Meet the Candidates: Alex Backry
In our continuing coverage of the 2011 election, Smyrna-Vinings Patch provides here a profile of one of the three candidates running for mayor of Smyrna.
Smyrna’s general election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011 and a record 19 candidates are on the ballot. In their words, candidates will be introducing themselves here at Patch. Today, we have mayoral candidate Alex Backry, who is running against Donna Short Woodham and Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon. In 2007, Bacon defeated Backry.
I can’t stress it enough that only 2,800 voted out of 29,000 registered voters (in the 2007 election). I feel it’s a victory just to see people finally starting to pay attention in their own backyard. It’s not just Washington or California or Nebraska, it’s here.
This is our infrastructure, our taxes. People I see are paying attention, but you have to get out and make sure they’re aware of the information. And I’m finding it’s shocking how little they know about what’s happening here. And I, quite frankly, blame it all on a lack of town hall meetings. Smyrna has to have the worst record for town hall meetings in the state.
We are not having any open government. And again, I can’t emphasize it enough, we need more town hall meetings where people can ask questions. Many people don’t even know who their councilperson is. Let alone they don’t even know what ward they live in. There’s a tremendous gap and that’s why I believe the apathy is the end result of that. I believe that is a planned thing. If you have low turnouts it favors the incumbents.
I was raised in Boston and lived in Connecticut and Arizona going to college - the University of Massachusetts and Arizona State. I worked for the airlines, which is something that hasn’t come out. I worked with the airlines 18 years in sales and marketing. My experience is tying in the East Coast with Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America.
I was with a couple of airlines, but the main one was Iberia Airlines in Spain. I was with them for 14 years. They wanted me to open an office down here from Boston to Atlanta. And I also got offered a job with the Atlanta Braves throwing extra hitting sessions, batting practice, which I did in ‘81 and ‘82. I went with the Astros in the instructional league in Arizona. The Astros sponsored it.
I’ve lived in Smyrna since ‘81. I saw it doing well like every other place when the economy was good. That’s when you really start noticing things when the economy’s going bad. When you start seeing places like Jonquil and Belmont Hills and Market Village going 65, 70 percent empty now and you see the restaurants like Sonny’s and Piccadilly and Dairy Queen all closing, you’re seeing indicators. I mean the City makes a big deal about Kroger moving across the street (at The Crossings at Four Corners near Concord Road and South Cobb Drive), but once they move, the building they’re in is going to be empty.
The thing that I see, what’s motivating me here - and I can’t stress it enough - we don’t need a politician as a mayor. We need a problem-solving person. And there’s where my background is because of my airlines. I also attended Dale Carnegie courses on teamwork, motivation, and morale. Those are important factors and I’ve attended those seminars. So I have a strong people-skills background and problem solving. And that’s what I feel this city needs where the current mayor lacks. I feel like that’s what separates us.
I don’t think it changes much (running against two candidates instead of one) because, nothing against Donna, but she’s not known in the city. I feel strongly that she should have ran for council in her ward. But Max, I want to stress, Max didn’t beat me in the last election. The voters did by not getting out. When you only have 2,800 people, and in the previous election, 4,000 people voting, you’re dealing with small numbers. And small numbers again, favor the incumbent. And that’s where I feel I lost, with the voters not going out to give any indicator. So with the low numbers, I can’t win on low numbers.
That’s why I feel this time people are going to get out with the issues. Because I feel like there’s a Tea Party in Smyrna where people are now talking about and paying attention to where their money is going. It’s not like the old days where 'oh I guess everything is OK.' I see people this time around getting more involved in it, which is good. To me I feel knowledge is power. I see the networking and the motivation is coming out.
I have to keep a sense of humor. I’m very frustrated that when we go up in front of this council, to me there shouldn’t be any question that we ask that shouldn’t be answered. But it’s not happening. That’s why people are frustrated including me. They’re not given a reason why they’re not communicating with us. We pay their salaries. They should be answering. It’s part of what their job is. And that’s why I’m so opposite. I’m so open to give. I hate when somebody asks me a good question and I can’t give him or her a good answer. I can’t accept this format we’re in. That’s why I refer to Smyrna as the city of darkness. They’re keeping us in the dark on things.
