Avondale mayoral candidates Q&A – Jim Hutchens
Decaturish.com has sent all five candidates running in the Avondale Estates March 17 mayoral election a list of questions about the city, the race and what they would do if elected. Candidates had until Sunday to return the questions. The Q&A’s will run every day this week in the order that they were received.
1) What do you think is Avondale Estates’ greatest strength as a city?
My wife and I moved to Avondale Estates 10 years ago as a couple in our 50’s, nearing retirement. Both of us I had been social folks with friendships in our professions. In Avondale, both before and after retirement, we have found a group of friends that far exceeds in number any social group we have ever been part of and also in the quality of the friendships. The people of Avondale are its greatest strength, helping to provide this city with its distinct character. And those people deserve a premium quality of life. Avondale Estates can offer that.
2) What do you think is its biggest weakness?
I thought long and hard about this question. As with any city, anywhere, there are issues and problems. But to pick the “biggest” also indicates where I think the city’s effort and resources should be directed. I considered our city’s infrastructure (specifically storm water issues). I considered the always-looming education issues. I considered the image of Avondale to those outside our town. After considering all these important issues, I chose the sluggish and slow development and restoration of our downtown area. Our downtown is a constant, highly visible reflection on the entire Avondale Estates community. Frankly, even bright new businesses and fresh paint cannot conceal its down-at-the-heels appearance. I support the efforts of all groups in Avondale who are working with the city to make things happen in the downtown area. I have personal ideas and professional program and project management experience to get things going. There is no magic solution. Hard work in all corners of Avondale and involvement by residents, our local government, and developers is the only solution.
3) How do you view the relationship between the mayor and city manager in the city of Avondale Estates?
As a retired military officer, I have a great deal of experience with organizational operations. The City Manager is responsible for driving the city on a 24/7 basis. He faces the challenges of personnel, executes the budget, is concerned with quality of services, keeps the staff working on prioritized issues and many other critical operational issues. The Mayor, as one of the members of the BOMC, conveys to the City Manager the philosophy of running the city, the budget as approved, and other decisions of the BOMC. The elected officials are the voice of the people in determining the character of Avondale Estates.
The Mayor must be available to convey a presence during periods of crisis, in cooperation with the City Manager. Together they must present a united front. The BOMC is similar to the Captain on a submarine. The City Manager can be likened to the Officer of the Deck (OD). The OD drives the ship, manages all the watch standers, makes split second decisions for correct operations of all systems, and during any emergency, takes immediate action. His experience and knowledge are what saves the ship (city). He has the complete confidence and support of the Captain (Mayor). The Captain (Mayor) has ultimate responsibility for insuring the proper operation and safety of the ship (city). Neither the ship nor the city will survive if either person does not do his job in a professional, knowledgeable manner.
4) Are you satisfied with the performance of the current city manager?
Yes I am. It is evident to me that the city is running at a high level and in a competent manner. The current city manager has the trust and confidence of the citizens. This is not to say that there are not areas for improvement, but I completely support the city manager and hope he stays a long time.
5) What is your opinion of the Museum School and its relationship with the city and its residents?
The Museum School is a huge asset to Avondale Estates. Its very existence is an asset, but when quality of the education is considered, it gives Avondale Estates families an advantage that most other communities don’t have.
I also believe the Museum School has a PR problem, not of their own design. Most Avondale families want their children to attend the Museum School to receive a quality education. That is not always possible, as the school must select students based upon the criteria set by DeKalb County Schools. There is inevitable resentment when “your” child does not get in. I think this sometimes interferes with the relationship between the school and the community. But these problems of perception are not significant or insurmountable. The folks who operate the school are dedicated to a quality education for the students assigned to them. I am very appreciative of their efforts and commitment to the education of our children. Avondale as a community needs to aggressively support the Museum School and to also explore and find other good solutions for quality education for every child in Avondale.
6) Do you support the annexation plan that was recently adopted by the board of mayor and commissioners?
No, I resent that the state, in an effort to correct one problem, is pushing our city into annexations with insufficient study of the effect on our city. Some of these areas for annextion, even if they offer some minor property tax relief, will destroy the character and nature of Avondale. I promise to resist the efforts of the State of Georgia to push the City of Avondale Estates into annexations without sufficient discussion and acceptance by the citizens. I am not opposed to annexation after proper consideration of the benefits to the residents and character of Avondale Estates.
7) What is your position on the Euramex mixed use project that is being considered in Avondale Estates?
This property was annexed into AE (a good annexation effort) with the specific intent that it would be a multi-unit development. I support this development, but expect the city staff to insure that the zoning codes and design standards are followed. I would resist allowing any variances to zoning or standards. The traffic associated with this size of development is one of my personal concerns.
