When Bryan County Administrator Ben Taylor was younger, he thought he might make a living training bird dogs.
"Growing up, we had a kennel of dogs. We’d train them to hunt and then sell them. I grew up riding Tennessee walking horses and training bird dogs. I did that with my dad," he said.
Taylor is originally from southwest Georgia, the little town of Sylvester near Albany. He was born and reared there before leaving for college after graduating from high school.
"After that, I did two years at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and studied political science. After two years, I transferred to the University of Georgia in Athens and got my bachelor of arts degree in 2000, also in political science," he said. "I planned on taking a year off and then going to law school. But I had a friend call me up and he was going to Georgia Southern and I knew they had a master of public administration degree program, so I decided to go."
Taylor said it is a common misconception that the majority of people attending an agricultural college wind up being farmers.
"Not true," he said, although he did grow up on a farm that had been in his family since the 1870s.
Taylor got his MPA from Southern in 2002, still thinking he might pursue a law degree.
But as they say, life intervened and Taylor met his future wife, Sarah, who now teaches at McAllister Elementary School, and his career path took a different road.
Taylor’s introduction to local government came while at Georgia Southern. He had a friend who worked for Bulloch County and talked him into giving local government a shot.
Up until that point, the county administrator said, he had never considered he might be called to work for a city or county government.
"I was still hoping to be a lawyer. A government job just didn’t interest me," he says with a smile. "I was introduced to some folks when doing my internship for the MPA. I was placed with Dougherty County planning department, working in historic preservation. I worked there three or four months and got a taste of local government.
"At a conference, I was introduced to the city manager for Ashburn. He told me he was going to retire in several months and would need someone to come in and help him get some things straightened up. It was 2003 and he put me in charge of special projects," he continued. "I had free rein there, just to learn. From 2003 to 2004, I was the special projects manager and took over as Ashburn’s city manager in 2004 and stayed in that position until Aug. 1, 2014, when I became the county administrator for Bryan County."
Along the way, Taylor married Sarah in 2004, and they later became the parents of three boys, Colby, now 4, Chase, 6, and Colton, 10.
Taylor said his three active boys keep him and Sarah on the go, constantly.
Taylor said he had completed everything he set out to in Ashburn and was looking at job listings when he came across the ad for a county administrator for Bryan.
"I did the research and saw they had pretty good schools, which was important to Sarah and I. We decided that I would apply for the county administrator position. I came for the interview. The people were great and the area was great."
Taylor said he made the right choice and that Bryan County is a great place to live and work.
"We enjoy it here. We enjoy it a lot."
Happy at home
He said the boys play soccer and the family is happy to call Bryan County home.
Taylor said he never played soccer but enjoys golf, when he can find the time.
"I play a little golf. I’m not great at it, but I enjoy playing. I played on my high school team, when I had the chance to practice every day. Now I only play about three times a year."
He said raising three boys takes a great deal of his energy, and that and other family activities take up the bulk of his time.
Those family activities include taking his 16-foot boat out as often as possible, and he enjoys going to St. Catherines Island and other local spots to relax with his family.
"We try to get out a couple times a month and really enjoy exploring the rivers and back waters of the area," he said. "I also do a little bit of fishing – not as much as I’d like but we get out once in a while. I grew up on a farm and my brother and I always fished and hunted there."
Taylor grew up on his grandfather’s farm, which grew peanuts and cotton.
"My grandfather, Bill Ponder, involved me a little bit in the farm when I was growing up, but always told me that I didn’t want to be a farmer. I think he did me a favor," he said laughing.
He said Richmond Hill is a world away from his farming days, although he tries to get back to visit family and the farm at least once a month.
As county administrator, Taylor said he enjoys trying to make Bryan County a better place. But he credits his "hard-working" staff and direction from the county commissioners with much of keeping the county moving in the right direction.
"The job has been quite rewarding. I come from a part of the state that doesn’t have a lot of resources. We’re very lucky here. We have a growing tax base. We’ve got the resources to really make something great — the things that we’re building, the roads that we’re improving. The future for Bryan County is very bright," he said.
"We’re moving forward with the comprehensive plan update and the rewrite of several development ordinances to make our county even more attractive. The widening of Highway 144 is back on track and the new interchange on I-95 is coming," he continued. "We have a lot going on. SPLOST and the possibility of TSPLOST will make a large difference. Keeping the traffic moving is always one of my goals. Lots of good things are coming for both ends of the county."
Other goals include continuing to update and modernize the fire department and emergency service capabilities, build the county’s employee team, build new developments smartly and secure the county’s financial future.
Family relieves stress
Taylor said when he is able to get away from his high-pressure job, he enjoys family activities with Sarah and their boys.
"We spend as much time as we can with the boys. I think I got my commitment to family activities from my parents and upbringing."
Taylor is a former guitar player and with time as valuable as it is, his guitars are wrapped and put away waiting for the day when time permits him to reintroduce himself to his music.
He says his interest in music ranges from country to classic rock and everything in between. He is also interested in history and says his dad was a history teacher so it’s possible his interest in history grew from an early age.
He credits his parents, Jimmie and Jan Taylor, with not only stoking his interest in history but influencing the person he’s become today.
"They taught me how to be humble. They taught me the work ethic that I have today. They always worked hard and were not afraid to go the little extra mile," he said.
"My dad got me interested in government just by being a history teacher. He was involved in the Georgia Association of Educators for a while. I got to go to the State Capitol with him."
The family tradition continues with Taylor, who said he would be proud if his boys decided to work in government when they got older.
"The biggest reward for me is seeing the employees develop. Especially when you’re building an organization, seeing them catch on to the plan you’ve envisioned – just seeing that spark in them," he said. "I just want that process to keep moving along. If something happened to me, the process would keep moving forward."