Mayor Teresa Tomlinson: Three Years Later - WRBL

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson: Three Years Later

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COLUMBUS, Ga. -

Heading into her fourth year as mayor, Teresa Tomlinson says she's comfortable with her record. In her first campaign, Tomlinson's commercials highlighted four priorities. She said, "The person elected will have to govern, creating jobs, bridging divides, increasing accountability, and making the city safer."

Let's start with jobs. The Georgia Department of Labor reports the number of jobs in the Columbus metro area grew from 116,600 in January 2011 to 120,000 in August of this year. That's plus 3400 jobs.

The unemployment rate was almost 10 percent when she started. It's now 8.5 percent.

Next on the list, blight.

Three years ago Tomlinson told me, "One of the things I'll do to bring jobs back to Columbus is frist of all partner with a private market to bring private investment back to those areas that are under-utilized."

A mayor's commission on real estate found that 35 percent of city land is blighted or under-utilized. One crime-ridden area the city has already targeted for cleanup was the so-called "hole" on Wade Street.

"We've taken a lot of first steps in taking the Wade Street properties and demolishing it and preparing it for neighborhood revitalization," Tomlinson says. She adds some of the city's traditional partners, Habitat for Humanity and Neighborworks, have expressed an interest in building homes here.

The mayor has also targeted First Avenue north of TSYS and south of Bibb City. She refers to it as City Village. There are plans for phased residential and mixed use development. Tomlinson says a citizen commission will oversee planning for the project. She expects to see a final proposal within a year.

The mayor's next battle in this arena...a push to establish redevelopment districts. The mayor says, "It's the private financing of public works. Who would oppose that? It's basically allowing investors from all across the nation to invest in our city for a private return they get on a bond."

But voters didn't approve a similar idea in 2007. It narrowly failed by 260 votes. Mayor Tomlinson says it will be back on the ballot in 2014.

The mayor also promised to bridge divides. She defeated Zeph Baker, who was trying to become the city's first black mayor, by a margin of 68 percent to 32 percent, carrying five of 12 minority precincts.

"I genuinely believe that the citizens are more calm, that we have more civic stability now than perhaps we have had in the recent past anyway because, in part, to the Let's Talk forums," Tomlinson said.

City Councilor Jerry "Pops" Barnes believes the forums have helped. "She's not just staying in one area. She's all over the map in Columbus, and that makes people feel she's really vested in what their concerns are," says Barnes.

Though Barnes says he will support the mayor's re-election bid, he stood against her plan to develop the Liberty District including the BTW apartments.

"At the last minute these previously unexpressed concerns arose, caught fire and created a flame of frustration. And because of federal time lines and deadlines we didn't have time to satisfy everybody's concerns," the mayor says.

City Councilor Judy Thomas adds her perspective. "I think if you're going to try to achieve a bid deal like this, you have to make sure that you have the allies with you that you need. And I think that was one of the problems is that the people who normally would have been the mayor's allies were on the other side on this issue."

Three years ago Tomlinson said one of the jobs of the mayor is to increase accountability. She campaigned on the effectiveness of efficiency audits in monitoring city departments' budgets. She said, "In cities of Columbus' size we can save $500,000 per department in some of them by employing these efficiency audits and it's a phenomenal benefit that we should and will do with me as mayor."

Tomlinson says two of these Citi-Serv audits have just been completed, on the Tax Assessors Office and the Police Department. "They do look like they could save the types of money or much more than what we were actually talking about in 2010."

That savings would be welcomed in the face of current budget problems. Recent discussion about passing on health care costs to employees has met opposition. Sheriff John Darr continues to overspend his budget and continues to authorize additional payments for hours worked by salaried employees.

As for crime, the mayor campaigned on making the city safer. That's a mixed bag.

FBI statistics show the number of murders rose from 15 to 17 from 2010 to 2012. There have been 19 so far this year.

Rape is down from 38 in 2010 to 31 in 2012.

Aggravated assault has spiked from 475 to 523.

Robberies have fallen from 477 to 423 over that same time period.

Motor vehicle thefts have dropped from just under 9,000 to 7,711 during the mayor's term in office through 2012.

Tomlinson says a new two-million dollar computer software program is now in place that's providing helpful data to the police department. "With that type of analytical data, we can tell very precisely where the crime is occurring and when it's occurring. And with that kind of information it seems like we could take our 100 additional officers on top of the previous force and simply distribute them in ways that are perhaps more effective."

Mayor Tomlinson told me the state legislature is likely to approve a May election date for city elections.

As for whether the mayor will face opposition, I spoke with Zeph Baker who was involved in the runoff with Tomlinson in 2010. He told me, "I have too much support not to run."

For nearly 34 hours Tuesday, WRBL.com ran a poll asking you, "If you were satistisfed with the mayor's performance in office so far?" An estimated 1,488 people voted and 1,120 of those, or 75.3 percent, said no. 368 votes, or about 24.7 percent, said yes. WRBL.com Web polls are not scientific and reflect only the opinions of those who choose to participate.

Phil Scoggins

After taking 16-year break from broadcasting, Phil rejoined WRBL as a news anchor where he has been ever since. More>>

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