I recently received an email from a Doraville resident who had a number of concerns related to transparency and accountability in city government. I had not planned on publicly posting my response to that resident, but because I believe that a modified version of the note may have been forwarded to some folks, I want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to read the entire thing if they are interested.
My response gives you an idea of what -in my judgment – are the most important things the city needs to be focusing on. I am always open to feedback. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 678-373-9137.
Here’s the unedited note:
I appreciate the email.
First off, since most of these questions were originally written for the candidate forum, I encourage you to view the video from the event (the one Tim put online is here: https://youtu.be/iXG-i_N2b0k). I already answered some of the questions you sent at that time – none of my answers have changed.
I ran on being someone who could work with any of the other council members – I said that consistently during the campaign. I’m still working on building bridges with everyone on the council. As one of 7 people on the dais, I can’t “demand” or “require” that my peers do anything. In fact, that’s the fastest way to not get my agenda accomplished.
If Georgia and Federal law allows a member of council to vote on an issue, then I definitely can’t demand that they not vote. From my discussions with the city attorney and the attorneys at Georgia Municipal Association, a campaign contribution does not constitute a conflict of interest.
On irresponsible landlords – I have been working many angles to try to focus on this problem. We’re limited in what we can do by state law – the state prohibits us from creating a rental registry or requiring business licenses for people who rent homes out. The city is working with the county to conduct an audit of homestead exemption to ensure that no one is improperly claiming an exemption. If we find anyone who is, we can target them for further examination. I think now that we have a fully staffed code enforcement team, we also should see some better results on that end as well.
Regarding the city manager – this is the most critical position in the city. We did not have anyone permanently in this role when I was elected, and it was obvious that the city was suffering because of it. We quickly hired Regina Gates, whose experience as city manager of San Jose, California and Norfolk, Virginia we are lucky to benefit from. The council set a regular review process to evaluate her performance at the time we negotiated her contract. I also have bi-weekly meetings with her where I get updated on what is staff is working on and am able to ask questions and make suggestions about our operations.
On transparency, I agree with you. A lot of the ideas you have listed are good ones. I want to see a lot more transparency from the city on a number of issues. I want to have more commissions/committees made up of members of the public. I want to see our website and electronic communications get better. That said, I think we need to focus on first things first: the city was handed to this council without a city manager, without a city clerk, without a parks director, public works director or a finance director. We also did not have a contract for code enforcement. These positions are critical for the operation of the city’s basic functions – let alone improving processes or helping enable citizen committees. In the first three months I’ve been on council, we have hired a city manager and agreed to a contract for code enforcement. We’re close on a city clerk. All the other positions are still open. I think we probably need to create some new positions that are specifically in charge of marketing and our website, but there will be some challenges in finding the money to pay for them in our budget. This is going to be a longer process than if the city had been running on all cylinders when I was elected. In this competitive job market, we do not have the luxury of demanding that key staff live in Doraville – particularly if we want to get the best people possible.
You and I may not agree on what issues are most important to focus on first, or what the best tactics for moving the city forward are – but I think we do agree that we want to see Doraville be a better run city that is more accessible to its residents. The voters elected me to use my judgement on the best ways to move us in that direction, and I assure you that I am working hard to do that.