This interview with Carolyn Morris, new First Ward Alderman for the City of DeKalb, is the third in our series of discussions with the new members of the DeKalb City Council. She shared her feelings about serving in City Government, what she has learned so far in her role, and her goals for her ward.
How do you feel about being elected to your first term as DeKalb City Alderman?
I’m really excited at the opportunity. I’m humbled. I’m honored. It’s really thrilling to be able to have the opportunity to be a part of all of the inner workings of the government. I really hope I can live up to my own expectations, really, and perform a really great job for the citizens of DeKalb.
What do you hope to see the City Council accomplish in your first six months?
Six months might be really ambitious, but I’m really excited about seeing what direction the Annie Glidden North task force takes. I’m really excited to see if we can make some really substantial changes quickly here. There were ten findings from the original Annie Glidden North group. I would love to see two of them well under way by the next six months, and maybe one or two of them even breaking ground and starting to make serious progress by the end of the year. That would be fantastic.
There is a community food and education center. I’m really excited about the potential there. Dan Kenney is leading a lot of that initiative. It’s really impressive. Particularly for the education center, I think if we create the right partnership within the local community this could be fantastic. It could be absolutely revitalizing, and that’s really the goal. If we get enough buy in and engagement from the local community from Ward 1, this community food and education center could just completely turn around the ward. And we’re hoping it’s that big of a deal.
There were a list of other initiatives—increasing security cameras, increasing lighting in the area. Those seem like easy checking the boxes.
I’d say by the end of the year, I’d love to see the food and education center well under way. And I would love to see the easy things checked off, like better lighting and possibly some sort of better availability to the police to be able to view video tapes of the area. And I would love to see the property owners really buying into this plan, too, and trying to do their part to make sure they have security cameras that are connected to the police system, so that we can all work together to really revitalize this portion of the community.
I think with TIF right now the focus tends to be on downtown because we have a TIF district there. We’ve done a lot of beautiful revitalization. It’s a gorgeous area, and I’m so glad for it. But the town as a whole tends to forget that Annie Glidden North portion of town, Ward 1, has the largest population density and I think it’s the majority of the city. So goes Ward 1, so goes the rest of the city.
So these efforts that we’re making to revitalize our ward really have the opportunity to change the whole town, and to change the perception of the town. And it can have a really positive impact on enrollment at the university, because if we are able to change the perception of crime and the perception of this not being a safe place—if we’re able to change that perception and the reality, then we’ll be able to attract more students here.
What do you feel you need to learn more about in order to better serve as an alderman?
I feel like I need to understand what our strategic goals are better. I need to review them more closely. But it does look like we are planning on doing some more strategic goal setting. Bill Nicklas has a theoretical idea for a few topics of discussion for a retreat and I think strategic planning is one of them, so I think I need to review the old strategic plans.
It is really interesting when people stop me and tell me all kinds of stories and history I don’t know. So the history and background is very informative. So [I plan on] brushing up on as much of the history as I can, [because] that’s probably my greatest weakness.
What are your thoughts on your first City Council meetings?
Before I went into my first meeting, just a week or so before that, I brushed up on my Open Meetings Act information. And so I researched the Open Meetings Act to make sure I wasn’t violating anything, but in the process of doing that I finally understood the purpose of the Open Meetings Act. The purpose is to conduct as much of these governmental conversations in the public eye as possible.
That realization made me feel really free to talk at council meetings, and I think that was probably evident in my first two meetings. I was like, “Oh, the whole point is to have the conversation in the public eye so that everyone can understand and be a part of the thought process.” So it was really liberating to realize that.
Before that point, I had been like, “Oh, these meetings are moving slowly. Don’t say too much. Let’s keep this thing moving.” But I realized that the purpose was to make everything publicly known. Before that I thought it would be good to figure out what we’re doing before we get to the meeting so we could have a quick meeting. But that’s not the point. The point is the opposite of that—to do all of the analysis in the meetings so the whole ward can be a part of it.
I feel like I got a lot of slack from lots of people for lots of my questions, but these are the questions that the public was asking me. So I was like, “They need all these questions answered.” Whether or not I think these are relevant questions even, I have to ask them because people want to know. I think that providing that transparency is accountability. And that transparency and accountability builds trust. And when you trust what is going on in your government, you know that it’s for you and by you and that’s great. That’s how it’s supposed to operate.
Any final thoughts?
I’m just really psyched about the Annie Glidden North revitalization. It looks like they’re going to be forming a 501(c)(3) of some sort soon. I would just really encourage people to get involved, and especially encourage people who actually live in the ward to get on the mailing list and get involved in their ward and to invest in it. If you can’t invest your time, maybe you can invest your money to help see the progress of the ward and the whole city.
To read the responses to these questions by the other two new DeKalb Aldermen, click below:
Tracy Smith, Ward 3: DeKalb Alderman Smith: “City is going in the Right Direction”
Scott McAdams, Ward 5: New DeKalb Alderman, McAdams, Looks Forward to the Work