Councilman Sam Couvillon wants to manage future growth and traffic the right way in Gainesville. Challenger Devin Pandy’s top issue is bringing more affordable housing to the city.
Couvillon decided to run for mayor after he learned Mayor Danny Dunagan was considering stepping down from his post after nearly 10 years as mayor. Dunagan is running unopposed for the Ward 1 seat, which Couvillon currently holds.
“I thought the obvious choice (for mayor) was me from the standpoint of continuity on the council,” Couvillon said. “We have a lot of good things going on within the city with economic development with a vibrant downtown that is kind of transcending into what we’re going to see within the next year or two.”
The new developments downtown and in the midtown area including The National, Solis Gainesville and the Gainesville Renaissance are big and expensive additions to the city. Several of these projects would not have been possible without tax allocation district funds, Couvillon said.
Political experience: Gainesville City Council member since 2013
Occupation: benefits agent with Turner, Wood & Smith
Top issues: improving infrastructure, supporting police, managing growth responsibly
The TAD program allows developers and property owners to use property tax payments they pay toward improvements at the property that fit eligibility requirements and may have some public use such as infrastructure, streetscaping or public amenities. Once approved, developers can use increments from the fund for site improvements. Essentially, the developer pays their full property tax bill each year and receives a reimbursement annually for TAD eligible expenses.
Couvillon said he wants to sunset the TAD program in the next couple of years if elected, because it could affect how much tax money schools receive.
“All good things must come to an end,” he said. “I feel like (TAD) has served its purpose.”
Supporting police is important to Couvillon as well, and he praised the city’s recent efforts to add a mental health clinician to the Gainesville Police Department.
“I truly believe that the model of policing that we have is a model that could be duplicated nationally,” he said.
Political experience: ran for Congress in 2020, lost to Andrew Clyde
Occupation: 21-year Army veteran
Top issues: housing affordability, environment, access for non-English speakers
And with all the growth the city has seen, Couvillon said he will focus on improving infrastructure to handle increased traffic. Improvements to Green Street will come, but he would also like to add through lanes and other improvements to Dawsonville Highway, he said.
“You manage growth through responsible zoning ordinances and trying to take care of the infrastructure the best you can,” Couvillon said.
Pandy is an Army veteran who served for 21 years in Panama and parts of the Middle East. He ran for Congress as a Democrat against eventual U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens, in 2020.
Pandy didn’t necessarily have aspirations to be in Congress, he said, but he felt there was a need in that position. Now, running for mayor of Gainesville, Pandy’s focus is more local.
He wants to ensure that all parts of the city are developed with the same energy and initiative that downtown and midtown have been recently, he said.
“Those things look great, and I really do like to see a city progress, so it’s great,” Pandy said. “But what it also reminds me of when I see it, is that while it’s good for the downtown and midtown areas, there are other areas of the city that have been neglected for decades.”
Pandy also wants to bring oft-neglected issues to light like maintaining good health of Lake Lanier and preserving wildlife in the area, he said.
“There is a personal obligation by everyone who lives in this area or visits this area to take care of our wildlife and the lake,” he said. “We can start with minimizing the amount of personal pollution.”
When it comes to infrastructure and handling extra traffic, Pandy said, the city is playing catch-up. He commended the city’s advanced systems to identify roads that need to be repaired, but with so much workday traffic, Pandy said, the city should be looking for more creative solutions, such as elevated rail or park and ride services in the long-term.
Pandy said he wants to make sure the city’s large Latino population is well-served and has more Spanish language resources.
“We can start with the most democratic right that there is in the United States and that is with the ballot box,” Pandy said. “Let’s make our ballots bilingual so that our residents here can find it a little bit easier to vote for who they may choose.”