There are three Rome City Commission seats on the Nov. 7 ballot from Ward Two; they are the seats held by Wendy Davis, Jamie Doss and Sue Lee. All three are running for re-election and face challengers Bill Kerestes, Randy Quick and Monica Sheppard. Hometown Headlines offers interviews with the six candidates on the ballot. The interviews and profiles were complied and written by Natalie Simms.
About the Nov. 7 ballot:
- City Commission: At-large voting is used, which means that every registered city voter is eligible to vote for all commissioners, three in each ward. The top three vote-getters from each ward win the seats; no majority is required. Elections are non-partisan.
- School Board: 15 candidate profiles, comprehensive Q&As from Hometown. Click School Board
- Tax proposals: We’ll take a critical look at the SPLOST and education tax proposals on Sept. 18 and on Sept. 25.
Meet the Ward 2 Rome City Commission candidates
Wendy Davis (Incumbent) was elected to the Rome City Commission in 2013. She chairs the Alcohol Control Commission, where she leads a community discussion about possible changes to Rome’s alcohol ordinances and fee structure. Previously she chaired the Water and Sewer Committee and is in her second year on the Community Development Committee. Davis represents the city on the Floyd County Board of Health and leads the International Committee and cultural exchange program with Kumamoto City, Japan. A 1987 Berry College graduate, she has spent more than 25 years fostering civic engagement as a political strategist. Since 2010, she has produced telephone town hall events, helping clients across North America have interactive conversations with thousands of people. In addition, Davis has been an active participant in a broad range of local community activities, including the successful effort to bring minor league baseball to Rome.
Jamie Doss (Incumbent) is a lifetime Roman who has served on the Rome City Commission for the past 24 years, first elected in 1994. He currently is mayor of Rome as elected by fellow commissioners. He is a graduate of Darlington School and earned a bachelor’s degree in Business from Berry College. He has worked for more than 30 years as an Ameriprise Financial Advisor. He is past chair of the Salvation Army Advisory Board, past president of Rome Rotary Club, and member of First Presbyterian Church. He and his wife, Tracy, reside in East Rome and have three daughters: Abby, Georgia, and Natalie.
William (Bill) Kerestes is a semi-retired business man and resident of Rome for last 20 years. He last worked as a contracted employee with City of Rome to market Myrtle Hill Mausoleum during preconstruction phase. He holds a bachelor of Arts degree from Rutgers College and also attended Shorter University. He is a former officer in the United States Air Force. He is a graduate of Leadership Rome and has served on the Education, Workforce and Economic Development Committees of the Rome/Floyd Chamber of Commerce and on the Anna K. Davie Early Learning Center Committee. He served one term on the South Rome Redevelopment Corporation and is currently on his second term as chairman of the South Rome Redevelopment Agency. He has served as chairman of the South Rome Open golf tournament. He is an usher and deacon at First Baptist Church of Rome. He and his wife, Sally, have two grown children and one granddaughter.
Sue Hamler Lee (Incumbent) is completing her second term on the Rome City Commission for Ward 2. She is a native Roman and retired educator. Volunteering has always been a big part of her life. She is currently the chair of the Board of Directors for the Rebecca Blaylock Child Development Center. She is the daughter of former City Manager Bruce Hamler and always had a ‘front seat’ of the city. She has been a widow since 2008 and has no children.
Randy Quick is a longtime Rome radio broadcaster who began his radio career in 1975 at WROM. Today, he is a partner and the General Manager of Rome Radio Partners LLC, which owns and operates six radio stations in the Northwest Georgia area, including WRGA, Q102, South 93.5, 104.9 The Rebel, 103.1 Radio M and 99.5 The Jock. He has dedicated many years in service to various community organizations, among many served as Chairman of the Board. He has served as Chairman of the Rome Floyd Chamber of Commerce, Chairman, Rome-Floyd Economic Development Authority and Coordinator of Leadership Rome. He is the past-president of the Rotary Club of Rome and a Paul Harris Fellow recipient. He currently serves as a Trustee of Georgia Highlands Foundation Board. He has served as Board Chairman of the United Way of Rome and Floyd County and numerous other boards and committees and is a 2015 Heart of the Community recipient. He and his wife, Janie, have been married for 43 years and attend the Lindale United Methodist Church. They have one daughter, Kristin Myers, and two grandchildren.
