Sunday Interview with Mayor Tomlinson: 'Controversy is absolutely necessary to get to the calm waters''

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comMay 31, 2014 

Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson does not back down from a good fight.

Last month, she became the first mayor since consolidation in 1970 to win a contested election for a second term.

As she prepares to govern the city through 2018, Tomlinson says she will do it in the same style and manner she has in her first four years.

"I had one longtime political veteran of Columbus tell me that the issue was that many councilors, many elected officials, felt they couldn't control me," she said last week. "I slept on that hard, because really I think what it is, it's not the way politics use to be. We're just in a new era of municipal government. It just doesn't work the same way."

Here are excerpts of the interview with Ledger-Enquirer reporter Chuck Williams. Some of the questions and answers were edited for length and the order of some of the questions rearranged for clarity.

Are you glad the election is over?

Yes! It's good to just get back to the business of governing and all the great things we have going on. It was five necessary months, but it was five long months.

When you say long months, what do you mean?

Well, I think it was very intense. I understand this. I've said many times I've been in politics my whole life, even though this is my first elected position.

... I've seen all sides of it, and I know of course if you're going to go up against an incumbent, clearly you're going to have different energy that you need to change your horse, so to speak.

It was a negative campaign. It's been widely reported and I think that you know it had the effect of sort of tearing us down a bit for five months. The whole "we're a miserable city," "we can't open our doors," "we're terrified."

What was negative about it?

That crime is out of control. Things that I think were disproven, but nevertheless I think from a strategy standpoint the other side felt they needed to drum up. I think it was terribly personal. In fact, I had a professor contact me and tell me that it was very much like the (former Texas Gov.) Ann Richards campaign, which is where you adopt a model.

If you have an elected official with high favorable ratings, and you have any hope of having a successful campaign, you're clearly going to have to lodge some personal attacks in order to tear down those favorable ratings.

What was the most personal attack?

That I hate crime victims. That I don't care about crime victims. That I would put the criminal over the crime victim, which was just so horribly untrue. It was so offensive. ... I hate animals; I kill animals. And of course you know we've done so much in that regard.

Who said you hated animals?

There was a whole movement about that online and associated with the campaign. And that I didn't want Columbus to be no-kill. That animals were dying because of decisions I made, when in actuality we made such incredible progress taking euthanasia from 80 percent to 38 percent, and now down to 19 percent last month. That was particularly hurtful. ...

Then of course you had "she talks too much," "she takes all the credit" -- that type of thing, which is meant to quiet my voice and have me not talk about my record.

So, you had the one-two punch of, well, she hasn't done anything as mayor. "Oh yes I have, here are my accomplishments." Oh, there you go bragging about all that you have done, taking credit for things. There you go talking again, blah, blah, blah.

You sound like you still have some of the sting of this election.

No, I think it's actually more of the strategy of it. As I said, I'm sort of somebody who has been involved in elections for a long time, and the way this particular one went I think was again to tear down the favorable ratings. Of course it sort of took down the mayor's office and the city as well. Now, we have a period of time where we have to build back up, because we went into the election, as you know, with very high favorable ratings, very high approval ratings for the direction of the city. I think the election affirmed that, but we've got to make up some ground.

Was there ever a point where you thought you might lose?

Actually, no. Probably the lowest point was the weekend where we had two self-inflicted injuries, as you know. I have this exceptional staff. Not a fumbled ball in three and a half years, not a misstep, not a complaint of any significance whatsoever, and then we had people who love the city, are devoted to this administration and to this office.

And we had the incident of course with Judy (Tucker) about the sign and the intended joke that didn't play well broadly. And then we had a young lady in my office who was stopped for driving less safe. And that was probably the lowest point because I knew how emotional that was for them, and I also knew that it creates an unsteady sense of what's going on in the office.

Do you think there was a Republican statewide effort to try and inject itself into the Columbus mayor's race?

I have heard that there was a decision by the Republican Party to put some resources or some connections down here to help take me out of a second term.

