Marietta Mayor Bill Dunaway is stepping down on a high note.
In November, voters approved a $25 million bond referendum to buy new parkland and improve existing parks. Dunaway championed the bond, but didn’t get much help from the city council, with only two of six members saying they’d vote for it.
That lack of support reflects the city hall atmosphere during Dunaway’s eight years in office. He often clashed with council members and vetoed 13 council decisions in eight years; in comparison, Roswell Mayor Jere Wood has used the veto only twice in 12 years.
Council member Griffin Chalfant said Dunaway “has a great heart for Marietta” but is the most contentious mayor he can remember.
“There’s a lot of head-butting that goes on between the mayor and members of council,” he said. “It’s pretty adversarial.”
The next mayor will be Steve "Thunder" Tumlin, who ran when Dunaway decided not to.
In an interview in his city hall office, Dunaway, 70, admits he pushed hard to get his way with the council.
"I keep going at something, sometimes not tactfully," he said.
He said his willingness to battle paid off – especially during the first term. He led the way as the council renegotiated the lease on the city conference center and sold the city-owned Internet company, FiberNet.
The economy proved his biggest enemy in his second term. Dunaway made redevelopment a major campaign issue, especially reduction of the number of renters, but developers never finished several big residential projects.
He says the city’s a better place to live now and that he helped make Marietta more welcoming to new businesses.
Dunaway has vocal detractors. Larry Wills, who writes an occasional opinion column for The Marietta Daily Journal and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said in an e-mail that the mayor “holds people that do not share his vision in contempt, and will ignore or bend any legal restraints that keep him from getting what he wants.”
Dunaway denies that and said Wills is angry about losing a composting contract with the city.
Dunaway is sensitive to media coverage, especially from Wills. The “messages from the mayor” section of the city Web site is full of missives responding to coverage in The Marietta Daily Journal. He regularly shoots off mass e-mails to argue points.
Dunaway considers himself an OM – Old Mariettian. He’s known most of the movers and shakers for decades.
“An OM not only has roots in Marietta but allegiance to Marietta,” he said. “An OM thinks Marietta first and it’s nice to be part of Atlanta second.”
After graduating from the University of Georgia, he worked in the family Dunaway Drug Store chain. He was in charge when Eckerd bought the chain in 1989.
In the early 1990s Dunaway opened the 1848 House, an upscale Southern restaurant with fans across the Atlanta area. The self-described foodie got out of the restaurant business after winning the mayor’s seat in 2002. He’d never held elective office before.
In Marietta’s weak-mayor form of government, the mayor has more influence than power. He sets the tone but can’t vote unless the city council ties. (Dunaway suggests the city charter be changed to give the mayor a vote.)
“Bill came at being a mayor as being a manager, like a drug store manager, and having employees under him,” said Betty Hunter, a former council member who served one term with Dunaway. “His style of operation hurt him in many ways because council members feel like they’re just as important as the mayor because they’ve got the votes.”
Dunaway yelled at a city employee in his office in 2002, leading to a reprimand from the council. In a story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dunaway said the reprimand was stage-managed by longtime council member Philip Goldstein, sometimes called “the stealth mayor” for his behind-the-scenes influence. The two men often maneuvered for power in battles over the conference center, FiberNet and the parks bond referendum.
Goldstein declined comment for this story, but Dunaway declared victory in one of his final speeches.
“Eight years ago, I said if I were elected mayor, I would be the mayor, not Philip,” he said. “I did just that.”
Dunaway said he seriously considered a third term, but decided against it when old friend Tumlin, a former legislator, said he wanted the job. Tumlin, who won easily, said he’ll be a different kind of mayor.
"I have a live-for-another-day philosophy," Tumlin said. "He [Dunaway] says the fight's not over until he says so."
One thing will keep Dunaway busy: he’s a volunteer with the National Ski Patrol and spends winter weekends at a North Carolina ski resort. Beyond that, he doesn’t know what’s next.
“I’m the type of person who will be doing something,” he said. “I just need to find something I can get my teeth into.”
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