Jimmy Junkin tendered his resignation as executive director of the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission on Friday, a day after the utility commission discussed his job in a closed session.
A majority of the JWSC’s seven-member governing body wanted him gone, said sources speaking on the condition of anonymity. Anonymous sources also said Junkin’s role as director was the subject of heated discussions in more than one closed session, the latest of which was held during Thursday’s JWSC meeting.
Junkin declined to comment on the matter Friday, saying he had spoken with some commissioners and wanted to wait for their response before saying anything publicly.
“I really can’t say anything about it. They need to take what I talked about and consider it amongst themselves,” Junkin said.
The utility released a statement Friday morning that read simply: “On Friday, May 3, 2019, Jimmy Junkin stated his desire to resign as executive director. A special called meeting regarding this will be held at the JWSC office at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 8, 2019.”
The JWSC’s office is located at 1703 Gloucester St. in Brunswick.
Commission Chairman Ben Turnipseed said Thursday that Junkin would be going on leave starting Friday, but declined to comment on any resignation.
Vice-chairman Steven Copeland also declined to comment.
“All I would be able to say is, he’s tendered his resignation. We’re going to get together on Wednesday and go over that and consider it,” Copeland said.
Junkin did have support in closed-session discussions, according to anonymous sources, but those supportive of him were in the minority.
Some don’t want to see him go.
“I supported Jimmy Junkin and thought he was doing a good job, and I’d really hate to see him go,” utility Commissioner Wayne Neal said. “He wasn’t perfect in the job, but I felt that the JWSC was making moves forward.”
Anonymous sources say Junkin’s resignation is essentially sealed and that the utility’s official acceptance of the letter is a formality, but that he may stay on in a consultant role.
Junkin came to the Golden Isles from Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he served as director of the Tuscaloosa Water and Sewer Department. The JWSC hired him in June 2016, but he did not formally take the role until August that year, nearly eight months after the utility commission voted to fire its previous director.
He made waves early on in his tenure with candid comments about the extent of repairs needed to bring the existing public water and sewer systems up to peak condition. The number was as high as $150 million for repairs and rehabilitation of the system already in place, not including planned expansions.
Throughout his nearly three years in the position, Junkin remained focused on repairing and maintaining the existing system. On more than one occasion, Junkin noted that rapid expansion by previous utility administrations was at least partially to blame for the poor state of existing assets.
Junkin oversaw successful efforts to increase sewer flow capacity on St. Simons Island and in the north mainland region of Glynn County, which were pushing the limits of their capacity.
He also presided over a major increase in sewer tap-in fees, an increase of the water and sewer rates and a later restructuring of said rates that led to increases for low-usage customers.
The tap-in fee increase brought with it significant backlash from the business community, and the utility commission eventually lowered it again, though not to the point they had been prior.
Afterward, Junkin maintained the fees would not be enough to cover the cost the utility incurred by adding new buildings to the system.
The murals that are quietly appearing around downtown Brunswick showcase the resilient spirit of the community, whose strength and hope is inlaid in every brushstroke. The murals illustrate the community’s story.
Community voices have to tell that story.
With that in mind, the organizers of the Brunswick Mural Project set up its first informational booth Friday evening at the First Friday celebration in downtown Brunswick.
The Brunswick Mural project is in its beginning stages still and has set an ambitious goal of completing six murals in Brunswick in six months. The project’s leaders are also working to spread the word about the murals, which have already begun to emerge on building walls downtown.
“We want to tell people what we’re planning and let people know what we’re getting ready to do and build excitement,” said Susan Ryles, executive director of Glynn Visual Arts and leader of the mural project. “We just want to build excitement for this project.”
Two murals have been completed so far. One can be found against the side wall of the Study on Union on Union Street, and the other stands high against a law office on Richmond Street.
At the informational booth at First Friday, photos of the completed murals stood beside the artwork of three local artist who will create the next three murals.
Those artists include Ed Hose, Angie Jensen and Roderrick Davis.
The mural project is part of a much larger plan called the Community of Hope initiative, which is working now to create a community resource center that will be located in the historic Risley buildings in downtown Brunswick.
The community resource center will be adjacent to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city and will offer multilayered support for local families.
