Bacon said he has never seen the economy in worse shape since taking office in 1985. He wants another four years in office to see the city’s unfinished redevelopment plans through and there has never been a clearer choice for voters to make, he said.
Smyrna, like other cities, has seen its share of home foreclosures and multi-million dollar redevelopment projects stalled, such as Jonquil Village at the intersection of Atlanta and Spring roads and Belmont Hills at the intersection of Atlanta and Wind Hill roads.
Bacon, 62, acknowledged that the past four years have been rough and that he has heard the criticism, much of it aimed at him. However, he said people have to realize that the recession hit the entire nation hard, not just Smyrna. As bad as things have been though, Smyrna has responded better than most cities, he said.
“We don’t own Jonquil (Village), Belmont Hills or where the new Kroger site is out there. The folks that own it are just as anxious as we are to get it developed, but I think people in this overall economy are still concerned about investing,” Bacon said.
“But I think because of who we are, I think you’re seeing some development that would not go into any other areas of metro Atlanta.”
Bacon said he is hoping a new, 96,000-square-foot Kroger on South Cobb Drive at Concord Road, set to open this year in the vacant Crossings at Four Corners shopping center, will spark new life in that area. He said an announcement of a development proposal for Jonquil Village is expected this week. In addition, residential development is starting to pick up, he said.
The longtime mayor said he is proud that the city has not laid off or furloughed any employees, raised taxes lost its AA+ bond rating since last year. During his time in office, he said, the city has redeveloped its downtown, which has increased property taxes and attracted younger and more diverse residents.
Bacon said he wants to move the city forward with steady growth in the face of uncertain economic times.
“I think we will continue to grow at a slower pace,” he said. “I don’t think we will never see the market be where it was at one time. It just kept going up and up and up. I think we need to have controlled growth, and it needs to be planned like we have had in the past. I think you’ve got to have a good, positive attitude and not be so negative and angry like both of my opponents appear to be.”
A Cobb native, Bacon is the son of Dorothy and Arthur Bacon, who also served as mayor of Smyrna. In 1966, he graduated from Campbell High School and attended DeKalb College and Chattahoochee Technical College. He served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966 to 1970.
Before his first mayoral election, Bacon served six years on the City Council, during which time his father was mayor. He called that period the “best four years of my life with my dad,” even though the senior Bacon made an extra effort not to show favoritism, including casting two tie-breaking votes against measures in his son’s district.
Bacon retired from the U.S. Postal Service, where he served as postmaster of the Smyrna post office. He has two children Ashley, and Ty, and three grandchildren.
So far, the mayor’s re-election campaign has raised $3,400, he reported. He said he has two fundraisers scheduled between now and the election on Nov. 8.
“I said if I ever lost the enthusiasm, I would never hang on. I never planned on a career this long,” said Bacon. “I continue to enjoy and have the enthusiasm that I had when I first got elected.”
SMYRNA — Alex Backry has lived in Smyrna since 1981 and, frankly, doesn’t like what he sees.
“The city has severely gone downhill the last four years. They’re not encouraging citizens to give their input, and the key is town-hall meetings,” Backry said. “We’ve had one town hall meeting in 20 years. That’s appalling. I know I can do a much better job.”
Backry, who said he spent 18 years working with airlines and before that played with Major League Baseball clubs like the Kansas City Royals and on the instructional league of the Houston Astros, also insists he is not a politician.
“I’m a problem-solver. That’s what this city needs, and that’s what separates me from my opponents,” he said.
His major objectives are to eliminate wasteful spending and to have town hall meetings several times a year.
As examples of wasteful spending, he cites the city’s 2004 purchase of the Hooper-Turner House on Oakdale Road in Mableton. The city paid $145,000 for the property, which officials believed had historical value. The city has been trying to sell the property, and is asking $159,900, since 2005.
“There’s no Civil War history to it, and the house is still outside the city limits,” Backry said.
Even more outrageous to him are the city’s purchases of run-down apartment complexes like Smyrna Commons and Hickory Lakes.
“With Smyrna Commons, we didn’t know about it at all for five months after they did it,” he said. “When you’re dealing with millions of dollars, taxpayers have to know what they’re doing. That brings us back to town-hall meetings. An important part of the elected officials’ jobs is to communicate with citizens, and that has blatantly not happened.
