10.9% of registered voters in the three districts counted together.

Barr and Duke were the only candidates at the Bulloch County elections headquarters when the final results were posted. They shook hands, and he congratulated her.

Then Barr joined Chavers and Mack at a victory party held at attorney Francys Johnson's law firm, across the street from City Hall.

Wednesday, the winners were asked to comment on how they won.

Personal campaigns

"First of all, I had a dynamic campaign team," Chavers said. "Eduardo Delgado, Michael Woody, Yvette McCall and Ty Johnson, they were my campaign managers. I had a great campaign team."

Members of Chavers' family also helped, and she said she had the whole community to thank for support and encouragement as she "embarked upon this journey to become city councilwoman."

She went door-to-door meeting residents of District 2.

"I went out meeting the people, hearing their stories, hearing their concerns, and I listened to what they had to say, and I guess that was enough to convince them that I cared about them, which I do," she said. "So that was part of my strategy, going door-to-door.

Mack took a similar approach in District 3. She also did voter registration.

"It really took hard work," Mack said. "I knocked on door after door after door, I registered over 200 people to vote in my district, and I just got out and I showed people that I cared about them, I was going to be there for them, I was going to listen to them and I was going to help, and the people came out and they voted."

Both Mack and Chavers had help from Georgia Southern University students active in political organizations on campus. Two of the four individuals Chavers named as her campaign leaders, Delgado and Woody, are GS students. Mack mentioned her campaign manager, Elisabeth Malloy, and deputy campaign manager, Rebecca Clements, and two other students active in her campaign, Keshawn Housey and Joe Rocheleau.

But many other people helped, Mack added.

"I certainly thank all of the people who have supported me and helped to make this happen," said Barr, who won by a 10-vote margin. "I'd also reach out the people who voted for my opponent, because it was very close and he had a lot of support, and just express that I'm looking forward to working for the whole district and the whole city of Statesboro."

Historic change

Mack alluded to another historic shift when asked if she thinks the arrival of three women on the council is important.

"It's very important to me," she said. "My great-grandparents are from here, so just to be able to make history in the same city where my great-grandparents weren't treated the best is amazing to me, is mind-blowing."

Her great-grandparents lived here during segregation.

But Mack, who is African-American, will succeed Yawn, who is white, in a town where district lines no longer consistently predict the ethnicity of the person elected.

The leadership on the Statesboro City Council dais in January 2020, including the mayor and city manager, will include four black citizens and three white citizens, being also four men and three women.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458. 

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