Jimmy Burnsed often said he saw his role as chairman of the Bryan County Commission as that of a consensus builder who hated the word compromise, but wanted everyone on board.
The consensus Jan. 5 certainly went Burnsed’s way.
At an event at the South Bryan Administration Building billed as both a swearing in for newly elected - or re-elected - county officers and a retirement reception for Burnsed, the man who took center stage was the man hanging up his gavel after a dozen years as chairman.
“He’s just the kind of guy everybody needs to know,” said Bryan County Board of Education Chairman Eddie Warren. “He’s spent much of his life in public service, and since he’s been in Bryan County he’s really, more than anybody in the past I can think of, brought all the different organizations together, the county, the cities, the school board, everybody, to work to make this a better place. He’s a uniter.”
Warren wasn’t alone. The commissioner’s room at the building Burnsed helped build for $3.9 million in SPLOST funds was full of that sort of sentiment.
Here’s a sampling:
Wendy Sims, director of Bryan County Family Connection, called Burnsed a dedicated public servant who always made sure her organization had what it needed to help the county’s less fortunate.
“I’m really going to miss Mr. Jimmy,” she said.
District 5 Commissioner Rick Gardner, who has served three terms, two of them with Burnsed as chairman, called him a “very stabilizing influence and teacher,” who’s “background in and knowledge of city affairs and county affairs allowed us to work well with Richmond Hill and Pembroke.”
Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler called Burnsed a “Christian man,” who Fowler was able to “sit down with and discuss almost anything. Jimmy has always had this county at heart. I don’t think there will ever be another one quite like him.”
Bryan County Emergency Services Director Freddy Howell, who was hired while Burnsed was in office, said the former chairman was more than a neighbor and mentor.
“Most importantly, one thing I would say is that for me or anybody else, if there was a person’s Christian faith we could model our faith after, it would be him. This world would be a better place for all of us if we could,” Howell said. “He’s been a Christian role model for the county.”
Derrick Smith, chairman of the Development Authority of Bryan County, called Burnsed a mentor both mentally through guidance and physically through his example and accessibility.
“He was a good, honest, reliable source of information. He knew what direction he wanted to go in, and it was easy to understand his game plan,” Smith said, and added Burnsed knew how to hire good people and then let them do their jobs.
“Jimmy’s game plan was that when we grow, we grow with quality and try to get good people in place to help us grow,” he said. “Look at the directors of each department in the county. Every one of them is top notch.”
Anna Chafin, the DABC’s chief executive officer, said Burnsed was dedicated to his county, his family and his faith.
“He’s going to be very hard to replace,” said Sean Register, a member of the Development Authority of Bryan County. “He always had Bryan County first-and foremost in his heart, and he gave his whole heart to doing what is right.”
Others described the longtime local banker as a stabilizing influence, a mentor and a man of faith. His steadiness might’ve been his biggest virtue, said one commissioner. When others wanted to rock the boat, Burnsed kept it from tipping over.
“Working with Jimmy was challenging for me at first,” said former District 1 Commissioner Rufus Ed Bacon, who served from 1997 to 2008. “I was always one who wanted to jump in there on things, and Jimmy was always the one to say, ‘wait a minute, hold on, we might not need to do that yet.’ But he was a great person to work with, and a good organizer, and I think we did some great things for the county while we were there.”
Burnsed, whose father was born in Black Creek, moved to Bryan County in 1989. He was voted chairman in 2003, then helped steer the county through the real estate market’s boom and subsequent bust. He also was chairman when commissioners passed one of the state’s most generous property tax exemptions for senior citizens.
Along the way, Burnsed served as a volunteer on a number of boards and often called for and praised what he termed “public-private partnerships,” particularly between developers and local government.
That reportedly led developers of what is now Buckhead East to clear the land where Duvaul Henderson Park now sits, not far from the South Bryan Administration Building.
The park, too, came under Burnsed’s watch.
“Seeing 750 kids out there playing soccer, that gives you a lot of enjoyment knowing you had a part of putting that together,” Burnsed said. “The facilities we have here are outstanding. Everybody is amazed at what we were able to do without any long term debt. We paid for it all in six years, which I think is wonderful. Those are the things I think of as examples of what are the right things to do.”
Burnsed, who thanked his wife Brenda at Thursday’s reception for her patience and support, had his detractors, particularly among those who think Bryan County has grown too fast. None showed up at his farewell.
“People have supported me almost every step of the way. There’s been a few times we’ve had disagreements but not many. For the most part people have been very supportive,” Burnsed said, noting his has no immediate plans.
He’ll continue to work at South State Bank one day a week, but he’s got nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandkids.
“I’ve got plenty of things to do, a lot of games to go to,” he said. “I’ve told everyone they can call me, just don’t ask me to come to any meetings.”