Photo provided by the Norton campaign
by Arielle Robinson
As part of our election coverage, the Cobb County Courier has sent a similar Q&A to each Smyrna candidate who is running in a contested race and has responded to us.
Today’s focus is on Mayor Derek Norton, who is running for re-election. Norton, a governmental affairs director, was first elected as mayor in 2019. He faces challenges from two opponents—product management director Ken Hymes and retiree Alex Backry.
Click here to see the Q&A with Hymes.
Norton has lived in Smyrna since 2006.
The race is nonpartisan, meaning candidates do not run under political parties.
Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.
Read below to learn more about Norton and his campaign.
- Can you start off by talking about your background? Who are you?
“I’m the lucky man who out-kicked my coverage by marrying Laura Norton, is dad to two awesome kids, Samantha and Jack, is grounded in my faith, and who loves the City of Smyrna.”
- What do you love most about Smyrna?
“The people here – we have the best people anywhere in the state right here in Smyrna, Georgia. And I love Smyrna’s energy, generous spirit, and enormous potential. We have a gem of a mid-size city with a small-town feel.”
- Why are you running for re-election?
“I have the best job in the world – leading the city I’ve called home for almost 20 years and where my kids will grow up. We’ve been through a lot together – a global pandemic, civil unrest, and a tough economic environment. But these times have made us stronger as a community. We are thriving and bringing new programming, parks, and businesses to Smyrna. There aren’t many trying to move out of Smyrna, Georgia – they’re all trying to move in, and they are because of the successes we’ve had in making our city the best anywhere to live, work, play, and raise a family. We’ve accomplished much, and have so many good things ahead of us.
“I look forward to refreshing South Cobb Drive, expanding our downtown with new spaces and businesses that citizens desire, improving our parks and building new recreational facilities for our residents to enjoy, adding local art to the city’s landscape, and continuing to have an awesome programming lineup each year that serves all of our fantastically diverse population. I will also continue to support our public safety personnel and their families at a level that has never been seen before in Smyrna, and make Smyrna an attractive place to work by continuing to support all of our staff across the board.
“Under this administration, Smyrna is financially healthier than we’ve ever been, with a AAA bond rating, because we continue to be great stewards of taxpayer dollars and have kept the millage rate the same for the past 13 years. That means no city tax increase for homesteaded properties in our city, and I pledge to never raise taxes while I have the privilege to serve as Mayor.”
- What has been your proudest achievement as mayor so far?
“I have two – the first is the creation of Support Smyrna, a nonprofit that assists the most vulnerable in our city. Collaborating with school social workers, the newly created Faith Leaders Roundtable, the American Legion Post 160, and other organizations, we have assisted hundreds of individuals and families with food, shelter, clothing, and other needs.
“The second is the new community space downtown. We’ve made it more pedestrian friendly, and now there is activity from City Hall and the Memorial all the way to the community center – I’ve seen people doing yoga at 6:00am, kids enjoying the water feature during the day, families having picnics, and individuals and groups enjoying dessert or a glass of wine on the new plaza. It is truly a special place, and will only get better as the other new park and playground is completed next month.”
- What about the city do you think needs some more improvement?
“We have addressed several issues and processes during this administration and made significant progress, but there is always room for improvement. We need to improve our parks and recreational amenities and options for residents, and we are in the process of doing that. We also need more retail and dining options in Smyrna, and we continue to make our city more attractive for new businesses to locate here for citizens to enjoy. We need more local art in public spaces, and we are working towards that with the implementation of the Smyrna ARTery. We will continue to work to make Smyrna better in these areas and others across the city.”
- You have been a proponent of new development in Smyrna, for example, supporting the coming of the new brewery, backing the deal with First Baptist Church, and just the overall downtown development. The first part of this question is, why do you think there is so much controversy over the downtown redevelopment?
“Anytime there is change there are those who want things to remain the same, no matter where this occurs. Smyrna is no different than any other city in this regard. That said, six of eight Smyrna elected officials, including myself, supported the downtown refresh, including the new greenspace and parks. That’s not controversy, that’s unity. And five of those councilmembers do not have opposition in this election, which tells me that people are generally happy with their decisions and the direction of this city. ”
- Despite all the controversy behind this new development, why do you think new developments like these are needed for the city? What will they bring to Smyrna and do for the people?
“The redevelopment of the downtown will be an economic driver that brings people to our city center, and with those people will come new restaurants and retail. And it’s already working – the Good Kitchen opened up this year, we have a new ice cream store, and the dentist office next to city hall will become a three-story building with retail on the first floor, dental office and med spa on the second floor, and a rooftop restaurant on the top floor. They have said publicly that they are all here because of what we are doing, and we need to continue making our downtown and other areas across our city attractive to new restaurants and retail that will locate here for citizens to enjoy.”
- What other visions do you have for the city if you were to be re-elected? What could people expect from another Norton administration?
“Please see question [three] above.”
- Smyrna is a majority-minority city. In recent years, the city has started having more celebrations in honor of Black History Month/Juneteenth and Hispanic Heritage Month, to name a couple of newer initiatives. Do you think there is anything more that can be done to appeal to minority populations within Smyrna? If so, what?
“This administration has been the most proactive in the city’s history in developing programming and opportunities for all citizens in our fantastically diverse city. Everyone should feel at home in Smyrna and have a seat at the table. And while we have been successful in our efforts, there is always more that can be done. We will continue to engage everyone in our community and always endeavor to make Smyrna a welcoming place for all.”
- Who are some people/groups you are proud to say you have the backing of for your campaign?
“I’m pleased to have the support of five current members of the city council (Glenn Pickens, Latonia P. Hines, Travis Lindley, Tim Gould and Kathy Young), former Ward 7 Councilman Dr. Lewis Wheaton, and incoming Ward 7 Councilman Rickey Oglesby.”
- How can voters reach out to you and stay connected with your campaign?
“I am easily reachable across several platforms – my cell is 404-274-4210 and is on my website www.nortonformayor.com and social media. People can email me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, and I am often contacted through instant messenger on social media. I have also personally been to hundreds of doors and have several meet and greets planned this month across the city.”
- Anything else you would like to mention that has not been brought up here today?
“There is a difference between the candidates for Mayor. On this, my opponent and I agree.
My opponent continues to falsely claim that the city has poor finances, when in fact Smyrna’s financial position is the best it’s ever been in the city’s history.
As our Mayor, I will continue being a careful steward of your tax dollars. And I will not support a tax increase.
My opponent has a long history of creating financial problems for other people, including personally filing for bankruptcy and having over a dozen federal and county tax liens against him in recent years.
If he can’t keep his own personal finances in order, the citizens of Smyrna cannot trust him with their tax dollars that amount to a $100,000,000 annual budget.”