Healing the Heart of Democracy

For years I have been concerned about the state of our nation and what it means for the future we will leave to our children. That concern was the main reason I ran for public office.

By running for city council I saw an opportunity to make a difference, however slight. And by offering to serve my community on a local level I hoped to positively impact the future for my children.

The beauty of serving at a local level is that most of the issues have an immediate impact the community we call home. National politics usually dominate network newscasts but it is the local decisions about roads, parks and zoning applications that have the greatest impact on a city. So I try to stay focused on local issues that I can influence and generally refrain from writing about national issues here unless they have a direct impact on Alpharetta.

One national issue that has weighed heavily in my mind lately though is how politically divided our nation has become. Rather than a nation of “We The People” it seems like too many Americans are caught up in “Us versus Them” or “Good versus Evil”. The political divide has gotten worse over my lifetime and lately it seems that divisiveness is resulting in violence.

Last year as I began reflecting on how our nation got to this point I came across a book titled Healing the Heart of Democracy written by Parker J. Palmer. It provides some great insight into how our nation’s political discourse has reached such a troubling point and even though it was written in 2011 it seems especially relevant after the 2016 presidential election and thee ensuing turmoil.

Healing the Heart of Democracy

The author of Healing has a very different political perspective than mine and I nearly stopped reading it at one point because it was challenging to read so many views I disagreed with. But fortunately Mr. Palmer’s ability to identify the root of many problems facing our nation kept me reading even when I didn’t agree with his proposed solutions.

Looking back it became clear that if I couldn’t bear reading the book because I didn’t always agree with Dr. Palmer then I wasn’t ready to hear his message any way. Below is a selection from the book’s introduction that I found particularly relevant:

But these days, “We the People” have a great deal of trouble talking across our lines of difference about the common good—so much trouble that many of us doubt the very concept of a “common good.” Deformed by a divisive political culture, we’re less inclined to differ with each other honestly than to demonize each other mercilessly. That’s why it’s so seductive to gather with folks who share our view of what’s wrong and do little more than complain about all those “wrongdoers” who aren’t in the room.

If we want to “create a politics worthy of the human spirit,” we must find ways to bridge our differences, whether they are defined by age, gender, class, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or political ideology. Then we must seek patches of common ground on the issues we care most about. This is more than a feel-good exercise. If we cannot reach a rough consensus on what most of us want, we have no way to hold our elected officials accountable to the will of the people.

Every time we fail to bridge our differences, we succumb to the divide-and-conquer tactics so skillfully deployed by individuals and institutions whose objective is to take us out of the political equation. Question: Why are billions of dollars spent annually on cable TV performances of political “infotainment” that are all heat and no light? On disseminating disinformation and agitprop online? On PACs that can produce and purchase air time for fact-free attack ads that offer no solutions? Answer: To make “We the People” so fearful and suspicious of each other that we will become even more divided and politically impotent.

There is a lot of wisdom in those three paragraphs. Especially to someone who has been actively involved in local politics for the past few years.

If you are as concerned about the divisive nature of American politics and the effect it is having on your friends, family and community I encourage you to read Healing the Heart of Democracy by Parker J. Palmer. The book not only provides clarity to some of the core issues facing America but also offers ways suggestions for ways we can act locally to do something about it.

I try to keep an extra copy on hand if you would like to borrow one or you can order it here on Amazon for less than $15.

 

 

Advertisements

Resolution of the Mayor and Council Regarding MARTA Tax Increase

Last night the Alpharetta Mayor and City Council unanimously supported a resolution asking members of the Georgia state legislature to allow Fulton County to finish the transportation improvement process begun last year under House Bill 170. It is my understanding that the Mayor and City Council of Johns Creek have also adopted this resolution.

Last year’s House Bill 170 laid out a well designed plan for investing in the diverse infrastructure needs of a county the size of Fulton. The resolution below would preserve that ongoing process while still providing municipalities more flexibility to expand transit within that framework as needed. You can click on the photo below to read the whole thing.

