The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Mableton mayoral hopefuls offer visions for city
Early voting for four candidates starts today; election day is March 21.
Metro Atlanta’s newest city will elect its first leaders in the coming weeks, and the candidates for Mableton mayor hope to offer residents what was promised by the cityhood proponents: revitalization of an area many feel has been overlooked and neglected.
But the four candidates face a divided campaign trail. Some in the northern part of the city are pushing to leave the city completely, citing their desire to remain unincorporated and concerns about how the cityhood effort was managed.
If de-annexation efforts are successful at the state Capitol, the city’s elected leaders could be left with a smaller city and less revenue than predicted.
Aaron Carman openly supports the de-annexation effort, which puts him in an unusual position when attracting voters. While he did vote no to the new city, he said, his focus is now on its success and uniting the community.
“There’s a clear line of division,” said Carman, who lives in the area pushing to de-annex. “We’ve got to get on board and be together to create a successful path for building the city out.”
Candidate Latonia Long said she also voted against cityhood, but now “the city is here, and we have to build and grow responsibly.”
Recent town hall meetings about the new city highlighted the stark division between residents who pushed for years to create the city of Mableton and others now decrying a lack of transparency. Some residents say they were not aware they were within the boundaries, which extend well beyond the historic community core.
Longtime Mableton cityhood supporter Michael Murphy, who is also running for mayor, said he wants to “keep intact” as much of the city as possible and hopes residents will “give us a chance.”
“But I certainly respect deeply the right of citizens to express themselves and to put forth how they feel about something as important as their livelihood and where they live,” Murphy said.
Candidate Michael Owens said residents who want to be de-annexed should not be “held hostage,” but he wants to ensure voters who did support cityhood in those areas aren’t disenfranchised.
“My goal is focused on making sure that everyone wants to be a part of the city and that we’re able to build a city that people want to be in,” Owens said.
Creating city of Mableton
Mableton is now the largest city in Cobb County, with a population of about 78,000 people, covering the land from the county’s southern border up close to the cities of Austell, Powder Springs and Smyrna.
While some are eager to explore grandiose visions of the city’s future, candidates for mayor have emphasized the need to lay a solid foundation first. Redeveloping any city takes time, Carman said, and the leaders shouldn’t get ahead of themselves.
“Down the road, every city should continue to evolve, grow and develop,” said Carman, who works in IT sales. “But I think the initial focus has to be on building the foundation.”
He said his focus will be delivering the four key services proposed by cityhood advocates — parks, sanitation, planning and zoning, and code enforcement — while minimizing financial impact to residents.
Long agrees; she has 90-, 120and 180-day plans for the city’s transition, starting with creating a city advisory board to guide the newly elected officials in building a municipal government from the ground up.
“We have to get municipal legal counsel to negotiate our contracts; we have to identify what services are going to be still provided by Cobb County and how much that’s going to cost,” said Long, who previously worked in public policy with the Metro Atlanta Chamber. “And we have to understand and get a grasp on how we’re going to pay our bills.”
At a recent town hall meeting, many residents questioned whether their taxes would increase and how the city government would affect them. The mayor and council will establish a city budget, hire a city manager and attorney, and determine what services the city can provide.
Under Mableton’s charter, the city will have a weak-mayor system, meaning the mayor will act as a chairperson for the City Council and will not have power apart from that. The mayor and council members will serve four-year terms. But three members will initially serve for only two years to establish staggered terms. Voters will elect one council member from their district, while the mayor is elected citywide.
Owens said their focus at the start should be the basics of building the city while being careful not to “over-promise and under-deliver.”
The candidates said they hope to enhance the city’s green space and walkability, creating more of a city center and bringing more restaurants and grocery stores to the areas that need them, notably Veterans Memorial Highway.
“Veterans Memorial is a main corridor that runs right through the heart of our city, and it has been neglected for the better part of three decades,” said Owens, who has run unsuccessfully for other elected offices in recent years. “I want to make sure we revitalize that corridor, bringing new businesses, helping those that are already there.”
Murphy, a small business owner himself, said he wants to create a Mableton business awards program to incentivize business growth in the area.
“That would help businesses market their services and get local support for the businesses,” he said.
For Carman, the key to getting residents on board with the new city will be making “slow, steady progress” on things that affect residents, like minimizing trash dumping and littering.
“Enforcement of dumping and trash collection and things along those lines to really be done efficiently will be something tangible that the folks can see,” Carman said.
Long said she wants to develop a land use plan that prioritizes green space and parks to encourage more community engagement.
“Mableton is gorgeous: We have beautiful parks, a lot of greenery,” Long said. “A few minutes outside Atlanta, but you get that down-home, warm, suburban feel, and that’s why I’m raising my family here.”
Early voting begins today, and election day will be March 21. Voters can find details about where, when and how to vote, including an interactive map and a sample ballot, at cobbcounty.org/mableton.