On Nov. 5, Austell residents elected their first new mayor in 30 years, kind of.
Mayor Ollie Clemons, formerly mayor pro tem, has been serving as acting mayor since July, following the retirement of Mayor Joe Jerkins, who left office for health reasons.
Earlier this month, voters chose to keep him around for a full four-year term. He earned 54% of the vote in a four-person race.
The MDJ caught up with Clemons in his office shortly after the votes were counted. Austell’s first African American city councilman, now also its first African American mayor, said he’s thankful to the voters and to God for the win.
“I feel excited, thankful and grateful,” he said. “It wasn’t me, it was God who allowed me to be as successful as I was without having to have a runoff, so to God be the glory.”
Clemons said now that the race is over, he’s eager to get back to work, and the first step will be to get the city’s two new council members up to speed.
In the same Nov. 5 election, Melanie Maria Elder won Clemons’ old Post 1 at-large seat, which became vacant when he assumed the role of mayor.
The city’s Ward 3 council seat will go to plumber Devon Myrick, who was voted in after Councilman Scott Thomas did not run for reelection.
“I’m scheduling time with them to set up an orientation, to meet them and discuss with them what they have in their minds as far as goals and aspirations.”
As far as his own goals and aspirations, Clemons cited the creation of a master parks plan scheduled for the first quarter of 2020, which he hopes will help the city better utilize its 1,300 acres of green space. That could include a partnership with Cobb County and Powder Springs to build a multi-use trail connecting downtown Austell with the Silver Comet Trail, he said.
Clemons also said he is looking forward to continuing economic development projects such as mixed use developments and quiet rail crossings.
“What I would like to be able to say at the end of that four years is how we greatly improved upon the quality of life, how we’ve improved in the economic development perspective from the continued revitalization, new commercial businesses, new residential homes, more job creation for our citizens,” he said.
For the past few years, Austell has been found deficient in required government financial audits, even violating state finance law for three of the past four years.
When he first took office, Clemons told the MDJ he had complete confidence the next audit would show no problems, and following his election, he said the proof of that accomplishment is expected as early as December’s City Council meeting.
“I’m excited to say the auditor finished the audit last week, we came out with not a blemish at all, he shared with me and the staff,” Clemons said. “He’ll be coming shortly and meeting with me, going over the audit and how it came out, but he said that it was absolutely stellar, it’s just a complete turnaround from those reports that have come out in the past.”
Clemons also said there are no plans to raise Austell’s taxes, currently the lowest in the county.
“We have no desire at all to try and raise our taxes,” he said. “It is something that the citizens of Austell greatly benefit from and appreciate, so we’re looking at certainly keeping the tax structure where it is.”
Clemons said there are a few changes he would be willing to make if the council expresses interest.
The biggest would be streaming council meetings live over the internet. Earlier this month, Powder Springs became the fourth Cobb city to stream video of council meetings. The county government broadcasts video of its proceedings as well. Austell and Acworth residents who can’t make it to meetings can currently only access written minutes or audio recordings.
“I’ve had discussions with our city for some time now about increasing our efficiencies and the utilization of our technology,” Clemons said. “We’ve had discussions about streaming in the past. We haven’t had the complete discussion where we’re looking to go forward with that, but now since the change of leadership, by all means, yeah, I look forward to that because it assists our citizens.”
Clemons spoke glowingly of his predecessor, Mayor Jerkins, who appointed him to mayor pro tem just a year after he was first elected to council.
Clemons said he has a different leadership style than Jerkins, but fundamentally, he hopes to build on the previous mayor’s success rather than steer the city in a new direction.
“The accomplishments that were made over the years, I certainly will look to build on those and to improve upon them,” he said. “I don’t have radical change in mind right now. I have a mind of continued improvement, continued economic development growth, continued revitalization of our downtown and just continue moving Austell forward, not necessarily radically, but certainly in an upward momentum.”
Before getting into politics, Clemons was a senior sales executive with the U.S. Postal Service. He has lived in Austell with his wife, Valerie, for about 15 years. They have five children and five grandchildren.