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VOTE411 Voter Guide

Decatur, City Commissioner - District 1, Post A

The councilmember proposes bills, holds votes, and passes laws to help govern the city.
CHOOSE TWO CANDIDATES FROM BELOW TO COMPARE
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    Betty Blondeau retired

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    Melissa Manrow attorney

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    Tim Martin Financial Adviser

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    Kelly Walsh Realtor

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Biographical Information

What experience do you bring to the job to set policy for your city and what is your motivation to serve?

What, in your opinion, is the biggest budget issue facing your city and how, if elected would you propose to address it?

How should your city address the issues of lobbyist gifts, ethical behavior, and transparency in government?

Legal Permanent Residents and naturalized citizens contribute over a billion dollars in state and local taxes each year. How will you help ensure your city is a welcoming place for foreign born entrepreneurs and their families?

Cities across the country are embracing aggressive goals to reduce carbon pollution. What do you believe your municipality should do to support cleaner air?

Campaign Phone (404) 373-6574
I have been a professional fundraiser in the arts with the Alliance Theatre and Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre Company working effectively with corporate and volunteer boards, government and foundation funders. Also as a volunteer I have worked for greenspace funding for Woodlands Garden as well as historical restoration with the Mary Gay House. In my work over the years as a citizen activist in Decatur and DeKalb County I have gained experience in the areas of planning, development, and zoning, areas that affect the quality of life for all of us. I have worked with the Citizens Task Force in updating the county Zoning Code and with Good Growth DeKalb in making development better for neighborhoods and communities. In addition, I have worked with the DeKalb legislative delegation on issues of transparency, ethics, annexation, and procurement. This experience will enable me to ask hard questions and seek bold answers in these critical areas. In addition,  this experience has made me aware of how important it is to have  citizen input as these decisions are made, and I will work to ensure that this input goes into those decisions. 
The City of Decatur has maintained good control of budget issue with a high rating on every level. However, we must continue to watch the budget carefully to assure that this remains the case as the city grows. Because of the enormous growth of the school system, there must be close attention paid to providing what is realistic to meet those needs. We must also try to increase the commercial portion of the budget which is currently only 15%.

Going forward the city must be vigilant and transparent about the relationship between businesses owned by elected officials. Any conflict of interest must be avoided where possible. We must avoid spending money at businesses owned by those elected officials or allowing an elected official to benefit from a contract with developers or realtors. A desire for increased transparency and avoiding any conflict of interest has brought me into the race. I want to be sure that citizens know about upcoming issues before the issues are resolved and that they have needed information to be part of finding solutions.
Decatur is a welcoming city. We must continue to support these foreign born entrepreneurs and their families who bring such richness and diversity to our city.
Other cities have used the following methods to reduce carbon pollutions. Decatur can study these methods and apply them. 1. Use Smart Meters. 2. Develop better public transportation. 3. Optimize buildings. 4. Harness solar energy.
Campaign Phone (404) 500-6178
My motivation to serve comes from my love of Decatur and my deep roots in the Decatur community. My mother lives here, my career has been here, and I’ve spent countless hours over the last two decades giving my time and energy to this city. We have a warm, welcoming community and its my privilege to work on keeping that warmth and welcome. I have more than 15 years of service to Decatur residents: • I’ve served on the Decatur Planning Commission since 2010 and have been involved in the updating and implementation of the City’s Unified Development Ordinance. • I served on the Decatur Infill Task Force in 2005 and on the Decatur Heights Neighborhood Association executive committee from 2004-2008, advising the City Commission on best practices for allowing new homes to be built while still protecting neighborhoods. I wrote and presented the Decatur Heights Neighborhood Association plan to the City Commission, requesting that any new development within Decatur Heights not exceed existing housing density. • I am a graduate of Leadership DeKalb, class of 2002. • I have also served as co-chair of Healthy DeKalb, a health improvement initiative begun by the DeKalb Board of Health and on the DeKalb Advisory Board of United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta. • I’ve just retired as Director of Accreditation and Inmate Services for the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office where I worked with numerous intergovernmental agencies since 2001.
We have more than $180 million dollars in indebtedness, and while much of that debt is for very worthy causes like our schools and for the purchase of the United Methodist Children’s Home property, we still must pay close attention to the costs of servicing that debt. I propose continued close monitoring, along with cautious examination of any future additional indebtedness.
Decatur has an ethics committee, an ethics ordinance, uses TransparencyPro for candidate/elected official financial and contribution disclosures, and requires that any applicant for planning or zoning matters disclose any contributions to city officials. Beyond that, I have taken the Pro-Truth Pledge, committing to earnest efforts to share truth, honor truth, and encourage truth in all my dealings as a candidate and elected official. I urge my fellow candidates to also take the Pro-Truth Pledge.
Metro Atlanta has provided welcome for many refugees and immigrants, and Decatur in particular puts out the welcome mat through programs operated by Holy Trinity Parish, Decatur Cooperative Ministries, and the Global Village Project, to name just a few. I strongly support all of these efforts as yet more proof that our community is stronger and better when we embrace those who want to join us, and offer them that opportunity to live the American Dream.
One of the best qualities of our community is our tree canopy. We enjoy their shade, their beauty, their changing colors over the seasons, and most of all, the oxygen they give us. Our tree protection ordinance is a start, but could be strengthened in ways that ensure our trees will continue to shade us and reduce carbon pollution. Beyond our trees, Decatur already operates numerous low or zero emission city vehicles, renovates city buildings to Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) standards, and strives to be as efficient as possible in use of non-renewable resources. I believe we should closely examine and perhaps join the U.S. Conference of Mayors in committing to the Sierra Club’s standard of 100% renewable energy by 2035, as they voted unanimously in June of this year.