First thing as mayor I want to do is a private audit. I want to see where all the money is and if it’s where it’s supposed to be. I’m not making accusations, I just want to see where it is and that it’s in its proper place. My main issues in campaigning, which I would do right off is eliminate wasteful spending. An example of that is the street-cleaning contracts. They only do certain streets. And I’ve been behind it and I don’t see where they’re picking up much of anything with those street-cleaning things. I find that to be a wasteful project. I feel that there are some departments that we’ve got too many people doing nothing. And that needs to be streamlined.
Another thing is tying the departments together where they’ll are working with one motion. I see all the departments almost working separately. It has to be unified. And since I’m a strong advocate of communications, I have to work on closing it so the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. That’s why it’s important. And that again see, when I worked with animal control for four years I saw the inconsistencies and working kind of as separate entities. Well, like the parks department. To me we have enough parks now. There’s an assistant there and I feel that is too many people in the parks department when you’re not going to be building any more parks. You might move them around to other departments that might need help in certain areas. You have to baby-step it as you see it going. Encouraging ideas from the employees as well. The big thing is just setting up the first town hall meeting because I feel the end result of those town hall meetings is a tremendous exchange of ideas. And bringing the people in and seeing what everybody thinks and has ideas for. That’s why it’s a mushrooming affect to work with the theme that I’m working with that I want open government. And I believe it’s a people’s government. The way it’s set up now with no answers and keeping you in the dark, it’s really a government’s government.
There are such gaps there between the taxpayers and what’s going on at city hall. To me it’s totally unacceptable. I wouldn’t say voters are at peace (with incumbents), they’re just oblivious. Knowing some of the people I go out and see they’ve never had anybody take five or 10 minutes to explain to them It’s déjà vu. They’re not at peace with it. It’s just kind of like, “Oh everything’s the same. It doesn’t make a difference either way.” It does, but you have to take an extra step yourself and take a look at the candidates. Take a little time. It’s only 15 minutes with four years to vote.
I’ve had people come up to me and say I’ve lived on my street since ‘86 and I don’t know who my councilperson is. Never seen them. Never heard from them. The City’s defense to the town hall meetings, that’s important, they’ve had town hall meetings in their wards. But they have them through the associations. And I’ve made it clear before, and I don’t think I’m far off, that 85 percent of this city is not in an association. So you’re missing all of them. That’s why I strongly suggested putting a bulletin in the water bill or utility bill that goes to every home in Smyrna. We should make an effort to get them to them.
I’ve interviewed 298 people now. Only 17 know who their councilperson is. Who do you call when you have a problem. It’s nice to have an identity. If I won, I’d have my first town hall meeting. And before I started answering any questions, I’d say, “Please raise your hands if you do not know who your councilperson is.” Then I’d take them up one-by-one in front of the microphone and say “Just give me your street.” They would step out for which ones. And if there was a doubt, we’d take their name down. And that just starts it off so they have name identity. That’s a huge gap. That’s before you get to the questions.
I think this is so blatant that it’s a plan that they stay that way. Not at all. That’s the plan. It has been for four years. They could see if they’d gone back five, six years and seen the turnout. They knew it was low and they’ve done nothing to remedy it. Really.
If I don’t keep my sense of humor this would all eat me up. And it’s not worth it. I’ve got to keep my understanding and common sense. Again, communications is my strength. To see how blatant it is, it’s 180 degrees the other way. When we go up and ask for town hall meetings... We pay the taxes. They’re not doing it. They’re doing the minimum. Including some of the council people. I’ve had many people come up and see I’ve sent an email or I’ve called and haven’t gotten a response back.
I’m not happy (about some candidates running unopposed). I wish it was all seven. Andrea’s new (Andrea Blustein is running unopposed to take over the Ward 2 seat that Ron Newcomb is not seeking reelection for). Hopefully she’ll come in with an open mind. If she comes in with an open mind, I see the potential for a 5-2 change from the approach to this government. And I’ll take 5-2. I’m a person who’s a glass half-full man. Because remember, even 4-3 is a swing vote. I’m tired of seeing 7-0 votes. There’s no one breaking out. It’s like they’re programmed to all vote together.