If that were true -- and I did see some evidence of financial support, strategy support and coordination that would seem to indicate there was some of that -- I think it was a waste of time. I am not sure I am ever going to run for another political office. And secondly, people just need to allow good government to happen. They really need to stop with all of this extreme party loyalty that makes a victim out of good government. I think both parties have elected clunkers for the sake of extreme party loyalty.

... One of the reasons we did so well with those who identified themselves as Republicans in this community -- we carried Wynnbrook with 61 percent, we carried all of Midland, places were there are people who self-identify as Republicans and conservatives -- is because we have provided good fiscal leadership for this community and good government. We have not gotten into things that government doesn't do well. We have stuck to our core mission. ... In a way to me, if that was true, it was a way of shooting the philosophy in the foot, so to speak.

Talk about the split with the law enforcement community here -- the FOP endorsed your opponent, Colin Martin. Universally it seemed law enforcement had issues with you. Why do they have issues and how do you repair it?

I think a couple of things. First of all, there were only 12 people at that announcement, and they were all sheriff's deputies, except for one who had recently been invited to retire. So, not 600 people were there. I know it was reported that they had 600 persons in their membership, but 600 individuals were not there. I would also say that it has been reported, as you know, that there was no process and there were no interviews, there was no opportunity to speak to the FOP membership. There certainly was no forum.

Who knows what would have happened had there been an actual process as historically there had been? There was also a very active campaign, getting back to some of the subjects we were talking about, of misinformation that I was going to take their cars away, take their $3,000 bonus away from the other LOST. Of course none of that was true. But I spend a whole lot of time talking with people. I will say that once that happened there was an incredible backlash of people contacting me -- law enforcement officers and family members contacting me telling me that a few did not speak for the whole.... Of course I had law enforcement officers show up off duty to get yard signs, make donations, bumper stickers for their spouses' cars, so I think there was a backlash against the broad-brushed 'law enforcement doesn't like this mayor.' I don't think that's true. I think there was definitely a campaign to make it seem that way, related to some of the misinformation I just stated. And I think there were some who thought that, but there were many others who offered me encouragement.

So you don't think there's a split between you and law enforcement?

No, I do not. I work with them all the time. I've had so many incidents that I don't publish because that's not my role to publish them, but I offer words of encouragement to individual law enforcement officers all the time that find themselves in situations that could be highly politicized and result in trauma for them and their families.

And I'm the first phone call, either me or the Chief (Ricky Boren), directly to them to tell them the city is going to stand by them with the process we offer, that they need to have faith in that process, and they need to know the mayor will do everything that I can to make certain that they get through this process without undue torment or ridicule in the community, because I will take that.

And I've had very positive feedback from that. I've also worked closely with command staff, less in the field obviously with patrol officers, but with the command staff making really difficult decisions. ... I think I've earned their tremendous respect through that.

Let me ask you about your relationship with Columbus Council. At times it has been rocky. A number of councilors supported your opponent publicly. Is there an issue with you and council that needs to be repaired?

I actually think it's very much a case-by-case thing. We have had unanimous support for pension reform. We had unanimous support to bring in the Health and Wellness Clinic. Unanimous support to change the Public Safety Advisory Commission -- which was so controversial during Mayor Wetherington's tenure -- and for a number of things we actually have had unanimous support.

I think what's been unsettling about this particular council and this particular first four years of the administration is that we've had some really tough issues. Really tough issues.

Money issues?

Money issues, which goes right to the heart of the most difficult legislative decisions they make. Typical human reaction is to hope you can keep the course you're familiar with and everything will be OK. And with each passing day it was just clear that we could not stay that course that everyone was familiar with. We had to make some radical change, which nobody (wanted) to have to deal with because they felt like the pension reform would be the third rail, obviously in Columbus politics. ...

Are you going to approach council the next four years the same way you have the last four years?

Yes. Definitely.

So you're not going to change the way you approach and deal with Columbus Council?

Yeah, because I think the consistency -- I think what they will see, for the few who had some issues -- I think what they will see is these were not political power plays. These were steady, consistent observations about how we needed to change and subsistent solutions about how to change them. ...

I had one longtime political veteran of Columbus tell me that the issue was that many councilors, many elected officials, felt they couldn't control me.

I feel like one of the things that might have been misconstrued is that some elected officials felt like I was trying to control them or trying to ...

