Candidate Q&A – Phillip Wiedower, Decatur City Commission, District 2, Post B
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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 Phillip Wiedower, a candidate for the Decatur City Commission, District 2, Post B seat.
1) Why are you running for Decatur City Commission?
I chose to enter the race because I believe I am uniquely qualified to represent our district on the City Commission for the next four years. My involvement with the community goes back nearly 15 years when my wife Tabitha began teaching at Glennwood Academy as a 5th-grade teacher. While our kids were attending College Heights, I served as PTA President and the Safe Routes to school champion. After moving to Decatur, I wanted to become more involved and therefore participated in Decatur 101 and the Citizens Police Academy. I continue to be an active member of CAPS, and I am currently serving on the Zoning Board of Appeals. Additionally, I have spent my entire professional career in customer-facing roles such as Business Analyst, Account Manager, and currently, lead the Project Management Office (PMO) for my company. In every role, it is incumbent that I listen to my client’s needs and determine the best way to help them achieve their goals. This is the same approach I will take as City Commissioner by listening to the community as the city faces new challenges in the future.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponent?
My years of service in the community provided me with a variety of experiences in the schools and city, have prepared me to take on the responsibilities of City Commissioner. I became involved with our schools before becoming a resident. Since moving to Decatur, I have a proven history of becoming increasingly more engaged with the community. As an active member of the Citizens Assisting Public Service and the Zoning Board of Appeals, I have opportunities to go outside of my neighborhood and understand the challenges around the city. In my professional life, I am challenged not just to solve the issues my clients face today; I am also expected to look to the future and anticipate the challenges to come. As Commissioner, I will not only use the lessons I have learned from my career and my work in the community to address the issues our city faces today; I will fight to ensure we are looking at solutions to address our needs 15 to 20 years from now.
3) What do you think is Decatur’s greatest strength?
Without a doubt, it is the people in our community. The challenges we face today in our community are complex, and often, in direct opposition to one another. These complex issues are not easily solved. However, using the combined knowledge and experience of our residents, I am certain we will find solutions we can agree upon. Together we are stronger and smarter than individually.
4) What do you think is Decatur’s biggest challenge?
Decatur has continued to grow over the years, and there is no indication it is going to slow any time soon. The challenge is to balance growth while maintaining the things that make Decatur special. While it is important we work together to solve today’s issues; we need to be sure we are also looking ahead to solve the problems we may face in ten to twenty years.
5) How would you address Decatur’s biggest challenge?
The first step is to understand what the current residents of Decatur value most. Throughout my campaign, I encourage my neighbors to participate in the public sessions taking place next year used to shape the 2020 Strategic Plan to ensure their voices are heard about the issues they are most passionate about. As your next Commissioner, I will advocate and support changes that will promote the values of Decatur.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on as a commissioner?
I have had the opportunity to speak with countless residents during my campaign, and while everyone I encounter may have their ‘one thing’ that is important to them, many issues could fit under a larger category of growth. It is imperative we have a solid plan to manage the continued growth of our city, while still maintaining our culture and ‘small town’ atmosphere. We are a community that values walking and biking, and we need to ensure we are continuing to focus on ensuring the safety of our cyclists and pedestrians while we address the growing traffic concerns. Additionally, we need to control the rising cost of living and ensure we are working to provide affordable housing.
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 elected 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?
Having spent my entire professional career working with clients, I have found the most productive meetings take place when the client comes to my offices. This removes the daily distractions, which can occur and reduce the productivity of the meetings. I see the retreats very much the same way. By holding the meetings remotely, it allows the Commissioners and City staff to focus for two days on the planning needed. While I am sure, there are some residents who would attend some of the sessions during the retreat, in my interactions with the community, everyone understands the rationale behind holding them outside of the city. Those who are truly interested in attending these meetings will and do attend.
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?
I do not support the idea of requiring volunteers to file personal financial statements to serve on boards. In order to serve on the Decatur Development Authority, you must have a stake in a business operating in Decatur. Therefore, we already know they have a vested interest in the proposals they make. Ultimately, the DDA does not make the final decision as that is up to the Commissioners, who do file personal financial statements.
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 agree with the commissioners in that we don’t have enough information at this point to make an informed decision to support or oppose this idea. There is no doubt the cost of living has dramatically increased over the last ten years. This has caused us to fall victim to the ‘missing middle’ when it comes to housing. If the research showed providing affordable housing at Legacy Park, operated by the city, could help provide more affordable housing, then I would be open to supporting the idea.
10) If you are elected 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?
I think Mayor Garrett has done a great job representing the City of Decatur and I would support her to continue in that role.
11) What is your opinion of the city of Decatur’s current tree ordinance and what changes would you make to it, if any?
Preserving Decatur’s tree canopy is another critical issue I strongly support. With input from the Environmental Sustainability Board, Industry and City professionals, and community groups, there are proposed changes to strengthen the current ordinance. I believe these recommendations should be adopted to help ensure we are doing everything we can to protect our trees.
