When Pat Graham ran for and won the mayoral seat in Braselton in 2001, she wanted to establish a better plan for controlling the town’s inevitable growth.
Now, eight years later as she retires from the position, Graham said she is proud of the town’s progress and eager to begin the next step in her political journey.
In July, Graham announced that she would be running for the state Senate District 47 seat instead of seeking a third term as Braselton’s mayor. Two other local residents, Kelley Gary of Hoschton and Shane Coley of Winder, have announced their intentions to seek the seat.
District 47 includes Barrow, Madison and Oglethorpe counties as well as parts of Clarke, Jackson and Elbert counties.
Sen. Ralph Hudgens, the incumbent, is running for state insurance commissioner.
Braselton’s new mayor, Bill Orr, was sworn in last week along with new councilwoman Peggy Slappey and returning councilman Dudley Ray.
Plaques and awards adorn Graham’s first-floor office inside Braselton Town Hall, testaments of the work she did during her two terms as mayor. A framed copy of "Georgia Trend" magazine featuring Graham’s photograph on the cover sits on her bookshelf.
Graham was among several Georgia mayors featured in a 2009 article that focused on issues affecting state municipalities and their leaders.
Throughout her tenure, Graham has worked with several state and regional organizations, including the State Water Council, Georgia Municipal Association, Board of the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center and the boards of directors for the Jackson County and Barrow County chambers of commerce.
Braselton has also grown since Graham took office, with a reported 1,206 people in 2000 and 5,565 residents in 2008, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. In that time, Graham said the town has also created 2,500 jobs.
Developing a 20-year comprehensive plan and a 20-year revitalization plan, establishing a tax allocation district, becoming a WaterFirst Community in 2006 and increasing the town’s assets from $1.4 million to $42 million in eight years are some of the achievements Braselton has accomplished under Graham’s leadership.
Before leaving office, Graham discussed her eight years in the post and what’s in store for her next:Question: What are a few achievements that Braselton has accomplished during your tenure?
Answer: I think the most important thing is that early on we worked on a 20-year comprehensive plan. We knew our citizens really wanted us to get caught up on infrastructure. When I came into office, we were behind on infrastructure, we weren’t ready to handle the growth so we worked on our infrastructure and they (citizens) wanted to make sure that we were fiscally responsible to guarantee them and ensure there would be no property taxes. Also ... they (citizens) wanted growth to be managed and architecturally pleasing. So we adopted a completely new zoning ordinance with architectural controls to make sure what was built and added to our community was architecturally pleasing and high quality in nature.
Q: What made you initially want to run for mayor of Braselton in 2001?
A: We moved to this area in 1995 (from Duluth) and felt like there was going to be a tremendous amount of growth. I had attended city council meetings for about a year and a half and really felt as though there were not any short-term or long-term plans taking place. We had seen a lot of over congestion that took place in Gwinnett ... and I just felt as though there needed to be some strong leadership in managing growth so that we could do it in a way that would not require us to levy a property tax.
Q: Did you ever think you’d still be mayor eight years later?
A: No. I actually planned on running one term, and then at the end of the first term, decided to seek a second.
Q: Do you plan to stay involved in town after leaving office?
A: I’m certainly not going to look over anybody’s shoulder. I believe that this group of elected officials has a right to set their own goals, chart their own course. Our citizens will keep them on track and I don’t plan to come to any meetings. I have told them all if they ever have any questions or need a sounding board or advice or anything, they can call me.
Q: Do you have any advice for Braselton’s new mayor, Bill Orr?
A: I just wish him the best of luck and I think the one thing that I did for the first six months in office was a lot of listening because that’s the best way to gather information, listening and asking questions.
Q: Any regrets?
A: No. It’s been a great place to be mayor. It’s a wonderful community. And if I look back over the eight years, I’m very proud of everything we’ve accomplished. I’ve had the chance to work with a great group of elected officials and also a great staff.
Q: If elected to the Georgia State Senate, what are some issues you would like to work on at that level?
A: I think the state of Georgia needs to do away with the process of using a continuation budget. I think the only way we can ever reduce the size and scope of government in Georgia is through a zero-based budget approach. With the decrease in revenues that the state has seen in the last couple of years, I think the time is right to look at re-evaluating the budget. The state needs to provide essential services and cut any program that is not essential.