Monica Sheppard is a 30-plus year resident of Rome and graduate of Berry College. She is a freelance graphic designer and works closely with numerous non-profits and businesses in Rome and Atlanta. She has served on many nonprofit boards in her time in Rome, including the Chiaha Harvest Fair, Coosa River Basin Initiative, Sexual Assault Center, Claws for Paws, Rome International Film Festival and more. Sheppard is mother to Ramsey Cook, a recent honor graduate of Rome High School currently attending Georgia Tech.
Questions 1 and 2: Rome and Floyd County voters, since 1999, together have approved nearly $500 million in special tax packages — economic development proposals, government services, education needs for city and county schools. In November, voters will decide the fate of more than $100 million in both government and education taxes. So we ask: A) Will you vote for both of the tax extensions as proposed on the fall ballot? (Please briefly explain your response).
DAVIS: “For many years, I have been a proponent of SPLOST and ELOST packages to fund important capital projects that improve our schools and provide for economic development. I was a key player with the 2001 Citizens’ Committee for Baseball which successfully passed the SPLOST which provided $15 million used to build State Mutual Stadium and bring Rome professional baseball. Not only was this project built on time and on budget, this partnership with the Braves produced two league two league championships and a multimillion dollar economic impact for our community economic impact for our community. In addition, I served as on the 2002 SPLOST advisory committee, and I think our community’s decision to empower citizens in crafting SPLOST packages is commendable. This year’s SPLOST package focuses on needed infrastructure and facility needs as well as recreation, public safety and economic development investments. I am excited about plans to improve the ECO Center, to expand access to our rivers and to make progress on the Fifth Avenue River District. Our city and county school leaders have put together strong packages of capital improvements. Would I have personally crafted a different set of projects? Like most of my neighbors, yes, I would have made some different choices. But these are the proposals that will go before the voters in November, and I will vote “yes” for us to make these investments. Companies looking to invest here want to see that the citizens are willing to advance these community needs, and between 35 and 40 percent of SPLOST dollars are paid by non-residents who work and visit here.”
DOSS: “Yes, I support both the SPLOST and the ELOST extensions. There are many needs in both our local governments and our school systems for upgrades and projects. The SPLOST referendum provides for needed government upgrades that include economic development for jobs creation, Barron Stadium improvements, and trails/riverways projects. The ELOST contains improvements or replacement to some of our aging school facilities like Main Elementary. In many cases, some of these issues will have to be addressed with or without passing these referendums and I much prefer a sales tax versus property tax as a means to fund some of these needs.”
KERESTES: “I do plan to vote for the tax extensions. In fact, I authored a SPLOST proposal. It was called SORO Park. It was a 3-phase project to create a facility on land owned by the city (the old Curtis Packing property). Phase 1 was to be a boat ramp and parking area. Phase 2 added a playground, a pavilion, picnic tables and rest rooms. Phase 3 included a clubhouse and a few golf holes to house a First Tee program for the City’s youth. The proposal was whittled down by the advisory panel and some parts are now included in the Waterways component.”
LEE: “Yes, I will vote for both tax extensions. SPLOST and ELOST projects are for the most part, citizen-based. The tax is an equitable one and upwards of 40% of taxes are contributed by visitors. The City has prepared and expanded in many directions because of special taxes.”
QUICK: “All of the individuals who devoted their time to serve on the Citizens SPLOST Advisory Committee are to be commended for their time and dedication to our community. The Rome City Commission, Floyd County Commission and Cave Spring City Council all voted unanimously on Sept. 5 for the use of and distribution of the proceeds from the SPLOST, if approved by the voters on Nov. 7. There will also be an extension of the current ESPLOST on the ballot. Over the next several weeks leading up to the election, there will be many opportunities for the voters to ask questions and get additional information on the long-term economic impact of each of these projects. Let’s all cast a well-educated vote on Nov. 7. I would also suggest you drive around our incredible community and take a look at everything our pennies have made possible through the years.”
SHEPPARD: “I believe that the ELOST and SPLOST tax extensions are sound ideas for funding needs in our schools and community, and therefore, I will vote yes for both. The projects on the ballot have been vetted by a wide range of citizens and, while the list may not necessarily be the exact project list I would prefer, I believe it is in our best interest to move this package forward. We must continue to improve the quality of life in our community if we want to create jobs and attract business and industry to Rome. Since these projects are paid for with a sales tax rather than a property tax, they help spread the burden to those visiting or working in our community who don’t necessarily live here. I would like to see some changes in how we manage the process and, if elected, I plan to work toward a different approach, such as shorter and more comprehensive project lists slated for shorter time periods, with clear accountability for completion. This would mean voting more often with fewer items for consideration that would allow us to better predict the cost and outcome of each project.”
