Saturday, June 6, 2009

Thank you Susan

I am exercising a point of personal privilege today and posting a message that may mean little to many, but means much to me and those that have had the privilege of learning from Susan Weiner. Susan has led the Coverdell Leadership Institute since its' founding in 1995.

Dearest Susan:

I apologize for not standing and delivering these comments last evening. I was too concerned that I would not complete my thoughts, facing you, without losing composure. That would surely have disappointed you and that is something no Coverdell graduate would ever knowingly do.

That said; this is what I should have said:

Good evening.

My name is Brett Harrell, Class of 1999, Gwinnett County.

A decade ago, I walked into a classroom at Callaway Gardens and met a white, Yankee woman, from New York City no less, who spent a career in performing arts, and also happened to be Jewish. She said she was a Republican.

She told our class an incredible story. A story of stereotypical contradictions no fiction writer could imagine. A story of this foreign woman, a woman of sincere conviction, beliefs, and values that traveled to the most Southern of cities – Savannah, Georgia.

Savannah was a city steeped in Southern tradition, none too welcoming of any Yankee, especially not a New Yorker, most especially not a woman, and most certainly not a Jew. She told a story of persistence, outreach, determination, and steadfast reliance on core values that she knew would resonate with all people of goodwill.

She told a story of constant outreach and absolute transparency to all interested individuals regardless of creed, color, or ideology. She told a story of a “good ole boy”, male-dominated, Bible-belt community comprised of significant Democrat and minority populations and strength.

Her story ended after battle, after battle, after battle, with her successful election. A white, New York, Jewish, female, artistic, Republican elected Mayor of the most Southern of southern cities – Savannah, Georgia.

But, as we all know, that wasn’t the end of her story, rather the beginning of ours. We all know how Susan infects our minds, she gets under our skin, but most importantly, she is infused into our hearts.

As she concluded her story in Callaway Gardens, she said she would teach us how to do the same. How to change our communities for the better – no matter the obstacles before us – maintaining a steadfast adherence to core beliefs and principles, armed with the tools necessary to persuade and communicate, we too, could change our communities.

I was inspired. So, in 1999, a decade ago, based on the principles and guidance provided by Susan Weiner, I assembled a team and set out to change my community. Future CLI graduates including current City of Snellville Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer and current State Representative and soon to be Georgia’s first Republican Labor Commissioner Melvin Everson joined me in a campaign to oust a 28-year incumbent Democrat administration and set our City on a path of positive future progress.

We succeeded. Based on Susan’s tutelage, we captured four of six seats on City Council including my election as Snellville’s first Republican Mayor. We set out a bold vision and agenda that positively changed our community for generations to come. Five successive property tax millage rate cuts – beyond the roll-back rate – expanded Police Personnel, improved pay and benefits for all City employees, expanded Park services and over 100 acres of permanent greenspace, a new City Hall, new Senior Center, and state-of-the-art Recycling Center. All of these improvements with improved efficiency and lower cost to our taxpaying citizens and businesses. None of these successes would have been possible without Susan Weiner.

So, on behalf of the twenty-thousand citizens of Snellville, that today enjoy an improved quality of life, improved City services, and lower burden of government, and will never know your name; but, most especially, on behalf of Jerry, Melvin, and me, that will never forget your name – thank you Susan, for none of this would be possible without you, we love you.

Brett Harrell
CLI Class of 1999

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