VALDOSTA — A very distinguished line up of city and county government officials came together to share insight into local government and strategies for creating an empowered community with the participants of Valdosta’s Community Xccelerator, which meets at the Willis L. Miller Library.
The panel of guests included John Gayle (Valdosta City Mayor), Bill Slaughter (Lowndes County Board of Commissioners Chairman), Dr. Demarcus Marshall (Lowndes County District 4 Commissioner), Charles White (Georgia Senator David Perdue Representative), and Teresa Bolden (Valdosta City Clerk).
During the session, catered by Chick-fil-A Valdosta Mall, the officials shared how each of their paths developed into serving as local political leaders for the city and county. Participants in the Xccelerator program also had the opportunity to learn, in-depth, the duties of the city officials in attendance.
According to organizers, participants were able to connect the dots between understanding local government and successfully executing their goals. One of the challenges expressed by the officials was maintaining a balance between what is best for the city or county and the emotions expressed by individuals regarding various topics.
Fairness is not always weighted one way or the other. You have to hit a middle ground and come to a decision that you can agree with.Bill Slaughter, Lowndes County Board of Commissioners Chairman
The panel shared with the audience how to effectively impact change after being elected to public office by working together with peers. The group was able to speak directly with the elected officials and gain a better understanding of different ordinances that exist within our area.
Commissioner Marshall reflected on his thoughts related to the participants he spoke with:
It was just good being honest with the participants and having an in-depth discussion on the realities of public office, challenges that come with wanting to serve, and getting to be able to serve. I lot of people just see the end product.Demarcus Marshall, Lowndes County District 4 Commissioner
With several new businesses opening in town, Community Xccelerator participants were interested in hearing the official’s thoughts regarding developments they see coming in the future to Valdosta.
Our responsibility is to make sure the right infrastructure is in place. We don’t want growth to start and then local government to be in a position that we are having to chase that growth.Bill Slaughter, Lowndes County Board of Commissioners Chairman
Moody Air Force Base, Wild Adventures, VSU, and Wiregrass were cited as positive influences for making Valdosta a desirable location for its citizens. Xccelerator participants also expressed to the guests their interest in the community being prepared with skilled talent for the prospective industries looking at Valdosta, and the role of the city and the county in preparing its citizens.
Mayor Gayle cited the unique opportunity Valdosta has to work with Wiregrass to train and develop talent in order to meet the needs of future industries.
The group further emphasized a concern to the panel related to closing the gap for citizens that have graduated from high school but not attending a formal institution, in relation to their access to opportunities.
Participant Njeri Pringle, a VSU and GMC educator, shared her concern related to the lack of access that certain individuals have to government officials in comparison to the access provided by the Community Xccelerator:
We are fortunate. There is a population of people that will never have you as an audience.Njeri Pringle, VSU and GMC Educator
Bolden handed out packets from City Hall, which included outlines and instructions for how to become a member of the 22 boards, commissions, and authorities within the city that the Community Xccelerator participants might be interested in applying for.
I think serving on a board, commission, or authority is one of the best things you guys can do in order to have a say-so in your local government.Teresa Bolden, Valdosta City Clerk
When asked for his final thoughts, Mayor Gayle gave promising words for the participants and expressed praise for the program as a whole:
Sometimes people get discouraged because they don’t understand what really happens in City Hall and elected government. It’s really impressive to me to see people trying to expand their horizons through these programs. I just applaud them. This Community Xccelerator program is outstanding. It’s a program that more people should be involved in. They ought to commit themselves more to that program. Everything there is so important for people to understand.John Gayle, Valdosta City Mayor
The Community Xccelerator was developed to connect, inspire, and empower local residents and collegiate students by exposing enrolled individuals to proven strategies for success and regional experts for their personal advice on goal execution, financial and wealth empowerment, business development, and personal improvement.
Like the previous Community Xccelerator sessions, the discussion with elected officials had a substantial, positive impact on its participants, such as Lauren Hurley.
I especially appreciated that Mrs. Bolden brought the packets with information on boards available for service positions. I would like to serve on one of the boards and have it down as a goal within the next couple of months. Some of the best nuggets that I got were from Chairman Slaughter and Commissioner Marshall. They both were humble and genuine in their advice and commentary regarding their public service, which I appreciated. As a student in the Masters in Public Administration, the session exceeded my expectations. After the session, I feel more comfortable reaching out to any official on the Board of Commissioners or from the city.Lauren Hurley
All of the officials were accessible to the Community Xccelerator participants after the meeting to share contact information. For more information about how to participate in the Community Xccelerator, email email@example.com or go to https://www.bridgebuilderinvestments.com/xccelerator.