 

Alpharetta SB 330 Resolution_edited-1

We’ve Come a Long Way…

It is hard to believe I first asked Alpharetta voters for the privilege of serving on their city council just four years ago. A lot has changed since then.

When I decided to run for office Alpharetta’s unemployment rate was 7.5%. Our office space vacancy rate was nearly 20% while residential property values had dropped by about 20%.

In that environment I took office and immediately began working with the mayor and council to revive Alpharetta’s local economy. We hired an Economic Development Coordinator and pursued innovative tools like the Opportunity Zone incentives which helped attract the Avalon development as well as major new employers like Fiserve and Halyard.

We aggressively sought a new technical school to maintain our skilled workforce and complement our award winning local schools. We began building a downtown Alpharetta our community could be proud of with special events and a restaurant scene to draw people from all over North Fulton.

Now four years into my service Alpharetta’s unemployment rate hovers near historic lows at 4.8%. The thousands of new jobs we attracted have reduced vacancy rates by half and for the first time in seven years new corporate campuses are being proposed to add more jobs in our thriving business ecosystem.

And during that extraordinary growth I never lost sight of how crucial it is to preserve what makes Alpharetta the best place in Georgia to raise a family and do business. I have consistently voted against hundreds of the apartments which further crowd our roadways and schools. I have devoted millions of dollars toward improving roadways and other infrastructure to accommodate growth. I promised to pursue fiscally responsible growth while rejecting tax increases and that is exactly what I have done.

So yes, we have come a long way from where we were 4 years ago… but there is a lot of work left to do. That is why I now ask the people of Alpharetta to extend to me the honor of serving them one more term on city council. With their blessing I will dedicate the next four years to continue representing this city honorably while fostering growth we can all live with. I hope I have earned your votes once again and appreciate any support you can lend in this effort.

Sincerely,                                                                                                                                           Jim Gilvin                                                                                                                               Alpharetta City Council, Post 4

We Deserve Better

There are millions of honorable men and women who will never run for political office because they refuse to subject themselves and their families to the ugly world of politics. Our nation suffers as a result.

And if a candidate dares to take on the political establishment the attacks can become outrageous. It happened to Sarah Palin, it happened to South Carolina’s Governor Niki Haley and it is happening to me.

Within days of announcing my candidacy for Alpharetta City Council there were vicious lies about my positions on a local blog. You can read about those attacks here.

And the lies haven’t stopped. Last night at a campaign event a woman asked me about my position on Amana Academy. I explained that I have consistently fought to protect Windward’s master plan over the years and told her that I made my opposition to the school rezoning clear to Alpharetta City Councilmembers before I ever decided to run for political office.

I also mentioned to the woman that my political opponents had spread false rumors about my position on the issue. As I handed the woman a campaign sign for her yard she replied, “It’s funny you should say that because someone called me the other day and told me that Cheryl Oakes’ opponent supported Amana Academy.”

So let me set the record straight. I have spent more than a decade helping the people of Alpharetta fight to protect their schools, property values and quality of life. Before I decided to run for council I personally distributed hundreds of flyers on behalf of people opposed to the school relocation because I wanted my neighbors to know the legitimate, objective reasons it would be bad for our community. Any insinuation that I support the Amana Academy rezoning is a bald faced lie.

In fact, my opponent, Cheryl Oakes, is the candidate who opened the door for changes to the Windward master plan by voting to approve seven high rise condominium buildings one block from the Amana site in 2008. She supported that project over the objections of hundreds of nearby families and when it is built there will be more than 12,000 cars added to one of the most congested intersections in Alpharetta.

Those are the facts.

The tactics of deception are disappointing but not surprising. I fully expected people to lie and deceive in this campaign because they have done it in the past and will continue to do so as long as it keeps them in power.

The episode reminds me of the old saying, “In democracy you get the government you deserve”. In the context of Alpharetta politics I hope that isn’t true.

We deserve better.

