David Pennington said he wanted to clarify one thing Monday night. He is not stepping down as mayor of Dalton to run for a higher office.
“There are no higher offices than city councils and county commissions and local school boards,” he said, noting that when people are in trouble they call the local police or sheriff or fire department, and send their children to local schools.
“The role of the state government is to assist those local governments where it can, then to get out of the way,” said Pennington.
Pennington, who became mayor in January 2008, plans to qualify today to challenge Gov. Nathan Deal in the May 20 Republican primary.
“As soon as I qualify, under the state Constitution I’m no longer the mayor,” Pennington said last week.
Monday marked Pennington’s final meeting as mayor and dozens of friends, family members, supporters and other elected officials turned out for the meeting and for a reception in City Hall afterwards.
Several members of the Concerned Citizens of Dalton came to show their appreciation for what Pennington has done and to present him with a plaque honoring his work, especially his efforts to improve the east side of the city.
“He did a lot for the community,” said Horace Moore, a member of the group. “He told us when he was running for office that he would listen to us and work with us to get some of the things we wanted done accomplished. He said the first council meeting after he took office would be held at the old community center. He did that. He said he would tear down the old community center and build us a new one. He did that. We wanted to improve this side of town, so did he. And we did it.”
Dalton resident Cathy Holmes has known Pennington for several years, and she said his impact on the city has been very positive.
“He has done a fabulous job of meeting all the goals he set out for himself when he first ran for mayor,” she said. “Knowing David, I think he’d say the job is never done. But fiscally, the city is in very sound shape. That makes me feel good. And he has also focused on making Dalton a better place to live, building the community center and new recreation facilities and improving historic preservation. Yes, he’s got a fiscally responsible side. But there’s a softer side as well.”
Holmes said she isn’t surprised that so many people turned out to wish Pennington well.
“I hope that no one takes the things we have accomplished in Dalton over the last six years for granted, and I think this reception shows they haven’t,” she said.
Dalton Public Schools Superintendent Jim Hawkins said he came by to thank Pennington for his support of the school system.
“I just wanted to thank him for being open and very supportive,” he said. “In particular, he has been very supportive of our literacy initiative and what turned out to be the Readers to Leaders program.”
Readers to Leaders is a joint effort by the city, Whitfield County and the two school systems to make sure that all students are reading at least on grade level by third grade.
“That would not have happened without his support. He made that happen,” Hawkins said. “And he was also a very strong partner in the moves that brought us (the school system offices) into City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce into the old post office building that used to be our central office.”
City Council member Gary Crews said he didn’t know Pennington very well before joining the council in 2010.
“As I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve developed quite a bit of respect for him. He’s very passionate, very professional, very ethical, everything you’d want as a leader,” Crews said.
Crews said one of Pennington’s leadership traits that doesn’t get enough attention is his ability to listen.
“You can always sit down with him and say, ‘I don’t understand this’ or ‘I have a different idea’ and have a good dialogue,” he said. “There have been plenty of times when I have sat down with him to discuss some issue and I’ve always walked away feeling that he listened to me and took any questions or concerns that I had seriously.”