Mary Warnell didn’t seek re-election after eight years on the Bryan County Board of Education from 2003 to 2010, feeling that two terms had been sufficient time to serve.
However, she is placing no such constraint on her tenure as Pembroke’s mayor as she pursues a second term.
“I don’t have a timeline with this because I’m so focused on our projects and events and things that we are working toward completing,” Warnell said. “I can’t tell you today that I would only seek this one more term.”
Warnell, 65, will be contested in the Nov. 3 election by her predecessor, former three-term mayor Judy Cook. Warnell ran unopposed to succeed Cook in 2011.
The incumbent said she wants to build on the successes of her first term in office. She identified public safety, housing, infrastructure and recreation as priorities for the city.
“I think we have an efficient and effectively run government in our city now,” Warnell said.
As part of that, the city contracted with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government to write job descriptions and establish pay scales for all city-employee positions.
“That eliminates personalities and politics from the equation,” Warnell said. “This particular pay scale is comparable for the same jobs in other cities our size with the cost-of-living index figured in.”
Also, the city’s public-safety operations were overhauled after Warnell took office. A public-safety director was hired to oversee the police and fire departments, and the Police Department was revamped to eight full-time officers rather than a mix of full- and part-time officers.
The city’s top priority for its Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue, according to Warnell, is building a new public-safety complex on the site of the former Bryan County Elementary School. The complex, scheduled to open about 18 months after the design is approved, will include space for the police and fire departments, EMS, a municipal courtroom and helicopter landing pad.
“We are just so excited about the public-safety complex,” Warnell said. “We can hardly wait to see the plans that the architect has been busy drawing up.”
The city will use the old elementary-school gymnasium for recreation programs, according to Warnell. The former classroom buildings will be converted into housing for senior citizens.
Another housing initiative underway in Pembroke is Sawmill Landing, a $9.5 million tax-credit development of 60 townhouses for workforce housing. It is slated to be completed in the spring.
“The housing component has been a very big positive for us and a lot of hard work,” Warnell said.
Other progress in Pembroke might not be as easy to see, Warnell said, because it’s underground. The city received a $498,000 Community Development Block Grant to replace old iron pipes, improving drainage in two sections of town.
Also, a $280,000 project, including $150,000 from the Georgia Department of Transportation, replaced the drainage pipe along Anderson Lane to eliminate flooding in the downtown area. In addition, the city completed the fourth and final phase of its sewer system with a $1.2 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and loan.
“We basically did, in less than three years, $2 million worth of infrastructure improvement in Pembroke,” Warnell said. “We’re proud of our finished products.”
But her tenure hasn’t been all work and no play, the mayor pointed out.
The city hired its first recreation director, opened the Downtown Arts Centre and turned DuBois Square into a venue for festivals and events. One of those, the Spooktacular 5K run and festival, has raised $10,000 toward building a fitness trail in the city.
Pembroke now offers soccer and T-ball, as well as several programs at the city swimming pool. Earlier this year, Pembroke received a
$25,000 grant from State Farm toward a new playground, and the city is “almost at the point of getting that ordered and installed,” Warnell said.
To keep residents informed, the city redesigned its website and, in 2013, began a monthly newsletter that is mailed with each utility bill.
“We have proceeded with making Pembroke, I think, a wonderful place,” Warnell said. “I think it has kept its small-town charm, yet we have kind of shored things up and been more focused on our planning.”