Outgoing Cumming City Councilman Lewis Ledbetter, who attended his last meeting as a councilmember on Tuesday, has seen a few changes in his tenure.
Elected in 1970 and sworn in the year after, Ledbetter is the city’s longest-ever serving councilman and has worked in three city halls, seen the local population grow at an unprecedented rate and watched the city government grow from having just two employees to the variety of offerings it has today.
“I wanted to finish my time that I was elected for,” Ledbetter said. “I’ve just enjoyed the city, and I’m going to stay part of the city because I love the city.”
‘Years of public service’
After 49 years in office, Ledbetter decided not to seek re-election in this year’s city election, and the seat will be filled by Councilman-elect Joey Cochran. At his final meeting, Ledbetter received numerous awards and well-wishes from those in the city.
Georgia Municipal Association Executive Director Larry Hanson awarded Ledbetter a plaque and the group’s Lifetime Service Award, which “recognizes elected city officials, city managers, city clerks and city attorneys who, upon leaving office or retiring, had completed 35 or more years of public service.”
“When I think of public service, it’s a public trust, first and foremost, and the fact that you have served 49 years and been re-elected and your citizens have that kind of trust in you, really says so much about your service and your character and your willingness to give back to your community,” Hanson said
While Ledbetter served 49 years in his elected capacity, a designation from the city council will ensure his service will continue into a sixth decade.
Mayor Troy Brumbalow had two honors tied to the Cumming Fairgrounds and the annual fair for Ledbetter, the naming of a to-be-built overlook adjacent to the new bridge over Castleberry Road as “Lewis Ledbetter Overlook” and naming Ledbetter grand marshal of the Cumming Country Fair & Festival “as long as he wants to serve in that capacity.”
Brumbalow said he wanted to honor Ledbetter for his love of the city and love of the fair.
“The fair has been something that I’ve been real supportive of and enjoyed ever since we were able to put that together, and the vision of that being a fairground back when it was a sewer pond has worked out good for the city,” Ledbetter said.
Speaking to the Forsyth County News following the meeting, Ledbetter said he was appreciative of the honors from his fellow elected officials.
“I appreciate what the city council has done for me,” he said. “I served for a long time with an old administration, older guys that went in at the same time I did. But I appreciate everything the new city council and mayor and so forth have done for me. I feel like I helped them out a lot the last two years that I served here with them because a lot of them were green and had never been on there before.”
Ledbetter was the last of a group of longtime city officials who have left office in recent years, including former Mayor H. Ford Gravitt (1971-2017) and councilmen Rupert Sexton (1971-2015), Ralph Perry (1979-2015), Quincy Holton (1969-2017) and John Pugh (1992-2015).
How it began
For someone who has served almost half a century, Ledbetter said he wasn’t too involved in politics before his first campaign.
According to Ledbetter, in those days, the city’s political battle lines came down to a pair of car dealerships: James Otwell’s Andean Motor Company, a Chevrolet dealership, and a Ford dealership ran by his uncle Roy Otwell.
Ledbetter said James Otwell gave him a call one day and told him to come by his dealership.
“He said, ‘here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to run for city council, Rupert’s going to run for city council and Ford’s going to run for mayor,” he said. “I said, ‘well, I know you’ve lost your mind.’ That put it all together right there. I said, ‘I’ve never been involved in any politics and never thought about being in any politics.’ He said, ‘Well, you’re going to be in some.’”
He said after talking with his wife, Barbara, he decided to run, “one thing led to another” and all three were elected, which looked a little different than modern city council elections.
While each candidate now represents a post for a four-year term, when Ledbetter was first elected the council race featured 19 candidates and the top five vote-getters were chosen to the council, which included Ledbetter and Sexton, with Gravitt being elected mayor.
Over the next decades, the city would see an incredible amount of changes.
“When we went into office, the city had two employees, one policeman and one guy that worked in the office, and the city took in $40,000 a year. That was the water bills, fines, taxes – at that time the city had property taxes – everything took in $40,000 a year, and things have changed since then.”
That change is best highlighted by the recently approved 2020 budget, which shows the city’s revenues and expenditures balanced at $14.2 million.
‘Keep things going forward’
When asked what were some of the things he was most proud to have seen done while in office, Ledbetter pointed to the elimination of city property taxes, low water and sewer rates and lots of amenities for the community, such as the City Park, the Dobbs Creek Recreation Center and, of course, the fairgrounds.
Ledbetter said he was also proud of the financial shape of the city.
“The city, with me serving, we’ve never borrowed any money,” he said. “We haven’t needed to borrow and money, and things have just worked out pretty good. The assets of the city have gone up a lot from the time I went in until the time I retired.”
Serving with the same elected officials for so long, Ledbetter said it was a big change when Brumbalow and councilmen Jason Evans and Chad Crane were elected in 2017.
He said he’s since gotten into the change and felt that the city council, which includes family members Linda Ledbetter and Christopher Light, and the city were in good hands and he wanted to “keep things going forward.”
“I truly care about the city and look forward to serving in the capacity at the fairgrounds that they appointed me to,” Ledbetter said. “I look forward to that, and if I can be of any advice to them in any way, I’ll be more than happy to do that too."