Lesson learned, Roswell mayor sets to-do list

Roswell Mayor Jere Wood says he wants to build a bridge between the east and west sections of his city — and he’s not just speaking metaphorically.

Wood’s top priority for his fourth term will be constructing a bridge over Ga. 400 and a new road to connect Old Alabama and Warsaw roads. Such a project, he said, would take years to complete but would unclog roads and spur redevelopment.

Wood didn’t say so, but the bridge might improve his relationship with east Roswell residents, who don’t like the mayor much judging by voting patterns from Tuesday’s runoff. Wood beat David Tolleson by only 77 out of 9,123 votes cast.

“I won every precinct west of Highway 9,” Wood said. “David won every precinct east of Highway 9 with a couple of small exceptions ... Charlie Brown was still a big issue in a lot of people’s minds.”

Charlie Brown is shorthand for a mini-city of 27-story buildings and 5,000 residents that was proposed for east Roswell. Charlie Brown was the developer.

The idea died in 2007 because of public opposition. Wood said he only brought the subject to the table for discussion, but his opponents said Wood aggressively pushed the plan.

When asked what this election taught him, Wood said: “Folks don’t want high-rise buildings. I learned that two years ago. I learned their memories are longer than I thought.”

Lori Henry, who finished third in the general election and then endorsed Wood for the runoff, said the mayor learned something else.

“I think this election humbled him,” Henry said. “It brought him closer to the wishes of the citizens of Roswell ... The last time he had to do a job interviewing the citizens of Roswell was 12 years ago.”

With his booming voice, silver hair and collection of more than 100 colorful bow ties, Wood loves the spotlight. Even detractors admit he’s a natural leader who gets things done for the city of 90,000 people.

Wood became mayor in 1997 by defeating a 30-year incumbent with 59 percent of the vote. He faced no opposition in 2001 and minimal opposition in 2005. In the Nov. 3 general election, Wood got 40 percent of the vote, Tolleson 32 and Henry 28.

Wood said the close race won’t affect the way he behaves as mayor and that he won’t hold a grudge against the council members who endorsed Tolleson, Becky Wynn and Rich Dippolito. Wynn said in an e-mail that she’s ill and couldn’t take questions. Dippolito said he’s not worried.

“He’s a real professional,” Dippolito said. “We’ve been on opposite sides in the past and it hasn’t affected our ability to work together.”

The bridge tops Wood’s to-do list, but that’s a long-term project with a big price tag — Wood estimates $40 million to $50 million — and uncertain funding. Holcomb Bridge Road is now the only bridge connecting the two sides of town.

His second goal is to redevelop blighted areas, which he admits will be difficult during this recession. High-rises are out, he said, but two- and three-story buildings may replace one-story structures.

As a start, Roswell needs to become friendlier to business, he said. That can be accomplished by improving city workers’ attitudes, streamlining permitting procedures and working more closely with the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce.

Wood’s third priority is supporting the re-creation of Milton County.

Most of what now constitutes north Fulton County existed as Milton County until 1932, when Milton merged with Fulton to avoid bankruptcy. But now the concerns of Atlanta, south Fulton and north Fulton rarely align, Wood said.

Wood said the north Fulton cities will take over more services from Fulton County, such as 911 calls and counting votes during elections. “My approach is to chip away a piece at a time,” he said.

Affecting almost every decision is the economy. At the first of the year, Wood wants the City Council to take another look at the budget in light of falling tax revenues.

“We’re not going to raise taxes,” he said.