In order for the residents and voters in Sandy Springs City Council District 1 to have a better understanding of the four candidates in the Nov. 6 Special Election, the Sandy Springs Reporter asked each candidate to respond to three questions.
The following are the responses of the four candidates—Elizabeth Huffner, Doug MacGinnitie, Mark D. Thomas and Vicki Willard—to these questions.
Each question is accompanied by the answers from each candidate presented in the alphabetical order of the last names of the candidates.
Q. What do you think is the major issue facing the city that can be readily dealt with by city council?
Elizabeth Huffner: The major issue facing the city is achieving healthy growth and development without overburdening existing infrastructure, all the while maintaining quality of life and protecting the neighborhoods. Sandy Springs was created so we could have total control over zoning, development and code enforcement. It is city council’s duty and obligation to the citizens to ensure that all of these are delivered responsibly and effectively, and all are entirely within council’s control.
Doug MacGinnitie: The city council needs to have a firm grasp of the cost of running Sandy Springs. In the last year, new and unforeseen costs related to infrastructure, storm water, bridges and other services have surfaced. The city also has capital plans (police and fire stations, court house, city hall) that will cost approximately $75 million. I will use my business background to make sure we fully investigate, understand and prioritize our financial wants and needs.
Mark D. Thomas: Streamlining the Community Development Department processes associated with permitting, code enforcement and zoning activities that inhibit the smart growth essential for effective long-term city planning. Placing significant emphasis on responsive customer care and open public discourse that must precede any policy implementation. Thoroughly optimizing the city staff’s expertise and resources to provide residents and decision makers the best possible solutions for the greater good of all Sandy Springs’ citizens.
Vicki Willard: As with any city, the major issue, especially here is zoning. It is also almost always one of the most emotional issues, because you are dealing directly with where people live, want to put their business or invest their money. Another issue we will deal with is our public safety. Our residents have a great police and fire department, and I want to make sure they have everything they need to keep us safe.
Q. What do you think is the major concern among residents in District 1 and what would you do about it?
Elizabeth Huffner: As I speak with residents of District 1, I hear that homeowners are concerned about intrusive and high density development. They are worried that the city is not weighing the concerns of the neighborhoods as heavily as it should and fear the homeowners’ voices are getting lost amid the chorus of developers. If I am elected I pledge to be the voice of all the neighborhoods, not just those of District 1.
Doug MacGinnitie: There are two initial things we can do to dramatically improve the livability of our District. First, we need to fix the worst intersections in District 1. In my opinion, the worst is the Roberts, Spalding and Dunwoody Club Drive intersection. Second, we need to put sidewalks along the main arteries. A more pedestrian friendly community would greatly enhance the quality of life for our residents.
Mark D. Thomas: Protecting residents and the economic value of District 1. Ensuring that Police, Fire, and Emergency Medical first responders are properly staffed, trained and equipped to meet the needs as defined by District 1 demographics and geography. Ensuring the emphasis that is placed on public safety and medical services is evident in the City’s efforts to protect the economic value of our neighborhoods by championing resident concerns about property tax assessments and infrastructure improvements.
Vicki Willard: Obviously, the most important concern is to keep our neighborhoods protected. The residential quality of life and the good schools are why most of us moved here to begin with. As a councilperson, I can work to follow the land use plan and partner with our neighborhood associations to encourage proper, high quality residential construction.
Q. If elected, what will you make your personal primary focus in terms of a city initiative?
Elizabeth Huffner: I would like to find a way to give the neighborhoods more say in planning and zoning. The city of Atlanta has Neighborhood Planning Units which are citizen advisory councils that make recommendations to the mayor and city council on zoning, planning and land use. A similar program in Sandy Springs would allow for a community partnership in which citizens can initiate ideas as well as be sounding boards for the city’s plans.
Doug MacGinnitie: It’s important to me that the residents of Sandy Springs feel that our city government is professional, predictable and accountable. To accomplish this, we must finalize the proposed Comprehensive Plan to provide the blueprint for future development in our city. We must also nail down the cost of running our city (see above). We can then focus on long-term issues that only the council can deal with, e.g., traffic, water and infrastructure needs.
Mark D. Thomas: Public Safety initiatives and enhancements for District 1 residents, to include:
• Codifying first responder mutual support relationships with adjacent jurisdictions that are geographically better suited to respond to a 911 emergency in the panhandle and the addition of a City fast response capability.
• Creating sidewalks and bicycle lanes for enhanced pedestrian and non-motorized vehicle trafficability and safety.
• Advocating for support to the city of Sandy Springs non-profit organizations that support public safety and awareness programs.
Vicki Willard: I want to carry on the initiative to partner with the school system to allow Sandy Springs residents access to the green space, parks and recreational facilities in our schools. This can be a win-win for everyone. Also, I think we need continual outreach to our sister cities and governments to address many of our needs, especially traffic, with truly regional solutions. Finally, I will listen to the folks in our district.