Editors note: Shortly before John Ernst was sworn in as Brookhaven’s new mayor, the Brookhaven Reporter asked him a few questions about changes he expects to see at City Hall. Here are his answers.
Q. What is a new and different policy or practice you will bring to city government?
A. I’ll bring more avenues for resident input, starting with monthly town hall meetings.
Q. What is something about city government you want to keep the same?
A. Brookhaven’s police force. One of the goals of the city’s creation was to increase a public safety presence. Chief of Police Gary Yandura, his leadership team and the entire force have done an outstanding job of enhancing our quality of life in Brookhaven. In a few short years, they have built trust and cooperation within the community, launched innovative pilot programs and provided professional, efficient services.
Q. What do you see as the key issues you will immediately have to deal with as mayor?
A. Zoning and infrastructure issues surrounding stormwater drainage and paving are time-sensitive issues that will require my immediate attention.
Zoning was a major topic during the campaign as residents saw higher-density developments encroach on our lives with increased traffic, infrastructure problems, lack of green space and the potential for overpopulation of our schools.
I plan to call for a six-month moratorium on rezoning applications that increase density during the first quarter of 2016. Then we need to create a citizen-led committee to revise the city’s comprehensive zoning plan to reflect the spirit of each neighborhood, and from these plans, rewrite the city zoning ordinance to preserve our quality of life.
As we witnessed during last month’s rainstorms, we need to deal with potential infrastructure issues caused by our recent development surge. I will direct the city manager to investigate vulnerable infrastructure issues, such as stormwater and runoff issues, and take immediate action on any ticking time bombs. Without proper attention today, taxpayers will be saddled with huge bills to mitigate larger problems in the future.
Furthermore, while preparing to take office, it came to my attention that the paving project has hit some roadblocks, and the city may need to invest more reources in completing the project in a timely manner.
Q. Tell us more about the regular town hall meetings you plan to hold. How will they work and what do you hope to accomplish with them?
A. My goal for town hall meetings is to provide an alternative forum for resident input outside of council meetings. When we foster dialogue between city leaders and community members, council and staff can make better and more informed decisions. It is my hope that through increased outreach, we will see more resident-driven projects and policies.
I’m currently discussing with city staff and residents to determine the most effective format, but I do know that meetings will occur outside of City Hall. Stay tuned to the city’s website for the announcement of the first town hall meeting.
Town hall meetings are just one way to foster community engagement. I’m open to and looking into other ways to keep residents actively interested in city issues. Only when we fully engage our citizenry will we have a responsive city.
Q. Finding a permanent City Hall location has been a big topic, and influenced the Skyland Center deal and MARTA-proposed Brookhaven/Oglethorpe station redevelopment. Is a City Hall building a priority for you? Do you have a preferred location in mind?
A. A City Hall building is not a current priority for me. However, I will review options as they present themselves.
Q. The previous mayor devoted time and sometimes funding to creating the Cherry Blossom Festival and helping to promote the concept of the Flowerland park. Do you foresee the Cherry Blossom Festival continuing with city funding? Do you have any opinion about Flowerland and how it might move forward?
A. Generally, I want to foster a vibrant culture of festivals and neighborhood parks throughout Brookhaven. The 2016 Cherry Blossom Festival has already been funded by the city and will occur in 2016. All festivals should be independently run and apply for city sponsorship funds, like other local festivals such as the Brookhaven Arts Festival, the Brookhaven Chili Cook-off and Soccerfest.
I’d like to hear more community input regarding Flowerland park. If there is substantial public support for it, then it would be prudent for the city to evaluate options.