Sylvester, Ga– If Debbie Bridges had been a boy one could write a typical Horatio Alger story. But Debbie is a woman. Yet her life is one of the Horatio Alger genre (category). The key difference is she began her climb up the ladder of success when she was as a girl, which seems clearly appropriate in the early 21st century.
Her 38 year career in the Sylvester, Georgia city hall began when she was a senior in high school. The first step was a period of training followed by working on the front desk, dealing face to face with the city’s customers.
In time Debbie (whose formal name on her business card is Deborah G. Bridges) was elevated from the front desk to a position in payroll. Later she moved up to the post of deputy city clerk and then city clerk. In 2007, appreciating her long, loyal and talented service she was elevated to Sylvester City Manager. That is a challenging assignment even in a city with a population of something more than 6,100.
Her job not only involves meeting the needs of the people who live in Sylvester — considered locally and regionally to be the peanut capitol of the world — but she must carry out the demands and wishes of the mayor and city council.
Sylvester is undergoing a restoration of its historic downtown area. City offices are in a former bank building, but will be moved to the nearby former railroad station while the current city hall is renovated. One that has been accomplished (Sylvester has recently been officially designated a “Main Street City”) city officials will move back.
Meanwhile Debbie is expected to find ways to do what small town officials are doing all over this nation — fill the empty stores and vacant buildings all over town, including Along US Highway 82 where Wal-Mart recently opened a very busy store. That in itself could add to Debbie’s challenge. Many other communities lost their traditional retail base when customers shifted their buying habits to the newly arrived big boy with its ability to buy products at a fraction of the cost that a single small store has to pay.
Since Walmart seldom advertises in the local weekly (or small daily) newspaper, Sylvester could find it source of local news also limited or even eventually gone.
So Debbie may have an unexpected foe, one that is a major taxpayer.
Her other assignments is to reduce litter, open a 3,000 square foot splash park for sizzling summer days (the concrete is to be in the shape of a peanut), continue to apply for community development block grants, and improve city streets. An old mobile home park is scheduled to be turned into a city park. And there have been flooding problems in the past to work on.And Sylvester not only collects the garbage and runs the waste treatment plant and water system,it supplies electricity and natural gas to its citizens.
She is expected to deal with housing issues and keep taxes as low as possible.
Debbie has two grown children, a son and a daughter, and one grandson she deeply cares about. But she is enthusiastic about her present assignment. Being city manager is always a challenge, but it may be even greater that many other communities than in Sylvester.