Roswell mayor takes on challengers in mayoral debate

This story has been corrected from an earlier version to reflect that Jason Yowell said Roswell’s future is as a destination city.

From the start of a mayoral debate Monday, Roswell Mayor Lori Henry came under fire from her opponents on the most talked-about issues in the city: The Oxbo Road project investigation, a lack of building development in the city, and frequent heated disagreements on City Council.

Henry joined mayoral candidates Jason Yowell and Kurt Wilson in the one-hour debate at the Roswell Community Masjid. Fewer than 20 attendees turned out for the event, which was streamed live. Kinza Tariq and Shafina Khabani, who are members of the north Fulton Muslim community, questioned the candidates.

Wilson, a restaurant franchisee, ran for mayor in 2017 but dropped out before Election Day. Yowell is a homebuilder and contractor and frequent critic of the mayor.

During the debate, Henry cited lower crime since the hiring of Police Chief James Conroy in 2019 and low turnover in the police department as signs of positive changes during her time as mayor. She said a lowering of the millage rate for the first time since 1988 and projects funded by the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax were also accomplishments.

The mayor also praised the city’s racial equity task force of community leaders that was formed in 2020 to hold Roswell accountable for its practices among minority groups.

“It’s important to our community and it’s important to me,” Henry said.

Henry said the city needs an economic development director to drive growth in new business construction projects coming to Roswell.

After growing rapidly in population for nearly 30 years, Wilson said, Roswell is now in a state of stagnation with economic development. “We’ve been very good as a city in doing plans … we just haven’t been successful in getting those plans executed,” Wilson said. “I believe I could be effective in not only implementing but executing.”

Wilson added that he would work to make Roswell a more walkable city with more connectivity between different areas of town.

Yowell said Roswell has missed its window for business development and its future is as a destination city for tourism. Roswell has historic homes that open for daily tours, several popular parks, and Canton Street was a model for other cities for years, he added.

“We’re not going to become a corporate headquarters (for companies), that ship has sailed,” Yowell said. “The land has all been developed residentially. … Nor is there an appetite for a MARTA line coming to Roswell.”

Yowell said his professional experience in development of land use and zoning codes is greater than city staff and he would have a transportation department that would focus on better use of permeable surfaces to prevent stormwater runoff.

Wilson and Yowell criticized Henry’s handling of City Council meetings where arguments have periodically erupted between her and Councilmen Mike Palermo and Marcelo Zapata, and the Oxbo Road project investigation which is costing the city $70,000.

Henry launched an investigation into mismanagement of the nearly $14 million project in February. City Council members and residents have become impatient waiting for the outcome of the investigation and completion of the stalled project.

Roswell has paid $6 million of the project’s total cost in settlements with property owners at Oxbo Road in order to perform the road work.

Henry said Monday that the investigation by Jarrard & Davis law firm will be completed by the end of September.

“I have had a hands off approach on this because I didn’t want to be accused of meddling,” she said.

Wilson said the need for a $70,000 investigation shows a lack of transparency by the mayor and City Council.