Candidate Q&A – John Quinn, Avondale Estates City Commission
Decaturish.com contacted every candidate running for office in Decatur and Avondale Estates and provided them with a list of questions. John Quinn is running for re-election to the Avondale Estates City Commission.
Here are his responses:
1) Why are you running for this position?
I look forward to the opportunity to complete some unfinished business. A lot of good things have happened over the last four years, but a lot of work remains, and some new challenges loom on the horizon. We are blessed with a beautiful city, wonderful neighborhoods, and engaged citizens. This is our foundation. Development appropriate to Avondale has begun. Our green spaces are improving, including the upgrades to Willis Park. Education has benefited greatly from The Museum School. However, more needs to be done in all these areas. In addition, depending on how the cityhood referenda go onNovember 3, legislative annexation may once again be before us. I hope that I can bring my experience to bear.
2) What makes you the most qualified candidate for the job?
First and foremost, I stand on my track record over the past four years. Second, I bring an array of life experiences to the job. I am a husband, a father (of five daughters), and a grandfather. I am a lawyer with litigation skills, negotiating skills, and dispute resolution skills.I have been a small business owner that paid taxes and met a payroll every week. I have held leadership positions in the American Bar Association, the Georgia State Bar (chair of the Labor and Employment Section), and the Atlanta Piping and Drumming Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. I have been a Board Member of the Georgia Subsequent Injury Trust Fund (appointed by Governors Perdue and Deal).
As to my track record as a Commissioner, I have participated in the growth of our downtown business district and the growth of our City. We overhauled our permitting process to make it more streamlined and business friendly; hired a communications director and a “concierge” to help businesses and residents locating to Avondale Estates. We purchased 4.1 acres in our downtown area when the bank owned development emerged from bankruptcy and reset inflated commercial property values to reasonable levels. This paved the way for quality development. We are currently working with developer Euramex to make this a reality. We have also seen many new business locate to our City, bringing the Tudor Village to capacity, seeing the development of Tudor Square, and making our city the home of restaurants and a live music venue. Finally, with extensive citizen input, we have begun the long awaited improvements at Willis Park.
3) Proposals to annex more property into the city of Avondale Estates could be revisited over the next four years. Do you support annexing more property into the city?
I support being proactive on this issue and not letting others decide our fate.
With respect to the petition process, we will consider the requests of residential and commercial property owners on a case by case basis. The guiding principle is to preserve the unique character of our City while at the same time looking at improving the mix of residential and commercial properties as a hedge against any future tax increases.
With respect to the legislative annexation process, there are a lot more moving parts. If the cityhood initiatives of LaVista Hills and Tucker are approved by their citizens on November 3, then I suspect other prospective cities, the largest one being Greenhaven (the “City” of South DeKalb), will attempt to gobble up as much of unincorporated DeKalb County as possible. If this is the case, then I think we need to ask the legislature for an annexation map that preserves to our City two things – (1) reasonable space to expand so that we do not become “landlocked,” and (2) a reasonable amount of commercial property to protect our tax base. We will need to be proactive to make sure we have a “place at the table” when these issues are being decided.
4) As a city commissioner, what will you do to support and improve educational opportunities in the city of Avondale Estates?
Educational opportunity is the lifeblood of our City. It keeps us a vibrant community by attracting young families and it preserves good property values as well. I support The Museum School which has been a great benefit to many of our children and their families. I also support fighting to keep Druid Hills Middle and High Schools available to our students. But that is not enough. The Museum School does not have room for all our students. What happens if the City of Atlanta annexes our high school? One important step is the establishment of an ad hoc committee on education which will call upon some of our most knowledgeable and qualified citizens to study these problems and make recommendations. Included in things to be examined are (1) resumption of community support and participation at Avondale Elementary School – this worked before and can work again; however, I do not support using City tax dollars to support the school – this would be an unlawful expenditure of City funds; (2) opening a dialog with the new Superintendent and the DeKalb County Board of Education to promote cooperation and improvements; (3) looking at expanding charter school opportunities.
5) The development of the Euramex project will be a big issue facing city leaders over the next four years. Do you have any concerns about this development, and what will you do to ensure it balances the needs of the developer with the needs of residents?
