Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul and four of the six City Council members aren’t ready to say if they will run for re-election this fall as the city faces such big issues as North End redevelopment, racial dialogue and highway toll lane projects.
Tibby DeJulio and Jody Reichel were the only council members to say they definitely intend to run for re-election on Nov. 2. Andy Bauman, Chris Burnett and Steve Soteres remain undecided and did not rule out mayoral campaigns. John Paulson said he’s undecided about re-election but would not consider another office.
Paul previously spoke of retiring after his current, second term in the Mayor’s Office, but late last year said he is undecided on a possible re-election campaign. In response to re-election questions, he said he is not ready to discuss city elections at this time.
Incumbents have several months before they must decide. The council has set candidate qualifying dates of Aug. 16-20. Qualifying fees were set at $1,200 for mayor and $540 for council seats. A candidate must be a city resident for at least 12 months prior to the election date. Council candidates must reside in the district they plan to represent for at least six months.
The Reporter asked all City Council members if they planned to run for reelection and whether they planned a run for mayor or any other position.
“I do plan on running for reelection in November,” said DeJulio, who represents District 5. “I’ve been working on and for Sandy Springs since I started with Eve Galambos in 1987. And I am the only original council member left.”
He said he brings stability and history to the city and has no plans for personal gain, only wanting what’s best for city residents. DeJulio said he has no plans for any other office, he just wants to continue to improve the lives of city residents.
District 4 Councilmember Reichel plans to run for reelection to continue to serve and represent her district’s views and be its voice on the council.
“I have enjoyed getting to know my constituents and feel like my job is not done. I am focused on working with Fulton County Schools in getting a new building for North Springs [High School] students, and I expect that to happen in my next term,” she said.
Reichel said she is also interested in several projects in the North End, including trails, redevelopment of shopping centers and access to the river. Adding pickleball courts in city parks is another of her goals.
“COVID has added additional challenges for the citizens and business owners in Sandy Springs. I am proud of what we have done to support our businesses, and I want to continue to advocate for them,” she said.” I also want to do what I can to offer the best access to vaccines to our citizens.”
District 1 Councilmember Paulson has not decided if he would run for reelection. But he has no plans for any other office.
“After 11 plus years on the council I am trying to balance my incrementally increasing retiring plans and activities with contributing my community service as a councilman,” Paulson said. “I enjoy being on the council and believe I have contributed to the positive growth and maturity of Sandy Springs. That being said, there is a lot going on in Sandy Springs currently and much more to come, all of which I have a keen interest in helping to guide our city going forward.”
District 2 Councilmember Soteres only said, “I’m undecided” in his email reply and did not answer other questions.
Burnett, the District 3 council member, also has not made his decision on re-election, a mayoral run or any other position.
“At this point, I am not prepared to comment on my future plans for public service. In the coming months, I will discuss this with my family, and we will make a decision together on what comes next,” Burnett said.
District 6 Councilmember Bauman was not ready to make a decision on a council or if he’d run for mayor.
“I’m not yet prepared to comment on my plans for our municipal elections in November. We have just come through a long and contentious campaign season, and I think we all need a little break,” he said.
He said he felt privileged to represent his district and all Sandy Springs residents.
“The past year has been challenging in many ways, but we have so much to be grateful for in our city. I am giving the most thoughtful consideration I can to determine how I can best continue to serve our community in the coming years, and I am sure I will have more to say on this in the next couple of months,” Bauman said.
Issues city government will face
Valerie Habif, a Sandy Springs resident and co-founder of the Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon of Atlanta, said the November elections suggest that many suburbs are going blue, and the effects of that should be seen in municipalities.
Municipal elections are nonpartisan, but they still should reflect the interests of their constituents, she said.
“We would like to see issues we care about and advocates for those issues on our City Council,” Habif said.
She said this is the perfect time to talk about such issues. The nonpartisan nature of municipalities enables people to come together for an election on the issues instead of being partisan-driven, she said.
A lesson of November, Habif said, is that racial equality and racial healing should be at the top of the list.
“People of color played a very significant role in those elections. They came out to vote,” she said.
Affordable housing should be another issue that brings people to the polls, as it is a local issue, Habif said.
She hopes in November local municipalities have a higher participation rate.
Since they aren’t sure what roles municipalities will play, if any, in distributing the COVID vaccine, she said cities can offer education on why their residents should get the vaccine and how they can access it. Plus they should continue to push for mask-wearing.
“What we are recognizing is there is a reason why our country has five times the number of deaths it should have based on our population,” she said.
Chip Collins, a former member of council and currently on the city’s Development Authority, said it will be interesting to see what new faces emerge to serve on council. He called the process healthy for the city.
“We need to have a constant pipeline of new leadership,” he said.
The North End should continue to be a focus for the council, Collins said.
“I’ll just say this, my personal view is that ultimately, again, Sandy Springs is just so well situated geographically. The City Springs area and the surrounding neighborhoods are thriving. Roswell is thriving,” he said.
North Sandy Springs sits in the middle of those two. Eventually there will be no choice but redevelopment, he said.
“So then the issue is what the city can do to accelerate that renewal. And those are the things that have been discussed and debated and will continue to be discussed and debated, but I think that’s the correct area for the focus to be on,” he said.
An issue for another area that Collins said doesn’t gain much attention that he thinks is just as important is the area around the intersection of I-285 and Roswell Road. He said it’s the gateway to the city going both north and south.
“Right now it’s just kind of a bit of a junky mishmash of buildings and businesses that I don’t believe are living up to the potential of that area,” Collins said.
Another issue is the Georgia Department of Transportation’s plans for toll lanes on I-285.
“Leadership at the local and state level needs to continue to do whatever they can to make sure that project doesn’t destroy the character of the neighborhoods and businesses along in that area,” Collins said.
Survival for businesses hurt by the pandemic is another issue he called crucial. The city has taken positive steps, he said, including creating a local fund to support businesses in addition to what’s available at the federal level.
“We’ve worked hard to improve the mix of restaurants and businesses in our downtown area. And I’d hate to see a large part of that improvement wiped out by the economic consequences,” he said.