“During these troubled times, more than ever, they should be keeping the citizens informed,” he said. “You need to have citizens exchanging ideas with you. The elected officials — we pay their salaries. They should answer any question that is asked.”
To those who insist Backry is simply a complainer unhappy about everything, Backry admitted that, “I don’t see where the city is doing many things right.”
“This is not personal with Max (Bacon, the incumbent). I just couldn’t be more on opposite sides with him. We don’t know what’s going on with Concord Road. I’m angry over Hickory Lakes. They bought that on pure speculation and don’t answer why they even annexed it in the first place. There should be answers. Market Village is 65 percent empty, right in front of city hall. The city I see is losing businesses and not gaining businesses.”
If he is elected, he said, “open government is where it will be.”
“It’s closed government right now. That’s why Smyrna has a cloud of apathy over it,” he said. “I want to lift that.”
Backry also believes there should be a two-term limit on the mayor’s job.
He worked for the city of Smyrna’s animal-control unit for four years before leaving in 2003 to make his first bid for mayor. And for the record, he said, he was “absolutely not” fired by the city.
“I resigned and gave them four weeks’ notice. I got tired of the micromanaging,” he said.
He has not accepted any campaign donations, he said, because he doesn’t need any, and also doesn’t want to owe anyone any favors.
Ultimately, transparency is his mission.
“If I win, it would be a victory for open government and accountability,” Backry said.
SMYRNA — Smyrna resident Donna Short Woodham has been a vocal critic of the city’s redevelopment proposals over the years. Now, she plans to change city government from the inside by running for mayor.
Woodham, 50, said the city has a history of not following through with redevelopment proposals and mismanaging Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax money and is in need of term limits for officials.
Her main target has been Bacon, whom she said needs to be unseated after spending decades in the mayor’s office.
“I think that Mayor Bacon is running on a project that he created several years ago, the Market Village, and he thinks he can just sit back now. He’s done it, but the project he created years ago is becoming vacant and foreclosed on,” she said.
“This is a time where you have to not be on autopilot. You want people to move into your city. You want jobs to come into your city. If you’re on autopilot, all that is not going to come.”
In the past, Woodham and her husband, Chuck, an IT professional, have criticized plans to build residential units during a housing crisis at Belmont Hills on Atlanta at Wind Hill roads and plans to redevelop the old Hickory Lake apartments property while other projects sit unoccupied.
Those plans that have attracted business, only help a select few companies to expand while getting sizeable tax breaks, and don’t do much to bring in new jobs, she said.
“While we’re waiting for this housing bubble or jobs to come back, the city needs to invest in itself,” Woodham said.
“It needs to be treated like a business. Other cities are doing things that are attracting people to live there — investing in their schools, their town center and that sort of thing. We need to update. We need to prepare so when the housing boom comes, we will be ready.”
If elected mayor, Woodham would propose to businesses that they make locals 10 percent of their hires if they sign on to become a part of any new redevelopment plans, though she wouldn’t make that a contract requirement, she said. Another idea is for Campbell High School seniors to be allowed to shadow city workers to gain job experience.
Regarding SPLOST, Woodham says too often projects are presented as one thing but then the plans change. She also said there needs to be a time limit placed on projects to get them completed quicker so as not to inconvenience residents.
Woodham also wants term limits. She said she wants to see anyone elected mayor and to the City Council serve a maximum of eight years in office.
“I cannot promise I’ll bring a single job to Smyrna,” Woodham said. “What I can do is use the resources that are there now that this mayor and council are not using.”
Woodham is a newcomer to politics, but considers herself a “neighborhood advocate.”
She said she has raised just $200 in donations for her mayoral campaign, noting that she refuses to accept contributions from businesses. She formerly owned the Perfect Cup coffee shop in WellStar Kennestone Hospital until moving it a few years ago to another location, after which that medical office decided to close it, she said.
These days, Woodham’s attention is devoted to her campaign, which she said has received positive feedback about from neighbors.
“I believe local politics matter,” she said. “I have seen the slow deterioration of Smyrna, and I think with a mayor with good public relations, maybe things would have happened differently.”