This development must reasonably meet our zoning and Master Plan. Adequate provision also needs to be made for green space and parking. Progress is being made in discussions with Euramex, but we are not there yet. I have requested a public meeting with representative of Euramex to discuss where we are at the earliest feasible date.
6) The downtown business district has grown over the last few years. As a commissioner, what will you do to support the continued development and growth of the downtown business district?
Good steps have already been taken. We have (1) streamlined the permitting process; (2) removed some inspection functions from the county to speed up the process; (3) added a City Communications Director; (4) added a City “concierge” to walk business owners through permitting, inspection, and licensing requirements; and (5) updated the City website.
The next step we need to take is to revitalize the Downtown Development Authority by (1) filling vacant seats – there are some excellent candidates who have come forward; (2) providing for a closer working relationship with the Board of Mayor and Commissioners; and (3) establishing funding for the DDA so that it will become more than an advisory board. Finally, as we continue to grow we become more of a shopping, restaurant and entertainment destination. For this reason we will have to make sure that adequate parking is available.
7) What do you think Avondale Estates should do to address the need for additional parking near the downtown business district?
We have taken the interim step of providing signage and striping available vacant city property for parking. However, as we are on the verge of major development of the Fenner Dunlop property, parking will become an even greater issue. Plans for development must include adequate parking. Ultimately, I believe that a parking deck will become necessary.
8) Over the last few years, concerns have arisen about the level of transparency from city officials. Do you have concerns about the transparency of Avondale’s government? If so, what would you do to make city government more transparent and accountable to residents?
I support transparency and accountability. A lot of good things are already in place. Work sessions and regular meetings are open to all. You do not have to get on the agenda in advance to ask a question or make a public comment. There is no limit to how long a citizen can talk at a public meeting, within reason. There is no limit to the number of comments one can make – only a request that everyone have a chance to make a comment or ask a question before beginning a second round. All meetings are recorded and minutes are taken. The recordings and minutes are available to all. My telephone number and email address have been made available to all. All documents and email communications are subject to Open Records Act requests. All meetings are subject to Open Meetings Act requirements. Finally, we have upgraded the City website for greater functionality and ease of use.
For the most part, I think we have done a good job. There was a hiccup with an annexation bill a few years ago. This was unfortunate, but there was no intent to hide anything. The bill in question was dropped as a “placeholder” and it was clear that it was going nowhere that legislative session. That said, it should have been publicized in order to give citizens a chance to be heard. However, when the issue came up the next time and it actually stood a chance of going somewhere, we had many public meetings, some of which went quite late so that everyone could be heard as many times as they wanted. We put a special place up on the City website to collect relevant information on annexation. When the Downtown Master Plan came up for renewal, we held multiple public meeting and had excellent citizen participation. When the Comprehensive Plan came up for renewal, we appointed a citizen advisory committee and held multiple public meetings and finished with an open house which included graphic displays of our results. As we have all become concerned with educational opportunities and the availability of green space in our City, we have established ad hoc citizen committees to research these issues and provide recommendations.
9) Avondale Estates is a historic district. Do you support the current historic preservation standards, or do you think they need to be revisited?
While I am always in favor of reasonable and appropriate rules and regulation, this question requires further discussion.
The designation of a portion of Avondale Estates as an “Historic District” means that an application has been approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior according to their standards and guidelines. As long as we meet these guidelines, we qualify for federal tax benefits and grants. In addition to federal guidelines, both state and local government can also impose preservation standards while also providing financial resources and/or tax benefits. So the first question becomes what standards do you favor and what do you oppose? The next question is whether either of these would put our City at risk of losing its historic designation and losing tax incentives, grants, and/or the aesthetic benefit of the designation.
10) What are your feelings about the current effort to upgrade and renovate Willis Park?
I am glad that this project is finally underway. It represents a lot of work by the community,our elected officials, and City staff. I believe the process was thorough, open, green, and that these improvements are in the best interest of all our citizens.
11) If elected, do you promise to behave in an ethical and transparent manner?
The election is Nov. 3 and early voting begins on Oct. 12.