The Decatur City Council appears poised to wave a white flag Monday on an issue that has bedeviled the current and previous councils for years. Breaking from a policy that had existed for decades and was memorialized in a 2000 resolution, the council majority has indicated it supports a proposed resolution that would end the residency requirement for eight of the city’s 11 directors. Only the city clerk and the police and fire chiefs would be required to live in the city where they work.
The main reason four of the five council members have given for the policy change is a desire to get the best people placed in the city’s most important supervisory jobs. If Decatur residency is an impediment to that — which they believe it has been at times — then they have concluded it is more important to select the best candidate.
There are of course problems with the council majority’s conclusion, the most obvious being that Decatur residency itself may be an important consideration in determining which of multiple candidates is the best one. A director who is invested in his community through residency has more incentive to see that community thrive and is better able to understand its strengths and weaknesses. A director who lives here is not only receiving input through observation, but through the normal social interactions that come from friends and neighbors in their hometown.
Regardless of the wisdom of the council majority’s expected decision, however, the difficulty the city has had in convincing employees making about $100,000 a year to buy a home and place roots in the city is a painful reminder of how much work is ahead in making Decatur a community that can attract new residents.
It’s a problem city leaders are endeavoring to tackle, and there appear to be signs of progress. While the cost is enormous, improving the causeway and the Sixth Avenue entrance to the city could help. Similar efforts are needed on other major corridors, such as West Moulton Street. A new director of the Decatur Housing Authority appears determined to improve the appearance of housing projects, a step that would both improve the lives of its occupants and help beautify the city for all residents.
The City Council is investing more in repairing potholed streets, another positive.
Litter and weed control remain enormous problems, neither of which can be fixed with one-time investments. The natural beauty of a city bordered by a river and Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is scarred by trash accumulating along streets and in waterways, and existing city efforts — even though supplemented by enormous efforts by volunteers — remain inadequate. Weeds remain an eyesore on city property and rights of way, despite some steps in the right direction.
Dilapidated housing provides visitors an image of a city in decay, and only substantial investments to facilitate aggressive enforcement by Community Development can ease the problem.
The fact that so many directors decline to live in Decatur — some despite making commitments to do so — is an indictment not only of them but of the city they have scorned. Whether they are ultimately required to reside in Decatur or not, their reluctance is a call to action for a city that has failed to meet the obligation to preserve and enhance its natural beauty.