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Morrow candidates in their own words

— These are the complete responses of Morrow's City Council candidates to a Clayton News Daily survey.

Jeff DeTar

1) It has been reported that the city recently had to raise its millage rate to avoid laying off employees because of a decrease in municipal court revenues in the FY 2014 budget. What ideas would you bring forward to balance revenues and expenditures without raising property taxes or laying off employees?

There is no magic bullet for budgets and spending. I do not have a million dollar revenue source. It was not just the Courts that caused our budget situation. We are still deep into the bottom of the lousy economy. However, current trends and forecasts do show improvement, and our City does not have the same crisis situation to face during the next budget year. There is every reason to be optimistic. The best outcome is to get more revenue sources (businesses) into Morrow. This will not happen immediately so we have to pay attention to every dollar as it comes in and as it is spent. Several programs have already started, such as the possibility of leasing vehicles versus buying as proposed by Chief Lieghty, and refinancing debt to lower payments as proposed by Finance Director Dan Defnall. We must NOT fail to meet our obligations, so these will have to be addressed first, but every other expenditure needs to be examined. Our current Mayor and Council have done a very good job with oversight of all City Departments and staff. I will continue to work on these successful efforts whether I am on the Council or not. Revenue is not under the complete control of our City, however we must seek out and develop every opportunity that we can.

2) In recent years, several large retailers have left the Southlake Mall/Mt. Zion Road area for other areas, most notably to the Southpoint development in McDonough. If elected, what ideas would you push for the council to do to revitalize that area?

Clayton County and Morrow have been given a bad reputation that needs to be addressed. We do NOT have more restrictive or expensive policies than neighboring areas, but some sources seem to think so. Crime is an issue in all areas, but it is NOT worse than other municipalities in the Atlanta area. Morrow needs to work harder at promotion to make these points and get our message advertised. The recent discussion with Forest Park, Lake City and Morrow concerning the creation of an opportunity zone is one effort in that direction: making our area more attractive to development. We need closer cooperation with the Economic Development efforts of our neighbors. An improvement in ANY of our neighbors is an improvement for ALL of us. We also are modernizing our codes. This effort will go a long way towards making the City more friendly to new development and I am deeply involved in this effort. Simple measures such as shared parking make it possible for less expensive development without reducing the quality of access and can improve appearance. Simple ideas like adding Hardy Plank into our current mix of allowable building materials makes new construction more attractive without sacrificing the quality and appearance of neighborhoods. Many of these types of development ideas that are now being proposed are not allowed with our current code structure. That needs to be fixed.

3) What are three things you, as a council member, would push/advocate to see done to spur economic development in the city?

  1. Vision: The City has had a vision of our future for several years and it needs to be communicated. We have a diverse and inclusive community. I will work at spreading the vision at every opportunity. Recent reporting has shown that large majorities of people want walkable communities where they can work, shop, and find recreation in their own neighborhoods. Morrow has been developing in this direction for over a decade, most notably with our pathway system, but also with the development of our code structure. We must successfully communicate these programs throughout the region.

  2. Promotion: We have a beautiful, friendly and SAFE City. It is the best place to live and work in our region. We need to continue to grow the message across the state.

  3. Communication: Transparency in government is not the only goal. Complete visibility for all of our programs and assets needs to be spread as widely as possible. We have a great city and everyone needs to know that.

4) A former city manager is awaiting a criminal trial over the Olde Towne Morrow development, which the city has so far lost millions of dollars on and is still trying to fix because of a myriad of problems (fire code violations, etc.). City leaders who were in office when the project was being built said they didn't know about some of the issues, including the finances, until after it opened. What internal controls would you push to have instituted to ensure a similar situation does not happen again, and how would you work to see them implemented?

The recent Grand Jury final report highlighted many suggestions for Morrow to improve in its operations. Curiously, none of the recent reporting pointed out that most of those suggestions were implemented BEFORE the Grand Jury made their recommendations. Two simple procedures need to be followed: 1) Make sure oversight policies are plain and followed by City Staff and Mayor/Council. This is presently being done. 2) Citizen involvement in our City to ensure we don’t make similar mistakes in the future. I am working now to attain success in both of these, and will continue to work to do so in the future.

5) what would you recommend the city do to build a bridge to Clayton State University's student community (i.e. make the city a place that meets the needs of college students and make the city feel like a second home to them)?

We need to engage the students at CSU as effectively as we do with the Staff. Students have needs and wants that the City should address. We need available businesses and services that are convenient to the campus. We need available transportation and corridors to get from the campus to services students want. And the City should reach out to involve students in the management of our government. They are our future leaders and their ideas and plans are the future programs that we are all going to be involved in. We also need to further our connections between the University and the City. We have a great place to live and to study.

Hang Tran

1) It has been reported that the city recently had to raise its millage rate to avoid laying off employees because of a decrease in municipal court revenues in the FY 2014 budget. What ideas would you bring forward to balance revenues and expenditures without It has been reported that the city recently had to raise its millage rate to avoid laying off employees because of a decrease in municipal court revenues in the FY 2014 budget. What ideas would you bring forward to balance revenues and expenditures without raising property taxes or laying off employees?

