Richmond Hill City Mayor Russ Carpenter had much to say Tuesday night after he, Mayor Pro Tem Kristi Cox and Councilmember Robbie Ward were sworn in to new terms by U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1, during a ceremony at the City Center.
It was a generous speech by any measure, but particularly so in an era of divisive, angry state and national politics.
Carpenter, a Republican who ran unopposed for a second term, told those who attended and those who watched on the city’s social media pages that “whether you are a newcomer to Richmond Hill or an old friend, this city is better because of you.”
The longtime local high school teacher and lifelong Richmond Hill resident continued in that vein throughout his remarks, praising those who he said “make our amazing small town what it is.”
“Our awesome God gave us a physical environment that is unmatched in its inviting beauty, Carpenter said. “He has placed in this city engaged and wonderful residents, and we have taken his blessings and created a first-class town and county that is literally the fastest growing in the state, and one of the fastest in the country.
He thanked Carter, a former mayor of Pooler and longtime state legislator, for his continued support of local residents and businesses during the pandemic. Carpenter saluted state legislators Ron Stephens, Jesse Petrea and Ben Watson for “their readiness to intercede on our behalf, to pass legislation that helps us, and to vote against measures that may be impractical or even detrimental.”
Carpenter praised elected officials ranging from county commissioners to school board members to constitutional officers and representatives from Pembroke and various boards and authorities, many of whom were in attendance.
“Thanks for the tough decisions, the late nights and early mornings, the countless hours meetings and the thousands of other ways that you serve this city and county,” the mayor said, before asking elected officials to stand for applause.
Carpenter continued by crediting the city’s first responders and its veteran population. And, as he mentioned each group, he would pause and then ask them to stand for applause.
“No one does more to protect this city, quite literally, than our police officers, fire fighters, emergency services, and veterans,” he said “Yours is a calling most can only aspire to. With this dedicated group of men and women, we have seen, in the past two years, what sacrifice and risk really means. And veterans, you are in a class all your own, as you protect us, our democracy, and our way of life.”
Carpenter also credited the role Bryan County Schools has played in the city’s growth, noting the system’s continued reputation as one of the best in coastal Georgia. “Our schools have performed well in difficult circumstances, to say the least. And, being a Bryan County educator, I’m proud to say that our children’s safety, well being, and academic progress is always paramount,” Carpenter said. “I would also like to point out that our students deserve much credit for their resiliency and ability to adapt to many necessary sacrifices over the last two years. Indeed, all of you are an integral part of what makes our city great.”
Health care providers also drew praise for the role they’ve played during the pandemic, with Carpenter thanking them for their work on the “frontline in combating the disease, comforting us, and healing us.” “They gave critical advice to the city as they tested and treated our residents, and when the vaccine was ready, they ensured everyone who wanted to get vaccinated was jabbed, some right next door at the Wetlands Center,” Carpenter said.
He also praised those who keep the city’s economy strong.
“Now to those who own, operate, or work at a local business, charity, and civic-group, we say thanks to you, too. You fuel the economic engine that, for years, has succeeded, during recessions and pandemics, and we are aware that it is not easy,” Carpenter said. “Your businesses are valued here, and we want them to expand as we work alongside you. The Chamber of Commerce, each year, stages an event that has put the Hill on the map - the Seafood Festival. You develop industrial parks and neighborhoods, build, sell, and clean our homes, cut our hair, thanks, Liz, invest our money, and feed us at some of the best restaurants on the coast. Our charities and civic groups take care of those less fortunate with numerous functions, and you help nearby soldiers transition from the military to the private sector. You run our political parties, report the news fairly, and provide an endless array of goods and services to our residents. Some of us here can remember when there were only 2 or 3 neighborhoods, one grocery store, and one school, K-12. The progress we enjoy is because of you.”
The mayor also saluted the city’s diverse group of religious leaders.
“I cannot find the words with which to express what they mean to our city,” he said. “These are the pastors, priests, rabbis, youth pastors, music ministers, church staff, chaplains, and spiritual leaders who, long before anyone heard of Corona, ministered to our residents with a profound love that certainly puts a smile on the face of God every day. They are mighty prayer-warriors for this city. Through their prayers, visiting those that are ill, and being with families in crisis, they are perhaps the truest public servants.”
Carpenter then turned to the city’s council members.
“I can attest that they are diligent, meticulous and always ready to work. They show up at everything. They support each other, and the mayor, even when we don’t agree on an issue. Each brings a unique set of qualities that, together, make a dynamic body,” he said.
Carpenter called Cox, “deliberative, thorough, and protective,” and Ward, “loyal, dedicated, and calm.”
He noted Steve Scholar is “the ultimate team player, intelligent, and practical,” and Les Fussell is “wise, detailed, and inquisitive.”
Carpenter also gave a gracious nod to city employees, “the group that ensures we are under budget, that our residents and customers are taken care of, and that our laws and zoning regulations are followed. They make sure our parks are pristine, our roads kept clean, our garbage collected, and our water is pure. Namely, Chris Lovell, Dawnne Greene, Scott Allison, Linda Blankenship, Derrick Cowart, Donna Wood, Randy Dykes, Harvey Lashley, Chief Brendon Greene, Chief Mitch Shores, Georgene Brazier, and the 100 plus other employees. This city appreciates you, sometimes even when it is not evident.”
Even the city’s public works provider, EOM and its staffer Brandon Fulton, as well as “all our contractors and vendors,” were saluted After quoting from Proverbs, Carpenter said he looked forward to another four year term and ended thus: “May the Force Be With You, and Go Dawgs.”
Before Carpenter’s speech, Carter told those in attendance he thought it “a privilege and an honor” to be asked to swear in the mayor, as well as Mayor Pro Tem Cox and Councilmember Ward.
“I’ve had experience serving at different levels, and I will tell you, you cannot get any closer to the people you serve than being at the local level,” he said. “When you’re in Atlanta, you’re in Atlanta, when you’re in Washington, you’re in Washington, and when you’re at home, you’re at home and people know where to find you.”
The congressman also praised the work of former leaders such as former county commission chairman Jimmy Burnsed and past mayors Richard Davis and Harold Fowler, as well as others.
“It’s not just by chance Richmond Hill has become such a great community,” Carter said. “So many have done so much that has resulted in what we see today.”
He also noted the city’s leaders will continue to be challenged to manage growth.
“I’ve been involved in a city growing by leaps and bounds (Pooler), and I know it’s difficult to do,” he said. “That will be your biggest challenge. I want to wish you well and thank you for your dedication.”
During the meeting, which lasted about 27 minutes, Compassion Christian Church Pastor Cam Huxford gave the invocation. Leslie Murphy, widow of former Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Murphy, led the pledge of allegiance and Pastor Hubert Quiller of Restoration Worship Center gave the benediction.