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?
I do not believe the availability of parking is the issue but rather the lack of awareness of the parking options available. We currently have 2,200 parking spaces available downtown, but most options do not have adequate signage indicating public parking. The city has taken some great steps with the recent update to the website by adding a link to parking information on the main page. However, I believe we can do more by increasing the number of signs directing people to the parking options available in downtown.
13) What is your opinion about the planters on West Howard Avenue?
The planters came into play as a ‘quick’ solution to a growing safety concern by our residents for pedestrians and cyclists along West Howard. The project provided additional Safe Routes to School options and was well-intentioned. Rather than delaying a solution for funds to become available, the city chose to move forward with a cheaper option with more immediate results. Do I think we could have selected a more attractive option? Absolutely! This is the entry point to our city for anyone coming in from the West.
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?
North Decatur Road is a county road, so the city isn’t able to address this issue alone, and we should be working closely with Dekalb County to ensure this intersection, as well as the entire North Decatur Road corridor, is addressed. Additionally, we should also be pressing Dekalb County to improve the synchronization of the traffic lights throughout the city to help improve the flow of traffic.
15) Shirley Baylis, downtown program manager in the city’s Department of Community and Economic Development has 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?
I believe the officers of the Decatur Police Department are already well prepared to address this issue courteously and compassionately. The City of Decatur and the Decatur Police Department value continued training for their officers. They do not believe in meeting the minimum standards set forth by the Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training Council but exceeding them. As a member of CAPS, I had the opportunity to participate in Phil the Community Course overview of the Fair and Impartial Policing© course that all officers in our department have taken. They have additionally taken courses in Fostering Positive Community Relations and Autism and the Law Enforcement Response Training.
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?
Our Municipal Court has jurisdiction to resolve traffic offenses, DUI cases, and misdemeanor possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce (considered personal use amount) unless the defendant wants one of these types of charges bound over to State Court for a jury trial. Misdemeanor possession of marijuana is a criminal charge because it is still against state law in Georgia. Some jurisdictions have claimed to have “decriminalized” personal marijuana possession by issuing citations and flat-rate fines. That is misleading. When we arrest someone for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, and that is the only charge we have, and we are able to confirm the identity of the arrestee they are transported to the police department, fingerprinted and photographed and then released on a “copy of charges,” which means a citation. They still have a court date, and the arrest still goes on their criminal history. Decatur stopped booking people into the jail on misdemeanor possession of marijuana cases several years ago at the request of the Dekalb County jail, and that is how all of the other agency’s around the county are handling such cases. Because the jail requested us to do so and that is how all of the other agencies in the county handle it.
17) What is your opinion of the city of Decatur’s current budget? Are there 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?
I think the City has done a great job of maintaining a sound budget over the years, ensuring all expenditures support the Strategic Plan. The creation of the 2020 Strategic Plan will guide the commission in future years to ensure we are spending money on the projects that support the Strategic Plan, which is a reflection of what residents of Decatur value most. As a result, I will only support funding of projects which continue to tie directly back to the 2020 Strategic plan.
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?
This is not something I have a strong opinion about one way or another. I am open to changing the name of Commerce Drive to its original name of Oliver Street and would consider all input from Decatur residents and business owners about this matter.
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?
I do not have any issues with the current plans for Legacy Park. The addition of these 77 acres provides another gathering place for our residents to enjoy providing recreational activities while preserving greenspace. Additionally, the proposal includes approximately 70 affordable housing options. While it will be several years before all of the amenities are available, the community has already begun to benefit from Legacy Park hosting the BBQ and Blues festival, Truckin’ Tuesdays, and Decatur High School Cross Country meets.
20) Do you support annexing additional areas into the city of Decatur? If so, what areas should be annexed?
One of the challenges we have as a city is the largest portion of our revenue comes from our property taxes rather than the business taxes are seen in most other cities. Since Decatur is only 4.4 square miles, and most of it is residential, it is difficult to generate additional revenue from business taxes substantially. Because of this imbalance in the tax digest, I am willing to consider plans for annexation, especially of commercial areas.
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?
One of the reasons I love Decatur is because we do not have to get in a car to enjoy the city, and I will continue to support projects providing safe opportunities to walk and bike throughout the city. Every school day, hundreds of children walk and roll to school, which is why I got involved with Safe Routes to School. I applaud the current Commissioners’ efforts to improve the safety for those who walk or bike in Decatur.
I recognize many of us still need to drive, and I believe we can find a balance between making our streets safe for walkers and cyclists while we keep traffic flowing through our city.
22) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
We have to trust our elected officials are working in the best interest of our community rather than self-interests. Full transparency is why I chose to form a committee for my campaign. By doing this, I am required to provide regular fundraising reports listing who has contributed to my campaign. As your next Commissioner, I will always work in the best interest of our community ethically and transparently.
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.