Candidate Q&A – Candace Jones, Avondale Estates City Commission
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About this series:
Decaturish sent questions to candidates running for elected office in Decatur and Avondale Estates. We will publish the candidates’ responses throughout the week. For more information about voting in the upcoming election, please see the note at the end of this post. Here is the response from Candace Jones, a candidate for Avondale Estates City Commission.
1) Why are you running for Avondale Estates City Commission?
Our city is at a critical juncture and we must be good leaders and stewards of our city as we evolve. As your Commissioner, I want to improve the communication, transparency and decision-making processes that our city uses–processes that determine priorities, implement action plans and ensure that decisions are based on input from residents and business owners as well as from data. We all need to work together to create partnerships and implementation plans that balance the needs of our current residents and residential areas, which are the core of our city, with the needs of future residents and businesses in our downtown areas.
We need to strategically redevelop our downtown and modernize our city in ways that are compatible with our Master Plan and the original concepts of George Willis. Our long-range strategic and master plans have set the vision and direction for how we want to move forward, but we lack annual, quarterly and monthly action plans and status reports that successfully execute these long-range plans.
Our “small-town in-town” city is a special place that will soon turn 100 years old (2024). Its longevity and small-town character are why most of us moved here and continue to live here.
I believe that all residents and business owners desire to live and work in a safe, healthy, friendly, vibrant and financially responsible city. I want to serve our city as we act and plan for the next several years as well as its next century.
2) What do you think makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
Experience and Knowledge -“I can start work immediately.” I am knowledgeable and current with all the city issues and challenges, understand how the Board of Mayor and Commissioners (BOMC) operate and how to make things happen. I understand the amount of time and energy commitments that will be required to be an effective Commissioner.
Since 2014, I have been attending and participating in most of the City’s Board of Mayor and Commissioners (BOMC) and Downtown Development Authority (DDA) meetings, work sessions, hearings, planning sessions, and project open houses. I also attend many meetings of the Planning and Zoning Board, the Historical Preservation Commission and the Architectural Review Board.
My Public Health career – before I retired after 30 years – prepared me professionally to handle the role of a Commissioner. I have held leadership positions, managed projects and departments and am a seasoned professional in the areas of budgeting, operations and legislation – all skills important to our city.
I have lived in the historic district of Avondale Estates since 2007. I am an active member of our Avon Garden and Community Clubs, and a previous Avon Garden Club board member. I volunteer and participate in most of our city events and activities.
I was an advocate for our city even before I joined a small group of concerned residents in 2014 who then formed the group Second Century Avondale. This group’s purpose was to educate and inform our residents, businesses and city officials on issues that affected redeveloping our downtown.
3) What do you think is Avondale Estates’ greatest strength?
Our greatest strength and asset are our talented residents who volunteer their time and efforts to many city committees, clubs, functions, and activities. They also know and look out for their neighbors.
Equally strong are our city staff, who are skilled and dedicated to ensuring that our city is safe, secure, clean, financially viable and a pleasure to live in.
4) What do you think is its biggest challenge?
Maintaining our small-town atmosphere and quality of life while trying to meet residents’ desires for a more developed downtown area. Doing this within the context of metro Atlanta’s growth is a huge challenge.
5) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on as a commissioner?
My priorities for the immediate and long term are to:
– Improve communication, transparency and processes by listening to all residents and local businesses and providing clear, concise and complete information on projects and issues via city meetings, work sessions, newsletters, websites and monthly listening sessions
– Develop action plans to implement prioritized projects, such as preserving our lake, redeveloping our downtown, completing the downtown street grid, resurfacing streets, implementing revised zoning and approving low-income senior tax credits
6) As many people in Avondale are aware, in 2015 mayoral candidate Clai Brown’s contract was amended to include a severance for resigning. His retirement age was also lowered to 55. The city’s attorney concluded, after an investigation, that Brown hid his contract from city employees and commissioners. Brown and his supporters dispute that he hid anything. What is your opinion about this situation and who do you plan to vote for in the upcoming mayoral election?
This question is best directed to the members of the BOMCs and the City Attorneys who approved the changes to the 2015 contract, its amendment, and subsequent annual contract renewals in 2016 and 2017.
I am glad to answer any questions about my priorities and qualifications to be a City Commissioner. However, your question about how I will vote in the mayoral election is inappropriate. All voter ballot box decisions are protected and confidential for the voter and should remain so. Each resident should make up his or her own mind about the best candidate for any elected office.
7) Some residents in Avondale Estates have expressed concern about the city taking on debt to complete specific projects in the city. Are you concerned about the city borrowing money? Why or why not?
Based on my knowledge of the many infrastructure projects our city will need to undertake in the next 10 to 20 years, some level of borrowing will be necessary for our city to redevelop our downtown and maintain our city’s amenities, like the lake. For example, I support the town green as a priority. However, I prefer it be developed over a longer period of time and as its utilization is documented and can be financially sustained.
We need to develop a long-range capital improvement plan with prioritized projects and their funding streams. This plan will ensure that we are financially responsible now and in the future. I prefer that once we determine our prioritized capital needs and the amount of funds we need to borrow, we borrow small amounts from the Georgia Municipal Association or conduct a bond referendum for larger amounts so that residents can vote on long-term debt.
We are a small in-town city of approximately 3,500 residents and 1,500 homes. If the voters believe they were not a part of the decision process to potentially spend millions of dollars but are concerned the responsibility will fall upon them, I can assure them that my votes will always be what I consider to be fiscally responsible.
