State Rep. Ed Rynders of Lee County speaks to graduates of this year’s Leadership Lee program. (Staff photo: Danny Carter)
Officials talk to 2014 Leadership Lee graduates
State Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, and Lee County Commission Chairman Rick Muggridge were among the officials who spoke Thursday to the 2014 graduates of Leadership Lee, a program that works to develop local leaders. There were 17 members of the 2014 class.
LEESBURG — Seventeen Lee Countians — mostly young, rising leaders in the county — were told Thursday they’re living in one of the most progressive and unique counties in Georgia.
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Delivering that message were state Rep. Ed Rynders, Lee County Commission Chairman Rick Muggridge, County Commissioner Greg Frich and Winston Oxford, CEO of the Lee County Chamber of Commerce. The remarks were made before a graduation ceremony for the future leaders at The Bindery, Oakland Library’s Conference Center.
Rynders, who represents Lee County and parts of four other counties in the Georgia House of Representatives, noted that the Second Congressional District is the ninth poorest district in the United States.
Lee County, Rynders said, is somewhat of an oasis in the area and is the only county in the district that has a average household income higher than the state average.
“It is amazing to me how the rest of my district views Lee County,” Rynders said. “It’s the place that you want to be.”
Rynders commended local leaders for “doing it right.”
Coming off a 40-day session of the Legislature, Rynders said he is concerned with the negativity that permeates poliities on all levels of government.
Despite Lee’s standing in the area, Rynders said he’s “concerned how we shoot each other over things that are not that important in the big picture. … We want to nitpick and don’t appreciate what we have,” Rynders said.
Rynders challenged the Leadership Lee grads to become engaged in local government, to appreciate the quality of life that Lee County offers and to have “civilized debate” about issues.
The focus of Muggridge’s remarks was on the quality of life that Lee Countians enjoy. He listed aspects such as the public school system, the library system, the recreation department and Grand Island Club.
“The state of your county is good,” Muggridge said. He said the county’s bond rating, an important factor in financing governmental infrastructure, recently improved from A1 to AA2.
“That’s awesome, and it speaks well of what you have done, but nobody moves to Lee County for a bond rating,” he said. “We moved here for a thing called quality of life. It’s education, recreation, church potluck suppers, baseball games and spring musicals. We refer to them as quality of life, but I call these things economic development engines. They bring folks and dollars to our community.”
Muggridge said the County Commission faces financial challenges in the next few months.
“I think this budget year will be as challenging as any budget year we’ve ever had,” Muggridge said. “I’m proud that through the five years of economic hell we’ve been through that we haven’t laid off a single person. We’ve held onto what matters the most.”
“We’ve held on, but it has come at a cost and, frankly, I feel that bill is coming due this year.”
Muggridge said the commission’s challenge is to improve maintenance of its 27 buildings and to update some of the 198 vehicles it takes to operate the county government.
“When the economy turned south, we didn’t place those vehicles,” he said.
Muggridge said the Lee Sheriff’s Department has 61 vehicles. Fifty-two of the cars have more than 100,000 miles on them, Muggridge said.
“We’ve got to address the needs of our county,” he said.
Frich utilized his time to discuss how the county government was working to improve its state of preparedness, specifically discussing cross-training of EMS personnel to become firefighters and upcoming training to help Lee’s first responders deal with hazardous materials and other emergencies.
Oxford told the graduates that Lee County, which has seen its population double over the past couple of decades, is the prototypical bedroom community in that 85 percent of its work force travels to jobs in Dougherty County.
With most of Lee’s tax base residential, Oxford says he does not actively solicit manufacturing to locate in the county. Instead his focus is on commercial and retail investment.
He said there remains considerable interest in the county from major retailers. He said two restaurants are vying for the last parcel in the Publix shopping center. Two other restaurants and three retailers are in the process of looking at possible sites on Ledo Road, he said.
He also noted that Griffin Lumber and Hardware is constructing a new business in Leesburg and that two convenience stores are under construction on Philema Road. New dollar stores are planned in Smithville and on U.S. 82 near Oakland Library, he said.
“Lee County’s future is bright,” Oxford said.
The 2014 class of Leadership Lee includes Anna Barfield, Chelsea Collins, Coty Dees, Dana Hager, Gabriel Lord, Jay Merritt, Stacy Ortiz, Amanda Owens, John Patrick, Ron Rabun, Kim Robinson, Chris Saunders, Jason Scott, Holly Strickland, Kathy Sutton, Kevin Taylor and Lyn Tippens.