Campaign Phone (770) 934-7511
As the recent president of the Decatur Business Association, I have worked for many years with the city government of Decatur and know what it takes to get things done for our residents and businesses. My occupation as a financial adviser has allowed me to work with my clients's assets and help them reach their retirement and financial goals. It takes a lot of trust to help others make decisions that will affect them 10, 20 or 30 years down the road. I'll bring the same decision making skills as a commissioner with Decatur's tax dollars. I am a parent of two elementary age children and my wife is a teacher in the City Schools of Decatur. So I am motivated to make sure our city is just as wonderful in the future as it is now. That will take someone that can harness the energy of good people to make a real difference.
We are facing two major challenges--unprecedented growth in our city as well as dwindling diversity among our citizens. We need to focus on lower cost housing for city and school employees to establish some workforce housing options for those that want to live here. Right now (from a regulatory standpoint) it remains more difficult to build smaller homes in a neighborhood than to build larger homes, even though we say we would like to see more small homes at middle class prices in Decatur. Continuing to examine instances where we’re inadvertently preventing the things we say we want, then adjusting our ordinances to rectify, will be a focus.
At a time when many of us are disheartened by lack of transparency and lack of ethical decision-making at higher levels of government, it's important for us to take corrective action at the local level. Ethical decision-making starts with a strong sense of personal ethics and is informed by many decisions made over time. As a manager of other people's finances, I've used my industry's legal and ethical obligations as a starting point and built upon that solid foundation. I'll bring those transparent ethical practices to city government and will reject lobbyist gifts and comply with all ethics reporting requirements.
Decatur is a diverse and welcoming city. As a city commissioner, I'll work to make sure this also holds true for those born outside the US and their families. I value their contribution and will build upon my long-time work with the Decatur Business Association to ensure that a welcoming business climate, affordable housing, strong collaboration between the city and our public school system, and safe pedestrian infrastructure create an attractive climate to those born outside the US and their families.
Carbon pollution and the legacy we're leaving our children and grandchildren have been on everyone's mind this week as the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan. By creating safer pedestrian infrastructure, particularly on dangerous corridors like Scott Blvd., we encourage those who want and can walk and roll to do so, cutting down on carbon emissions within Decatur and lifting our spirits and heart rates in the process.
Campaign Phone (404) 788-4248
I bring a well-rounded skill set of both private and non-profit sector experience. In both arenas I have used strategic planning as a discipline and an approach to getting successful outcomes. I have a degree in international affairs from Georgetown University and an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management. Over the years I’ve had the chance to serve on and to lead multiple non-profit boards. In the City of Decatur I have served on the Active Living Citizens Advisory Board for the past 5 years. I have been a steering committee member on our city’s 10-year Comprehensive Plan update and a PTA president for three years. I am a member of the Decatur Business Association, in the current Leadership DeKalb class of 2018, and was named a Hometown Hero in 2015 for my volunteer service to our city. My motivation to serve is that I want to bring these experiences and skills to bear in a leadership role as a city commissioner where I can be a steward and thoughtful guide for our growing and changing city. The next few years will set the tone for the next twenty and we need a team player who can build consensus, collaborate across interest groups, and demonstrate constructive and positive leadership. I believe in Decatur and in its potential to adapt to change while conserving its unique sense of place and our playful, enjoyable way of life.
