Hahira, GA – Jonathan Sumner attended Valdosta State University just down the road from Hahira, Georgia. After holding jobs elsewhere, he was named Hahira town manager, and has held that post for eight years. He explains that his interest in public service dates back to when he was in middle school and had an internship with his local Congressman.
Sumner, s city manager, has an open-door policy. He encourages local resident to drop by, but also takes time to talk to a visitor. He reports residents ask him questions, some complain, others come in to discuss city projects. But most people who move here stay. Sumner recalls the old saying: “I’m not from Hahira, but I got here as fast as I could.”
The city budget totals just $3 million, about the amount a truly wealthy family spends on themselves elsewhere. Producing the budget takes up a great deal of his time.
Are citizens contented or sometimes unhappy? Some may soon be. For the first time in 21 years water and sewer rates will increase. That should not come as a surprise to Hahira home owners. A letter was sent to all of them. Four public hearings were held. It was discussed thoroughly at city council meetings.
What is Hahira known for? Clean streets, orderly neighborhoods, capable law enforcement, better than average schools and bee keeping.
Each year Hahira holds a honey bee festival in early October. The festival often draws as many as 30,000 people to this city of more than 2,300 resident, according to Sumner .The real population number is probably higher, since it grew by 68% between 2000 and 2010, according to Sumner. About 15 percent of the people are over 65. Many are long time local residents, but others have chosen Hahira as the ideal place to retire. This senior group is the most vocal.
“Senior dollars go a lot farther here,” he notes, adding that while it is warm in the summer it is not overwhelming hot as it often is in Florida.
The school system is Hahira’s largest employer. The middle school has been ranked in the top 10% in Georgia. A cabinet shop has a payroll of 30 or 40, he adds. The downtown area has darkened storefronts. There also is an industrial park with empty buildings. Encouraging businesses to relocate tin Hahira is part of his assignment. But looking for downtown businesses and industries is a challenge across America.
The largest project on his to-do list is the purchase a large piece of downtown property from the railroad. The mayor and council want to convert it into a municipal park.
Sumner concedes he probably could make more money elsewhere, but with school age children and the exceptional quality of life in Hahira he has no interest in going elsewhere. He also teaches a class on political science at the local community college, which he enjoys.
On Saturday mornings Sumner attends a breakfast put on by the Gideons, best known for Bibles in motel rooms. Bibles also distributed to all fifth graders that want one. He also goes to church twice a week — on Sunday and to Wednesday evening Bible study. His son is about to move up from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. His daughter is an “American Heritage Girl”– a group that competes with the Girl Scouts.
Sumner is an outdoor person who would rather walk on a trail than watch television. But he agrees poisonous snakes are a problem in Georgia. Before he cleans up a pile of grass or leaves in his yard he sprinkles it with gasoline. Not to burn. Instead the odor of gasoline makes the snakes scatter, he explains.
However, most of his time is spent on making sure Hahira remains an ideal place to live.