Were you?

No. Either trying to control them or trying to make a power play that somehow was to my benefit and not theirs. The fact of the matter -- which will now be seen because I will continue the same steady solutions-based type approach that I've had -- is that, "Wow, she really does get up the same way and she really does the same thing every single day." In a way it's like "Groundhog Day." I get up, I get in here and I look for the places we need to correct and I find potential solutions to those. And I put them on the table even when they are very controversial and people are sort of shocked about that.

And I do actually reach out often to councilors. I think some have felt like, again, that was politically motivated, but I think what they're going to see is, "No, she does that because she really does want the solution."

I've been me for 49 years and this has been actually a fairly reoccurring thing even in the practice of law. I often had opposing counsel that initially attributed all sorts of ill motives to the things I was doing. But by the end of the four- or five-year slog -- because of the type of litigation I had, that was the type of time frame we were talking about -- they always ended up with mutual respect and admiration between us.

And the reason why is because they saw the pattern revealed, which was a consistent move toward solving the issue, and not some power play to make them look bad on the day-to-day basis.

You had strong, wide and deep support in the black community. At some point it seemed like that support was eroding prior to the election. Were you surprised by the numbers you pulled with the minority vote?

No, not at all. It was 77 percent, we carried the minority community. We've always had very strong support in the minority community. I think what happened was that there were some individuals, for various reasons, individual reasons, that, again, perceived that some of the things I was doing were individually based, to either make them look bad or to work against their interest despite my protest (that) no, we weren't -- "We're trying to solve the whole picture here." And so they saw this as their opportunity to take a shot, and I hope there's a catharsis in that. I hope it was sort of like an abscess, that we've drained the abscess, that has been well-voiced. I think it was pretty obvious to the voters what was going on. I think it was very transparent.

Have you reached out to Lula Huff?

Since the election?

Since the election.

No. Since the election was just a week ago, not quite a week ago. No. I've had a few days off. I haven't reached out much to anybody.

A year ago you tried to redevelop the Liberty District. Do you regret how that went down? I know Mrs. Huff became a very vocal opponent of yours in this process. Do you regret how the Liberty District thing played out?

Who wouldn't regret losing $35 million? Certainly, I think we regret that. I think the whole community regrets the loss of the opportunity. I will say I take exception to one thing you said in your question. It was not my revitalization effort. That was a revitalization effort begun in 2004, and actually was part of an effort that had been very consistently moved forward long before I ever took office.

But when it came to a head, you were the forefront?

Absolutely, because I didn't want us to lose that opportunity. I was so afraid that actually what happened was for the sake of trying to adjust things more a particular way than lose the whole. Because I didn't feel people appreciated the federal and state timelines that were going to make us lose all opportunity.

So that's where I came in was to say we have to be very careful here. I will say this: Calvin (Smyre) and Robert Anderson were also standing side-by-side with me, as were many others who were very invested saying the same thing. But for some reason, I became the convenient lightning rod of the only person speaking out. And as you know, (Housing Authority of Columbus Director) Len Williams was there and the city manager was there as well, but somehow because ...

You became the lightning rod after it was reported what you said to a group of Booker T. Washington public housing residents. Would you agreed with that?

Absolutely. I think people were so shocked that it would actually be said that what we were about to lose, $35 million. What was interesting about that was that nobody had gone to the BTW residents and told them what was going on. We were actually sitting in the city manager's conference room with Calvin -- I think Robert Anderson was on conference call -- Len Williams and some other stakeholders, realizing this was going south, that we only had about three weeks and we were going to lose it.

And I said, "Do the BTW residents want us to go forward? Because if they're not interested in this plan, then we don't need to be wasting any of our time working on it." And they said, "Well, nobody has really told them yet." And I said, "I think we need to have a meeting with BTW residents and tell them this is about to get very controversial, this is going to really be a fight here and if they're not interested in this, if they would prefer to wait, we can do that."

That was what that meeting was about, was actually to say, "Look, we have five individuals that are very upset with this particular plan. This is going to be a very difficult row to hoe here. Do you want to wait two years and come back and regroup or do you want to push forward with this?" And at that time they said, "Absolutely, we've been waiting too long. Let's move forward with this."