Our biggest budget issue is one we’ve been challenged by for a very long time and that is the structural imbalance of our tax base which is heavily weighted toward revenues from residential property taxes. We need to find ways to improve the ratio and grow our commercial tax base for long term sustainability. There are many ways to do this and it starts with more robust and integrated economic development initiatives that attract mid-sized businesses that will utilize more office space in the downtown district. With proper planning we can grow commercial density that supports our downtown commercial corridor and complements the residential density currently being built out. When more people both live and work nearby we can then get them out of their cars and decrease traffic congestion which has been a mounting problem. We need comprehensive planning for the next decade with a view to being a more complete city that is easy to access, convenient to public transit, service-oriented, perceived to be safe and clean, vibrant and active, and diverse and sociable.
The City of Decatur is recognized as a best-in-class city, a progressive place to live with a municipal government that is flat, right-sized, extremely transparent, and effectively run. I believe we set an example for the other municipalities in our county as well as for the county government. Our city should continue to lead the way in illustrating leadership with integrity and high standards of ethics. No elected official or city employee should be influenced by gifts from lobbyists, nor should unethical behavior be tolerated in the least. As a current member of the Leadership DeKalb Class of 2018 I am learning first-hand about the evolving role of the county in setting an example of ethical behavior and will support the continued development of the DeKalb County Board of Ethics. We are reminded every day that democracy dies in darkness so it behooves all of us to shine a light on unethical behavior, leadership without integrity, and any lack of transparency by our elected leaders.
The City of Decatur prides itself on being a welcoming and inclusive city. It continues to set this example through the recent formation of a citizen's advisory board called Better Together. Our community also went down the path of creating a Better Together Community Action Plan for Equity, Inclusion, and Engagement that is a 60-point blueprint of actions for us to move forward on a range of topics such affordable housing, racially just community policing, offering a welcoming and inclusive retail environment to serve a diverse clientele, facilitating low-cost transportation options for people of all ages and abilities, and maximizing the use of our public spaces for the enrichment and well-being of all of our residents, workers, and visitors. This important community vehicle combined with the work being done by other local activist groups such as Hate Free Decatur and the Beacon Hill NAACP, as well as neighborhood alliances and many individuals gives me faith that we will continue to be a welcoming place for legal permanent residents, naturalized citizens and people of all walks of life, cultures, orientations and backgrounds.
Protecting our tree canopy is one of the most important ways we can do that as a municipality. The City of Decatur needs to set goals and craft a specific plan for doing that. We recently updated the city’s Unified Development Ordinance and improved the tree canopy conservation ordinance as one way to protect and grow our tree canopy. We still have work to do in that regard and I support another update to the tree ordinance to make it more effective and offer the best outcomes. A key priority of mine as a city commissioner is to protect and enhance our city’s biggest asset which is our walkability. A comprehensive plan to support multi-modes of transportation, traffic calming, and connectivity both between neighborhoods and regionally will get more people out of their cars for more trips more often. This is the best way to support cleaner air for our city and the entire metro Atlanta region.

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