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‘A hard decision’

Jacksonville council President Sandra Sudduth won’t seek re-election

Sandra Sudduth

Sandra Sudduth, the Jacksonville City Council chairwoman who’s held office for 30 years, has announced that she will not seek reelection.

Jacksonville City Council President Sandra Sudduth has decided to not run for re-election after 30 years in office.

“It was a hard decision to make,” Sudduth said. “I just felt that, at this time, it was time for some new blood.”

Sudduth was first appointed to the council’s Place 4 in 1990, a seat once held by her father, Theodore Fox, who was the first Black elected official in the city of Jacksonville. Prior to her council appointment, Sudduth served as a teacher in the Anniston school system; later, she was sworn in as a member of the Jacksonville Board of Education on Feb. 13, 1989, but resigned when she was named to the council. From 1995 to 2010, she was an instructor at Jacksonville State University.

In 1992, Sudduth ran unopposed for her council seat, making her the first Black woman elected in the city. She was named council president in 2016.

“When I first came on the council, it was hard, as a woman, and as a Black woman too, to get the respect,” she said. “I think that’s something I was able to accomplish also, to help the council see a woman’s point of view and to accept it.”

Sudduth believes that she was able to connect with residents on the council and represent the city as a whole.

“They felt like they could talk to me,” she said. “They felt that I was fair. That, to me, is a very good accomplishment when people feel that you listen to them and that you’re fair.”

Mayor Johnny Smith, who has worked with Sudduth since his own election as a councilman in 1992 and as mayor in 2004, said he’s disappointed in Sudduth’s departure and that she will be missed.

“I worked with her a long time and I’ll definitely miss her,” Smith said. “She has done an awful lot for the city of Jacksonville over the years. Just very easy to work with.”

Leaving the City Council, Sudduth said, does not mean she will retire from civic duty. Sudduth also serves on the board of Regional Medical Center, where she plans to remain involved, in addition to her time helping with Jacksonville events.

“I’m going to be available on the different things that I’ve set up like the Christmas lighting on the square and the Black history program and the different committees I’m on,” she said.

Sudduth said she wants to spend more time with her family, noting she will finally have off on the second and fourth Mondays of each month, the days that the council regularly meets.

“I haven’t had a second or fourth Monday in years,” she said. “I just want to be able to do some things with family.”

Asked about her accomplishments in office, Sudduth explained that she’s done nothing by herself. She applauded the council’s work during her tenure in securing a new Kitty Stone Elementary School, opening the Chief Ladiga Trail and opening a new community center.

“I’m just one vote,” she said. “To get anything done, you’re gonna have to work as a team.”

Sherry Laster, a Sudduth family friend and businesswoman, filed to run for Sudduth’s seat on the council, where she will be up against Councilman Jerry Parris — who qualified to run for Place 4 — and Adam Allen.

Before leaving office in November, Sudduth said, she wants to revisit concerns many people have brought to the council about the Confederate monument on the Public Square.

“I think we need to take some type of stand on this, so I am going to bring it up and talk about it because it’s not something that we can just brush under the carpet,” she said. “We’re gonna have to discuss it and make a decision on it.”

Sudduth explained that she was in school in Talladega during the civil rights demonstrations and protests to try and integrate eating places at school and that, just like those demonstrations, there are “different steps” people have to take to achieve change.

“I grew up here and that monument does not stand for things that I believe in,” she said. “A lot of the citizens, too.”

Sudduth, who is 77, said that she has “no regrets” about her time on the council. Now that she is exiting, she said, she can have peace of mind.

“I can go to the grocery store without everybody having problems for me to solve,” she said. “Not that I don’t mind it. I enjoyed being involved. I won’t stop doing that and I didn’t do it before because I was on the City Council. I did it because I thought it was my civic duty to do those things.”