Mike Davis said he’s learned a few things over the four years he spent as Dunwoody’s second mayor, not the least of which was how to handle criticism.
“The one wild card nobody knows until you get in there, ‘How thick is your skin?’”
Though he lost his bid for re-election and leaves office Jan. 4, when newly elected Mayor Denny Shortal takes over, Davis walks away from the job saying he’s proud of the way he implemented the founding City Council’s plans.
Shortly before he decided to run for office, Davis thought, “Why don’t people like us run for office?”
He said he believed he was a competent communicator who could speak equally well in one-on-one conversations as in public forums, making his ideas understood. As a retired executive salesman, he also had time.
“I was young enough to throw a lot of energy into [the job of mayor] and I was old enough to have acquired enough money that earning $16,000 a year wasn’t going to hurt my family,” Davis said.
Davis said he is most proud of the fact that City Council worked well together under his leadership.
“I think representative government in general has a tendency of breaking down into factions,” Davis said. “I successfully kept our City Council from ever going that direction. Everybody truly stayed with the idea of making decisions based on what is best for the community.”
During the years Ken Wright was mayor, committees of citizens worked with City Council to create a Comprehensive Master Plan and the Georgetown and Dunwoody Village master plans.
“The first three years of cityhood, we had tons of meetings putting our plans together. It was all planning,” Davis said. “When I came in as mayor, it was time to start implementing these plans and a lot of people came out of the woodwork when they saw these plans coming to fruition and they said they didn’t want these things.”
He named the Dunwoody Village Master Plan as an example. The plan was passed unanimously by the council after seeking citizen feedback. “Nobody had ever made a single complaint about it, but as soon as we announced we were going to move forward with it, as had been agreed—the money was there and it was all set to go—and all of a sudden it was the worst thing to happen in the city of Dunwoody,” Davis said.
The major impetus for Davis to run for mayor, he said, involved the City Council’s bond referendum.
“The City Council decided they wanted to float a bond referendum for upwards of $66 million dollars when we were only bringing in $22 million a year — so we were talking about three times the annual revenue of the city to go into debt,” David said. “When I heard that, I thought that was crazy.”
He looked at the local thinking with a national perspective, and said he didn’t want Dunwoody to go down the path of “spending $10 to bring in $6 and then having to borrow $4,” he said.
The bond failed on the same ballot that elected him mayor.
Davis earned a reputation among City Council members for his relationship building. “Mike Davis has done an awesome job in the business community,” Councilman John Heneghan said. “He has reached out—I just can’t say enough about Mike’s ability to connect with the business community.”
Councilman Doug Thompson agreed. “Another thing Mike is very good at is meeting with the other leaders, whether it’s the other mayors or the council members, the business leaders. … He was highly thought of by the other regional leaders and that brings good stuff to Dunwoody.”
Davis said under his leadership City Council orchestrated a deal to borrow money to buy an old hospital site, where Pernoshal Park is being installed.
“We bought that with the intent that we would turn right around and cut a deal with a home developer, who ended up being John Weiland Homes, and use that money to pay off the loan and end up with enough land left over to create some parks,” Davis said.
Developing homes on that land helped Dunwoody maintain its character of a single-family suburb, Davis said. He said residents were upset by what Davis called a loophole in DeKalb County government law allowing office space to be replaced with four-story or five-story multi-family housing units.
“The fear in Dunwoody was that loophole was allowing Dunwoody to become more urbanized,” Davis said. “I come in, in 2011, and the reality is we now have those 8,500 apartments and the Perimeter area is becoming the premier area for new businesses.”
Davis said he hasn’t made a decision on his next move now that he is leaving office. He plans to take some time off, travel and think about next steps. “The worst case, in my mind, I golf and travel the rest of my life,” he said.