Candidate Q&A – Brian Smith, Decatur City CommissionBrian Smith, pictured here with his family. Photo provided to Decaturish.
Decaturish.com contacted every candidate running for office in Decatur and Avondale Estates and provided them with a list of questions. Brian Smith is running for District 2 Post B on the Decatur City Commission.
Here are his answers.
1) Why are you running for this position?
Decatur is my home. My family lives here, our friends live here, our kids go to Decatur schools. Public service should begin at home and I am passionate about being involved in the community and volunteering my time to do the best I can to make one of America’s best small towns even greater.
2) What makes you the most qualified candidate for the job?
Over the last few months, I have made it a priority to meet as many citizens as possible, learn what’s on their minds, and help them get to know me well enough to make an informed decision on who they would like to represent them as their District 2 City Commissioner. It is up to the voters to decide who is most qualified.
I understand a lot about how the City works and how to get things done as a result of my years of involvement within the city. I serve on the Decatur Business Association and understand the concerns of the Decatur business community; I am Co-President of the Winnona Park Neighbor Association and deal with local issues like traffic calming and safety; I am a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and render difficult land use decisions; and I have helped our elementary school by doing fun things like coordinating Walk N Roll days.
As City Commissioner I will take these experiences and my professional background in corporate finance to introduce fresh ideas for the future of Decatur while still honoring the foundation on which Decatur has been built.
3) Decatur’s decreasing diversity is a concern for many in the city. Are you concerned about Decatur’s diversity? If so, as an elected official, what will you do to promote diversity in the city of Decatur?
Twelve years ago I chose to raise my family in Decatur, like many of you, because of its diversity. However, maintaining the diversity of Decatur is one of the City’s biggest challenges. When I talk with older residents, I am touched by their accounts of our community’s deep and strong history of working together across racial, economic, social and political lines to do what is best for each other. We need to promote and advance the conversations started by the Better Together efforts and turn the lessons learned into concrete change.
4) Closely linked to the above question is a question about the cost of living in Decatur. High home prices and taxes are pricing many out of the city. What role should the city play in addressing this issue?
People want to live in Decatur, plain and simple, but the resulting increase in our home values translates into higher taxes. I believe the City needs to take meaningful steps so that residents can afford to stay in their homes. For example, we need to look at ways to lower taxes on seniors. I also believe in sound fiscal management, including reviewing areas of the City budget where we might be able to save money so we can pass these savings along to taxpayers.
5) Relationships between the city of Decatur and City Schools of Decatur have been strained at times. What will you do to improve the relationship between the two?
There’s no excuse for our schools and city to have a strained relationship. You see this in other parts of the metro area, and it can become toxic for a community. The City Commission needs to work cooperatively with the City School Board to set policies that benefit all our citizens. As a City Commissioner, I will advocate for regular joint meetings to coordinate an approach to the City’s challenges. I will also promote sharing information such as thoughts on enrollment projections, downtown development, annexation, and land management between the City Commission and the City School Board. Our City and school system will keep growing, and now is the time to address that growth in a coordinated way.
6) Decatur has several apartment projects in various stages of development. Do you support the continued development of apartments in Decatur? Why or why not?
Under Georgia law, if real estate is zoned for a particular use, it is very hard to tell an owner they can’t follow that policy. So, there are real legal limits to what government can do on land use. To me, this means our best approach is to work cooperatively with landowners to create the kind of developments our citizens want and need. You can see that input and collaboration in some of the new projects that have been built recently.
7) Community groups in Decatur have expressed a desire for more green spaces, like parks. If elected, what will you do to promote the development of green space in the city?
Greenspace is a critical need for our city as there is not a great deal of potential public greenspace left in Decatur. In addition to maintaining our existing greenspace, one of my priorities as City Commissioner will be to establish a formal process for targeting park and open space acquisition in a way that is cost-effective and uses our resources to put assets in place that create enjoyment of our citizens. Additionally, I would like to look for new, creative ways to get our residents and business owners involved in enhancing the City’s existing greenspace.
8) Being a commissioner will require working closely with the city manager of Decatur. Are you satisfied with the performance of City Manager Peggy Merriss? Why or why not?
Peggy has done a great job for Decatur. However, as with my job or the jobs any of us have, there are no permanent guarantees. The City Commission can and should regularly review the City Manager’s performance so that she may continue to serve the City in an effective manner.
9) What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the city of Decatur?
We are lucky that so many people want to live in our City. Our biggest challenge is managing our policies to capture the benefits of growth, such as new neighbors, a growing tax base, and new retail/dining options, without some of the side effects like crowded schools and traffic congestion. Finding the right balance is critical and I believe getting this right should be a top priority for the City Commission.
10) What is Decatur’s greatest strength as a city?
Our citizens are our greatest strength, in particular a tradition of engagement in our community activities and programs that makes the city unique. Together, we have built the most livable community in metro Atlanta and top-quality schools. My family and I have chosen Decatur as our home because we like the opportunity to stay involved in the community and support the different branches of the city.
11) If elected, do you promise to behave in an ethical and transparent manner?
Absolutely. I strongly believe in these qualities.
The election is Nov. 3 and early voting begins on Oct. 12.