City leaders bid farewell to Mayor Tomlinson, Councilor Baker at last meeting of 2018

Mayor addresses critics, leaving government at final council meeting

Teresa Tomlinson said it has been her "joy and privilege" to serve as the mayor of Columbus, Georgia, over the last eight years during her final council meeting Tuesday morning.
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Teresa Tomlinson said it has been her "joy and privilege" to serve as the mayor of Columbus, Georgia, over the last eight years during her final council meeting Tuesday morning.

Teresa Tomlinson, the first female mayor to lead the Columbus Consolidated Government , and longtime District 5 Councilor Mike Baker said goodbye to fellow councilors and city leaders Tuesday during the last official meeting of the year.

Tomlinson, 53, is wrapping up almost eight years as the 69th mayor of Columbus while Baker, 61, has served his district for three terms, nearly 12 years. Both were presented a real clock from the 10-member council and separate resolutions thanking them for their service to a government with a $275.3 million budget.

The mayor, an attorney, is set to join the law office of Hall Booth Smith P.C., after leaving early next month while also looking at pursuing a higher political office.

“It’s been my joy and privilege to serve,” she said during a break from the council meeting. “We have done some big, big things in this community over eight years because the citizens have been with us.”

Women are on the tops of ballots and are being elected in record numbers in Georgia local government. But there’s still not gender parity in state and national politics. Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson discusses the issues around the topic.

Some of her biggest accomplishments were noted in a resolution read by Mayor pro-tem Evelyn Turner Pugh. Tomlinson reformed the city budget in the face of declining revenues, improved city services, revitalized blighted and under-utilized neighborhoods, reduced crime and set a vision for unprecedented vibrancy in the state’s second largest city and the nation’s 16th largest consolidated government.

One of her biggest defeats as mayor was a vote to “Thaw the Freeze” on property taxes, which failed by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin in November 2016. The same proposal failed by an even larger margin in a previous referendum.

“We were not able to overcome the tax system, which is very controversial in this community, the property tax freeze,” the mayor said. “I know this. We made up 20 points in favor of doing something in adopting another system. I also know that young people cannot and will not tolerate the current tax system we have. They, from a generational perspective, understand the strain it puts on our growth and prosperity.”

During the morning, Tomlinson said she might have teared up a little bit. “To hear them say kind words is very gratifying and humbling,” she said. “Other than that, I’m just happy because we are leaving in such good hands. “

Councilor Glenn Davis, a former major league baseball player, used the sport to described how Tomlinson performed over two terms in guiding the city. “You signed up to play and you have taken that serious,” he said. “You always approached duties with a level of responsibility.”

Mayor-elect Berry “Skip” Henderson was on hand to also thank the outgoing mayor. Henderson takes office on Jan. 7.

Baker, a certified public accountant, will have more time as a partner at Baker & Latimer. He has served on the council since 2007.

Fellow councilors said Baker didn’t always have a lot to talk about but when he did you would listen. “Some time, you were the lone voice crying in the wilderness but that’s OK,” said at-large Councilor Judy Thomas.

City Manager Isaiah Hugley described Baker as an independent thinker who would listen to his constituents. “I always admired Councilor Baker,” he said. “I want you to know that you have been one to stand on what you believe in when you had to stand alone. I’m going to miss you.”

District 3 Councilor Bruce Huff recalled how he and Baker attended Hardaway High School together and graduated in the first integrated class at the school.

“It’s just a warm and fuzzy feeling this morning,” Huff said. “I found my way here where you were already serving.”

Charmaine Crabb, a local Realtor, will take Baker’s seat on the council. Crabb was at the council meeting and said she had some big shoes to fill.