MARTA and the future of Alpharetta

In 2007 I had a conversation with an employee of Alpharetta’s Community Development Department about the future of our city. At the time the city was planning to approve a 13 story condominium building in my children’s school district and there was a lot of opposition from my neighbors. At one point in that discussion I told her,”The only reason you are trying to force this down people’s throat is so you can justify bringing MARTA up to Windward. Now people can disagree whether that is a good thing or not but it will completely change the city of Alpharetta and the people who live here should know what you are doing and have some say in it. We should be holding hearings or something.” Stunned silence was her only response.

I was reminded of that conversation when I read Hatcher Hurd’s column “Future transportation still keys off Ga. 400” in the Alpharetta Revue Thursday. In the column Mr. Hurd recalls his own epiphany about MARTA and how Alpharetta would be forced to change in order to accommodate heavy rail expansion.

 “Like a patient father, the MARTA exec told me that the Beltline would have the density of development that would make the MARTA service fiscally tenable. Windward or Roswell just don’t have the numbers – yet.”

I find it very peculiar that Mr. Hurd would liken a MARTA bureaucrat to a father figure but I do appreciate him pointing out what has been going on behind the scenes in Alpharetta for years now. It is about time that a local media outlet shed some light on the transformation that is taking place in the shadows while Alpharettans are too busy raising their families and struggling to keep their heads above water to notice. The timing of Mr. Hurd’s revelation is also fortunate that because it comes as the city is looking to choose a new mayor that will to guide us in this process.

If you doubt that this transformation is actually taking place I refer you to the MARTA North Line Transit Oriented Development Study which was developed in 2006 with the cooperation of Diana Wheeler, the director of Alpharetta’s Community Development Department. You can find the report online and I suggest you start by reading the 22 page appendix here. I’d like to point out a few of the highlights:

“This is just a concept to help the local jurisdictions create more transit-friendly development. The density has to happen before transit service can be extended. The next step is for the local jurisdictions to create the environment to support the MARTA expansion.”

“We know that higher density development leads to traffic and most officials won’t zone for higher density in order to prevent more traffic.”

“More than just carrots; developers should be incentivised to concentrate development and create higher densities.”

So as the fatherly MARTA exec said, Alpharetta may not “have the numbers-yet” but the city has been trying to change that for 5 years now. Too bad they didn’t include the citizens of Alpharetta in the conversation. Neither the mayor nor a single city councilperson has dared tell us what they are doing.

It is time for the residents of Alpharetta to finally join that conversation and there could be no better time to get their attention than during this year’s mayoral race.

The decentralization of power is a good thing

Jim Galloway has another insightful column up at the AJC’s Political Insider blog. He uses the recent advance of the Sunday Alcohol Sales bill to point out how the Tea Party movement has caused a decentralization of political power in Georgia.

“Republicans often talk of the chill that last November’s tea party-driven vote sent up President Barack Obama’s spine. Only rarely do they acknowledge that those same ballots signaled a shift to a more libertarian brand of conservatism within the GOP.”

“It’s a bill about local control,” Bulloch said. And we’re all about limited government these days, because the pitchforks – once held by followers of Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson — are now in the hands of tea partyers.”

I for one would welcome this decentralization of power. One of the consequences of concentrating money and power in a central location is that it makes it much easier for lobbyists to influence where that money ends up being spent. The farther the decision making process gets from the taxpayer the less chance there is that the money will actually be spent to benefit that taxpayer. The supporters of turning North Fulton into Milton County are using this same justification for local control.

With that in mind my favorite quote from Galloway’s column is by the head of the Georgia Christian Coalition, Jerry Luquire, as he explained why he didn’t bother to attend the hearings on Sunday alcohol sales,

“I don’t show up at the Capitol much anymore because that’s not where the power is anymore. The power is among the people”.

I don’t care if you support the Tea Party or not, I would hope we can agree that the power being back with the people is a good thing.

If you are interested in Georgia politics then the Political Insider is a must read and you can find the whole article here.