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By Steve Steiner
Executive Editor 

New Commissioner Githens Pledges to Ask, Listen and Learn

 

Last updated 4/15/2020 at 7:49pm

Steve Githens campaigning with twin daughters

For those who judge by Facebook comments, some in Bartow were surprised when Steve Githens pulled off an upset victory winning the District 4 seat on the Bartow City Commission. Online, some admitted they didn't even know who he is. Others stated knowing he was running, but had seen little, if any, campaigning. Some likened his campaign as "flying under the radar."

Githens, however, says he was actively campaigning, although his approach was necessarily different than that of his opponents. He explains, “Gerald (Cochran) has been in Bartow forever and knows how things have always been. He’s a city resource I hope we can always count on. Trish (Pfeiffer) is a digital champion. She knows her way around a computer and in today’s online world, she is unequalled. His own approach, he says, was more personal.

"Sure, we tried some digital campaigning, but we concentrated on old-fashioned, personal interaction," he said, at least until the Covid19 shelter order came down. “I knocked on my last door that day,” he remembers.

Worried that Covid19 had stopped his campaign cold, he stepped up his digital campaigning—although he still believes the nondigital campaigning gave him the real momentum. Githens is clear that, “We started out with an all-out effort to get signs out throughout the community and put my name in front of people. Friends and neighbors helped get signs placed around town, and once people began seeing them they called and asked for one for their yard or businesses.

“In the end, several hundred signs were in the ground, which went a long way to help bring attention to the campaign and the election.” Finally, he says, “We found that a lot of Bartowans didn’t know any of the three candidates.”

So, Githens used the tried and true method that he has used many times before. He put leather to the pavement and went door-to-door. In hindsight, it seems obvious, as he explains, “We focused on getting not just getting name recognition but on obtaining the personal support and vote of our local citizens. I found they were glad to see that someone cared enough to knock on their doors and listen to their concerns.” He mused, “Even after working in Bartow for over 12 years, and being involved in many community activities, some people still said, ‘Oh, you're the guy running for City Commission.’ Then they’d dived right in and tell me about their issues!”

Upon learning his name, he was usually invited to sit down and talk, Githens says, adding "I was able to get to know a lot of people in a very enjoyable and pleasant way," He heard a constant theme. "Bartow folks are looking for someone to build consensus, but also someone who shares their beliefs and values. I don’t think the vote was against other candidates. It was more that they viewed me as someone with the experience to hear every issue equally and try to effect positive change. Bartow is ready for that."

AGENDA

According to Githens, his first days, weeks and months as commissioner will follow his campaign’s one-on-one strategy.

"I'm going to keep asking, listening and learning," he says. Working for over 28 years in the administration and management of local government organizations has given him a good understanding of how city government works. As a member of the Board of Directors of Bartow's Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), he said that he has learned about programs that have been established to help promote the downtown and to bring new businesses to Bartow, to eliminate blight in the community and to improve the housing stock in neighborhoods that have been neglected.

Githens was also the Citrus Connection’s first director, a job that he held for 24 years. That tenure prepared him to work in many areas of local government and be understanding of the laws and regulations that need to be followed. His duties included the oversight of budgeting, finance, human resources, planning, operations management, vehicle maintenance, contracting for services and for the administration of construction projects, experience he feels will make his learning curve as a Commissioner much shorter than would otherwise be the case.

Githens adds that nearly 10 years of serving on the Board of Directors of the Church Service Center has made him keenly aware of the need for local efforts to serve those who need help the most. He noted that the Church Service Center has made many significant advances under Rusty Music’s leadership. Music’s been working to grow the center to not just provide lunches and clothing to people, but into many other areas as well. Githens said that he would not be surprised if Music, who also oversees the Women’s Care Center, makes an effort to expand the offering of programs that the Church Service Center provides to include transitional housing, maybe something similar to the Salvation Army’s housing program in Lakeland. He has a lot of admiration for the way that Church Service Center has grown over the years, noting that they continue to increase the number of people they serve.

Githens has also been involved in Main Street Bartow and has previously served as the organization’s President. Main Street Bartow is involved in promoting downtown businesses and working to preserve the heritage of the downtown area. I love the feel of Bartow and of the resurgence that’s been taking place in the downtown area. That’s a key area to support.

At the current time, Githens said that he is very concerned with the impact that the coronavirus crisis will have on the community. Among many aspects of concern are the health of citizens and the financial impacts it will have on the local businesses, the people who are out of work, and of the city itself. Recovery efforts will present us with opportunities to join together as a community and to help each other to rebuild our local economy.

The impact that the epidemic is having on the schools is one of his greatest concerns as the students are losing valuable time with their teachers, and he explains, “Bartow has great schools, and fabulous teachers and we may need to be ready with help to get students back on track. For sure we will all have a learning curve.”

Other areas that he is interested in, once the coronavirus issue is resolved, include the continuation of work on the city’s infrastructure—including streets, the electrical system, internet connectivity, and providing a long-term solution to water issue. He also wants to improve recreational facilities as he believes that having great places to play will result in families being drawn to the area.

Githens believes the City must be responsive, effective and caring, and he is adamant that Bartow City employees are top-notch. I’ve been very impressed with the way the City’s staff responds to issues that I’ve raised with them in the past.

He looks forward to learning the specific processes that direct the City’s strategic plan and to helping complete the work on the master plan that was just being initiated when the coronavirus epidemic began impacting the community. For Githens, “These are key to determining what the City’s priorities will be.” He further explains, “I look forward to including what I heard direct from local citizens during this campaign in these plans. And I hope those who posted they don’t know me will call or stop me and say hi. For sure, anyone who wants to contact me can is welcome to call or text me at 529-8679.”

Githens is scheduled to be sworn in before the next meeting of the Bartow City Commission.

Author Bio

Steve Steiner, Executive Editor

Steve came out of a two-year retirement to helm BartowNews.net. Following a career in journalism/advertising/public relations --- at one point being a partner in an advertising/PR agency --- he shifted professions and focused on food service and hospitality before returning to journalism. As a journalist, rose from reporter to sections editor to managing/executive editor with newspapers in North Carolina, Mississippi and Florida. He is enjoying restoring a quality news site for his adopted hometown. Send him your story ideas.

 

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