2020 State of the City

(File) With the New Year right around the corner, the Mayor of Tallassee, Johnny Hammock, discusses the state of the City while recollecting on the past and looking forward to the future.

Q: Looking back on 2020, what are you proudest of accomplishing as a mayor and council, and what didn't you do that should have been done?

A: Looking back on 2020 I would say the proudest accomplishment is being able to navigate a city during a pandemic while staying within budget. The Council and I believe fiscal responsibility is the number one responsibility of this administration. I wish I would have not cared so much about what people say about me on social media. I have now come to realize no matter what you do, someone will have something negative to say. I try not to take it personally. People tend to judge and criticize other people's lives when they're not happy with their own.

Q: What is your personal vision for where the city should be in 10 years?

A: My personal vision for where the City should be in the next 10 years is to be proactive. I feel that for many years this City has been reactive instead of proactive. I would like to see the City be ahead of the curve for once in my lifetime. I feel that we have let a lot of opportunities pass us by for numerous reasons. We are finally starting to make much-needed infrastructure repairs, a new High School being built, and a City Council that is willing to make the hard not so popular decisions for the betterment of all of Tallassee. Infrastructure, workforce development, and good civic leadership are the key ingredients for economic development. I think we are starting to see things moving in the right direction.

Q: What are your top 10 goals for the city in 2020 and please explain why?

A: My top 10 goals for the City in 2021 are to replace the Laney lift station, replace water lines in downtown, replace sewer lines in downtown, replace gas lines in downtown, make all sidewalks in downtown ADA compliant, install dark fiber in downtown, repave the road in downtown, start construction on the new wastewater facility, make repairs to the recreational center roof, and perform phase 2 assessment at the east side mill site.

Q: What are the top five long-term projects for the city over the next 10 years?

A: Replace aging infrastructure such as water lines, sewer lines, gas lines, and roads. Acquire funding to start east side mill clean up. Recruit businesses to occupy empty storefronts in Tallassee. Recruit industry that will offer hundreds of jobs to our area. Make sure we have fiber installed through all of Tallassee and surrounding areas.

Q: What things need to be done in the city that has never been done before?

A: I think the City needs to have a certificate of occupancy ordinance. Over half of the homes in our city are rental homes. I think there should be an inspection once a year to make sure there are no safety issues and the building is up to code. Once inspected and proper repairs are made a certificate of occupancy can be issued. Only after a certificate of occupancy is issued then the utilities are allowed to be turned on.

Q: Which parts of the budget need to be increased and which parts need to be cut?

A: Due to inflation of 1.5% to 2% each year I don't think we should cut any line items in the budget. I feel this administration has done a great job being fiscally responsible with the City budget. I would like to find more money to promote ecotourism in our City. I feel like Tallassee has a lot to offer people who enjoy fishing, kayaking, bird watching, and hiking.

Q: What are the chances of executing these plans? Good or bad, and why?

A: We have already started a podcast called Tallassee Talk that talks about rural economic development and promotes businesses in the river region. The City has also hired Jordan Cunningham to make a commercial we can put on social media and our website to promote our City's natural resources and beauty.

Q: Do you believe in term limits for the mayor and council? Why or why not?

A: I personally now know how long it takes to make projects come to fruition on the municipal level. I know some projects take multiple years to find funding, design, bid out the project, and then have the project break ground. I feel like as long as you are being productive and making decisions that are best for all of Tallassee and not just a certain few you should be able to run as many times as you wish. Let the people of Tallassee decide who they want to lead their City during the election each year. I would hate to see a Council member or Mayor be penalized for doing an extraordinary job and not being able to run anymore because of term limits.

Q: What are the most significant questions you hear from your constituents?

A: The most significant questions that I hear are what are you going to do about all these run-down houses or the Hotel Talisi? When are you going to clean up the East and West side mills? These are all great questions that I wish I could address expeditiously. The East Side mill just now became the property of the City. We are working with ADEM to perform assessments to determine if there are any hazardous materials on the rubble or in the soil. Once we determine this in 2021 we will know what direction we will pursue.

The City is currently in litigation with the owner of the Hotel Talisi. I am not at liberty to speak on this matter, pending litigation. The West Side mill belongs to the Tallassee Redevelopment Authority and they have a 99-year lease with the Tallassee Historical society. The Historical Society has been recently awarded a $15,000 grant to make repairs to the floors. They are currently exploring other grants that could aid in the redevelopment of this property. Unfortunately, you cannot legislate civic pride and the City has made strides in the area of code enforcement on run-down properties. From a financial standpoint, we only have $100,000 in the line item for this and it takes money to fight property owners that do not want to comply. There have been 18 unsafe structures demolished since I took office in 2016 and we will soon take down 27 unsafe structures with a CDBG grant in 2021. It took a long time for the City to get to this point and unfortunately it will take some time and money to restore it.

Q: What does the city government do well and what could it do better?

A: The City now does a great job of being transparent and informing the citizens of Tallassee of what is going on. Sometimes in economic development, we have to sign industry-standard Non-Disclosure agreements that prohibit that transparency. Also, there are times when the City is involved in ongoing litigation that we are not allowed to speak about. I think we can do a better job with our public relations. That is an area I need to work on. I tend to be a little blunt sometimes and it rubs people the wrong way.

Q: If you could change anything about the city, what would it be?

A: If I could change anything about the City, it would be unrealistic expectations. We do not currently have the traffic count, population, or average household income to support some of the things larger municipalities have to offer. We are heading in the right direction but it will take some time to get there.