Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul will run for re-election this fall, citing a desire to finish some major projects and launch a new quest to get better control of the city’s Atlanta-operated water system.
At a quiet announcement at the city’s Lost Corner Preserve park on July 31, Paul – who turned 65 this year — said he expects his quest for a second mayoral term to be his last run for any office. And a year ago, he added, he almost decided not run again due to the “coarse political environment” of the President Trump era.
“I will be running for re-election in November, and this likely will be my last campaign,” said Paul to a handful of reporters while sitting in the living room of Lost Corner’s cottage. He arrived by himself, without any entourage or campaign materials, chatting with community gardeners on the way in and checking the park’s beehives, which he maintains as a hobby, on his way out.
Paul, who has no announced competition for the mayor’s seat, said he hopes voters will let him finish such major projects as the City Springs civic center, the city’s new zoning code and a county-wide mass transit plan. After that, he said, “then I’ll ride off into the sunset and play with my grandkids and work on my farm and play with my bees.”
Paul was elected as Sandy Springs’ second mayor in 2013, filling the big shoes of the late Eva Galambos, who was a driving force of the city’s landmark incorporation in 2005. His long political career includes stints as a Georgia state senator, chair of the state Republican Party, and an assistant secretary in the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. In his day job, he works as a Gold Dome lobbyist and political communications consultant.
Following through on major projects
Paul’s term as mayor has been marked by huge construction and planning efforts, often on ambitious timelines that he requested. Perhaps the biggest is City Springs, the public-private civic center under construction on Roswell Road, which will combine a new City Hall with a performing arts center, parks, housing, commercial space and more.
One of Paul’s early commands to City Manager John McDonough was to get City Springs built and open by the end of this year. That won’t happen, but construction has been speedy, with an opening expected next summer. Paul said he would like to see that project through.
Another major effort has been the two-year process of writing a new Comprehensive Land-Use Plan and a new zoning code. That effort is expected to conclude Aug. 15 with a City Council vote to adopt the code. However, Paul indicated he would like to supervise the code’s early use.
“I’ve said I’ll veto any land-use decisions that are at odds with the land-use plan we’ve implemented,” unless an authentic mistake or oversight is found, he said.
Paul also wants to continue his work on transportation projects and planning. New roads and trails are coming under a transportation special local option sales tax that he heavily promoted and which voters approved last year. Paul is also a prominent advocate of metro Atlanta mass transit expansion. With new momentum in the county and the state for regional transit, Paul said he believes his “background and expertise” will be valuable in putting together a plan.
New focus on water system
Paul’s new policy focus is on an old problem: local dissatisfaction with the water system’s maintenance and billing rates. The system was built decades ago by the city of Atlanta and is still run by its Department of Watershed Management.
Paul said Atlanta has the country’s highest water rates, and that Sandy Springs pays an additional 20 percent to use the service. Among the maintenance issues are broken fire hydrants and leaks that continue for months.
“That’s unacceptable. You’re putting people’s lives in danger,” he said of the fire hydrants, and noted that water is “leaking like crazy all over this town” despite being a valuable natural resource.
“I’d like to get more control over the water system in Sandy Springs,” Paul said, explaining that he means either a better deal for local citizens or total local control of the system.
Atlanta will elect a new mayor this fall, which means “at least an opportunity to change the way the water system is managed here,” Paul said. And if politics doesn’t work, Paul repeated comments he made at a recent local forum that Sandy Springs might sue Atlanta.
“If we can’t work out something, I’m not adverse to getting the courts involved and seeing if we can take total control of our system,” he said.
Paul said that the political climate of personal attacks via social media brought him close to not running for re-election and is making it hard to “recruit” candidates for the City Council.
“If I’d made this decision 12 months ago, I would not have run,” Paul said. “A year ago, I was this close to saying, ‘Nah, I don’t want to do this again.’”
That was a time when city officials were criticized for traffic congestion, especially due to street closures around the City Springs project. Paul said that nasty comments people once would “say over the fence to the neighbor … now they put it on Facebook,” and some of it got to him.
“I didn’t get involved to go out and get my personality crucified,” he recalled thinking, adding he knows political heat is part of public life. “But even my calloused hide was feeling the wear and tear of constant criticism.”
“The civic discourse has gotten harsher… And this was pre-Trump,” Paul added. “I think Trump is not a creator of the environment. I think he’s a reflection of the coarse political environment we’re all part of.”
However, the mayor said, local voters have been “kind” to him and he believes the City Council is an especially good one. Those factors and his desire to see projects through changed his mind.
“I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every moment of it, [but] I’ve got some things I’d like to finish,” Paul said.“… I really am excited now after that brief [period] feeling sorry for myself a year ago.”