Land Bank Authority board appoints Virginia Shapard Church interim executive director

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

The Griffin-Spalding County Land Bank Authority Board of Directors has named Virginia Shapard Church as interim executive director.

The move to replace John Joiner, who had held that position since the Land Bank Authority’s inception, came during a Monday afternoon special called meeting.
Church assumed the mantle of leadership effective immediately, and will initially serve for six months.

“We’re going to start out with it full-time. This is a six-month appointment through the end of the year, and then we will see towards the end of the year if it needs to be full-time, if it needs to be part-time, if I want to continue and if the board members want to continue with me,” she said. “They may at that point do a public request for resumes – the whole job process. We’ll just have to see when we get there. All I know is that for six months, I’ve got to get in here, see what’s going on and make sure everything is on the right track.”

She has not yet had an opportunity to evaluate the current status of the LBA, but will soon begin that process.

“I haven’t even had a chance to look at any of the records yet. John was going to be getting them to Newton’s law office,” Church said. “I know there are some issues that Mr. (Newton) Galloway told me he wants me to make a priority. He gave me a priority list in the meeting today and the first is the audit they’ve been asking for and trying to get for, I think the past six months, so there are some things that weren’t happening the way board members wanted.”

Church said she believes in the LBA’s purpose and believes she is well-suited to lead it moving forward.

“It’s three things. It utilizes two skills that I have. One is administrative and the other is legal. They found with John at the helm that it was very helpful to have a lawyer in the executive director’s position who could handle some of the simple foreclosures and simple legal matters like that rather than having to hire that out,” she said. “The third reason is because the Land Bank Authority is a wonderful mechanism to be able to revitalize our neighborhoods. It’s a way to get substandard properties and properties that have fallen into disrepair back on the tax rolls in better shape so that the neighborhoods look better and they’re providing a better tax base for the city and the county.”

The Land Bank Authority has faced criticism in recent years from some in the community, which Church said she is preparing to address.

“I think it’s going to take some interface with the community. I think when the Land Bank first started and it was being run primarily with NSP (Neighborhood Stabilization Program) funds during the Great Recession, that people understood its function and it was doing what the things it was supposed to be. I think in the last few years, it’s turned into properties owned by the Land Bank not being properly maintained, and people who live around those properties getting upset that those properties are not being maintained properly, so that’s another of those first priorities Newton gave me – to figure out what’s going on with the maintenance of these properties and make sure they’re being maintained properly,” she explained.

Asked what motivates her to serve in this capacity, Church spoke of her love for the Griffin-Spalding County community and her family legacy.

“I am fourth generation Griffin-Spalding County resident. I love this community. I’ve been here almost my whole life. I went off to college and lived in Atlanta for a little while, but I came back home and I’m raising my children here. I’m passionate about this community. This is a way I feel I can impact in a positive way and I’m excited about this opportunity,” she said. “Being able to use skills that I have altogether in one spot. I’ve used my administrative skills when I worked for the city and county, and I used my legal skills when I practiced law. Now I get to pull all that together in a way that will be helpful to my community, to my home. I think more than anything, it’s a part of how I was raised. My parents both have contributed to this county for years – to this state. My mother was a state senator. She was the first woman elected to the Georgia State Senate of her own power. My father has been a contributing member of society. He is still in the Rotary Club with perfect attendance. He ran a local business that employed hundreds of people. My grandfather did. This is just what my family does – figure out how best to use your skills to help the people around you.”

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