B) Are you satisfied with the way the City Commission currently spends more traditional tax dollars (property, services, fees). (Please briefly explain your answer).
DAVIS: As your city commissioner, I have worked hard to make sure that the 2013 SPLOST projects that the city administers are being managed efficiently and to the standards promised the voters. The Rome Tennis Center at Berry College has exceeded all projections for the number of tournaments in the first year, and the ACC tournament alone produced $553,000 in economic impact. If re-elected, I will continue to make sure the city manages our projects well and keeps the public informed. Similarly, I have worked hard to make our budgeting process more transparent and have strongly encouraged citizen participation in the public hearings for budgets, taxation and other matters. We are blessed with top-notch teams in all our city departments, and our finance team is outstanding. Our citizens can have great confidence that our tax dollars are well managed by the city.”
DOSS: “Yes. The city commission is an excellent steward of its resources with a focus on the basic city services such as water and sewerage and public safety. City Manager Sammy Rich and his team are doing a great job. Every department operates under strict budget guidelines set by Finance Director Sheree Shore and Finance Chair, former mayor, Evie McNiece. Rome has a history of stable millage rates. I have seen many other local governments in operation and I cannot over emphasize the strength of our local leadership. Is there room for improvement? Always! We are constantly looking for savings and improvement.”
KERESTES: “I recently read an article in the AJC regarding the proposed SPLOST for DeKalb County. Of the over $300 million that would be generated over 75% was to be used for infrastructure maintenance and repairs. Since less than 50% of our SPLOST is allocated toward infrastructure repair…..I would assume that we are doing a much better job of managing our tax dollars.”
LEE: “Yes, I am pleased with the way our traditional taxes are spent. Our financial department along with finance committees have done an excellent job over the years balancing our needs and some wants with our income. We, as a city, have been able to maintain the high standards our citizens have come to expect by using our resources wisely.”
QUICK: “The City Commission has served this community well in financial management. Even when revenues have been down, the services we depend on were never compromised.”
SHEPPARD: “Like the rest of the country, the City Commission is just coming out of a period of recession and revenue is just now beginning to come back. I don’t want to second guess every decision that has been made but we do need to scrutinize the entire budget. I believe I can help stretch our tax dollars to be more effective. For example, I am concerned about expenditures on our transit system and look forward to exploring that area further with the goal of understanding our reliance on federal dollars to sustain it. Given the precarious nature of our current federal budget, I am wary of counting on federal funding to be as reliable as it may have felt in the past, and we need to examine our dependency there.”
Question 3: Tax allocation districts were created for specific development in specific areas. Rome and Floyd County have seen an abundance of TAD proposals and approved projects in recent years. Are there too few or too many, and exactly how much revenue for developed/developing projects already approved for TAD rebates will the cost the city now through 2020?
DAVIS: “Tax allocation districts are a tool for redevelopment and economic growth. By taking vacant or under-developed properties and allowing limited years of partial tax refunds, our community will ultimately benefit from improvements to those areas via increased property taxes and additional sales taxes and from jobs being added. To date, the city has approved three TAD projects, only one of which is currently fully functioning. The Riverwalk TAD was for $571,000 over 15 years. By 2020, that project will have ‘cost’ $456,800 in property tax revenue, yet the benefits of increased property value, sales taxes and jobs outweighs this investment. The Courtyard by Marriott project on West Third has a TAD proposal of $2.5 million over 12 years, and the Riverpoint Apartments project has a TAD valued at $3.3 million over 15 years. While producing fewer jobs, these two projects have greatly increased the property values (and thus future taxes) and the hotel will be a huge boost to our tourism industry. The first three years of these project will ‘cost’ $625,000 and $660,000. We need to do a better job of explaining this redevelopment tool to our taxpayers and carefully access the benefits of future TAD projects.”
DOSS: “TAD is a good development tool for projects that might not ever happen. It’s not a question of too few or too many, it’s a matter of justifying the tax incremental financing (TIF). When applied correctly, it can bring long-term benefits for a possibly challenged development. TAD projects are studied on a case-by-case basis. The cost to the city is measured in the amount of property taxes the city agrees to forego for a specified period of time on a specific development. A good example is the River Walk TAD2 which is the old Riverside Chevrolet dealership property at the corner of Turner McCall Boulevard and Riverside Parkway. This property had environmental issues, but through the use of TAD financing, we now have a great development that connects to our trail system and to commercial properties such as Olive Garden, Starbucks, Las Palmas, Shane’s, etc. As of today, three TAD financing proposals have been approved.”