This project and the increase in the population of AE in the next few years are another reason that other annexations need to be closely scrutinized. I support this project over additional annexation and the creation of projects outside the current boundaries. We have limited resources; let’s concentrate on Avondale Estates, as it exists now and after this development.
8) Name three specific policy initiatives you would like to implement if you are elected as mayor:
1. A periodic review of the Comprehensive Master Plan and Downtown Development Master Plan to insure we are following what is written or that the plans are revised so that all residents understand the path the city is taking. It is worth noting that plans are just that. They don’t get anything done where the “rubber meets the road.” Avondale needs to assemble and move on projects that accomplish specific tasks that are consistent with the city’s Master Plans. These projects can then be assembled into a program for development, improvement or change. This is what I have done for municipal governments and the Federal government in my career: Program and Project Management.
2) Avondale has many talented citizens. I will propose that any project within the city has a small (3-person) standing committee of qualified, volunteer citizens to work during the entire process (Planning, definition of project, scope of project work, procurement effort, design effort, construction effort, communication with citizens.
3) Another area that I intend to put my efforts into is the relationship between Avondale Police and the community. Currently this is a very good relationship, I want to institute a program to maintain that good relationship. I also want to budget additional training for all police officer so we have the best-trained and best-qualified force anywhere. As we have seen in recent months, a community’s relationship with its police force is critical. I want to task the city manager and the Chief of Police to evaluate our force and for all of us to commit to using our tax dollar to insure we have the best trained and prepared police force. Having served in my military career, I am very appreciative of the responsibilities and requirements that a police officer faces every minute he or she is on duty. I hope to have proactive discussion and constructive action with citizens, city manager and police chief to keep our police force safe and prepared.
9) Do you have any current or former business interests with the city? (i.e. have you performed paid work on the city’s behalf now or in the past, or have you or your company bid on city work)?
10) Do you own any commercial property in the city limits?
11) What is your opinion of the city’s current historic preservation standards?
As a homeowner of one of the original homes, I dislike the interference of the Historic Preservation Committee with my property. Having stated my personal view, Avondale citizens have indicated time and again that they want to be a historic a district. The Historic Preservation Standards and the Committee are necessary to this the maintenance of such a designation, so we live with it.
12) Commercial property owners in the city’s annexation plan have said they do not feel the city is friendly to business. Do you feel this is a fair criticism and, if so, what would you do to change it?
Avondale Estates is a residential area; that is our nature. However, support for our integral, small commercial area is essential. I don’t think we have given adequate support to the existing businesses. I see some improvement over the last few years but I can appreciate the position of business owners who have invested in Avondale Estates, many of whom are also residents of the city.
Now we are talking of annexing more commercial area. I say we must take care of the area and current business owners who have invested their time and money, not in other areas that have not expressed any interest in being part of our community.
13) Please describe how your professional background would be an asset to you in this position.
I have designed, procured, and operated in the local government environment. I have managed large government construction projects; I have put together multi-million dollar programs of infrastructure projects for local and federal government. I have also been the project manager for multi-million dollar construction projects that were completed on time, on cost and with the required quality. I am an aggressive, hands-on type. Avondale has done a lot of talking and planning; now it is time to go to action.
14) What sets you apart from the other candidates in this race?
I have the most leadership training and demonstrated skills. I bring government experience in operations and program and project management from both local and federal projects. I have worked under extreme hardships (on a submarine and in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I love Avondale–I hope not more than my opponents, but I know not less.
I want to be out front in proposing and championing current and new initiatives in Avondale Estates. I am an experienced, knowledgeable Program Manager. I will work with the other commissioners and City Staff to get a step-up on determining essential efforts to improve the city infrastructure, amenities and image.
15) If elected, do you promise to behave in an ethical and transparent manner?
I think this question is not relevant or even appropriate. As mayor, I will take an oath of office, as I did when I was commissioned as a Naval Officer. I did not take that oath lightly nor do I take the oath as Mayor lightly. If I do not uphold the standards of the office that I have sworn to, then I have violated my oath and the trust the people have placed in me. Answers to this question are irrelevant; the oath is what matters. Words are easy; I have proven my dedication to principals and standards with documented success. In my professional life, had I not performed in an ethical manner, doing my job with personal dedication and commitment, I would have put lives in jeopardy. Past performance is a direct indication of future behavior.
The special election will be March 17, and early voting starts Feb. 23. The city will be hosting a forum on Thursday, Feb. 19, at City Hall, located at 21 North Avondale Plaza. The forum will start at 6:30 pm and will end at 8:30 pm.
Decaturish will also accept letters to the editor in support of – or in opposition to – the candidates in this race. The cut-off date for candidate letters will be Feb. 23. All letters must be signed and are typically 400 to 800 words in length. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and content. To send your letter to the editor, email it to [email protected].