ATLANTA — Business, government and community leaders from 13 Southeastern counties hosted legislators and staff for a dinner of regional treats Wednesday night in their 25th annual lobbying event.

Dubbed the Okefenokee Occasion, the dinner was held in the state’s Freight Depot event venue across the street from the Capitol where lawmakers could easily drop by for stew, barbecue, fresh oysters, pulled pork and wild game and watch displays of regional landmarks while they ate. They were met by a receiving line of local dignitaries.

“It’s always a great event,” said Waycross City Manager Raphel Maddox.

Scheduling the dinners for the first week of each year’s legislative session provides a chance to meet the latest batch of key staffers and keep the region’s issues at the top of lawmakers’ agenda, notes Dawn Malin, executive director of the Development Authority of Folkston/Charlton County and the Okefenokee Chamber of Commerce.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for our elected officials to come up to Atlanta and see our legislators where they’re working, reminding them of the issues we each have in our own communities,” she said.

Among the issues put on the table was a resolution from Waycross, Ware County and the local school board asking the Department of Transportation to construct an overpass at Ga. 4/U.S. 1 Business. The long trains snarl traffic and block public-safety vehicles on emergency calls.

A meeting between legislators and local leaders before the dinner was fruitful, according to Maddox.

“We kind of got our point across,” he said.

The annual trips serve as reminders of how the local leaders benefit from working together, Malin said.

“Although my issues might sometimes seem to become secondary, it’s ultimately good for the region,” she said.

Among the people making the trip this year was a group of students from South Georgia State College participating in the University System of Georgia’s African-American Male Initiative. The program recruits students who might not otherwise attend college and gives them coaching to help them graduate.

“They are all very enthusiastic and are so appreciative of the opportunities they will receive through this program,” Maddox said.
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