Editor's note: For political, health or personal reasons, seven of Gwinnett's and Barrow's mayors are stepping down at the end of this year. Here's a look at the leaders who helped build and transform the local community.
AUBURN - Mayor Harold Money's good humor sparkled this month in one of his final public addresses as mayor of Auburn.
"I got a proclamation in the mail from Doug Garrison last week and I thought, 'Why would Doug send me a proclamation?'" Money told the crowd gathered at Statham's Georgia Club for the annual Eggs and Issues breakfast. "I opened it up and it was commending me for my years of service. It said, 'Good riddance!'"
Money's joke recalled the Barrow County lawsuit filed in Superior Court against Auburn in December 2006 following Auburn's forced mass annexation of 17 tracts of land. That lawsuit remains unresolved.
"I would do it again," Money said. "It was the best thing for the citizens of Auburn. No one should be inside a city without being part of a city. I took on the county, the state of Georgia and (Rep.) Terry England (R-Auburn). He introduced legislation to de-annex the property."
That unpopular annexation stands out in Money's productive four years in office.
Following a 43-year career in the insurance industry, Money, 70, an Air Force veteran, was elected as Auburn's mayor in 2004. It was the Columbus native's first stint in politics and it's been a roller-coaster ride, Money said.
"We were having certain problems in the city, and I had some people come and ask me to run because we wanted a new vision," said Money, an Auburn citizen since 1984. "I didn't think I'd win, but I said I'd try."
Under Money's watch, the little town that straddles the Barrow/Gwinnett County line has lured jobs inside its borders with Ingles, Waffle House and the Boise Cascade plant, and a McDonald's is scheduled to break ground next to the CVS Pharmacy on Ga. Highway 8 on Dec. 28.
In his tenure, Auburn spent $750,000 to repave many of its rutted roads.
In a town where people once complained there was nothing to do, residents have seen Shackelford Park reopen with $250,000 worth of cleaning and upgrades in progress. R.H. Burel Park in front of City Hall was upgraded and the softball field on Mary Carter Road was enlarged by 71/2 acres. The city purchased the land behind City Hall for greenspace last summer and removed its 20 -year-old trailers.
"2007 has been the best year for Auburn in 20 years," Money said.
Winder mayor Buddy Ouzts agrees.
"Time will tell the good Harold has done the city," said Ouzts.
Still, four years wasn't long enough to do everything he had planned.
"I would have liked to have seen a road on the railroad track go all the way to (Ga. Highway) 324," Money said. "I wanted to build a new City Hall."
A car wreck on Jan. 19, 2005, at Ga. 324 and Patrick Mill Road damaged Money's heart, broke 11 ribs and his tailbone and put him in a 31-day coma. He lost six months out of office.
"I had just started to get to my peak and get the trust from people and the accident slowed me down," Money said. "You take what the Lord gives you and I took that."
Mayor-elect and former City Council member Linda Blechinger recalls Money's encouragement and charitable spirit.
"He is so generous," Blechinger said. "On weekends he picks up veterans who can't drive and takes them to lunch or he sits with disabled men so their wives can get out and run some errands. A lot of people don't know that. He is such a sweet servant."
After a busy four years, Money and his wife of 49 years, Darlene, look forward to traveling out west and gambling, he said. Another shot at political office is not out of the question, he said.
"We set everything in motion for good things to happen in Auburn," Money said. "I'm not through yet."