Candidate Q&A – John Ridley, Decatur City Commission
Decaturish.com contacted every candidate running for office in Decatur and Avondale Estates and provided them with a list of questions. John Ridley is running for the at-large seat on the Decatur City Commission.
Here are his answers.
1) Why are you running for this position?
Now that I am professionally retired, I want to contribute on a full time basis to helping Decatur meet its short and long term challenges as the only Decatur City Commissioner elected city wide.
Decatur has a growing school enrollment crisis that can only be seriously and successfully met with the active participation and substantive actions by the Planning Commission and the Decatur City Commission. This requires at least three Decatur City Commissioners who are willing to put their votes where the current and past Planning and City Commissions have offered only no action, empty promises, political double speak and or direct roadblocks to solving overcrowding in our schools.
Decatur needs to restore the peoples’ right choose in a city wide election a real Mayor with executive and administrative authority. No city in Georgia elects in a citywide popular vote a Mayor with only ceremonial powers. Decatur is one of only 15 cities of 356 in Georgia which do not have a citywide popularly elected Mayor. This right was taken away in 1922 in part as a reaction to the adoption of the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution which guaranteed women the right to vote. The disenfranchisement of the Decatur voter in directly selecting the Mayor and the person holding executive and administrative authority was wrong then, is wrong now, and must be changed. A vote for John Ridley and a District one and District two Commission candidate supporting an elected Mayor will insure that the Decatur voter’s rights to choose who runs our City will be restored.
Decatur city government must address annexation with a serious analysis of the service delivery impact both long and short term. This impact analysis focused on revenues and expenditures must include the City Schools of Decatur. Adding more students to our schools should only be done if we have a cost effective way to provide adequate facilities and resources. Annexation should also positively address our tax base composition to lessen the property tax burden on existing R-60 residences, provide needed properties and facilities for our schools and additional greenspace and parks.
2) What makes you the most qualified candidate for the job?
I am a native Georgian and a 30 year resident of Decatur. My sons both went to Winnona Park, Renfroe, and Decatur High School. I have been actively involved in community affairs during my residence in Decatur including serving as a Neighborhood Association President and as a Decatur City Commissioner. I have spent my entire life having an intense interest in public affairs. My undergraduate and graduate studies were focused on political science and public policy analysis. I have authored numerous publications on federal, state, local, and private corporate governance. Most have been about real world strategic planning and tactical implementations to achieve long term goals. I spent four years in Washington DC where I worked as a government operations policy analyst for the US Congress. I served as a Tax Policy Analyst for the Georgia General Assembly and contributed to modernizing Georgia’s Insurance Premium and Alcohol & Tobacco taxes. I served as a Decatur City Commissioner from 1998 to 2002. During that time:
I assisted with the creation of Decatur’s first Historic District;
Championed annexation of commercial property to lessen the burden on residence owners;
Was vigilant and outspoken about the City of Decatur fully complying with Open Meetings and Open Records laws;
Advocated line item budgeting and adopting of State of Georgia standardized chart of accounts;
Advocated adoption of a city-wide elected Mayor with executive and administrative authority;
Opposed appointment of individuals to City of Decatur positions with clear conflicts of interest;
Advocated nonrenewal of a contract with an outside auditing firm because of incomplete and inaccurate reports which tried to hide financial and management irregularities;
Assisted with the Noise Ordinance being thrown out as unconstitutional and its re-adoption after its legal problems were corrected;
And I was an active member of the Georgia Municipal Association, attended GMA training classes and served on GMA committees.
I now have full time to devote to representing the people of Decatur and the academic training and real world experience to play a positive leadership role in meeting Decatur’s challenges and making Decatur an even better place to live.
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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?
I am most concerned about Decatur’s diversity. The City should focus on finding legal methods to help with tax abatements and exemptions.
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?
The City should revise and improve its land use planning role and look for opportunities to improve zoning and building permit ordinances.
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?
Ask any one of the current members of the CSD Board or retiring Superintendent Edwards about the relationship between the City Commission and School Board and you will hear virtually identical story after story of how incredibly dysfunctional the relationship is currently. There is no acceptable excuse for the Planning Commission or the City Commissions’ actions or behavior as it relates to the CSD Board or the needs of Decatur’s school children and taxpayers. The Decatur City Commission needs new, strong, creative, outspoken, and bold leadership to build a healthy partnership with CSD. The Planning Department and the Planning Commission need to step up and do the serious work for which they are responsible and perform a serious planning role. This is fundamentally a leadership problem with the City Commission, not a management problem.
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?
I support a moratorium on all apartments until new and accurate impact and service delivery analysis is conducted and aired in numerous open public meetings. Once these reports are completed and aired, all issues should be physically addressed before permission is given to add additional apartments.
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?
There are a few properties in Decatur today that could possibly be used for additional greenspace and parks. Most of the opportunities are in properties in potentially annexable areas. The Methodist Children’ Home property in particular offers an outstanding opportunity for a sizeable addition to Decatur’s green space and parks. If we are not strongly proactive and vigilant about the need for more green space and parks, developers will manipulate the City Government into allowing high density development instead.
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?
I do not support the current City Manager form of government. I support a city wide elected Mayor with executive and administrative authority. Under this form of government, a City Administrator would serve in a day to day operations and departmental coordinating role with some delegated administrative authority. I would also support a restoration of roles to the City Clerk. The City Clerk, for example, should be given the responsibility for the maintenance of and archiving all City records, maintenance and enhancement of the City Web Site, and become the Chief Information Officer for the City of Decatur. A complete review of all Department staffing and resource needs should be conducted on an annual basis and public hearings conducted by the Mayor on each Department. The Mayor with the assistance of all appropriate city employees should develop and submit an annual budget to the City Commission for its approval. All activities should be conducted with as much public openness and transparency as possible.
9) What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the city of Decatur?
The biggest challenge facing Decatur is the lack of real Leadership by the city government. Leadership is about doing the right thing; management is about doing things right. The City of Decatur is blessed with many employees who work very hard to do things right. The City Commission is populated with people oriented towards a management view of their role. My opponent offers that beyond being a nice guy that he is a good manager. Both of these concepts are wonderful things. We all like nice guys and good managers. Neither speak to a vision for Decatur and the Leadership Decatur needs. Leadership does not come from printed strategic plans written by committees. It starts with a creative, workable, and realistically achievable vision for the Future of Decatur. Leadership builds consensus and momentum for the vision and sets direction for managers to implement tactical efforts to successfully achieve serial milestones which over time make the vision become reality.
10) What is Decatur’s greatest strength as a city?
Decatur’s greatest resource is the strength and depth of the diverse interests, skills, talents, empathy, compassion, and knowledge of the people of Decatur. Decatur is blessed with an amazing sense of self confidence and feeling of positive community spirit. We are proud of what we have accomplished and look forward to an even better future. The people of Decatur know that we can as a city be anything we want to be and can mold our future to be a wonderful, happy, and exciting journey.
11) If elected, do you promise to behave in an ethical and transparent manner?
I was taught by a Congressman I respected enormously that if I were every elected to anything that there are three absolutes requirements of any officeholder of public trust: Obey the law, tell the truth, and respect the people. If any office holder respects these requirements it naturally follows that ethical and transparent behavior will result. Never forget that public service is a privilege not an entitlement, any government position is a temporary stewardship, and that the government is owned not by the office holder but by the people.
The election is Nov. 3 and early voting begins on Oct. 12.