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Fowler leaves lasting legacy on Richmond Hill

POSTED: December 26, 2017 9:52 a.m.
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Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler, pictured here after being inducted into the Georgia Municipal Association Hall of Fame in June, steps down after 18 years of service to the city.

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Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler will call his final city council meeting to order on Jan. 2, and after that the fish better beware.

Fowler’s 18 years of service to the city — including the last eight as mayor — will draw to a close during that meeting as Russ Carpenter is sworn in as mayor.

“I’m sure I’m going to miss it, but I’m looking forward to the next phase,” Fowler said. “We’ve accomplished a good bit and I think the city is in a good position to continue growing.”

That next phase includes a move with his wife Teresa to the Jacksonville area to be closer to family.

“We’ll be a few miles away from the St. Johns River and I plan to do a bunch of fishing,” Fowler said. “That and some golf. I’ll be active in my church, too, but it’s time to leave the politics to someone else.”

Fowler served on city council from 1995 to 2005 and said he eventually determined he could accomplish more as mayor. He lost a bid for the seat in 2005 to incumbent Richard Davis, but won the seat in 2009 after Davis — who had held the position for two decades — decided not to run.

The city eventually changed its charter to impose a two-term limit on the mayor’s seat, which after being re-elected mayor in 2013 meant Fowler could not run again this year.

“That was something I pushed for and still strongly believe in,” he said. “I think two terms is plenty to accomplish what you need to do.”

After losing the 2005 race, Fowler said he immediately knew he was going to run again in 2009.

“I saw things that I thought needed to be changed,” he said. “We were becoming a city that was only interested in rooftops (houses) and that’s not how you survive.”

Fowler said a mix of residential along with industrial, retail and commercial growth makes for a more stable tax base. That, along with the SPLOST money the city and county receive, helps keep millage rates down. Richmond Hill lowered its millage rate for seven consecutive years through 2008, then held it steady when the recession hit before decreasing it the past two years.

During Fowler’s time in office, the city has annexed the land where the Belfast Commerce Centre and Caesarstone is located, purchased 51 acres off of Highway 144 near Timber Trail for commercial development and the eventual location for a new city complex, and just recently completed the annexation of 5,000 acres currently owned by Rayonier.

Carpenter, who was first elected to city council in 2009 and has said the only reason he ran for mayor this year is because Fowler could not, said Fowler will long be remembered for his contributions.

“During his administration, the progressive steps our city has taken have been phenomenal,” Carpenter said. “He has built close relationships with the top state and national leaders, and his calm patience in dealing with a host of issues has been the key to his effective leadership.

“Richmond Hill is a great city, and we owe much credit to Mayor Fowler.”

City council voted last year to name one of the roads within the Town Centre development “Harold Fowler Drive.”

Earlier this year he was inducted into the Georgia Municipal Association Hall of Fame, which the organization said goes to only three public servants annually who “exemplify the best in public service and who, throughout their careers, have made extraordinary contributions to their communities and Georgia’s cities.”

The Jan. 2 city council meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Richmond Hill City Center. It was moved from city hall due to an expected larger than usual crowd. Aside from Carpenter being sworn in as mayor, Councilman Johnny Murphy will be sworn in for a second term and Tara Baraniak, who ran for Carpenter’s seat, will be sworn in for her first term. Congressman Buddy Carter is scheduled to attend and conduct the ceremony. The council will also select a new mayor pro-tem.

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