The first meeting of Brookhaven’s elected officials lasted approximately six hours.
“So we’ve got a lot to do,” said J. Max Davis, who was elected to be the first mayor of the city that officially was created Dec. 17.
“I’m humbled by the results of the election,” Davis said. “I didn’t expect that big of a margin.”
When asked how it felt to be the city’s first mayor, Davis said, “That part hasn’t really sunk in too much yet. I’ve thought about it briefly. Building something from scratch and starting something new like this—not too many people get the opportunity to do that—so it is exciting.”
Davis, an attorney and small-business owner, said his top priority as mayor is “getting things right. And not biting off more than we can chew.”
In the two weeks since the city officially started, officials have been very busy getting it up and running. The city has an interim city clerk and attorney, and its interim city hall is located in the Ashford Center North office complex—in Dunwoody.
“People ask me, ‘are you overwhelmed and swamped and busy?’” Davis said. “The campaign was overwhelming and busy and almost drudgery. This type of busy is fun, because we’re building something from scratch. It’s great and I’m excited about it. I’m passionate about it.
“It’s fulfilling and you have a good nervous energy and you have…the good butterfly feeling in your stomach,” Davis said. “It’s just rewarding and it’s exciting.”
Davis said that in the two years before Brookhaven was formed, he met with “plenty of staff and elected officials from Dunwoody, Chamblee, Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Roswell and Decatur about their experiences.”
That research helped to decide how Brookhaven would be modeled.
“The model is a hybrid of the good things we see in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody because our charter is very similar to their charters,” Davis said. “We feel like our charter is improved a little bit from their charters. We’re probably going to be a hybrid model of Dunwoody and Sandy Springs with a big helping of Brookhaven thrown in.”
A big challenge he will face as mayor will be managing expectations, Davis said.
“The euphoria of the city being formed and this election is still going to be there in the next few months,” Davis said. “With part of that euphoria, people will expect things to be done. They want to see changes and we’re going to do some of that. We just need time to get things implemented.”
Davis said that change in Brookhaven will come at a slow but steady pace.
“When you see a Brookhaven police car for the first time next year, when you see a Brookhaven park sign on one of your parks, when you see some potholes…or some roads paved that have been sitting for a while, when you get your business license, I think people will see differences,” Davis said. “It’s going to be a gradual process. We will start with things we can tackle head-on to begin with that are smaller and build and build and build.”
When he’s not directing the new city, Davis likes to spend time with his wife Carrie, a DeKalb County teacher, and their two daughters, 8 and 3, and their 7-year-old son.
Davis said he enjoys “being a dad” and attending his children’s various activities, including football, baseball, softball, cheerleading, wrestling and ballet. He also coaches flag football.
And in his free time, usually after 10 p.m., Davis, a “history buff” who earned an undergraduate degree in history, likes to read “any book that’s a primary source for history–firsthand accounts of war, political leaders, ancient history—anything.” “That’s why I built a library in my new house,” said Davis, who collects antique books.
Davis said Brookhaven has many exciting things to look forward to as the city gets under way.
“We’ll have control of our zoning,” Davis said. “So some of the development projects that come up will be exciting to look at. We’ll have a handle on what we want, what the community wants, [and] what the neighborhoods want when it comes to development in our commercial areas.”
Davis said it will be exciting for Brookhaven residents to see regular maintenance and capital improvements of parks and to have a permitting department.
“My expectations are that we will do a great job expediting things,” Davis said. “People will say, ‘I went to DeKalb County for this type of permit and then I went to the city Brookhaven and it was like night and day.’ I want people to be able to say that. That’s exciting.
“A lot of people don’t really know what we’re missing because they’ve never had it,” Davis said. “They don’t realize you can have a regular paving schedule for your street, that you can have more sidewalks, that you don’t have to wait six weeks for a permit to build your house. They haven’t had great customer service in many areas of government before in DeKalb County.”
Davis acknowledged the “good services” that the county provides.
“The trash gets picked up twice a week,” Davis said. “The water turns on when you turn it on. We have a great fire department. We don’t have any problems in our jail necessarily like Fulton County is having.
“I love living in DeKalb County,” Davis said.