Writer: Rhiannon Eades
City officials from across Georgia updated their governing skills through continuing education classes presented by University of Georgia Institute of Government faculty and other experts at the 90th Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) Annual Convention, held June 23-27 at the Savannah Convention Conference Center.
The Harold F. Holtz Municipal Training Institute counted 2,282 people attending 46 classes over three days. Thirty-two instructors, including 23 associated with the UGA Institute of Government, shared expertise in public policy development, ethics, emerging technologies and more. This year’s attendance was up by 120 registrants, according to Hardin Watkins of the UGA Institute of Government. The Municipal Training Institute is a partnership between the Institute of Government and GMA.
“The increase speaks volumes about the quality and the popularity of the program,” Watkins said.
Pembroke Mayor Pro Tem Tiffany Zeigler, who recently served on the Municipal Training Board, credited the training institute with helping her city learn about various programs and grants, resulting in more than $99 million in completed projects over the past decade.
“With a $2.8 million yearly general fund, that is 3.5 times our entire budget during that time,” Zeigler said. “As a small city with a population of 2,500, we have seen the return and will continue to push educational opportunities for our elected officials and staff.”
In addition to information from industry experts, training institute participants build a network with their counterparts from across the state.
“Not only have I gotten thoughts and ideas of how to solve issues, challenges or projects that we have in the city, but I’ve been able to help people in other cities by sharing information,” Sugar Hill Mayor Pro Tem and Municipal Training Board Member Marc Cohen said. “I know I can pick up the phone and talk to somebody who’s gone through the same thing. It’s not just trying to work in a vacuum; you’re working with a lot of really smart people who have been in elected life for as little as one year and as many as 25 plus years.”
At the convention, the Municipal Training Institute awarded certificates to 79 municipal officials for continuing education. A person must complete a minimum 42 units of credit, including at least 18 hours from a list of required classes, to receive a Certification of Recognition. This year’s recipients included four individuals who were awarded Certificates of Dedication for completing 276 hours of training. Other awards included eight Certificates of Distinction for 204 hours, six Certificates of Excellence for 120 hours, 21 Certificates of Achievement for 70 hours and 40 Certificates of Recognition for 42 hours.
On Sunday, June 25, UGA Institute of Government Director Rob Gordon recognized Zeigler, Statesboro Council Member Phil Boyum and Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales for their service on the Municipal Training Board as their terms ended. The board provides guidance and leadership on training matters and curriculum.
The three outgoing members helped guide the Municipal Training Institute through the COVID-19 pandemic, growing membership and attendance. Zeigler said the board analyzed feedback from elected officials and city staff, which led to new classes, revised credit policies and the adoption of a regional training program.
Gainesville Councilmember Juli Clay, Centerville Councilmember Micheal Evans, Valdosta Councilmember Andy Gibbs and Pooler Councilmember Aaron Higgins were appointed to four-year terms on the board by Gordon.
“The board is losing three extremely passionate and hard-working members. Each has held multiple positions, including Chair. Their leadership, insight and impact will be missed,” Cohen said. “Our new members will bring a new perspective, and continue the ideas and projects these former members put into motion.”
The following city officials received Certificates of Recognition at the convention:
Photos courtesy GMA. Carl Vinson Institute of Government faculty members Katie Hill and Walt McBride taught classes at the GMA Annual Conference in Savannah.