Marty Jones, Conyers city councilman
CONYERS -- When Marty Jones was first elected to the City Council in 1988, Conyers looked much different than it does today.
At that time, the Ga. Highway 138/Interstate 20 interchange was not congested with traffic from The Home Depot or Walmart. Flat Shoals Road was where Ga. Highways 20 and 138 split, instead of where Lowe's now sits.
"Then, virtually no commercial development was in place," said Jones, who served at his last City Council meeting on Dec. 7. "The city itself the first 15 years had less than 10,000 people."
Since then, however, population in Conyers has soared, along with commercial development throughout Rockdale County. According to U.S. Census figures, Conyers' population increased by more than 42 percent between 2000 and 2010, far outpacing the 18 percent growth statewide during that same period.
He said the commercial growth, not only from Walmart and The Home Depot, but also larger industries such as Pratt Industries, has been a tremendous benefit to Conyers.
"When things are good and things are growing -- whether you add a Walmart or a Pratt Industries -- you are adding to the tax digest that helps fund everything you do," Jones said.
Another significant development during Jones' tenure was when the 1996 Olympics chose Conyers for one of its venues.
"Landing the Olympics was huge, although, truthfully, I'm not sure we knew what we were getting into when we got it, but it worked out pretty good for us," he said.
Like most things, the significant growth brought not only opportunities but also challenges.
"At the time (I was first elected), the city ran the water and sewer system," Jones said. "Where water and, in particular, sewer service was determined where the growth was going to be. We spent a lot of time on that part of the puzzle until the city sold the water and sewer system to the county."
Jones said he was unprepared for the animus that developed between city officials and residents in the unincorporated parts of Rockdale County over the water system.
"It was a challenge because there was a lot of resentment over the rate differential between the city and the county. There was a lot of infighting as result of that, and for me I didn't realize that when I first was on the council," he said.
Over time, though, he said that animosity has diminished.
In recent years, Jones said the City Council has focused more on revitalization of Olde Town. It was significant, he said, in 2007, when Conyers joined the Main Street Program.
"I think we elected officials now who recognize the work and effort it takes to do this and the redevelopment we're trying to spur in the historic district," he said.
The faltering economy has forced the city to readjust some of its expectations, but at the same time be poised for when things begin to turn around.
"With revenue falling for the city, it's been a little harder trying to balance what we need to do and at the same time provide for our employees, who are the ones who do the work," Jones said. "When something good happens, it's not us elected officials doing the work, it's the city's employees."
He said the city has also taken significant steps in preparation for when the economy does improve, including purchasing abandoned property in the historic district that can be redeveloped as well as tightening commercial and residential development ordinances.
Looking ahead, Jones said exercising patience will be a challenge facing elected officials. Because growth has been relatively flat, the instinct will be to welcome any new development, regardless of its quality.
"I think a challenge will be being able to say no to people who will want to come in and build cookie-cutter developments," he said. "We need to wait for the right developer because I think we have a pretty good product here."
Even with all the changes in Conyers, Jones said his goals over the last 22 years have not changed that much.
"I want to keep the quaint feel of the community, what the city has always had, and grow it responsibly while at the same time keeping the tax burden on the citizens as low as possible," he said.
Jones said the time was right for him to step down from the City Council, and he is encouraged by the election of John Fountain.
"I think I've done a fair job and I believe I would continue to do a fair job, but I also believe that when people behind you are willing to do the job, good leaders give them the opportunity," he said. "It will mean a little different voice, a different perspective, and that's good."
Jones admits that he is probably more outspoken than most elected officials, but said he has tried to follow over the last 22 years some advice given him by a friend, who said: "When you're up there and you're discussing an issue and trying to a make a point, be as civil as possible and be able to have a beer or cup of coffee with that person when it's over. If you can't, then you did something wrong."
Jones said under the leadership of Mayor Randy Mills, the Conyers City Council has been able to adopt that philosophy, and has remained friendly and collegial.
"It's been a real privilege to work with them," he said. "I want to give a big thank you to the community for letting me serve this long."