ROSWELL, Ga. — The Roswell Women’s Club gave residents an opportunity Feb. 28 to learn more about the Post 4 candidates for City Council at its candidate forum. The seat is up for a special election March 21, after it was vacated when Kent Igleheart resigned following his arrest on child sex charges.
Lori Henry, Shelley Sears, Marie Willsey and Shawn Wright all answered questions submitted to them by the public. Appen Media Group’s Hatcher Hurd served as the moderator for the night.
What skills and ideas do you bring to the table?
Wright: One of the biggest things we need to look at is how can we make one Roswell? Instead of us just trying to force things down your throat, let’s take a look at what we can do. Take the City Council, for instance. What I would propose is having one person each represent East Roswell, Central Roswell and West Roswell and then have three at-large City Council members. Then, each area of Roswell can get fair representation.
Henry: I’ve served on Roswell City Council for eight years. Zoning and redevelopment are what I love. I feel like I can hit the ground running from day one. What we need in this city right now is to be proactive about bringing in business and courting corporations. We’re at a crossroads – at a tipping point – we all moved to Roswell for a reason, and high density is not one of them. We’ve got the live and play down pat, what we need is the work.
Willsey: What I bring is the ability to build relationships and work together for a solution we can all agree on. I would like to see more input from the public and from stakeholders for the revitalization of the Holcomb Bridge corridor and for the Planning and Zoning process. I also think it’s very important to build relationships with businesses and to attract them to Roswell, and to respect our staff, consultants and each other.
Sears: One of the things I’d like to bring is unity to our City Council and have everyone on the same page, whether it’s the East or West side. Part of Roswell has deteriorated, the corridor out of Holcomb Bridge, and that needs to be re-energized. I’m also a firm believer that we all need to be thinking about transportation. Since there’s no more land in Roswell, we got to do something about transportation, because building is going to continue to come.
Should the city be actively involved in soliciting reinvestment in Roswell and support new economic development here or should we be more on guard about new developments that bring density?
Henry: We need to be very proactive. That is what I’m proposing: to bring in the right kind of development that we want. What I believe is happening right now is that we are not bringing anyone to us, we are reacting to things that come to us.
If you bring in Class A office, that will bring in daytime visitors that are not a strain on our services, and they also support the existing retail.
Willsey: We have had three economic revitalization studies on the Holcomb Bridge corridor: in 2003, 2007 and 2012. We’re still looking at the same problems and trying to solve them. And we’re getting ready to do another one.
I would like to help lead this economic redevelopment study and make sure that what we find out by bringing stakeholders, the community and investors together is a plan that we can implement.
Sears: I want our city to get more involved. We need businessmen and women to step forward and say “I have an idea.” That’s where we grow. We don’t grow if we don’t talk to each other. You can’t expect seven people sitting up here to run the show and get your input. We need business, development and ideas. You’re the voters. It’s your tax dollars.
Wright: We’ve been talking and studying a lot in Roswell. The studies in 2003 and 2007, nothing came of them. The project has got to move forward, otherwise we spend another half a million or a million dollars on all these studies and we get nothing done. It’s time for action.
What ideas do you have for reinvigorating Roswell? Or, does Roswell really need reinvigorating?
Wright: I think that we are all in agreement that there are areas that need to be revitalized. I like to look at the different places in the city and see what is unique. We need to accentuate that. I would like to, at least once every month, go out to different areas of Roswell and talk to people, ask them what they would like to see.
Sears: We need work on the [east] side of Roswell, because we’ve got a lot of brown space over there – major commercial areas that are sitting vacant. When you start losing business like that, you have to take a deep look at yourself as a city. Canton Street is chic and new, but we’ve got to think about what’s going on the other side also. We need to be unified all the way across.
Willsey: A couple of things need to come together for that revitalization to happen. First of all, any new development has to be economically viable and attract the right kind of investor. It has to be sustainable long term. One of the most important aspects is what will the community allow? We really need to look long and hard about coming together for a plan to revitalize and stick to it.
Henry: To grow and prosper and thrive, a city has to reinvest in itself on a daily basis. What are the daily needs that the city has? We need to balance those very carefully. In the past, we’ve locked on to one item without thinking about the other issues. We need to reinvest in our parks, our commercial corridors and our historic district.
What should be the city’s role in promoting the arts? And what is the city’s role in promoting other quality-of-life features such as festivals and cultural events?
