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Q&A With New Decatur Mayor Jim Baskett--Part I

He talks about priorities, annexation, the city school system and relations with DeKalb County.

Jim Baskett, 65, is hardly an unknown in Decatur city government.

He’s served on the city commission since 1995 as an at-large member, meaning the whole city votes on his post, and as mayor pro tem for 10 years.

On Monday night his fellow commissioners elected him mayor to replace Bill Floyd. Floyd left the commission after more than two decades.

Baskett is retired now, but for decades he and his wife, Mickey, owned and ran Prolific Impressions, a publishing company. Baskett said the company usually put out about 25 books a year, with the biggest seller being “Cutting Your Family’s Hair.”

The Basketts live in the historic South Candler district. He often travels around town in an electric GEM car and says he usually runs about 20 miles a week. (You can see a full bio of Baskett on the city webpage.)

On Tuesday morning he sat down with Patch to talk about his new job. The second part of the interview will run Monday morning. The answers have been edited for length.

What are your priorities as mayor?

I weigh every decision against whether or not this builds community or doesn’t. Are we building in a direction where we can expect a greater sense of community? That means empowering people who usually don’t feel empowered. It means taking care of everybody and making sure everybody is heard and everybody has a voice. That’s always been my personal priority as a commissioner.

Now, when it comes to what I see as the future and what we’ll deal with, I see us facing a couple of challenges and that might be where a person might look out and say there’s an agenda. The two biggest challenges, and they’re interrelated, are what's happening in DeKalb County and what’s happening in Decatur City Schools.

Decatur is prospering and doing well but the county not so much. We can’t just live as an island. We can only go so far if the county continues on the kind of path it’s on, especially with the county schools. Our school system right now, if you project out with the number of students, .

Maybe it can over a three–four years, period, maybe even five years, but if things continue the way it has over 10 years, you can’t see how that’s going to work.

Do you think annexation is crucial for the growth of Decatur City Schools?

I think annexation is one way to postpone the worst of the crisis. I think it's one way to immediately address some of the issues. If you can add to their revenue source without adding to their service delivery problems, then you can make a real difference.

Annexation for the city ... we looked at it and for us we barely came out on top in what we expected in revenue over expenditures, and in some scenarios it was just a wash. But it’s not the same for the schools because they don’t have the the service delivery issues we would have and they would get three times the revenue we would from any given piece of real estate.

So could it really make a difference? Yeah.

Do you think the annexation the city commission approved will ever become a reality?

Honestly, I can’t see how. … I’m going to sit down with Bill [Floyd] and talk more about this because Bill has been the spearhead on this and he’s the one who’s had the relationships and he’s the one whose talked to so many people. If Bill has some way to convince me that we can make it a reality, I want to listen to that.

But honestly it’s really hard right now. We don’t have somebody in the legislature to champion it, to carry the bill for us. I’ve talked to some legislators about it and haven’t had any expression of enthusiasm from them. I’ve spoken to Burrell Ellis and of course there’s not going to be any enthusiasm for it from the county.

So one of the first things that I have to do is talk to my friends on the county commission, and I have a number, and see what the possibility there of us working together on some issues and that being one. We have an opportunity to improve our relationship with DeKalb County.

We’ve had a contentious relation for some time. It goes back to their refusal to pay HOST tax monies that were due us. But most of the county commission, they weren’t even around when that started. Bill and I were, but Bill had so much of a more prominent position and everything. …

I’m kind of working from a clean slate. They don’t know me well enough and they don’t know me well enough to have a really bad opinion of me. So maybe we can start to build on some relationships that I do have and work toward some better outcomes and get our relationship better with the county. That would be important.

In Part II of the interview, Baskett talks about why he opposes popular election of Decatur's mayor and why he decided to run last election.

Ralph Ellis January 11, 2013 at 02:04 PM
Do you agree with Baskett on annexation's chances of success?

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