Candidate Q&A – Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers, Decatur City Commission At-large
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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 Decatur Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers, who is running for re-election to the Decatur City Commission’s At-large seat.
1) Why are you running for Decatur City Commission?
I am running again to continue the mission I started 4 years ago to strengthen our community and improve our city by actively engaging people where we live, work, and play.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponent?
I have solved problems all of my adult life. I have been actively engaged in civic and educational endeavors in the City of Decatur and elsewhere. I have witnessed and participated in the transformation in our city for 5 decades. I understand the effort that goes into making us a city that other cities aspire to emulate.
3) What do you think is Decatur’s greatest strength?
Decatur’s biggest strength is the people who live and work here. We actively participate and volunteer time, talent and resources to the city we all love.
4) What do you think is Decatur’s biggest challenge?
Addressing the needs of a growing community, while being mindful of the resources that we have. We are a city of 4.3 or so square miles and our challenges vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, often from street to street. While the methodology to evaluate all the needs may be the same, often the timelines require faster implementation with public input.
5) How would you address Decatur’s biggest challenge?
As we prepare for the 2020 strategic city plan, I believe that it is imperative for all residents to find ways in which to participate and or validate together where to focus our time and resources. In 2010 our community gave us the road map that paved the way to where we are today. I believe that is still what drives us. For anyone interested in how the city’s residents came together in 2010 to create that Strategic Plan please visit https://www.decaturnext.com/adopted-plan-downloads/
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on as a commissioner?
1. Using the information gathered from the Affordable Housing Task Force to develop incremental solutions that are uniquely created for Decatur.
2. Work with the City Schools of Decatur to address any revisions that might affect the senior tax exemption.
7) Every year, the Decatur City Commission holds its annual retreat at a location two hours away from the city of Decatur. The meeting is technically open to the public, but the public can’t easily attend and there are no video or audio recordings of the meeting. The City Commission does record and publish minutes, but they are a short summary of a two-day long discussion. This is an important public meeting that sets Decatur’s agenda for the entire year, but very few people get to see it. If you are reelected as a commissioner, will you continue to participate in these retreats, or will ask the City Commission to hold its retreats in a location that is more accessible to the residents of Decatur?
I have participated in strategic retreats in multiple arenas throughout my career. They have been most productive when I have been able to separate myself completely from my daily surroundings. Yes, I will continue to attend and they could be held in an offsite location closer in proximity.
8) A recent Decaturish editorial called for several reforms in city government following an investigation into the city’s vendor cart pilot program. One of our recommendations was requiring members of the Decatur Development Authority board and city employees overseeing economic development activities to file financial disclosure forms. These reports would list sources of income, any ownership interests these individuals might have in other companies and any property they own. Currently, the only people legally required to file them in the city of Decatur are the city commissioners and school board members. Do you think members the DDA and city employees involved in economic development activities should file financial disclosure forms? If not, why not?
No, I do not believe that this is should be a requirement. The DDA was created by an act of the State Legislature. The requirements to serve a city appointed member include business interests or property ownership in the city limits and a conflict of interest letter is mandatory.
9) Recently, a consultant for the city floated the idea of asking voters to approve a tax increase to subsidize affordable housing in the city of Decatur. Do you support this idea? Why or why not?
I would like to evaluate this concept only after a thorough vetting of the benefits and impacts to our residents by a panel of experts and getting community wide feedback.
10) If you are reelected to the commission, one of your first duties will be to choose a mayor. (The mayor in Decatur is chosen by his or her fellow commissioners at the beginning of each year.) What is your opinion of Mayor Patti Garrett and do you think she should be reelected as mayor?
The Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem are elected by fellow commissioners every year. Mayor Garrett has done an excellent job representing the city in endeavors throughout the region and disseminating the information to the entire city and commission
11) What is your opinion of the city of Decatur’s current tree ordinance and what changes would you make to it, if any?
The current tree ordinance was created and voted on with community input and industry experts. Any updates will follow a similar process and undergo a healthy public process. There are revisions being vetted by the Environmental Sustainability Board and city staff. We must be mindful of our tree canopy and work not only to preserve it, but increase it.
12) Parking remains a contentious issue in the city of Decatur. While the city says paid spots are necessary to ensure a steady flow of traffic to nearby businesses, residents and visitors have complaints about space availability, affordability and the practices of booting companies who patrol private lots. Some businesses that have left Decatur have cited parking as a reason for their departure. Do you think parking in Decatur is a problem that needs to be fixed, or do you think this issue is overblown?
