If the first month is any indicator, 2004 is shaping up to be an interesting year for Upson County.
The political landscape this year is noticeably different from the past year, even much of the past decade. Within the governing bodies of the city, county and school system major leadership changes have occurred.
At a recent breakfast meeting of business leaders hosted by the Thomaston-Upson Chamber of Commerce, city councilmembers and county commissioners received a round of applause for the recent stated commitment from both governing boards to work together. I can tell you after nearly 18 years in Thomaston, that was indeed a unique moment, and an encouraging one.
The bridge building between the two governments is a credit to the elected officials on both sides, certainly, but also to the paid professionals. In his nearly two years with the City of Thomaston, Patrick Comiskey has earned a reputation as a hard-working, deep thinking manager who has integrity. His recommendations are to be trusted; he has no ulterior motives. On the county side, Mark Bryant is proving to be the type manager the county has needed. He is detailed oriented and an excellent communicator. He understands budgets and complex issues. He will be instrumental in focusing our county government's attention on issues of real importance - and finding solutions to those issues.
Then there's the school system. The election of David Banks as chairman marked a major sea change within the board. Miriam Elsey, who held that post for several years, was a strong leader who worked toward building consensus and would work toward putting out fires before a controversy could build. Banks is going to be a much more hands-on school board chairman, who demonstrates an interest in becoming involved in some day-to-day operational aspects of our school system. He's no stranger to controversy and isn't one to opt for the path of least resistance. He has been the most influential school board member for a number of years and now his leadership skills will be put to the test. His dramatic election as chairman makes it clear that he can build a consensus, which is key to accomplishing any goal.
The economic landscape is also changing in Upson County. Existing industries are hiring, most notably Duni and Standard Textile, but others are also adding jobs. Industrial prospects are visiting the community. New retail businesses are opening (Billy's Bagels is awaited with anticipation). Though no one will confirm even a hint of it, most everyone has heard the talk that a well-known Georgia-based home improvement retail store is taking a close look at Upson County. Such an announcement here will be a double-edged sword, of course. At least three locally owned businesses in the same genre would no doubt feel the impact of a retail giant, but a high profile retail business would also help create a positive attitude in our struggling community - and perhaps attract other such businesses.
It's going to be interesting to watch 2004 unfold.