KERESTES: “The three TADs in effect right now and the dollars that will be paid back over time are: Riverwalk at $571,000 over 15 years; State Mutual (RiverPoint apartments) at $3.3 million over 15 years; and Courtyard by Marriott at $2,504,000 over 12 years. The question arises: Will this really cost the city money? To forego revenue in the short term, in order to induce and stimulate development, seems to be a wise idea. The City of Rome is undoubtably better off because of these projects and they probably would never have been done without the inducement. Mount Berry Square is being considered for another TAD. Given the declining business at the mall, if another ‘Power Center’ could be created there, I think that would be good for Rome.”
LEE: “TAD projects are selected one at a time and, to the best of my knowledge, we have three major TAD’s in process. I don’t feel we have too many and I’m supportive of our current process to select future TAD’s.”
QUICK: “Tax Allocation Districts are another tool for economic development. In Rome, the taxes are still being paid forgoing new net revenues. There are currently 3 TADs on record. Riverwalk at $571,000 over 15 years with last year’s payout at $79,000, The Marriott project at $2,540,000 (still under construction) and the RiverPoint Apartment Complex at $3.3 Million (still under construction).”
SHEPPARD: “A Tax Allocation District (TAD) is based on the assumption that the tax breaks provided will ultimately bring in more revenue and growth to the City of Rome. If you look at state law surrounding TADs, the incentives are specifically intended to be used in blighted areas that would otherwise struggle to attract development. We need to be very deliberate about how we dole out these limited opportunities and insure that decisions are based on scientific data that proves a need for incentive. Historically, TADs in Rome are often driven more by the needs of the developer rather than the needs of the community. I will be an advocate for more data-based decisions in this regard by the City of Rome. We need to utilize these incentives in areas that are truly in need of redevelopment and unlikely to see it otherwise. That is how we create economic growth rather than maintaining expected development at the taxpayer’s expense.”
Question 4: Economic development: State Mutual Stadium, the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College and various other initiatives have been used to spur our economy since 2002. What one or two specific projects do we need to drive additional higher-paying jobs to our community?
DAVIS: “As discussed above, our community has utilized SPLOST funding wisely for many economic development projects, and our stadium and tennis center have added to our quality of life as well as producing needed economic impact. Similarly, investments in purchasing and adding infrastructure to development sites has brought millions of dollars of private investments and hundreds of jobs. We must keep moving forward and continue the collaborative leadership that paves the way for positive growth. Redevelopment of the former Georgia Regional Hospital site could produce more high-paying jobs and bring a hub of economic activity to our city. We have already invested in planning for this growth, and we need the cooperation of the state to make this happen. We need to keep working to make Rome more business-friendly, to ensure our services are user-friendly, and to recruit career-caliber jobs that will keep our young people in Rome after college. Rome has recently established a business liaison position as a good move in that direction. We also have a prime opportunity to work with local entrepreneurs, business people, civic leaders and the arts community to make the River District a lively and successful addition to downtown Rome.”
DOSS: “We need more site-ready industrial space. This requires substantial investment with careful planning through our Rome-Floyd Chamber and the Development Authority. Another immediate and long-term need is a strong, educated, committed workforce. This requires a continued commitment to the educational community and expansion of our career academies. The goal is to provide industries that do come to Rome with skilled personnel and ensure better career opportunities for our citizens.”
KERESTES: “One thing we need to do is revamp or revitalize the Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital site. The county has an asset in the College and Career Academy. Expanding that to include Rome city schools and relocating to that site seems to be prudent. Part of the site could be developed into a live, work and play complex similar to the Atlantic Station in Atlanta. Because of its rail road access/availability, some form of industrial or manufacturing component could locate there. We should also try to acquire and develop land parcels to incite corporate investment. We currently seem to try to lure manufacturing companies. The higher paying jobs are in the high-tech or computer fields. Since Rome is fiber optically up to speed, we should look to attract those types of firms.”
LEE: “To develop the Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital property into a research, medical or educational entities could be one possibility.”
QUICK: “Spec buildings have been an important element in the economic development strategy of many communities as they help to increase interest from perspective industrial prospects. With a product on the ground, a company has the opportunity to relocate eliminating the time and cost of construction. In a competitive environment, we need to have the tools necessary to market Rome and Floyd county as well as possible for better paying jobs. It would truly be an investment in our future.”
