Neal sworn in as Mayor of Stockbridge

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

The long wait is over.

Stockbridge Mayor Judy Neal was sworn in Monday night and took her seat at the City Council’s regular monthly meeting, almost exactly a year after the previous elected mayor stepped down.

Neal won the special election and earned the opportunity to serve the final year of Tim Thompson’s term. Thompson resigned suddenly in the middle of the Dec. 14, 2016 council meeting at the midpoint of his four-year term.

Neal, a full-time Stockbridge resident since 1993, told the Times last week that she ran for mayor because she felt she could make a positive difference.

“Over the past several years I noticed the city’s reputation decline due to decisions and actions of some city officials that created not only years of negative press, but also unnecessary lawsuits and excessive wasted expenditures,” she said. “Employees, who simply wanted to do the jobs they were hired to do, were being negatively impacted.”

Neal has never held elective office but had a long career of public service and has led a state agency as well as a state authority.

Her most immediate priority will be the 2017 budget, which she said was expected to be presented to the council moments after her swearing-in ceremony.

“It is my understanding that the budget will exceed the city’s 2017 revenue estimate by possibly $1.3-1.5 million with a plan to take funds from the city’s reserve funds to get around Georgia law which prohibits unbalanced budgets,” she stated. “Once the budget is under control, I will work with council members to review their 2015 and 2016 retreat notes to determine accomplishments. It will not happen overnight, but I hope to quickly become knowledgeable about all city responsibilities and activities to assure that short-term and long-term goals are purposeful.”

In the wake of three brief and controversial mayoral administrations, followed by a much quieter 2016 without a mayor in Stockbridge, Neal heard the same concerns repeatedly from voters on the campaign trail.

“They want leadership, and for all bad Stockbridge publicity to go away,” she said. “A balanced budget - stop taking money from reserve funds for events not included in annual budgets.”

The list went on to include “absolutely no security companies engaged to back up police services; a return to the level of police protection under previous contracts with Henry County; community policing; something helpful for youth; and for the city to prioritize issues - review and limit special events that distract employees from their jobs.”

Neal’s win in the recent special election earned her only a one-year stint in the mayor’s seat but she has looked beyond that from the start.

“I will definitely run [in the 2017 regular election],” she said. “The public expects that of me after supporting my campaign, and I do not intend to disappoint them.”