SEBRING - When the city holds an election in March, one familiar name won't be on the ballot.
Mayor George Hensley, who has been a city councilman or mayor for most of the last 30 years, has decided not to seek re-election,
"There comes a time when you decide you're not going to do this anymore," said Hensley, who will continue as mayor until April 2014. "It's time for someone else to step up and do this.
Hensley filled a vacant seat on the city council from 1980-1981, was elected as a city councilman in 1983 and served to 1998 and then was elected mayor in 1999. He said that when former Mayor Smith Rudasill decided not to seek re-election after serving 24 years, people asked him to run.
With the exception of the first election as mayor, he said, he's been unopposed.
In a sense, though, his wife, Nancy, is probably the key reason as to how he ended up as mayor of Sebring.
Hensley said he grew up in Burnsville, N.C., where his grandparents owned a Nu-Wray Inn. His future wife, whose father started an insurance agency in Sebring in the 1920s, was vacationing with her family at the country inn when Hensley met her, he said.
During a period of several years, he and his wife would travel and meet each other and after they finished college, they married.
Hensley said he served in the U.S. Navy and worked as a salesman for Exxon Corp., before being offered a position at his wife's family's insurance agency, Heacock Insurance, in Sebring.
He moved to Sebring in 1963 at the age of 26.
Hensley said he wanted to give back to the community and ran for the city council in 1983. During the years he has served as mayor, he said he has enjoyed "representing the city in a variety of settings."
He also has enjoyed having input into decisions by the city council. "While I don't have a vote, I have an opportunity to voice an opinion," he said.
Occasionally, he said, he's expressed an opinion at odds with the majority of the council. Recently, he said, he felt that non-vested firefighters should be able to continue on a pension plan, while the council limited it to firefighters with 10 or more years experience. The city is moving away from the pension system to a 401K plan.
Hensley accepts that the city charter doesn't allow for the mayor to vote, but added that, "once in a while I feel like that I should have a vote," he said.
Although he has the power to veto a council decision, only once did he seriously consider doing that, he said.
Ultimately, he didn't, he said, adding he doesn't recall the issue at the time.
During the years he's been in office, he said, the city government dealt with a few big issues. One of the biggest was the sale of the power plant. Others included the city supporting Sebring Parkway, funding improvements to the Sebring airport, creating the Community Redevelopment Agency, helping with a failed effort to develop Harder Hall and issues on whether to extend utility service, he said.
Although there's been disagreement over those issues and others, Hensley said, he doesn't recall a time when civility failed to reign.
"We still showed respect for each other," he said.