The Community of Hope’s broad goals are being tackled by several subcommittees, including an arts subcommittee that has been tasked with creating arts programming that will be integrated throughout the various resources at the center.
“We’ve been talking to people about the next steps, which would be arts programming,” Ryles said. “So I’m looking around to see where we might find grant money for that, to create programming and sustain the programming with instructors and materials.”
In the meantime, work continues to move forward on the mural project. The arts subcommittee is working to inform not only individual community members but also local stakeholders that can and will be involved, including the city of Brunswick, the Downtown Development Authority, the local historic preservation board and more.
“It’s important to get as many people on board as possible in the community, and (First Friday) is in Brunswick, so it’s a good place to catch a lot of people at the same time,” said Lulu Williamson, who serves on the historic preservation board and volunteered at the information booth during First Friday.
The mural project aims to bring the community together through artwork that reflects various definitions of hope.
After the first six murals have been created by local artists, a second phase of the project will begin and will focus more on wider community involvement in the creations of murals.
“We want to engage the community,” Ryles said. “This is about the community, really, so we hope that the community wants to be involved, in some cases in the design, in some cases in the actual creation of the murals.”
Those interested in helping create a mural, suggesting a location for a mural or donating to support the project can email email@example.com or call Glynn Visual Arts at 912-638-8770.
The Frederica Academy school community lost a beloved leader unexpectedly on Friday.
Ellen Fleming, who served for many years as the Head of School at Frederica, died Friday in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Southeast Georgia Health System in Brunswick. Her sister and best friend, Nancy Fixx, stood by her side when Fleming died, according to a message sent to Frederica Academy families.
“During this time of grief and sadness, we are reminded of so many wonderful memories of Ellen and her passion for Frederica Academy, especially its students, faculty, and families,” the message read. “I know many of us will cherish seeing her at May Day this year as she accepted a bouquet of flowers from Alastair Campbell on behalf of the entire student body, a true expression of the adoration and respect Ellen evoked in the lives of those she touched.”
Fleming served Frederica for more than two decades. She joined the school’s board of visitors in 1995, and relocated in 2004 to St. Simons to become the eighth Head of School for Frederica. Fleming moved from Atlanta, where she served as the interim president of The Westminster Schools.
Fleming retired in 2011 and returned to the Board of Visitors role. In 2017, she agreed to fill the interim Head of School position during a nationwide search to replace the former school leader, John Thomas. Fleming stepped down from the role due to personal health concerns in January 2019.
Fleming devoted many years to Frederica Academy and made a significant difference through her work, said Jim Benefield, whose children have attended Frederica Academy and who served as the school’s board chair during Fleming’s tenure as Head of School.
“She was a consummate professional at what she did and improved every corner of the school she touched,” Benefield said. “… I just remember her being incredibly intelligent, incredibly witty and an incredibly great leader. She was someone who you didn’t have to give any advice to — she had crossed every bridge.”
Benefield described Fleming as one of the finest educational minds in this area and one of the best leaders Frederica Academy ever had.
“You couldn’t say enough nice things about her,” he said. “She was just super, inside the school and outside. She was a great person. They don’t many them any better, that’s for sure.”
Nearly 50 public officials, business and community leaders met with federal elected and appointed officials this week for the annual Washington fly-in.
The delegation met in the nation’s capital with U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. and David Perdue, R-Ga. and U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1 to discuss a wide range of issues during the visit.
Among the priorities were continued support for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, wetlands permitting issues, National Flood Insurance Program authorization, the Port of Brunswick, health care and prescription drug pricing. Other local issues discussed were for regulatory relief for Glynn County’s airports and federal opportunity zones.
“For six consecutive years, Georgia has been named the best state in the country in which to do business,” Perdue said. “Groups like the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber help maintain Georgia’s business-friendly climate that continues to attract some of the country’s most successful companies to the state.”
Carter was among the elected officials who recognized chamber president Woody Woodside for his 34 years of service.
“I want to thank Woody for his life-long dedication to our area,” Carter said. “Woody has dedicated his career to public service and without him, Coastal Georgia would likely look very different than it does today.”
