SPECIAL REPORT: A moment of transition

SPECIAL REPORT: A moment of transition
Published: Jul. 26, 2018 at 2:45 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 31, 2018 at 4:13 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - As one Columbus mayor's administration draws to a close, the torch now passes to a familiar face.

Next January,  Berry "Skip" Henderson will take the reins from Teresa Tomlinson as the Fountain City's mayor.

"I'm really looking forward to getting to work," he said.

Months before taking his place behind the Mayor's desk, Henderson, a long-time Columbus city councilor, is taking care of his other job:  leading a real estate office full-time.

Come January 2019, he will leave the Keller Williams office on Veterans Parkway and move full time, to the government center as the city's 70th mayor.

The decision to do so, he said, wasn't easy for either him or Karen, his wife of 35 years.

"We took our time making a decision. We prayed over it. We wanted to make sure we're doing it for the right reasons."

With his kids grown up, Henderson felt despite his own reservations, it was the right time to commit wholeheartedly to his community.

"Primarily, I just wanted an opportunity to serve this community full time," he said.

"Local elected service is community service. Muhammad Ali said, 'the service we provide to others is the rent we pay for our time here on Earth. I believe that."

It's a belief Henderson said he's carried since before he entered local politics, going all the way back to when he was 26 and first getting involved in local charities and nonprofits, and years down the road, in leadership roles with the local March of Dimes and Kiwanis Club.

Over the years, enough people approached Henderson to consider a run for public office.

"To me, local government is the most important form of government," he said. "Nowhere is the accountability, the 'touch-ability,'  and the relational interfacing more readily available than right here at the local level."

"I talked to these folks for a while. They came back and said they'd really like to get behind me. So I did - I decided to throw my hat in the ring for Post 10.

The year was 1996. Since 1997, Henderson has seen over Post 10, one of two city-wide council positions. Throughout his career in public office, Henderson said he's kept a few wise words from a local civil rights leader and former Columbus mayor to guide his approach to local government.

"A.J McClung is the one that told me. He basically said, 'You've got two ears, one mouth. If you use them proportionately, you're going to do great."

"I work hard to make sure I listen to both sides," Henderson said. "I understand that even people who I don't agree with have a real viable reason for feeling the way they do. I owe them the respect of listening to that side of the story before I make any kind of decision."

Fast forward to 2018,  Henderson stepped down from his council seat facing five other opponents to see who would succeed Teresa Tomlinson. Henderson emerged victorious, earning 56 percent of Columbus' votes.

In this moment of transition, Henderson said there's no secret about his focus going into 2019: creating good-paying jobs and spurring local business to open their doors, resulting in a cascading effect he believes will only make the lives of parents and children in Columbus even better.

"It's going to help to eliminate poverty. It's going to cut down on crime if we can give people the ability to earn a decent wage with one job. It gives those kids a better base for their education and their vocational opportunities."

On the issue of crime, Henderson said part of the solution involves supporting local law enforcement with more resources and personnel, while also supporting citizens and community groups to present new ideas to local government.

"I understand the challenges," he said. "I also know where the opportunities are---faith-based organizations, philanthropic organizations, charitable org--- it's going to take a healthy investment in a team structure."

No matter the future obstacles that lie ahead, Henderson said he trusts his fellow neighbors and peers in Council will work as a team to get things done.

"This is an amazing city. We have challenges, and we've got some areas that we're going to get to work on, but this is really a great community. I happen to believe that it's one of, unfortunately, the better kept secrets of not only Georgia, but the southeast. We're going to try to spread the word."

Throughout the transition, Henderson said he's joined Mayor Tomlinson in key briefings to get a stronger sense of the office's responsibilities, while also attending meetings with department directors and community leaders who want to include Henderson in the conversation on solutions to poverty and crime across Columbus.

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