Municipal court revenues are not the only revenue stream for the city.  We have to be creative and transparent in trying to find enough revenue streams to provide for us to meet our current obligations of paying all of our employees.  These are tight economic times for everyone, and cities and municipalities are not immune to that.  Just as we would do in our homes or with our own personal financial situations, we have to do the best we can with what we have, then we have to be continually considering additional options for bringing in revenue so we can maintain what we currently have.  It is a difficult balance sometimes, so all options would be considered, but we want to do it in a way that is best for the people of Morrow.

There are tough, yet thoughtful decisions that must occur on how we prioritize.  There is no government that has an unlimited amount of funds, however, there are very dedicated people working everyday to ensure that we still have quality public services and that we are able to maintain those, even in a budget crunch.  Scaling back on employees should be done very thoughtfully and deliberately if it must occur.  Doing what’s best for the people of Morrow is my concern.  



2) In recent years, several large retailers have left the Southlake Mall/Mt. Zion Road area for other areas, most notably to the Southpoint development in McDonough. If elected, what ideas would you push for the council to do to revitalize that area?

As a scientist, one thing about me is that I believe in process.  The first step in the process of revitalizing the Southlake Mall area is to understand WHY retailers are leaving in the first place.  When we understand why they are leaving, that’s the first step to push ideas for getting them to stay or even to push ideas to attract others.  As we examine many different ideas and projects for revitalizing our city and boosting our business community, we also have to consider the effects on the people of Morrow.  We’re on a journey, and it’s important that we allow time for the process to produce. 



3) What are three things you, as a council member, would push/advocate to see done to spur economic development in the city?

There are many options that we can consider to spur the economic development of Morrow.  Three of the things include:

  1. I believe there is a place for public-private partnerships to enhance life in the City of Morrow.  For example, the University Station project is a mixed use development in which our city is a strategic partner with other public entities, like Lake City, the County Board of Commissioners, the Atlanta Regional Development, the Archives and others.  In this great partnership, there is a place for public and private entities to work together for the successful economic development and the smart, strategic growth of our diverse city. 

  2. I believe there is a way to integrate our great university (Clayton State) and the student population there to economically grow the City of Morrow.  When I look at college towns like Athens, and others, I realize that there is so much potential for marrying these two great communities into one city that is economically vibrant.

  3. Create plans to maintain current large retailers through incentives or other breaks, as well as incentivize other retailers to “Come To Morrow” … Today!  


4) A former city manager is awaiting a criminal trial over the Olde Towne Morrow development, which the city has so far lost millions of dollars on and is still trying to fix because of a myriad of problems (fire code violations, etc.). City leaders who were in office when the project was being built said they didn't know about some of the issues, including the finances, until after it opened. What internal controls would you push to have instituted to ensure a similar situation does not happen again, and how would you work to see them implemented?

Checks and balances to keep any leader or government official are necessary.  Even with a strong manager form of government like what the City of Morrow has, it’s still necessary to ensure that oversight for certain large-scale decisions is in place.  Just as the Mayor and Council serve as a sort of checks and balances for each other.  Projects as substantial as the Olde Towne Morrow development should never be the work of one person with an entire elected body of officials in the dark.  Under my leadership, I will work to ensure that we institute proper controls and oversight to prevent future instances like this.


5) What would you recommend the city do to build a bridge to Clayton State University's student community (i.e. make the city a place that meets the needs of college students and make the city feel like a second home to them)?



As I stated earlier, there are already some great projects like University Station in place to help revitalize the Clayton State University area, however, I don’t want that to just be one little community or area within our city, but that we integrate the communities.  

One step toward how we make Morrow more of city that integrates the flair and the needs of a state university is to get the students interested and involved in the city of Morrow.  From my personal experience, I am the result of a community sponsored program.  I had the opportunity to tour Clayton County Water Authority, the Archives, Clayton State University, and especially the city of Morrow when I was in school.  From this program, I have an appreciation and an attachment to the city of Morrow and Clayton County in general.  In addition, I do believe in internships because it gives students an opportunity to both learn and experience working in real life.  After graduating, students will relocate to where their jobs take them.  Thus, I believe in giving opportunity to students who will graduate a possibility of a job in the city of Morrow.  It automatically follows that when people are invested in a community, they feel more akin to it. 

Randy Anderson

1) It has been reported that the city recently had to raise its millage rate to avoid laying off employees because of a decrease in municipal court revenues in the FY 2014 budget. What ideas would you bring forward to balance revenues and expenditures without raising property taxes or laying off employees?

As a resident of the City of Morrow and now a candidate for a council position, I have learned of the City’s issues through public work sessions and council meetings. As a councilman, I would work closely with the City Manager to insure all expenditures are necessary. I think the City can generate a plan to insure all city employees know that their job security is based upon performance, not city revenue.

2) In recent years, several large retailers have left the Southlake Mall/Mt. Zion Road area for other areas, most notably to the Southpoint development in McDonough. If elected, what ideas would you push for the council to do to revitalize that area?

