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State of the City

Designs for a new City Hall and creation of a strategic plan are big items on the City of Conyers' agenda this year, said Mayor Randy Mills and councilmen at the annual "State of the City" event Jan. 7 at Cherokee Run Golf Club.

Mills told the crowd of hundreds that city leaders think of themselves as building upon the foundation of a great community. Extending that metaphor, he said the city will spend the coming year "surveying, staking and leveling." That means surveying the opinion of community stakeholders on how to improve Conyers.

"We want you to - pardon the pun - level with us," Mills said.

The city's first-ever strategic plan-a document detailing the city's vision for future development and programming-is a major part of that. City officials are already working with consultants internally on the strategic plan. This year, there will be a public input phase, including focus groups, town hall meetings and a survey, Mills said.

The survey will seek information on "what we have, what we need more of, and most importantly, what we can do better," the mayor said.

The strategic plan's consultant has been using the terms "been-heres" for longtime residents and "come-heres" for newcomers, Mills said, adding, "I like to think there's a happy medium between the ‘been-heres' and ‘come-heres'" that Conyers can build on.

City leaders are also interested in actual construction, not just metaphors. Councilman John Fountain displayed some early sketches of a bigger, better City Hall. The city will seek an architect in the coming year to create a final design, he said.

An improved City Hall is a longtime wish-list item for city leaders, as the existing Scott Street complex is packed full. Last year, officials were exploring a site on Oakland Avenue for the new City Hall, and considering a mix of public and private development. But, Fountain said, the site and funding sources are yet to be determined.

Councilman Cleveland Stroud reported that serious crimes in Conyers are down in every category since 2013, with the overall serious-crime rate dropping by 14.7 percent.

Conyers appeared in the New York Times this year as an example of a city with similar racial disparities between government and residents as Ferguson, Mo., where protests erupted in August after the police killing of a black teen. No one at the "State of the City" mentioned the piece, but Stroud did talk about some of the local post-Ferguson activity, including a December forum at Springfield Baptist Church. He called that a "good first step in trying to find a peaceful solution to racial stigma in law enforcement."

Repeating a criticism of the media he made at a recent council meeting, Stroud said there should be more coverage of a Conyers officer given an award by Gov. Nathan Deal for rescuing a car-crash victim.

"When officers...especially if it's the white officer who shoots the black youth, it makes national news. Here's a white officer who saves a black youth, and we can't get two lines in the newspaper," Stroud said to applause, particularly from a seating section reserved for Conyers police officers and Rockdale Sheriff's Office deputies. (Editor's note: For the article on Conyers Police Officer Stephen Blanchette and his award for heroism, click here.)

In terms of business development, Councilman Vince Evans said "2014 was not a banner year, nor was it a bad year." He noted that the local Main Streets program is in a rebuilding phase, and that Conyers saw a lot of tourism, Hollywood filmmaking and industrial expansion. The forthcoming Acuity Brands expansion just outside city limits will bring even more jobs than originally reported, Mills added-closer to 1,000 rather than 500.

Gary Hegwood of the Conyers Security Alert program was named the employee of the year, and received the Dee Buggay Award of Excellence, at a city staff event earlier in the day.