There are over 11,000 parking spaces in the downtown area. We must continue to partner with individual lot owners and develop a unified parking strategy. An external notification system and enhanced mobile platforms could be additional tools that come out of a budgeted parking assessment in the 19/20 Budget.
13) What is your opinion about the planters on West Howard Avenue?
The planters were the effort of a nearly year long initiative requested by the affected neighborhoods to slow down traffic on W. Howard. The outcome was a solution that achieved the desired effect without affecting future plans for crossing re-alignment. Given the number of comments on all sides of the equation, some tweaks to the program should be addressed.
14) Residents living around North Decatur Road and Superior Avenue have been complaining about conditions there for years, citing numerous accidents. What would you do to improve this intersection?
The City of Decatur and Dekalb county continue to evaluate initiatives where our jurisdictions overlap. Possible solutions could involve increased enforcement and collaborative approach to a unified speed limit for the entirety of North Decatur Rd. Also, a round-about is already in place on North Decatur on the Emory campus. Perhaps, further study can be done to see if this would be a viable option in this intersection.
15) Shirley Baylis, downtown program manager in the city’s Department of Community and Economic Developmenthas said there has been a “significant increase in the number of homeless people in the downtown area and on the square. Businesses have started having more issues with people panhandling or harassing their customers and, in some cases, threatening their employees.” What can be done to address these concerns while still showing compassion for people who are homeless?
There has been a discussion with our church community, the business community and the city about delivery of services to the transient population. The amended hours of operation at the church facility has started to yield results and police and city staff will continue monitor the situation.
16) Marijuana possession has been decriminalized in neighboring cities, including Clarkston and the city of Atlanta. Do you support decriminalizing marijuana possession in the city of Decatur?
If the police department brings this initiative forward, I would look to have a healthy conversation with my constituents to see if this warrants new policy. It is still a crime at the state level and that has not been addressed by the general assembly.
17) What is your opinion of the city of Decatur’s current budget? Are the any areas of the budget that you think need to receive more funding? Are there any expenses in the budget that you think should be reduced or eliminated?
The City of Decatur’s budget is created through a collaborative effort. It is vision based and ties principles from the strategic plan as drivers. There are multiple public input sessions and meetings before it is formally adopted. If there are areas that needed to be adjusted, the public arena is where it would happen.
18) Recently, the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce has suggested that the city change the name of Commerce Drive. The road was once called Oliver Street in honor of a notable black entrepreneur, Henry Oliver. In 1984, the Chamber of Commerce convinced the city to rename the street to Commerce Drive. Now the Chamber’s president is recommending the city change the name of Commerce Drive back to its original name to recognize Henry Oliver’s contributions to the city. What is your opinion about changing the name of Commerce Drive back to Oliver Street?
I think there are numerous ways to recognize Mr. Oliver’s legacy to Decatur that could be implemented without seeking approval from multiple jurisdictions. Commerce Drive is controlled by GDOT, Dekalb County, and the City of Decatur. I support any efforts to honor his legacy.
19) Are you satisfied with the current plan for developing and maintaining Legacy Park, formerly known as the United Methodist Children’s Home? If not, what would you change about it?
The Legacy Park Master plan was created with hundreds of hours of public input. This framework will provide a guideline for the planning process, civic engagement and budgeting moving forward. I support what we have created thus far and would seek similar public input should change be necessary or additional opportunities present themselves.
20) Do you support annexing additional areas into the city of Decatur? If so, what areas should be annexed?
The City Commissioners and the City Schools of Decatur Board have collaborated on a tool to evaluate annexation scenarios. The city does not have a current plan for future annexation. The county as well as all cities in the county have commissioned the Carl Vinson Institute to deliver a report by year end to evaluate what municipalization of the entire county could look like.
21) What do you think of the city’s efforts to make its streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, like cycle tracks on city streets? Do you think the city needs to invest in more projects to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety?
The City has taken some significant steps to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety. The 19/20 Budget included a phased build/improvement of over $2 million for sidewalks. More dedicated lanes in the City’s bike infrastructure are under construction. At a work session earlier this year, we had a presentation from Vision Zero. The aim of this multi-national road safety project is to achieve no fatalities or serious injuries. I believe that this is a goal worthy of community discussion and potential policy decisions.
22) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
I will continue to perform my duties ethically and transparently if re-elected.
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.