A woman at the helm

Cummings makes history as
chairperson of County Commission

County Commissioner Carolyn Cummings (left) celebrates with Commissioner Nick Maddox after her election as chairperson of the board.
Leon County government photo

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

A pandemic that no one saw coming was rampant, sending the economy into a tailspin. 

Quality of life was almost in shambles, with homelessness on the rise.

That’s what the picture looked like when Carolyn Cummings took office as an at-large Leon County commissioner three years ago. It seemed enough to become a distraction for a woman whose previous daily grand was being an attorney, with wide-ranging engagement in the community.

Cummings refused to blink, tackling the newfound challenges head on.

“My concern was to get in, see how we could jump-start the economy and address those issues, give my input, sit at the table, represent the marginalizes communities and advocate in favor of the COVID shot,” Cummings said.

Cummings reflected on her early days in government after being elected to become chairperson of the Leon County Commission. That made her the first Black at-large female commissioner to hold the gavel.

Cummings also chairs the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency, making her the second Black woman to hold that position that former city commission Elaine Bryant held.

Her election to chair the commission was historic, as it makes her first Black woman to chair the board and the Intergovernmental Agency simultaneously.

 Her appointment to the leadership of the commission came last Tuesday during the board’s reorganization ceremony. Several members of Cummings’ family were among those who packed into the commission chamber.

“I stand here today on the shoulders of many past and present great elected leaders,” Cumming said during her acceptance speech that was interrupted at least twice by thunderous applaud and a standing ovation. “I’m so grateful and humble to follow in those giant footsteps. I recognize that they have paved the way for me to not only sit on this dais but to become the chairperson.”

Clerk of Court Gwen Marshall presided over the ceremony, a highlight of reorganization of the board. Brian Welch was elected vice chair. Commissioners Christian Caban, David O’Keefe and Rick Minor were also recognized for their years of service.

Cummings replaced Commission Nick Maddox, who was chairman of the board for the previous year.

“She will be an awesome chair,” Maddox said of Cummings, before presenting the gavel to her.

Cummings became a quick study after joining the commission as the first Black woman since Anita Davis, who was chairperson of the commission in 1993. 

Grasping the concept of municipal governance became easy after realizing how to get support from her peers for her priorities, Cummings said. 

Her list includes healthcare, affordable housing for veterans, and addressing the needs of marginalized citizens, she said, while calling for a vibrant economy and job creation that pays top salaries. 

She also expressed concerns for children and a rise in gun violence “that continues to snatch the lives of our children far too soon.”

Cummings added: “I’ve recognized that we can’t achieve anything as a government unless we work together. It takes the city. It takes the county (and) I appreciate the three chambers that have just stepped up and have been involved in a lot of the major issues.”

Her comments about working with the city’s three chambers struck a chord with Antonio Jefferson, president of the Big Bend Chamber of Commerce. Working with the commission on policies is one way that the chambers’ impact goes beyond the economy, he said.

“In that partnership, we think that we offer to our elected officials the guidance of the hearts and minds of all the business owners regardless where they stand in this community,” Jefferson said. “It’s an important relationship because for businesses to strengthen in this community it’s a requirement that we position our policies and our activities around strengthening those businesses. These businesses employ members of the community and if they’re not strong, our community is not strong.”

A devout Christian, Cummings said she is guided by prayer and her belief in a higher power. She is also occasionally influenced by what she hears during the public comment segment of meetings, she said.

“I have sat through meetings, listen to citizens and change my opinion about an issue,” said Cummings, who will seek a second term. “You might not get everything you want, but you walk away with something.”

Following a short break to conclude her acceptance of the leadership position, Cummings chaired her first meeting.

“The meeting went very well,” she said. “We addressed some major issues and that’s what we do at every meeting.”

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