Oct. 28—Editor's note: This article has been changed from its original version. Early voting will take place 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. this week.
VALDOSTA — Scott James Matheson is running for a second term as mayor of the City of Valdosta.
Election Day will be Nov. 7 at voters' assigned polling places, but early voting will continue 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, Oct. 30-Nov. 3, at the Lowndes County Board of Elections, 2808 N. Oak St.
A Cocoa Beach, Fla., native, Matheson moved to Valdosta in 1990 after working across Florida throughout his radio career. He worked at a radio station as a midday broadcaster for three months before moving to mornings.
His activity with local government began when a city council seat opened in Remerton.
"I bought my first house in Remerton on Myrtle Street. My whole world is Remerton," he said. "I saw an opening on the city council in Remerton. I decided to go sit and watch a meeting and then the next meeting I decided to sit to see if I could fill the position."
Matheson interviewed for the seat and was later appointed. He held the appointed seat for two years and served an additional four years after re-election. In the position, Matheson held the mayor pro tem title and gained experience on the council with only a $1 million budget.
"I called it practice politics. We got a lot done. I got the water tower done and the streetscape project on Baytree Place. I felt really good about it," he said.
He stepped away from local government and focused on his businesses for a while until former Valdosta Mayor John Gayle finished his eighth year in office.
"When John Gayle said he was stepping down, I didn't know if I heard the right names stepping up. I threw my name in to see if I could make a difference and I think I have been effective," he said.
On Dec. 5, 2019, he found out he won the position. The next day he received a phone call alerting him of a 7.5-million-gallon sewer spill.
Matheson was officially sworn into office on January 9, 2020, and two and a half months later the COVID-19 pandemic began. He helped the city navigate through the pandemic alongside the Lowndes County government, the state and local Department of Public Health, South Georgia Medical Center and Moody Air Force Base.
"We did very well to message consistently and to move consistently and to go with the facts," he said.
The challenges continued, Matheson said, as the city went into a brief summer of unrest when a coach was fired at a local school and the city was later involved in an excessive force case with Antonio Smith.
"I was called every name in the book and even received death threats from all 50 states because of the attention that drew to us. Just about the time that was subsiding, the FBI made arrests in two states on that. They had security at the bottom of our steps and had to wand everyone for three weeks," he explained. "When that started to subside after months, Kim Kardasian tweeted #Justice for KJ. All those threats started coming over emails again."
Matheson said his career in radio helped prepare him best for the position. Throughout the challenges, the city began to progress in all areas of the community from transportation, business, non-profit organizations and emergency preparedness.
"We rate ourselves very highly in the response to the hurricane. All that practice made us as ready as we could be so our response wasn't an accident. We had ten meetings leading up to the hurricane," he said.
Through the challenges, Matheson listed project announcements that developed or opened during his term and that he's proud of including the glass manufacturing plant Arglass Yamamura, LLC that brought jobs with pay $22 and up, the GAF materials manufacturing plant, and most recently the Walmart dairy processing facility announcement.
"My biggest win, I'll never top it, is Valdosta OnDemand. My whole platform in 2019 was transit and I had a very creative way [to execute it]," Matheson said.
He studied three forms of transit systems such as micro-transit, on demand transit and subsidized Uber or Lyft.
His passion for the system began when he interviewed several city and county representatives on radio who acknowledged the need but did know how to solve it.
"I sat with every level of past chairmans, past commissioners, past mayors and past council people [who were] telling me why or why not on transit.
I heard the on-air stories, and I heard the off-air stories. I didn't like any of them," he said. "I knew the need was there, and they knew the need was there. It was never a question about the need."
Valdosta OnDemand launched April 27, 2021, and has served almost 10,000 people per month, closing at about 120,000 yearly. Matheson said about 60% of requested rides are to jobs.
But Matheson says he still has more work to do. The incumbent qualified for re-election on Aug. 21.
"To be involved is to be involved. To get on every charitable board, to be in vision sessions, and to be in Leadership Lowndes even as mayor... I am glad it was me in that seat because God prepared me," he said.
Continuing to improve the transit system and revitalization and to further the Great Promise Partnership and businesses within the city are just a few of his major goals.
To voters Matheson said in conclusion, "If they like the growth they're seeing and they like the smart planning that the City of Valdosta is putting forth then please support another four years."
Matheson and his wife, Rebekah, have three children, Kiley, Maggie, and Ashlyn.