SHEPPARD: “I believe that our potential for attracting and creating high-paying jobs in our community relies critically on the College and Career Academy projects that are developing in our City and County school systems. It comes up often that our lack of a trained and ready work force is the sticking point for industries considering locating in Rome. Proper training and apprenticeship programs are key to preparing our young people for work and showing potential employers that we are ready for them. I also believe that we have to be diligent in our support of small business in order to continue to grow the vitality of our community and enrich the quality of life factor that can attract larger business. For example, our pouring license fees are among the highest in the state and I would like to see us re-examining this and other ways that we can improve opportunities for young businesses and provide them with the best potential for success.”
Question 5 and it has differing answers:
-Incumbents: What one specific project or initiative have you championed in the past four years and what have been the results for the community.
DAVIS: “As a candidate, I promised to involve more people in the process of everyday governing, using today’s technology to share information and gather citizen input. Let’s call this initiative ‘citizen engagement’ and I have delivered on that commitment. I pushed to return a public information officer to the city staff and to upgrade our city website. The city added Facebook and Twitter accounts that are regularly updated. In addition, via social media I provide links to agendas and key documents and make it clear that I want my neighbors to be knowledgeable and participate in meetings. I have borrowed good ideas from other cities bringing innovations such as live streaming of commission meetings and the ‘MyRome app’ which allows Romans to submit work requests conveniently via their smart phones. I have also been a strong advocate for neighborhood associations and civic involvement in redevelopment plans. In addition, I have launched a survey tool to gather more input. We have gone from cancelling 2011 elections to record number of candidates this year with strong citizen participation to ‘save Rome’s Central Park.’ You can count on me to continue to use innovative tools to bring Romans closer to our city government.”
DOSS: “Asking me to name a specific project or initiative is like asking me which of my daughters is my favorite. I’ve been in a key position to help craft the renewal of our city into a sports/tourism destination. Fueled by our downtown, there are so many reasons for people to come to Rome. This will expand even more with the revival of West Third St. and what will later become our River District. However, one project/initiative that has captured my devotion in recent years is our new connector from Highway 411 to I-75. A ‘myth’ for many years, we are finally gaining traction. Thanks to the collaboration of Cartersville, Bartow County, Rome, and Floyd County, it will become a reality that will benefit all Romans with a projected date of 2025. I have learned that working together really works, but it takes work. I am committed and motivated through teamwork, stewardship and leadership to the continued progress of Rome. I trust the voters and hope to continue serving this great city.”
LEE: “Eight years ago, I started an initiative to build a new animal shelter. Even though it would be a county project, its benefits would be for city and county. Fortunately, $5.5 million for the shelter was included in the successful 2013 SPLOST and today, we have a state-of-the-art facility to serve abandoned and homeless animals. I think I was a major force behind the success of this project and I believe it will serve our community well into the future.”
-Challengers: If elected, four years from now but based on your campaign platform, what one specific project or initiative will you champion and how will citizens be able to “grade” you on it?
KERESTES: “All of the City of Rome elementary schools participate in the First Tee National School Program. That uses the game of golf to introduce students to core values and healthy habits. Honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment are the values. The habits are play, energy, safety, mind, family, vision, friends, school and community. My original SPLOST proposal focused on creating a First Tee Program in Rome. This nationwide program provides opportunities and participate in events and activities that reinforce and allow for practice of these vital traits. The program self-funds itself through donations. If someday we had this for all the young children of Rome and Floyd County, then I would feel as if we accomplished something.”
QUICK: “If elected to the Rome City Commission, I will work in a cooperative spirit with the County, Economic Development Authorities and Chamber for positive, long-term economic growth. This will include working to develop a multi-jurisdictional steering committee to focus on options concerning the future of the 150-acre campus of Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital. Just like in my own business, I will be judged by the bottom line.”
SHEPPARD: “I am a champion for small business and innovative growth. Rome is a rich and unique community with so much potential for progressing in ways that we have not traditionally considered. It is my goal to be an agent for the changes that help us promote these developments while maintaining fiscal prudence and careful planning to make Rome the best that it can be.”
Oct. 10: The last day to register to vote if you’re a lapsed or new city resident.
Advance voting begins Oct. 16 and ends Nov. 3.
The election is Tuesday, Nov. 7.