They say that looks can be deceiving.
With Bryan County’s new planning director, Jeff Adams, that is more than true.
Looking at Adams, it’s hard to imagine him on stage behind a microphone belting out songs as the lead singer for an alternative rock band. But he did, although he said his singing days are far behind him.
Born and reared in Lexington, Kentucky, Adams holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in landscape architecture and was awarded a doctorate from the University of London. He has worked across the country, as well as being schooled across the pond, as the English call the Atlantic.
"My parents moved to Roswell, Georgia, and that’s when I decided to transfer to the University of Georgia. I did my undergraduate work there and got a degree in landscape architecture. Then I got my master’s from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, also in landscape architecture.
Doctor of social theory
"Then I went and studied in London to get my doctorate in social theory."
He received his doctorate in 2000.
Social theory is, Adams said, the study of decision-making among groups and paradigms used to examine social phenomena.
Adams agreed that the study can be daunting and not easily understandable by those not interested in social structure and decision making in that environment.
"I always tell people that I started at the landscape architectural level and then got interested in, ‘What are the forces that really come into play?’ And so I got involved in how these groups make decisions. Those are the things that really impact people," he said.
"Going to school in a foreign country was interesting, and at the doctorate level not all that different than American schools. You’re really working with a professor and it’s more of a one-on-one thing. By the time you get to a graduate or doctoral level, you’re doing the same as at an American university. You’re working more individually than you are in classes."
Adams said after London he worked in Idaho and Kansas, where he cut his teeth in the planning area.
He said he and his wife, Marilyn, returned to Georgia in 2015 to be closer to their parents. That’s when Adams took the community development director position in St. Marys.
"We really love the beach and her parents had a beach house on Fernandina Beach, so we were really familiar with the area down there and thought St. Marys would be a pretty good place to be," Adams said. "St. Marys is experiencing a lot of the challenges that Bryan County is."
He noted his background includes comprehensive and long-range planning, such as multi-county planning projects when he was in Kansas.
"I’ve worked on these big projects and am looking forward to the challenges here in Bryan County. I like the challenges of working in larger communities with larger challenges. St. Marys is probably 10 or 15 years behind this area in growth rate, but they still face many of the challenges Bryan County does," he said.
"I’ve been up and down the coast and was familiar with Pembroke, Richmond Hill and Bryan County. I love the coastal area."
Adams, who has been on the job a little more than a month, said his initial impressions are that of a county continuing to move forward in a positive manner.
"I am really excited because what I think we’ve got here is potential and I think that potential is now. We have to get our ducks in a row now and work moving forward. That’s why I think it’s important to start reaching out to the partners in Pembroke and Richmond Hill, but I also think it is regional, as well. You can never have enough partners and relationships especially with changing funding strategies," he said. "We’re facing some things in local government, and funding streams are changing every year. So we’re always looking at new strategies. With the right connections and partners, it’s easier to figure out these funding issues.
"I’m taking both public and private sides and even nonprofits. Strengthening the relationships between the county and both Richmond Hill and Pembroke will be one of my top priorities. There is so much that can be gained from a strong, healthy relationship."
Adams used questions he’s gotten about traffic as an example.
"The first questions I’ve got since getting here were dealing with what could be done about the traffic. That can only be done by working with Richmond Hill and our partners," he said. "We need to make sure that future growth for both ends of unincorporated Bryan just makes sense. Pembroke is growing and will be faced with some unique challenges."
Long before Adams began his planning career, he dabbled in music, singing for a couple of bands in Athens.
"I was the lead singer. I used to have longer hair and people used to stop me and tell me I looked like James Taylor. I told them I just wished I could sing like him," Adams said. "I started singing in college and was in Athens the same time REM, Kilkenny Cats and some of the other big groups came out of UGA. We were friends with a lot of them. We toured around the South and had a good time. The first band, Poor Richie, I was in, was more like a British rock group. The second band was Pretty Tiny Bullies."
He said their music was a cross between alternative rock and a little bit of disco.
"We did OK and toured quite a bit. We got some attention and did some demos for a couple of labels. We were holding out for a big label," he said with a laugh.
The planning director said it became evident at some point that music wasn’t going to pay the bills and he resumed his educational and vocational pursuits.
His wife, Marilyn, holds a master’s degree in architecture and they have two children: a son, Camden, who attends Furman University; and daughter, Ella, who is a junior at Richmond Hill High School.
He and Marilyn love the outdoors, and a perfect day, Adams said, would be to spend it camping with the family and hiking in the Rocky Mountains.
Which brings him back to Bryan County.
"We love it here and look forward to continuing to do good work in Bryan County," he said.
If things don’t work out, he could always reform Pretty Tiny Bullies.