Candidate Q&A – Lionel Laratte, Avondale Estates City CommissionAvondale Estates City Commissioner Lionel Laratte
Decaturish sent questions to all of the candidates running for Avondale Estates City Commission ahead of the Nov. 7 elections. Early voting begins Oct. 16.
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1) Why are you running for the Avondale City Commission seat?
The primary reason I want to be a commissioner is that I believe that I can make a positive contribution to life in Avondale drawing on my consulting experience and a unique personal perspective. I grew up in Haiti and have traveled to and lived in many places. I have seen a lot of different communities and organizations tackle challenges using a variety of techniques and strategies.
With 15 plus years working with large organizations, primarily Fortune 500 companies, I develop strategies to better manage change and dynamic environments. My work has primarily been in the business world and the strategic use of technology but much of it is directly transferable to the public sector. One of the services I provide is helping them understand how they get buy in from various areas of their organization to achieve a strategic initiative. I think that’s directly applicable in the public sector.
I toyed with the idea of running for commissioner about a year and a half ago. I put it aside thinking that my travel schedule and family responsibilities would prevent me for being effective…if I won. Earlier this year, my work responsibilities changed and my son has gotten older so the commitment is realistic.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
I know that my strengths are sincerity and a genuine belief in the success of the city and everyone in it. In addition, I have a way of working with other leaders in an inclusive, process-oriented way toward tangible results. In fact, I would say that what is most important to understand about me in this race is that I am about getting things done.
3) What do you think is Avondale’s greatest strength?
The greatest strength of this community is the people that live here. First, it’s great that we have so many diverse residents committed to their families. I mean, I tell friends who do not live here about our lifestyle and they tell me that it sounds like a bunch of “family geeks.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s something to be proud of. It means we dive deeply into our community relationships and nurturing young lives for the future. That’s a good thing.
Second, it’s amazing that we have amassed so many intelligent people in this place. I’ve met many of our neighbors who have made me think differently about a few things. That’s good and I want to tap into this well of varied knowledge and use it to take help us move the city “to the next level”.
Finally, it’s a great physical environment. It’s beautiful. I have friends in Decatur who come here regularly to walk around the lake. I have met others from outside the neighborhood who come here just to walk around the neighborhood because it is a great environment. We have green spaces that make me just want to lay down in the grass and look at the clouds. I want to help keep our city that way: beautiful, safe and welcoming.
4) What do you think is Avondale’s biggest challenge?
The challenge is how we keep those things we value about Avondale while growing this city to be sustainable in the future. How we keep our community secure and inclusive, adaptable and stable.
We live in a time of change. It’s a time when the definition of cities is undergoing a revision on the technological, physical and social fronts. In the technological sense, we are moving more and more toward a world where the place you work is likely to be the same place you live. What does that say about the design and location of dwellings, especially for millennials just coming into the workforce?
Finally, on the social front, how does that change when you being “there” has an entirely new meaning? Just as when this town was designed there was no vision of a business like Edwin Jarvis, we are not able to envision other forms of businesses in the future. However, can we set up a framework that will be welcoming for whatever lies ahead?
We can do this and keep the core of what makes Avondale Avondale, the families, the community, the small town. We need to create a framework that is strong enough to preserve this yet flexible enough to take advantage of the future no matter what it brings.
5) How would you address what you feel is Avondale’s biggest challenge?
The way we address the challenge of remaining true to our city while embracing the future is to encourage the uniqueness. We encourage the free expression of the people in our town whether it’s through enabling them to have a beer while they browse comic books or having a board game night or going to attend a meat smoking class at Pine Street.
And we encourage people from the surrounding area to join us.
We have normal infrastructure like restaurants and dry cleaners, etc. We know those things are needed. However, we also need interesting stuff, the things that characterize Avondale as its own entity.
I think we have a strong beginning of that in the artisanal businesses we appear to be attracting. We have Icing, Mama Bath + Body, Garage Door, My Parents’ Basement, Avondale Towne Cinema, Edwin Jarvis, the new BBQ place, the violin shop, Purple Corkscrew…I could go on. And the Rail Arts District. What ties them all together is that they are stand-alone businesses that are each special. They are not chain stores and they are unique.
