Political Stuff

Recently, we found out who filed paperwork to have their names on the ballot for the next city council and mayoral election. While few filed for the available city council seats, three people threw their hat into the ring to be the city’s next mayor. A hat or two might be tossed out of the ring due to a petition challenge brought forward by an ally to current mayor Julie Moore Wolfe.

The total number of signatures needed to have one’s name on the ballot was 85. One of the mayoral candidates collected 87 signatures, and the other a handful more.

A few years ago, a big stink was caused by a challenge to several hopeful candidates, resulting in the removal of quite a few names. This wasn’t long after the Change Decatur initiative that pushed for a different style of city government. This was a group of local citizens who pushed for a strong mayor form of government for the city.

Decatur currently has a city manager style of government, in which each council member is elected at-large and the mayor is “weak”, really just a cheerleader. Our mayor is just another vote on the council. He/she doesn’t have any more power than any other council member.

Anyway, I remember it well, because it was the time period in which I became interested in local political matters and began blogging. It was all new to me then. I had a few friends who learned the hard way about signatures on petitions.

Last week, I listened to Brain Byers radio podcast, in which the topic of petition challenges came up with former mayor Paul Osborne. It was easy to read between the lines to know that this was going to happen. While the mayor herself didn’t challenge the petitions, a friend of hers, who happens to be a wealthy businessman, did.

Is it legal? Yes. Is it political savvy and opportunistic? Yes. Does it make the mayor look good? No.

It had already been assumed that she would win, considering the vote would have been split three ways. Her opponents are largely unfamiliar names in the community. Challenging the petitions supports the accusation that Decatur is run by a small circle of cronies who only look out for each other and swat down the little people whenever given the chance. It just seems… unseemly.

At any rate, if you ever plan to run for the city council, make sure you get way more signatures than the minimum. It’s very likely that some of the people signing won’t count. Someone from Mt Zion or Forsyth, or anyone not registered to vote in Decatur, won’t count.

I hope all three names remain on the ballot. I don’t know the other candidates, but I prefer that voters have options in every election. We’ll soon see.

Downtown Parks and the Homeless

Current city councilman David Horn was the lone vote against criminalizing being in Decatur’s downtown parks during nighttime hours. He saw it as an attack on homeless people. Originally, the fine was going to be $250, but was reduced to $25. In reality, it doesn’t seem like the police department is going to be enforcing the new rules too vigorously. Our police department is already understaffed and focused on violent crime in the city. Tossing homeless people out of a park on Christmas, or any other night, isn’t a high priority.

Is the new ordinance good policy? To be fair, almost all the city’s parks close at nighttime. You can’t set up a tent in Fairview Park and camp overnight. You can’t legally use the bike trail after sunset. These laws are meant to protect the parks and people using them.

Downtown is a different story, since the two parks in question are located in commercial and public areas. I’ve seen homeless people sleeping next to the Transfer House during the day. They’re often on the benches near the fountain.

I have to admit, it is intimidating to come across a homeless person, especially as a woman. This summer, I came across the makeshift camp that someone had made along the bike trail in Lincoln Park, and it creeped me out. While I carry items to protect myself, being alone in the woods with a homeless person, where other bodies had been dumped before, wasn’t exactly my idea of a walk in the park.

I never did see the person, just the blankets they had been sleeping on. Nothing happened but my crazy imagination. And truth be told, anyone could be a threat on the trail, or downtown, or in any park. They don’t have to be homeless. I keep me eye on everyone I see.

We tend to associate bad behavior with homeless people, unfairly. We immediately think the worst, like they’re going to rob, rape, or kill us. My question is, “Have homeless people committed any violent crimes in downtown Decatur?”

What kind of crimes have been happening downtown? Who is committing the crimes? Is it mostly during certain hours of the day? Is it just certain areas? Is this ordinance in reality only targeting homeless people who scare us by their presence, or are there real threats? I don’t know.

The city will revisit the new ordinance next year, and see how things are going. It’s a tough topic. We need to keep downtown safe, but we also need to have a heart for those who are homeless. Many have mental health issues that caused their homelessness. Most aren’t violent.

Anyway, it’s fun to be writing about some more lively local political items. Things have been too boring lately! 🙂