District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills was elected as chairwoman for 2021 by fellow board members during the first meeting of the year. Mills was first elected in 2012 and was re-elected last year for a third term.
While 2020 was a difficult year for everyone, Mills said she found gaps of light in the form of completion of projects that helped her stay positive.
“This has been a year like no other because of [COVID-19],” Mills said. “It has been challenging but gratifying of understanding how you work being in a state of emergency. Things that you never thought you could do, you can.”
Mills said virtual meetings and social distancing affected her personally as her fourth-grade Sunday school classes moved to Zoom, a videotelephony and online chat service.
“I’d never even heard of Zoom before [the pandemic] happened, and if you had told me that I’d be using Zoom to attach scripture and teach little fourth-graders, I’d have told you, no way,” she said.
As a county, Mills said commissioners endured and kept employees safe.
Several projects for District 4 were completed in 2020. One of Mills’ favorites was done in 2019 – an agreement to change plans for the proposed 1,000 apartments set to be built on property owned by the Mashburn Marital Trust close to the Hampton area in north Forsyth to a commercial and industrial use.
Mills said she was able to talk with the owners of the sand mine adjacent to the property, who were then able to strike a deal with the county and purchase the Mashburn land. She said the new conditions for the property were “iron-clad,” and she was happy with the results of the rezoning as the project would call for road extensions and upgrades which would alleviate much of the truck traffic from 306 and Hammond’s Crossing.
Another project that Mills worked on was Eagle’s Beak Park. In September, the county received a grant from the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program, or GOSP, for $2.25 million that would go towards the park. Forsyth County was one of the first counties to receive the GOSP grant, with Eagle’s Beak Park being in the top four among contending parks.
“I always wanted to do something to honor Native Americans, because of the Trail of Tears,” Mills said. “We’ve got the Etowah River that is so rich in history, and we’ve got over a mile of frontage [at Eagles Beak] that’s along the river. And then we’ve got floodplain there that really fit with the Native Americans and what they did and how they used the land and what the land meant to them. So, we put that all into the plan [for Eagle’s Beak Park].”
Eagle’s Beak Park will be featuring placards along the walk by the river that leads up to a gravesite and the Sherrill House, a known location where Native Americans lived. Mills wants to put a large playground at the park and call it Frog Town, because she said that’s what the area was called when she was little.
She said she was proud of the projects that were not in conversation much this year, including working with mental health in the community and the jail. Mills, along with Terry Hawkins, a leader in the Crisis Intervention Response Team for the Sheriff’s Office, was able to secure a grant for the mental health program in the jail for $500,000.
Towards the end of 2020, Mills was also asked to participate on a panel for NACo, the National Association of Counties. The panel focused on mental health programs in the jails, and Mills participated as a moderator along with 100 people from all over the nation.
“We got a healthy county $100,000 from NACo because of what we’re doing [in the jails],” she said.
Mills said she had been working on securing the grant for a long time. She said she expects that Forsyth County will be able to receive more grants in the future because of the success rate of the programs in the county jail.
She also participated in the fourth suicide prevention summit this year, and she, along with members of the Forsyth County Drug Awareness Council and the Mental Wellness and Suicide Prevention Coalition, put on the summit without an audience.
“I feel like every one of those [mental health programs] has gotten better because we’ve educated people, and we’re reaching people, and we’re not afraid to talk about [mental health],” Mills said. “And that’s an important thing.”
There were other projects that Mills oversaw, including the Coal Mountain Dog Park, the moving of the Miracle League from Coal Mountain Park to Lanierland Park and the groundbreaking on Hwy. 369 and Ga. 400.
While 2020 was full of challenges, Mills said she was proud that Forsyth County persevered and that the Board of Commissioners continued to work hard for the betterment of the county’s residents.
“With everything you do, you have to learn a lot, but I’m always proud that we [in Forsyth County] are not afraid to try,” Mills said.