More importantly, we encourage the exploration of those things through various festivals, activities and events that fit in that framework of family, community and small town. I went to the Art Walk the other day with my wife and son. It was an excellent event. I think we need to expand that. We had a terrific Autumn Fest a few years ago. We used to have the Art-B-Q. That was also great.
But people in the surrounding area aren’t going to know about them and make the businesses successful and vibrant unless we showcase them through these events.
We need to do more of these types of things. They bring in lots of families and neighbors. They are quirky and bring a lot of different people together. They are unique because they are us.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as a commissioner?
1. Developing Avondale. We have a lot of work to do to develop the non-residential parts of the city. I want to get shovels in the ground. Specifically, we need to fill our acreage with vibrant productive activities contributing to our city.
2. Sustaining and adapting. I want to be sure that as the city grows, we remain relevant to the area. We want people to come to our city and stay. We want them to invest in Avondale by frequenting businesses. We want to make it attractive for younger people to move from renting apartments down the street to buying homes here and building families that will secure Avondale’s future.
3. Affirming community. I want our kids to be able to walk to the park without their parents having to worry about it. I want our LGBT neighbors to continue to not have to worry about being themselves in our city. I want everyone to be able enjoy our city and bring it closer to being the role model city for Georgia. We will make sure our ordinances and enforcement are aligned to our city’s values and promote positive interactions with fellow citizens.
To sum it up: I want to work with the mayor and other commissioners to provide continuity in what we value as a city while enabling us to successfully embrace the future and excel.
7) Do you think Avondale Estates should annex more neighborhoods and properties into the city?
We need to annex with a purpose and not annex just to annex. When we are considering annexation of an area, we need to look at a few things:
· Does it make financial sense? I mean, is it going to cost the city more to expand to that area than it will bring us back in revenue? If it is, we probably shouldn’t do it.
· Does it provide continuity? In this regard, we want to look at the map and see how annexation will benefit us from the walkability point of view. If annexing an area is going to benefit us by providing additional contiguous walking, biking and running space and it makes financial sense, why not? If it’s going to be bringing in more families and communities that fall within the framework I mentioned earlier, of course.
· What is the impact to the city overall? By this, I mean we need to understand the different views from the city residents and listen to their reasons for not annexing just as carefully as we listen to the reasons for annexing. Not understanding this can be the difference between having a better city and a city that begins to fray. We need to keep the fabric of the community together.
8) What is your vision for Avondale Estates’ downtown?
I want downtown to be a “there” like a “happening there”. I want it to be a vibrant place that people will come to because it’s an interesting and quirky place to be. We don’t need to be Decatur or “Decatur Lite” as I’ve heard some people say.
We need to define ourselves almost as the anti-Decatur…and I say that in a nice way. Going to downtown Avondale Estates should not be intimidating for anyone. You can drive here and not worry about parking. You can come here and not worry about going into someplace where it takes you 20 minutes to get a beer. You can come here and get something organic…or not.
The point is that you can come to Avondale and be who you are. You don’t have to have a certain look or drink only microbrews or eat Peruvian food. Unless you want to. We’re good with anything as long as it’s you and it’s not about putting anyone down or making anyone uncomfortable.
And buskers…you can’t have a good downtown without buskers.
9) There is a perception that Avondale Estates is unwelcoming to outsiders. Do you think this is accurate? If so, what would you plan to do about it? If not, why not?
Yes, I’ve heard that and I can see where some people might have that perception. And, given the fact that we care so much about our city and want to keep it amazing, it shouldn’t be a surprise.
However, let’s try to look at this from a different point of view. We have excellent shaded streets and homes with beautiful trees and lawns. Let’s suppose we had a new family buy and move into a house here and they got into the habit of getting their friends over to fix their cars in their driveway and on the curb. In fact, they did this as a hobby and cars were on their lawn and guys were running around with dirty overalls fixing cars and trucks all day every Saturday.
We would not accept that behavior no matter who the family was.
The key to keeping our city welcoming while preserving its beauty and great environment is managing behavior. Focus on keeping bad behavior out and encouraging good behavior. The result is that we will keep our core values while being welcoming.
If you want to come into our city and run, walk, bicycle and enjoy the lake, please do so. If you want to come into our city and behave badly, please do not.
We may have to revisit existing code or create new code to do this effectively. But it can be done effectively.
10) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
I work toward this every day in my professional and personal life. I would carry that into public life.
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