As I mentioned in the recent Forum, I have noticed several businesses both small and large leave the City of Morrow area. If elected, I want to analysis any research the City has done with businesses regarding this matter. I will work with the City to see what legitimate incentives we can offer all new business prospects having a desire to come to Morrow.

3) What are three things you, as a council member, would push/advocate to see done to spur economic development in the city?

To spur economic development within the City I want to propose: (1) The City needs to reach out to larger organizations through meetings, advertising and information regarding the places and opportunities we have in the City. We have the Convention Center facility, the Archives, Clayton State University, Southlake Mall, public parks and walking trails, Reynolds Nature Preserve as well as many more facilities. (2) During my door to door campaign, I noticed numerous homes either for rent or vacant. We need to promote the fact the City of Morrow is safe, has an outstanding Police and Fire Department, good Government infrastructure, the schools have regained accreditation and offer opportunities for families to relocate to the City. (3) I would like the City to investigate an advertising program locally, statewide and nationwide to peak the interest of corporate America.

4) A former city manager is awaiting a criminal trial over the Olde Towne Morrow development, which the city has so far lost millions of dollars on and is still trying to fix because of a myriad of problems (fire code violations, etc.). City leaders who were in office when the project was being built said they didn't know about some of the issues, including the finances, until after it opened. What internal controls would you push to have instituted to ensure a similar situation does not happen again, and how would you work to see them implemented?

Again, being a resident of Morrow and attending work sessions and council meetings, I am aware of the issues associated with the Old Towne Morrow development. I would first need to see the past and current internal controls to determine what improvements need to be made to insure any reoccurrence does not happen .I believe all recommended developments within the City should be reviewed by the City Manager, Council and effected City Departments to insure all aspects of the development is correct and safe for the citizens of Morrow.

5) what would you recommend the city do to build a bridge to Clayton State University's student community (i.e. make the city a place that meets the needs of college students and make the city feel like a second home to them)?

Regarding Clayton State University- I believe a college transit system should be developed, similar to the bus system for the students at Georgia Tech. Utilizing small and local routes to the campus and college students, thus giving them the access to local businesses, shops and Southlake Mall. I would also look to encourage local Morrow business owners to provide a discount to active college students.

Christopher Mills

1. It has been reported that the city recently had to raise its millage rate to avoid laying off employees because of a decrease in municipal court revenues in the FY 2014 budget. What ideas would you bring forward to balance revenues and expenditures without raising property taxes or laying off employees?

First of all, I believe that the millage rate should be determined mathematically and not politically. If it is handled that way it is an absolute equation. I also believe that it is barely possible to raise a millage rate and not raise taxes and lay-off employees. One way to refrain from a tax increase and lay-offs is to create an increase in revenue. In order to balance that revenue, I believe that a mid-fiscal year budget review will provide clarity to the year's spending.

2. In recent years, several large retailers have left the Southlake Mall/Mt. Zion Road area for other areas, most notably to the Southpoint development in McDonough. If elected, what ideas would you push for the council to do to revitalize that area?

It is possible to revitalize the area, but it will take an understanding of the needs of the community. A bus line to give the community an alternative option to travel the city and its attractions. I believe that the vacancies can be filled with prosperous businesses, but in return these businesses will need incentives. A business friendly environment, certain tax incentives and the benefits of location will surely attract growth-minded business.

3. What are three things you, as a council member, would push/advocate to see done to spur economic development in the city?

One of three things I will push to see done to spur economic development would be to return to the community some form of transit. The need for alternative transportation has been felt by Clayton State University through enrollment and faculty, the community's own employers and employees, and as well as the city's residents. The increase in urban development has attracted a more diverse and less automobile dependent community across the nation. Second of all, I would like to see urban development. As a merger between the generations is happening, the demand for smaller houses and more walkable communities are in high demand. Third of all, I believe that an inclusion of local businesses will spur economic growth and development through a similar to recycling process. The work to be done in the city should be done by the city, to keep the revenue in the city. An economy that was based on housing and finance has shifted towards a more creative and business focused economy.

4. A former city manager is awaiting a criminal trial over the Olde Towne Morrow development, which the city has so far lost millions of dollars on and is still trying to fix because of a myriad of problems (fire code violations, etc.). City leaders who were in office when the project was being built said they didn't know about some of the issues, including the finances, until after it opened. What internal controls would you push to have instituted to ensure a similar situation does not happen again, and how would you work to see them implemented?

  I believe that through a clearer communication process between mayor and council, city manager and clerk, etc. information can be understood and shared accordingly. I believe that a financial commitment as such should be priority and carefully evaluated by all parties.

5. What would you recommend the city do to build a bridge to Clayton State University's student community (i.e. make the city a place that meets the needs of college students and make the city feel like a second home to them)?

I believe that the city should look into transforming the area into a "college friendly" environment. Ease of access to surrounding attractions, being that most students lack automobiles. A more pedestrian friendly surrounding, sidewalks near establishments that attract students. I believe if the community can embrace a more internationally diverse developmental scene, we can attract business on an international level. I believe the city should take advantage of the opportunity for international exposure through Clayton State University. The diversity of the school can serve as a representation of the diversity of the city, I believe that through a connection to student leadership and faculty, the needs of the school community can be served along with the city.