Lifelong Richmond Hill resident Russ Carpenter might say it was the perfect storm that led to his announcement last week that he would run for mayor of his home town.
Call it a combination of civic duty taught by his parents, Bobby and Jean Carpenter, plus love of history and sense of responsibility that has had him interested and involved in local politics since he was old enough to understand the difference between a elephant and a donkey.
By the way, he’s an elephant all the way.
"I was born and raised in Richmond Hill. My family goes way back and I have nothing but find memories of Richmond Hill. I guess because I teach history at Richmond Hill High School, I tend to be very nostalgic. My family was here in what we now call Keller. They came to Georgia in the 1700s and eventually to this area.
"My Dad was part of the original Jaycees here, a civic group, that worked to get Richmond Hill incorporated and gained a charter by the state. My connection to the city goes way back even to the Ford days.
"I remember the Crossroads, as we call it. Highways 17 and 144 were two lane roads with just a stop sign. I can remember when they paved Harris Trail and even Timber Trail. When we got the first red light at the Crossroads, we thought we were something else. Back then we were so much smaller than Pembroke," he said with a smile.
But nostalgia aside, things never stay the same, no matter how much we want them to, Carpenter said.
"The growth is bittersweet because we aren’t the small town we used to be. However, I thoroughly enjoy being able to shop local in Richmond Hill. The services the growth has brought is great. The best thing about the change in Richmond Hill is bringing in the new people. We’re not such a small town that you don’t meet people from other parts of the country. That has broadened our experience. Different people bring different talents.
"I can remember when the only residential neighborhoods were the Bottom and Blueberry. My sister bought one of the first houses built in Piercefield Subdivision. So I recall a lot of early Richmond Hill.
"It’s great to live here and watch the growth."
The eight-year city councilman did admit that growth does have it downside-traffic congestion.
"The city is looking at ways to help that. We are working with the state department of transportation to see what we can do. The widening of Highway 144 will help and we’re looking at ways to help with traffic coming out of Fort Stewart by the TA Truck Stop. I don’t want to be like other small towns that couldn’t keep up with the growth.
I think growth is good, but we want it to be good for the city. Growth for the sake of growth is not always good. Quality growth is what you push for," Carpenter said.
Carpenter is heavily involved in the Bryan County Republican Party and the Young Republican Club at RHHS, having just returned from a school trip with the club to Washington, D.C.
One thing that has suffered with his involvement with school and local activities has been his fishing.
"I love to fish. I got that from my Dad. I grew up on the river and in a boat. I think my boat is going to dry rot if I don’t get it in the water soon," he said.
Carpenter said one of his best memories of growing up here is fishing with his Dad on the local waterways.
"We used to spend time on the Medway and St. Catherines Sound and other places just fishing. He was a salt water fisherman and I’ve inherited that. I really loved those times," he said.
Carpenter credits his parents with being the biggest influences on his formative and adult years.
"I spent lots of time with my Dad growing up. Whether fishing or just talking, his common sense and approach to life has been a big influence on me. I’m the person I am today because of my Mom and Dad. My Mom was always there for me, whenever I needed her. She held us together."
He also spends as much time as he can reading. His main interest is spy novels, having grown up interested in British spy James Bond.
"I love the Bond movies and books."
Carpenter also has a soft spot for classic German automobiles and local politics and community involvement is also high on his interest list.
He says he got into teaching by accident.
"I started being a substitute teacher to help pay the bills. I’ve always been interested in government and history so I just think it was meant to be. After I had been a sub for a while, I thought I like this and that was quite a few years ago now."
Carpenter has been teaching 18 years and holds a bachelors degree in political science from Armstrong College, now Armstrong University, along with a masters degree and a educational specialist degree.
Carpenter says the future for south Bryan and Richmond Hill looks very promising.
"The widening of Highway 144 and the new I-95 interchange are going to be very good for the city. We’ll have a 3,000 students high school within the next ten years with more elementary and middle schools. We’ll have more residential neighborhoods. We will have more quality jobs. Richmond Hill will likely be expanded through annexation. Bringing in quality there is going to be the key."
Will Carpenter be mayor of Richmond Hill then, or sooner.
His recent announcement indicates he hopes so.
"I think I will be an effective mayor, if elected. I’ll listen to all sides of an issue before deciding. And I do what I think is best for best for the residents of the city. I honestly think I’m well qualified to be mayor. I’ve been on council for eight years and I think I can make a difference."
The two issues some people might disagree on are property taxes and water bills. During Carpenter’s tenure on the city council, property taxes haven’t budged and water bills have virtually doubled.
If elected, will Carpenter be the first mayor in more than 30 years to raise property taxes?
Not likely, the single high school teacher and city councilman said.
"I don’t see property taxes going up. We’ll look at other ways to pay for services and keep the city running. We’ll explore all the alternatives. The city will continue to be as efficient as it always has been The priority would be to hold the millage rate where it is and even lower it, if possible.
"I know that the water bills have gotten more expensive. Mine has almost doubled, too. I think we’ll look at any way we can to keep those in line."
Carpenter’s family has always been important to him. He has one brother and two sisters. With the exception of one sister, his family still lives in the local area. Carpenter, for his, part says he will never live anywhere else.
"I love Richmond Hill. I couldn’t see me living anywhere else. I wouldn’t want to. I don’t like big cities and I wouldn’t want anything more rural. One of the things about Richmond Hill is its proximity to Savannah. You get the small town and then you have your movie theaters and other large services nearby.
"I love the aesthetics of Richmond Hill. The beauty, marshes, the rivers. And it’s still a small town to me. When I walk in a local store, people greet me by name. When I see someone in Kroger, or Publix, or Food Lion, and they ask me how my family is. That’s a small town.
"We are a unique city. Growth is coming and will continue to come. Even during the down times a few years ago, we had to tighten our belt but we didn’t cut services or lay people off. We came through those difficult times. Financially, we are in a good place. We have good schools, quality neighborhoods and people who care.
"People want to come here. I’ll never leave"