Isakson said the visit from the local group is helpful to understand the needs and priorities of the Golden Isles.
“When communities work together to advance their priorities, it makes a big difference,” he said. “Hearing directly from community leaders helps us and our staff members better understand our constituents’ needs and goals and offer more effective representation.”
Other attendees included Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey, state Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, representatives from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, members of the Glynn County Board of Commissioners, Georgia Power, Southeast Georgia Health System, the Georgia Ports Authority, civic organizations and other business and community leaders.
To know where you’re going, first you have to know where to start — that’s the idea behind what U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, called the subcommittee’s WOW 101 hearings. The last of which occurred Wednesday, when representatives heard from experts regarding the state of American fisheries.
The governing law of U.S. fisheries is the Magunson-Stevens Act, which first went into effect in 1976 and since undergone revisions to change with the times. One of the ongoing controversies in fishery management is whether the act as it currently operates is doing more good or more bad in managing the balance between profitable commercial and recreational fishing, and sustainable stocks.
John McMurray, a New York charter fisherman who’s a former federal fishery council member and the president of the American Saltwater Guides Association, testified that he believes the MSA is on the right path because management was isolated from political pressure for short-term over-harvesting.
“Yes, such mandates require we manage stocks more conservatively, and folks couldn’t harvest as small or as many fish as they had been, but when such harvest levels could be kept high, a large number of federally managed stocks were depleted,” McMurray said.
He added that before 2000, 92 federally managed stocks were overfished and 72 subject to overfishing, and that dropped by early 2018 to 38 overfished and 30 subject to overfishing.
“The truth is that conservation measures contained in the Magnuson-Stevens Act cut the number of stocks being overfished by more than half,” McMurray said. “According to NOAA Fisheries, recreational participation at seafood landings are up as a result. That’s because of conservation provisions of the Maguson Act have increased access in making more fish available to more people.”
He said, though, he disagreed with the notion that federal fisheries should be run like state fisheries, using the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission as an example. Georgia is part of the ASMFC, which runs the length of the Atlantic Coast.
“While their charter would seem to suggest they prevent overfishing and rebuild stocks, they have no federal or other mandate to do so,” McMurray said. “The only stock the commission has successfully rebuilt since it was created in 1942 was Atlantic striped bass. But again, striped bass is overfished and overfishing is occurring now. Had striped bass been managed under federal law, that likely would have been avoided. It would be good to see the commission have to comply with the same federal mandates that the councils do.”
Recently, the federal South Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted to turn over management of Atlantic cobia to the ASMFC, and that took effect March 21.
Nick Cicero, sales manager for Folsom Corporation, testified that while fisheries improved, recreational fishers aren’t getting the access they should under the MSA, and businesses and communities are losing out because of it.
“The original intent of Magnuson had a very clear objective — to promote domestic commercial and recreational fishing under sound conservation and management principles,” Cicero said. “Unfortunately, this objective has been hijacked. It’s been turned into a weapon against the very people it’s designed to protect.
“We’re not talking about glamorous game fish like striped bass or blue marlin or snook or sailfish here. What we’re talking about here today that Magnuson manages is mixed-use commercial, recreational fisheries, which are either rebuilt or on a very positive upward rebuilding trend.”
Both McMurray and Rebecca Selden, a senior fellow in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources at Rutgers, agreed that climate change is causing fish stocks to change their centers of abundance — typically either deeper or to the poles.
“At this point, the scientific evidence is clear — it’s not if the species will move, it’s when,” Selden said. “Further, the more we stress ocean ecosystems with continued warming, the more severe events like the warm blob are likely to become. The good news is that we can make our management more nimble to deal with shifting fish stocks.”
Robert Dooley, board member of the Seafood Harvesters of America, also recognized the effect on fisheries of climate change.
“Commercial fishermen will be the first to tell you about the changes they’ve seen on the water in recent years,” Dooley said. “These changes are creating additional fishing restrictions and closures that cause significant economic losses.
“We must recognize fisheries are part of the ecosystem and the necessary resources must be provided for the industry to continue its mission to remain the front-line stewards of our marine resources. We can’t turn fisheries on and off and expect communities that rely on them to remain viable.”