Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul discussed crime, neighborhood protections and volunteerism at his eight annual State of the City speech.

The event was held Sept. 14 at The Westin Atlanta Perimeter North and hosted by the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce.

From left, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul spoke with Phil Jones, a member of the Leadership Sandy Springs board of directors, after the luncheon.

Crime is top of mind for many Sandy Springs residents, Paul said. 

He said it’s been hard to recruit police officers to the city. Sandy Springs offers a $7,000 signing bonus and a housing allowance and still can’t hire enough officers.

“We’re recruiting officers all across the country. We’re going to Portland, Seattle, Austin, places like that where police officers have been under enormous stress and challenges,” Paul said.

The mayor also spoke about the spirit of volunteerism in the city, referencing Solidarity Sandy Springs, a food bank formed during the pandemic that has 1,700 volunteers and has served 30,000 meals. 

“We can’t lose our sense of community engagement in Sandy Springs,” Paul said. “Our non-profit and non-governmental organizations provide essential services to our city, and in turn, need our support. The same sense of community that led to the very creation of Sandy Springs is also what has kept us from periods of decline that has impacted so many other cities around the country. We can’t lose sight of that.”

Some nonprofit groups in Sandy Springs are challenged due to the pandemic, Paul said, asking the business community to step up. 

“These nonprofits that are struggling, they need our help. They are irreplaceable. We’ve lost Heritage [Sandy Springs]. And that was a huge loss to our community. We cannot afford to lose any more,” he said.

Paul also spoke about the city’s commitment to protecting neighborhoods throughout Sandy Springs.

“I have this philosophy that most people put their life savings in their home. When you put your life savings into something, you should have a reasonable expectation that the city, the local government is not going to use rezoning to radically change the character of your neighborhood,” Paul said.

Paul, who is up for re-election in the November election, faced some questions from his challenger at the end of the program. 

Dontaye Carter, who has qualified to run for mayor, said his staff polled city residents and 83.3% of those who responded said housing affordability was their top issue. The second issue was COVID-19 and the city’s response to it.

From left, Dwayne Sullivan of the Elect Michelle Sullivan Committee and Dontaye Carter, candidate for Sandy Springs mayor, attended the chamber luncheon.

“I’m curious about what are plans going forward for the city when it comes to housing affordability? We’ve had two consulting firms that have come in and provided plans. And also what are we going to do going forward at this point with COVID? I’ve got a 3-year-old daughter, and I’m very concerned she can’t get vaccinated,” Carter said.

Paul reminded the audience he had served as an assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “My problem with most housing subsidies is they do a very good job of enriching the landlord [and] do absolutely nothing to enrich the tenant,” he said.

So many people are unable to afford houses, Paul said. In Sandy Springs, firefighters, police officers, hospital workers and teachers can’t reach the American dream of owning a house, he said. The city is trying to help preserve some affordable houses (those in the $400,000 range), which are often targeted for redevelopment into higher-priced homes. 

Speaking about COVID-19, the mayor said Sandy Springs has followed the changing science during the pandemic. City workers have been encouraged to get vaccinated.

“The main thing that we can do right now, [which] is much more effective than the mask we’re wearing today, is a jab,” he said.

Carter asked why the mayor didn’t impose a vaccine mandate, to which Paul said he doesn’t have the authority. 

But Carter said under a 1905 Supreme Court case, Jacobson vs. Massachusetts, the mayor has that authority. That case dealt with the state of Massachusetts requiring all adults to get a smallpox inoculation after an epidemic swept through the Northeast in 1901, subject to a $5 fine. The court ruled adults could be fined.

“We shall see,” Paul said.

City Council would need to vote on and approve such a measure. The mayor only votes in case of a tie, Communications Director Jason Fornicola said.

Seth Jones of the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw chats with Sunny Park, who served on the Sandy Springs Charter Review Commission. A lack of space in the pre-event networking area caused organizers to require masks due to a lack of social distancing.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.