Willsey: The city should play a very active role in supporting the arts and in giving individuals and organizations an opportunity to support themselves. I’ve been very involved in the Roswell Arts Fund. There are also other great arts organizations in the city, and I think the city’s role is to help publicize and support them – to make it possible and create a thriving environment where the arts are welcome and celebrated. The arts are a great reflection of our culture, vitality and who we are in Roswell.
Sears: I love the arts, and it’s a personal passion of mine. As far as the city getting involved: there are two doors. If we’re talking about programs, that’s what the chamber is supposed to be doing in developing and bringing in the public. If it’s talking about asking taxpayers to build something to have festivals or adding more green space or whatever has to do with culture and the arts, that’s a case-by-case basis.
Wright: Arts are something that is very important to me and is vital to the city. What I would like to see is more privatization in bringing it in, such as the Oak Street development, which is a unique thing to Roswell. We need to find things like that and accentuate those, but do it in a free-market setting so that the taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill. I do believe that the government overall has somewhat of a role in funding the arts, but we have to look at a way to bring private investment in.
Henry: I’m an arty person, and there are a lot of ways to support the arts in Roswell. The Groveway master plan was one of them, where we could foster the arts from the ground up. I am very pro that approach. We want to be a destination. The arts play a very important role in what draw people to Roswell. Arts are a little like history: you either have it or you don’t. We’ve got it, and we really need to promote it through tourism and existing programs.
There’s been a lot of plans made and a lot of actions taken, but the City Green is still just a plan. Where do you stand with building the City Green?
Sears: I don’t know. I don’t know what the budget is, I don’t know what the plans are, I don’t know what the drawings are – I haven’t been privy to any of that. To make a decision and stand on it, you’ve got to do some homework on it, and see how much it’ll be cost. But, personally, I would love to see this area, all the way down Highway 9 to the river become walkable. That whole area needs vitalization and work on it.
Willsey: I think that we need to create a catalyst for more opportunity and development down Highway 9. The City Green and doing something there is a step in the right direction. Leaving it as is today would be a shame, because it’s not being utilized to its full potential. It’s an opportunity to link the city campus with the rest of downtown and spark economic development. It will bring people closer to their government center. It may bring some solutions to our parking needs without building a parking deck.
Henry: My fundamental belief on the City Green is that it’s misguided. The city has lost its way. It’s a very, very expensive project – I’m hearing $17 million. I think there are other areas of Roswell that need it much more than City Hall. The reason this project has ballooned so much is because people are not willing to park behind City Hall. We have many opportunities for public-private partnerships for a parking deck. City Hall is a beautiful campus, and I just don’t understand why we want to cut down the trees.
Wright: On this issue, I’m slightly torn, because I haven’t heard anyone really speak about the veterans who invested a lot in the memorial. I think there’s a way to work with it and come up with a compromise. We need to be very careful in moving something like the memorial, and if we do something like that, we have to work on enhancing it in order to honor our veterans. I know that we need something here to connect to Canton Street, but I’m not sure if the City Green as it is now is the viable solution.
Some people call this council dysfunctional, in that there seems to be cliques and mistrust among councilmembers of one another. If you were elected, how would you deal with coming into that sort of situation?
Sears: I’d come in first with the feeling that they trust me and I trust them. I’d work for unity. Debate is always good as long as you all come to a good conclusion – it has to be for our voters and not what we personally have as an agenda. I think I’m a person that can unite everyone together to make great decisions and move on quickly – pass things, build things, make Roswell greater, stronger.
Wright: I have experience in the business world, with people from different backgrounds, nationalities and religions. What I’ve learned is that you’ve got to first seek to understand, before you’re understood. Once you do that, you start establishing a relationship so that you can find common ground. Because at the end of the day, people don’t care so much about what you know until they know what is in your heart. I’ve learned how to be a bridge and still stay strong.
Henry: Debate and conversation is part of the democratic process. If we don’t have that, we don’t have a democracy. The important thing for everyone is to respect each other’s opinion and respect their truth. We all come to this table with a different perspective. It’s very important to respect these different perspectives, respect people’s opinions on things and try to find the consensus in it all.
Willsey: I think one of the first things might be to do a fun ice breaker activity like one of those escape rooms. You can’t do it without teamwork, without working together, and having fun and laughing together. What’s very important in any team is the key work of “respect,” to respect each other’s perspectives and backgrounds and goals. We need to create an environment where people are willing to compromise and listen. We’re all here for the same purpose: to make Roswell the very best city that it can be.
To hear the full forum, including questions about the City Green, East Roswell, workforce housing and the arts, visit youtube.com/watch?v=ka9WdD_UcrM.