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Decatur Mayor, BOE Chair describe a resilient community during 2021 State of the City speech

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Decatur Mayor, BOE Chair describe a resilient community during 2021 State of the City speech

Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett delivers the State of the City speech on Feb. 5, 2019. File Photo by Sara Amis
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Decatur, GA — Mayor Patti Garrett delivered the 2021 State of the City address to a Zoom audience of 115 participants at the Decatur Business Association meeting on Jan. 26.

The speech is usually held in-person at the Marriott downtown, but was held virtually this year due to the ongoing pandemic. They focused on accomplishments the city made during the pandemic.

Decatur Business Association President Daryl Funn, who often goes by Mr. Funn, served as virtual emcee for the event. 

City Manager Andrea Arnold presented the 2021 Thomas O. Davis award to Bryan Downs.

Arnold highlighted how Downs defended the city against Lt. Governor Casey Cagle’s “sanctuary city” complaint and helped disband the Immigration Enforcement Review Board. In 2019, Bryan Downs also assisted in the Decatur City Commission passing the Non-Discrimination Ordinance. Downs has also helped draft emergency orders and other resolutions during the COVID-19 pandemic, including Decatur’s mask ordinance, and the loan and grant program for small businesses, which Arnold described as a “financial lifeline.”

City Attorney Bryan Downs File Photo by Mariann Martin

Mayor Garrett also acknowledged employees who have been serving the city for 15 to 30 years, including Sgt. Eric Jackson, Police Sergeant in the patrol division; Claire Miller, Director of Children and Youth Services; Lee Ann Harvey, volunteer coordinator; Police Chief Mike Booker, for his 30 years of service, and David Junger, Director and Assistant City Manager in the Public Works Department, for his thirty years of service. 

Tasha White, the new chair of the City Schools of Decatur Board of Education, spoke on the state of the school district. White began by asking participants to observe a moment of silence to honor the lives lost to COVID. She also thanked her CSD colleagues, including Superintendent Dr. Dude.

White stated that she feels the city and school district work well together, especially the City Commission and the school board. She highlighted the school property age-based tax exemptions, and thanked the city for their continued efforts to limit the spread of COVID through efforts such as the mask mandate.

She also noted the care the city has taken towards safety-related issues, recreation and enrichment for students, safe routes to school, crossing guards, and use of city parks.

“We are a school board that’s grateful for Dr. Dude and grateful for his team, in particular the school board’s equity work,” said White. She added that “conversations about race where open and honest discussion is encouraged.” 

White highlighted the work that Decatur High School students have done on the Commemorating King project petitioning for a historical marker, and announced that the Georgia Historical Society will install the historical marker on March 27. White also announced that the school district’s Code of Conduct handbook now includes language regarding hate speech.

“As many of you know on Jan.19th, we safely welcomed some Pre-K through 5th grade students and 130 teachers and staff back to the school buildings,” said White. “I want to acknowledge all of our teachers and staff. They really are the true heroes.”

“Our virtual learning had been successful beyond what anyone could envision, and we re-worked the school environment within a few months. … COVID has forced us to sharpen our technology skills and while the pandemic has been in no way equitable, it has helped us focus on equity,” White said. “Even with the budget cuts we have experienced from the state, we do not have to institute any furloughs or layoffs, and we were able to institute a living wage in the FY 21 budget. We were able to offer a pay increase for many of our CSD staff members who needed it the most … We hope that legislators will provide more help.”

White said that CSD has hired 53 new employees including school nurse aides and substitute teachers.

She also highlighted CSD’s mobile library program, and the USDA free lunch program that has been running since August.

“Every student or child in the city of Decatur who wants a meal has received a meal and will continue to receive free breakfast or lunch at no charge through school year,” said White.

Improvements to school buildings to prevent the spread of coronavirus include:

-Global cold air purifiers/HVAC systems

-Hand sanitizers, disinfectant sprays, paper towels, disposable masks available in every classroom

-scheduled daily circulation of water 

-increased outside air through HVAC systems

-UV lights for sanitization in classrooms

-School public health signage

 “We need to let our state legislators know that schools need to be fully funded, and another piece of that, I think, is we need to advocate for teachers receiving the COVID vaccine as soon as possible,” said Mayor Garrett.

Mayor Garrett’s speech acknowledged the accomplishments Decatur has made as a community, even during the pandemic.

“When COVID hit, Decatur was one of the few cities who had a pandemic response plan already drafted,” said Mayor Garrett. She noted the city’s accomplishments in establishing the mask mandate, the Decatur United Small Business Recovery Fund, and the nonprofit grant program.

Additional assistance for local businesses has included Fab Friday, COVID-safe outdoor dining options, and the temporary open container ordinance.

“Not only did 2020 bring a public health crisis, but the pandemic of systemic racism was exposed through the deaths of George Floyd and others,” said Mayor Garrett. She highlighted Decatur’s peaceful protests and removal of the Confederate monument from the Square, as well as the MARTA Artbound project, the Black Lives Matter mural along North McDonough Street (organized in part by Commissioner Lesa Mayer), the work of the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, the Anti-Racism Speaker Series, and the establishment of the John Lewis Commemorative Task Force. 

Mayor Garrett also noted that throughout 2020, the city of Decatur began work on the strategic plan through Decatur2030.com.

Using funding saved by bond refinancing, the City of Decatur was able to purchase the Samuel L. Jones Boys and Girls Club.

The city’s inclusionary housing ordinance was introduced, the first Affordable Housing intern was hired, and efforts were taken to bring additional affordable housing units to Decatur and preserve those units that are already here.

“2021 finally arrived and I think we gladly turned the page. But even though we’ve turned the corner — it’s been described as a wide corner — we know that a change in the calendar did not result in a change in the pandemic or our other efforts to make meaningful progress,” said Mayor Garrett.

Mayor Garrett urged Decatur residents to participate in the Decatur 2030 strategic planning process. For information on how to attend, click here

Mayor Garrett noted that Decatur received a clean audit, the city continues to be financially secure, and budgets were adjusted in anticipation of the impacts of the pandemic, while avoiding salary cuts to full-time employees. 

The City Commission met virtually for its annual retreat and developed a work plan, which is on the city’s website. 

Upcoming changes on the work plan include:

– A revised, updated tree ordinance

– First phase of multi-use trail along South Columbia

– Discussion of the Atlanta Avenue railroad crossing

– Development and adoption of clean energy plan

– Invasive plant removal will began at Legacy Park, as well as continued activation of spaces

– Further discussion of affordable housing 

– Implementation of the stormwater master plan, fees will be set

– Ebster field upgrades and consideration of lighting for the field

Mayor Garrett said it is her honor and privilege to serve as Mayor of Decatur, and she looks forward to the day when meetings can take place in-person again. She encouraged residents to stay safe and healthy by washing their hands, watching their distance, and wearing a mask, and noted that although we are all tired of hearing that advice, it is more important than ever. She also encouraged those eligible to get a vaccine, and said that receiving her dose of the vaccine “truly felt like a gift.” 

“I know that 2020 was at times frustrating, challenging, and difficult, but I encourage you to look back and be proud of the accomplishments of your city, your city commission, and to look forward with us to 2021. There is a sense of urgency as we move forward together this year, so thank you for being here, and thanks to my fellow commissioners for being here this evening,” said Mayor Garrett.

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