In the aftermath of the Nelson Council meeting Monday, May 2, where some residents pointedly expressed their dissatisfaction with Nelson Mayor David Leister, the mayor sought an interview with the Progress.
In his conversation with this newspaper, Leister began with an explanation of why he entered two controversial topics onto the May council meeting agenda. Those topics were out-sourcing of Nelson garbage pick up and out-sourcing of Nelson police protection.
"I wanted to get the people involved," Leister said. "I want them to start stepping up and being Nelson instead of being told what Nelson is. I want Nelson to define it."
He said he would like to change the perception of present political unrest at Nelson as being a mayor versus council struggle. "On my part, it hasn't been about who I like or don't like," he said. "It's about what the state constitution reads, what the charter reads and what the ethics code reads. Do we understand it, and are we following the letter of the law?"
"Part of the fun of serving on the city council has been taking shots at the mayor," Leister said, "and I've been told that by sitting council members, former council members, and people of this region. Nelson has been at odds with itself for a long period of time. That isn't new to Nelson politics. I'm just a little more vocal than prior mayors."
Leister said he was told by the council shortly after taking office in 2010 that the council made the governing decisions at Nelson. His job was to preside at meetings. But because he reads the city charter to say he, as mayor, is ultimately responsible for Nelson's governance, handing that power to the council would not work for him, Leister indicated.
"The council, they're fighting to maintain the tradition of the city council maintaining control of the City of Nelson. I'm fighting to preserve the only Georgia Assembly approved charter for Nelson, not the one that's in play now, which we're fighting over now."
The Nelson Council recently altered the city charter by council vote to strip the mayor of hiring, firing, or supervisory responsibility for city employees after his management of employees was characterized as too aggressive.
"I'm making certain that we're moving to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Nelson, and that's going to upset some people sometimes," Leister said.
"I want to make Nelson understand that it's been OK that they've wanted to stay a small town," he said. "Having that small town feel is important to 99 percent of the people who live here. They don't want to be in Ball Ground or Jasper. They want to be close to them.
"But we can't stay isolated. We're at the point, since we don't have revenue-generating entities, that we're dependent on the counties and need to be talking to them."
"We have to do things in steps," Leister said. "We're establishing that we're going to work with Cherokee County to renovate the park.
"We need to look at what businesses we have in Nelson––what can they contribute to the park renovation? We have a marble facility right there. We're gonna build a park in Nelson. It should involve marble."
“There's no downtown business stream right now, but a place where people could come enjoy a downtown park area, and that might spur some small commercial development,” Leister said. “'Commercial' means a convenience store where you can buy bread, soda,” he clarified.
Leister suggested that all city hall functions could be moved from the present city hall location to free up that space, the only viable and potentially available commercial location in downtown Nelson, he said.
"Not asking is going to keep Nelson the way it is, and that's not the thing that Nelson needs," Leister said.
The smaller of two city-owned, former marble company buildings near Dogwood Pass and Blueridge Avenue could be converted to serve as a senior center and to house the marble museum now housed inside city hall, Leister suggested.
"We could reinvent downtown Nelson, civic attractions in the sense of a senior center supporting the marble museum, modifications of the park to have a marble theme, preservation of the few landmarks we have right there."
While his vision for Nelson sounds a hopeful note, some residents have shown a tendency to respond to Leister's promptings with distrust, wary of any change for the Nelson they have known so long. In that event, Leister becomes the lightning rod for their collective ire. One resident called for Leister's resignation during the last council meeting.
He does not plan to go away, Leister said. He means to continue serving as Nelson's mayor.
"I've taken on the responsibility, and I'm gonna do it, because I'm not a quitter," Leister said. "I was raised differently, that's all. You can't say you're gonna do something and not carry through with it."
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