Sumner Chosen as 2021 Community First Award Honoree for Public Service

Seth Sumner, Athens City Manager

Sumner Chosen as 2021 Community First Award Honoree for Public Service

Napierra Alexander
Monday, August 23, 2021 12:00 AM
Press Releases, Community, All, Service-Learning

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - It takes much dedication and discipline to keep a city safe and educated about the many resources available in their backyard. Being raised in Athens, Seth Sumner takes his job duties as City Manager with pride. As the pandemic started to invoke fear and challenges into our everyday lives, he took it as an opportunity to grow stronger with his community through providing factual information, resources, and safety for others. Through his many efforts and projects during the pandemic, Cleveland State has awarded him with the Community First Award for Public Service.

As industries shut down and businesses were mandated to close their doors, there was a need to gather information on community resources available for those adversely affected. Sumner became a consistent voice with consistent information for people in the friendly city to rely on. He spearheaded a 60-day informational video campaign that reported state and local health data, provided updates from the governor’s office, and explained how the governor’s orders impacted local services. This caused the development of his campaign called “Friendly City Forward”. The campaign was a one-stop informational webpage with daily updates as they were released. 

The campaigns and efforts to coordinate resources for city citizens led Sumner to longer work hours, attend countless meetings and discussions, and call for split-second decisions for the sake of his community. He doesn’t give all the credit to himself, but praises his team for never missing a day of service and putting the public’s health as a priority. 

“As a team, we saw a need to help keep our people informed about the quickly changing conditions of the pandemic and we included guests from non-profits, schools, businesses, and healthcare professionals to tell the actual stories of how we are all affected by the pandemic,” stated Seth Sumner, Athens City Manager. “Our hope was to keep people safe, informed, and to allay fears or harm. This award, to me, is sound proof that this approach was helpful to our friends and neighbors – and that’s all I need to know.”

During the pandemic, Sumner and his team utilized their social media platforms to engage and inform Athens residents. He had researched and gathered all of the available data, remained current on updates from the federal and state agencies, communicated with other local government entities and health officials, and scheduled all of the guest speakers to ensure that the message within his daily updates were accurate, reliable, and relevant for locals. This caught the eyes of organizations like the Tennessee Municipal League who took Sumner’s social media ideas and used them as an example for other surrounding cities to learn from and model. 

As the campaign progressed, it became easier to schedule guests to come and speak about their agency or initiative in the local community, as it became clearer that the daily updates from Sumner were becoming increasingly popular to not just the Athens community but in other neighboring cities and counties as well,” stated James Gallup, City Manager Assistant. “To this end, the city received tremendously positive feedback about its transparency, its communication to its citizens, and how united our community had become in response to the pandemic.”

Sumner’s love for his city shined through the effort and ambition he showed throughout the pandemic. Being an example for leadership and reliability, he consistently dedicates his time and energy to catering to the public and their safety. 

Our folks kept our city moving forward, and I’m deeply grateful for their efforts. This has not been an easy time for any of us, and our team stood up, took charge, and delivered the services our citizens depend on, without interruption.”

Sumner will be honored at the Community First Awards Gala hosted by Cleveland State Community College in September at the Barn at Faith Farms in Athens, TN. 

To purchase a ticket or for more information, contact Cindy Dawson at (423) 614-8703. Tickets for the gala are currently on sale online at All proceeds from the event will go to the CSCC Foundation Annual Campaign.


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