Candidate Q&A – Marguerite Belline, 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 Marguerite Belline, a candidate for Avondale Estates City Commission.
1) Why are you running for Avondale Estates City Commission?
I believe that I will make a valuable addition to the BOMC with my diverse legal background and experience in civic engagement. My family has chosen to put down roots in Avondale Estates and I’m passionate about our city and fully invested with now three generations of the Bellines living here.
I am a mother and a practicing attorney with my own business in Avondale Estates, the city that I choose to live, work, and play. So I am running for Avondale Estates City Commission because I saw an opening to bring a fresh approach to issues and to build inclusive networks to help our community to reconnect meaningfully as we envision our future together and work toward common goals.
2) What do you think makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
I commend all of the candidates in this race and their willingness to volunteer their time and efforts to better our city. We each have our strengths. My legal background provides me with an inherent ability to balance people and issues, applying factual analysis and logic to important decisions and negotiations. I will also bring a fresh outlook and approach to city matters.
3) What do you think is Avondale Estates’ greatest strength?
Avondale Estates’ greatest strength is its strong sense of community.
4) What do you think is its biggest challenge?
Avondale Estates’ biggest challenge is building upon our future together as a community. The redevelopment of our Central Business District has become an incredibly divisive issue. The same is true when it comes to what our priorities for the city should be. Our city thrives best when everyone feels that they belong and can contribute, so that we have a shared vision of the future of our community.
5) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on as a commissioner?
As a commissioner, I plan to focus on civic engagement, communication and collaboration.
Civic Engagement: I will work to inspire and foster unique ways for our residents to participate in the development and improvement of our city. I will work to create stronger programs and practices to enable us to connect with one another in a meaningful way and address our shared concerns.
Communications: Along with fostering intra-Avondale communications, I want to help visitors from outside of the city to recognize the welcoming community that I know
Avondale Estates to be. I would like to help set the tone for welcoming and belonging in Avondale.
Collaboration: I will work to initiate cross-sector and regional collaboration.
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?
As a candidate for City Commissioner, I am placed in the difficult position of trying to remain neutral on this issue. I want to begin my working relationship with any elected mayor on the right foot.
After speaking with many residents about the actions of the former City Manager, I know this much to be true — his actions, whether intentional or not, resulted in a violation of the public’s trust. That trust remains broken with many in our community and that trust needs rebuilding. A heightened standard of ethics, transparency and integrity are expected from our city leaders, and I fully expect these values from anyone elected as our city Mayor.
I support Jonathan Elmore for Mayor and his well thought-out vision for our city. However, I importantly note my respect and appreciation for our citizens’ rights to support and vote for who they believe to be the best candidate. My in-laws (Lou and Wanda Belline) live in Avondale Estates and openly voice their support for Clai Brown. I commit to listening and engaging with all residents no matter their opinion to ensure that differing opinions have a voice in our city’s direction.
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?
I believe that our BOMC has undertaken great effort to ensure that any contemplated future debt is self-supporting and is not dependent on arbitrary increases in residential tax dollars. As a resident, I think that it is only natural to be worrisome of any city debt with the fear that residents will incur substantial tax hikes as a result thereof. That being said, accessing increased revenue from our commercial area investments is essential to fund necessary infrastructure such as stormwater and street paving. The contemplated debt will be taken on in order to fund identified city projects and to build a town green that will serve as a downtown investment catalyst moving us toward a sustainable future.
8) What is your opinion of the city’s Downtown Development Authority and are you satisfied with how that board functions?
I think that our Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is critical to the implementation and success of our City’s Downtown Master Plan. We have very talented DDA board members who are working hard to develop and promote our historic central business district.
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?
The community was very welcoming to me when I first visited and then became a resident in 2014. That being said, residents in adjacent neighborhoods have told me that they do not always feel welcome in Avondale Estates. If elected, part of my focus as a City Commissioner will be to facilitate open networks of communication. This includes open communication with our neighboring communities to inform them of relevant city actions. This includes listening to how those actions affect them while engaging them on issues that may affect us, as well.
10) What is your opinion of the current city manager, Patrick Bryant? Are you satisfied with his performance?
After I decided that I would run for City Commissioner, I took the opportunity to meet with our city manager, Patrick Bryant and hear his management philosophy. Our city’s fiscal health is requisite for our future sustainability, and I believe that Mr. Bryant is fully qualified and he is successfully managing our city operations and budget as we grow and realize the vision of our Downtown Master Plan.
11) What is your opinion of the Museum School and its relationship with the city and its residents?
I am grateful for The Museum School (TMS), and for the founders who dedicated so much time and effort towards its creation. My two girls both attend TMS. I love that they can safely walk to and from the school. If elected, I would work to facilitate regular communications between TMS and our city on issues that are mutually beneficial to both institutions – such as safe routes to school and public safety. I want to help ensure in any way possible that all enjoy and share in the amicable feeling that I have towards the school.
12) Do you support annexing additional areas of unincorporated DeKalb County into Avondale Estates? If so, what areas do you think should be annexed?
The current climate is not favorable to annexation, and any such proposal would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis. Studies by the Carl Vinson Institute show a net positive to Avondale Estates if the city, neighboring communities and legislators choose
to pursue annexation together. However, it is absolutely necessary that we improve our relationship with neighboring communities by listening to their concerns and discussing the value of becoming part of Avondale. If presented with the opportunity to expand our boundaries, it is necessary to have open channels of communication between residents, neighbors and legislators. Another important consideration in the issue of annexation is the possible effects that Greenhaven could have on our city.
13) What is your opinion about apartment developments in Avondale Estates?
Mixed-use development including, but not limited to, multi-family housing is identified in the city’s Master Plan. This plan was developed by city residents and our BOMC. Apartments provide another housing option for the area and bring new residents to help support our businesses. While I believe that some apartment developments are appropriate, they are but one part in the mix of contemplated future downtown development.
14) What is your opinion about the proposed “road diet” for US 278 that would reduce lanes on North Avondale Road?
I anticipate that the road diet will provide an enhanced gateway to the city and enable a safer downtown walking experience. I do anticipate its implementation will cause some short term inconvenience as well as cut-through traffic on residential streets. I will work with the city to seek ways to assist current business owners and residents during its construction, in addition to addressing other pertinent traffic safety issues within our residential area.
15) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
If elected, I will work responsibly and ethically to conduct all of my communications and decision-making with accountability, decisiveness and fairness. I will do what I say to the highest possible quality with transparency and integrity.
Thank you for your questions. And I also want to say Thank You to all of the Avondale voters – I would appreciate their vote on Nov. 5.
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.