Candidate for Avondale mayor likes city the way it isFile Photo courtesy of Dena Mellick
Jim Hutchens, a retired engineer, thinks the city of Avondale Estates is working just fine.
He’s running for mayor to make sure it stays that way.
Hutchens is one of five candidates working to replace former mayor Ed Rieker, who resigned in October to take a university teaching job. Prior to Rieker’s resignation, he was caught in the middle of a controversy over the city’s annexation plans. Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale, had introduced an annexation bill in 2014 at Rieker’s request, but the bill wasn’t discussed publicly and commissioners hadn’t voted on it.
Commissioners approved a modified version of the plan on Jan. 5 in front of a room filled with dissenters, questioners and few supporters. Commissioners said they feel the plan is in the best interest of the city.
Hutchens disagrees. Hutchens and his wife Cheri Johnston moved to Avondale from Decatur 10 years ago and they both love it. Like fellow-candidate John Pomberg, Hutchens is a U.S. Navy vet, serving from 1970 to 1990. He has six children – three of his own, and three step children – and 15 grandchildren.
So what’s his plan if elected mayor?
“No annexation,” he said.
“Well, I like Avondale the way it is,” he said. “It was a designed community. Of course it’s not quite like it was designed. I realize that. I think it’s a unique community that offers many things that are more difficult to do in larger communities. I enjoy the character of Avondale.”
Hutchens responded with his own question: Why should Avondale annex more property?
“I couldn’t come up with a good reason,” he said. “I think change, any change will cost you in some way. I don’t think change is bad. In fact, if I lived in Decatur, I’d be pushing Decatur to be bigger because that, in my opinion, the nature of a city like Decatur is to grow. The nature of a city like Avondale is to take care of the people that live there, and who have moved there, in my opinion, for the privacy, the small town, the closeness of the people in the community.”
He said he enjoys Avondale’s Fourth of July celebration. He wakes up in the morning, watches the parade, has lunch by the city swimming pool and watches the fireworks in the evening, all without moving his car from the driveway. He worries that by getting bigger, Avondale could lose the things that make it special.
“I’m an engineer and I look at the risk of things, when I’m going to do something, what’s the risk? What do I need to do to mitigate the risk? And to me, all the risk is in annexing something,” Hutchens said. “I’m not saying that it won’t work out. I’m not saying it’s not a possibility it would even be good for Avondale, but I don’t think it would be.”
But the mayor is one vote on the city commission, and commissioners have already adopted a plan. So what happens if the other four want to move ahead with annexation? Would he try to stop that?
“I’ve thought about that,” he said. “If I run for mayor, and I am elected, I am clearly running on a ‘no annexation’ platform. But if I win, I think it’s a mandate from the people, from the voters of Avondale. At least a majority of the voters didn’t want annexation, because that is clearly the major thrust of my campaign. … If I win, I would look to the other commissioners and say, ‘Wait a minute. We couldn’t have a referendum on this (annexation). There wasn’t the mechanism available. So I ran for mayor. This is what the people have said. So are you going to just not pay attention to that?'”
What if they don’t pay attention to it? Hutchens said obstructionism isn’t on his agenda.
“I’m pretty much of a realist,” he said. “If I was on the commission and they voted to do something and I didn’t necessarily agree with it, then I would have to support the final outcome. You continue to work to implement the plan for the good of Avondale. … I’m a liberal Republican. I’m not a Tea Partier, and I’m not going to get up there and shut down the government of Avondale. You’ve got to compromise.”
The other four candidates are:
– Jonathan Elmore
– Todd Pullen
Decaturish plans to contact the other two candidates to learn more about their reasons for running and plans if elected mayor. The special election will take place on March 17. Early voting begins Feb. 23 at the DeKalb County Elections Division, 4380 Memorial Drive, Decatur, Georgia 30032.