8) What is your opinion of the city’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and are you satisfied with how that board functions?
The DDA has improved its functioning in the past few years. They have recently become self-funded and have managed the Department of Juvenile Justice building responsibly. They are currently renegotiating the contract with the tenant for the next 15 years. This is a valuable asset in our city and requires excellent, consistent and on-going management.
Their strategic purchase of the one acre parcel that is contiguous with the city-owned four acres will enable a more comprehensive and resident-driven redevelopment of our downtown. Their leadership along with that of the BOMC for the conceptual design of these acres has been instrumental in the progress seen to date.
Over the past two years, they have improved the downtown landscaping tremendously by installing benches, trash/recycling cans, bike racks and street banners. Our downtown has not looked better in a long time.
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?
I have not heard this statement and am sorry to hear it now. I think our city is very welcoming. We have a diverse population of young children to seniors, single, partners and family households of all denominations, ethnicities and races; and we are becoming more diverse each year. We have many visitors who walk our sidewalks and paths, play at our lake and parks, visit our restaurants and businesses, and participate in city events such as the Easter egg hunt and antique car parade, Fourth of July parade and fireworks, Labor Day race, fall festival, Light parade, Halloween trick or treating, Christmas Holiday markets and home tour, and many other events.
I always greet residents and visitors as I walk our sidewalks and paths to ensure that they feel welcome. Maintaining our safe, clean streets and tree-lined sidewalks, developing a vibrant downtown, and preserving and expanding our varied housing options will ensure that we keep our diverse population and continue to be a welcoming city to live in.
10) What is your opinion of the current city manager, Patrick Bryant? Are you satisfied with his performance?
A candidate or commissioner should not make a public pronouncement or judgment on a current City Employee’s job performance or character based on nothing but opinion. I do not have sufficient knowledge of his performance. This question needs to be directed to his supervisors, the BOMC.
The current BOMC were in charge of the hiring process for the current City Manager. I am confident that the voters are aware of this. The BOMC have the responsibility of reviewing the performance of the city manager. He just completed his first year in the job (September 2018 hire); and I am confident that the BOMC have an evaluation tool that they have used and will be using to assess his performance against his job description expectations.
11) What is your opinion of the Museum School and its relationship with the city and its residents?
The Museum School is a Dekalb County School that some of our Avondale Estates children attend. It has been a wonderful additional Dekalb County school option for our city parents to consider. However, due to its size and attendance requirements, it is not an option for all of our city’s school-age children. So it is important that we support our other city school, Avondale Elementary, which I have done both financially and with my time.
If the voters believe there is an inappropriate connection with the Museum School and its relationship with the City government, I can assure them I have no special relationship with any particular group within the City. My special relationships will be with the city residents and business owners only.
12) Do you support annexing additional areas of unincorporated DeKalb County into Avondale Estates? If so, what areas do you think should be annexed?
Annexation of any residential or commercial property is a question that requires lots of input, discussion, and thorough analysis using comprehensive financial, safety and quality-of-life data. I am not in favor of annexing properties that jeopardize our city’s safety, finances, staff resources or quality of life. Instead, I prefer that we systematically increase our residential and commercial options and tax base by focusing on redeveloping our downtown area. Secondly, we need to maintain our current varied housing options to ensure that all individuals and families have choices as they progress through life.
Our current city staff are functioning effectively and our public spaces are actively used at our current population and land mass. Annexation can occur by jurisdictions petitioning cities or by cities proposing to annex property through maps. Annexation through legislatively negotiated maps is an unpredictable method, one that may result in unintended consequences. The legislature could and probably would change any annexation map the city submits, possibly assigning some properties to the city’s proposed map while deleting others. The legislative method does not allow cities to annex commercial property without also annexing residential properties.
13) What is your opinion about apartment developments in Avondale Estates?
I will work to ensure that we continue to have a variety of housing options in our city. Apartments are an important component of any city’s housing options. The mixed use apartment developments recently completed or being constructed were approved by lawfully elected commissioners. High-density housing, especially near mass transit, allows more people to have a work-life balance.
I prefer a balanced mix of housing options in our downtown that includes more resident-owned homes, townhouses, condos, flats and lofts. I want to maintain a very high percentage of owner-occupied residences in our city.
14) What is your opinion about the proposed “road diet” for US 278 that would reduce lanes on North Avondale Road?
Our city is dissected by US 278, a state road that is very difficult for most residents to cross when they want to shop at businesses, visit friends and attend City Hall functions in our downtown. I am very supportive of making this thoroughfare safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists—that is, all who want to traverse, cross and park on and near it.
US 278 is also our city’s Main Street and needs to function as such for all residents, visitors, and businesses. Our DDA and Main Street programs have been very active recently and have made some great improvements in our downtown. (Please refer to my answer to Question 8/DDA functioning for further comments.)
The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) performed a traffic study and subsequently estimated that the “road diet” and corresponding synchronization of traffic lights will slow traffic by only 30 seconds. This is a minuscule increase in time compared to the tremendous improvements that will occur in safety, functionality and appearance for all who traverse this road.
15) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
Yes, I promise to do this. State ethics are a part of any oath of an elected official. In addition, I promise to be available, communicate regularly, and hold monthly citizen and business owner listening sessions.
Learn more about voting in the Nov. 5 elections:
Voter registration for the Nov. 5 municipal elections ended on Oct. 7. Early voting will start on Oct. 14.
If you have registered and need your polling information, visit the Georgia Secretary of State’s My Voter page by clicking here.