Johnson accepts Mid-East reins

Published 8:16 pm Saturday, March 21, 2009

MURFREESBORO — It’s tradition: the passing of a gavel from an outgoing leader to their successor.

On Wednesday night, that very tradition placed a Murfreesboro official at the helm of the Mid-East Commission’s Board of Directors at their 42nd annual meeting held at Whitley’s Barbecue.

There, Mayor Lynn Johnson was sworn in as Chairperson of the Mid-East Commission, one of 17 state regional councils of government that assist communities with economic and workforce development, environmental protection, land-use planning and services for the elderly.

A large crowd gathered at the restaurant to participate in the meeting, including numerous officials from counties (Beaufort, Bertie, Hertford, Martin and Pitt) the commission serves.

Murfreesboro and Hertford County also got a chance to shine as the area’s attractions were put on display.

Johnson said she was excited about tackling the new role.

“Actually it’s no more than like a mayor, you have to work with a group,” she said. “I’m just excited and happy to have so many people here in Murfreesboro. I hope they enjoyed our fellowship.”

Johnson said she wasn’t sure how long she has served on the Mid-East Commission, adding she was appointed by the Hertford County Board of Commissioners.

Along with Johnson, Choanoke Area Development Association (CADA) Director Sallie Surface swore-in the Mid-East’s new executive officers, which included First Vice Chairperson Noah Daniels, Second Vice Chairperson Joe Jernigan Sr. and Secretary Merrill Flood. Treasurer-Elect Doug Mercer was unable to attend.

Surface offered some words of encouragement to the new officers before the swearing-in ceremony.

“There is an Irish proverb that says, ‘That to be a leader you have to build bridges, you have to be a bridge.’ There’s also one that says, ‘A good leader does not necessarily follow pathways already developed, but develop new ones’,” she said. “So my challenge to you as you begin your year of service is to build bridges and to build pathways, but be careful where they go because other people are going to be following behind you and you want to lead them in the right direction.”

Outgoing Chairperson Grace Bonner thanked the Mid-East staff and board for their work as well as Executive Director Tim Ware.

“Tim is the one that keeps it all together for us,” she said. “Tim has been the most dedicated and faithful director for the Mid-East Foundation and I would like to say a very special thank you to him.”

Bonner continued by congratulating the incoming leaders.

“I would like to congratulate the new officers just installed as leaders of the Mid-East Commission, I also wish them continued success for the coming year in keeping the Mid-East Commission to achieve the successes our citizens have come to expect,” she said.

Bonner said as she listened to the accomplishments of the staff during the last year, which were given in reports by department heads earlier, she was once again reminded of the great work that the commission achieves on a year to year basis.

“The Mid-East Commission has become an important part of government over the past 40 years and continues to evolve as the needs of our local government continue to change in order to meet the needs of our citizens,” she said. “As I leave my second term as Chair of the Mid-East Commission, I would like to thank the board for their commitment and support.”

Before passing the gavel to Johnson, Bonner noted the rough economic times and the steadfastness of the commission.

“We all know that our country, our state and our communities will face challenges that are unique to our day and time. Hard decisions will have to be made by this board that has never been done before,” Bonner said. “But our motto, ‘People helping people’ is never more appropriate that it is today. With your help the people of the counties of Beaufort, Bertie, Hertford, Martin and Pitt will meet the challenge head-on to ensure a fruitful tomorrow.”

Before making her own speech Johnson, presented her predecessor with a plaque of appreciation.

After offering gratitude to those who made the night’s event possible, Johnson spoke about a possible future for the commission.

“I know that this group of people, the Mid-East Commission, works a lot with the elderly and the aging, and they are from time to time called upon to help the Boys and Girls Club,” she said. “There are several people that I want you to not forget along the way. We seem to be talking about boys and girls which is at the beginning and the elderly that are at the ending, supposedly.”

Johnson said she believes the point was driven home for her recently when she attended Hertford County Middle School to meet with the Future Business Leaders of America.

There she pitched her job to the 7th and 8th graders involved with FBLA.

“I was cast with someone who was talking about making lots of money, that’s not the case with me,” she said. “So, I really had to reach down with in myself, to find a start, to talk to them about a job that really was not going to pay a lot, but you reap a lot of reward in knowing that you’ve helped your fellow man and you’ve made society a better place.”

Johnson said it was a tough selling point to drive the idea that making an effort, while making little money, for your town, community, region and state was really a worthwhile job.

“We need to include our youth in a lot more of what we’re doing,” she said. “And I really think that we can do that. It’s not that I’m proposing something different tonight, just having taken the gavel, but I really do think the Mid-East can find itself in a new role, going into schools and letting students know how much of a job that all of you do.”

She continued by saying, “I look around the room and I know the sacrifices that you make and you do it for little money and often times, more times than none, no recognition. I just think this is something we need to think about.”

Johnson then invited Chowan University students to come share their stories about their time at higher education institute and also their time in Murfreesboro.

The audience heard from Student Government Association (SGA) President Lance Jenkins and Religion and Philosophy Professor Jill Awuni and two international students, all who spoke about their time at Chowan and being a part of the Murfreesboro community.

Later, Johnson said she invited the students to share their stories in order for people to see the face of the future.