You were a very successful trial attorney who had litigation across the country. What did you learn in 15 years as a high-level litigator?

That nothing is hopeless. That controversy is absolutely necessary to get to the calm waters of the other side. That through communication you can right almost any wrong. A lot of lessons, a lot of lessons. And the person who is your arch enemy today may be your co-counsel and best advocate tomorrow.

Give me an example in your four years of government of somebody that was an enemy that came over to the other side.

(Councilor) Pops Barnes.

He didn't support you to begin with?

No, he didn't support me to begin with. Also, Pops, as you know, ran against Nathan (Suber) who is a dear friend of mine. And I remember when actually Nathan lost and Pops won, and I was still at Midtown, I had a meeting with Pops. I remember telling him that Nathan and I didn't start out friends at all. I was one of his outspoken constituents and I'm sure a thorn in his side on many, many days.

But over years we grew to be very respectful and then of course friendly toward one another, and that I saw that for him and me as well, and I don't know how truthful he thought that would ring in the future.

But we went our courses and that sort of harkens back to some of the things I was telling you a moment ago. I think people see in the long run that actually I'm very steady, I'm very true, I don't have power plays at hand, I'm not pulling any punches. And over time, those that are the most skeptical come to say, "Wow, she really is pretty steady in that regard." And so Pops and I have been in the trenches a lot together. But that legislative camaraderie or elective camaraderie, whatever you want to call it, was earned over projects and that's when you say, "What do you intend to do with the councilors who were on the other side of this particular election?"

You build relationships through specific interactions. You don't have a dinner party and expect everything to be "Kumbaya" after the dinner party is over. But you build those relationships through being in the trenches with people, helping them out when they need something, or vice versa. And then that productive activity leads to a relationship and people see what you are really worth.

What is your greatest strength?

Communication and steadfastness.

What is your greatest weakness?

My greatest weakness is that I am very vulnerable in how much I care about things. So, I do tend to fight people's battles for them. I did that as a young person, much to my detriment. I did it as a lawyer, much to my detriment. I do it in political office, much to my detriment. And the Liberty District is a perfect example. It wasn't my project. I didn't start that idea. It wasn't even my idea to have the Housing Authority thing, but I knew it was a good one. I knew it was one the community needed. I knew it was one that other people were very invested in. And it was my role to articulate that even though it brought about the wrath that it did, so again, that's a lifelong thing.

Where does that come from?

I don't know. But I'll tell you -- I've told this before just as a random story -- but the earliest I can remember, or my family can remember, is I was a very, very shy kid and walking home from school in second grade (there was) a little girl named Dawn who was born premature, and back in that day if you were born premature you always remained very, very small.

The school bully came by on his bike and pushed her down. I took my frog bookbag and I beat the stew out of Bobby and then walked home calmly. And of course Bobby's mom called to tell my mom. My mom was so shocked because I didn't even speak, I didn't even talk out loud hardly. I got into trouble, of course, for fighting Dawn's battles. Like I said, that's just a lifelong thing.

When you look at people who are trained as trial lawyers, they are fighters.

Yes.

That's the core DNA of every trail lawyer you meet.

Advocates, yeah.

Fighters?

In a positive sense of the word, yeah, absolutely. I think so. You go up against sometimes unimaginable odds. And I have plenty of stories of that, unimaginable odds. You don't sue the fourth largest bank in the world for $990 million and not be able to stand up in a courtroom and fight, if you will, and advocate for justice.

How did that case turn out?

Really good. It was settled confidentially and we were happy with the results.

Can you talk to a jury and lay things out the same way you can to your constituents?

For me I can because to me what I do is that I really go to the core of the matter in my soul and I open that up.

In (one) case I was alone and everybody that was going to be in the courtroom was at least 20 years older than me, with 20 years more experience.

I went to the women's room which was the only place I could be assured to be alone in that kind of environment, if you catch my drift. And I looked in the mirror and I said, "They're going to try and kill me in there." I thought, the only thing I can do is pretend the judge and I are stuck in an elevator and I've got two minutes to tell him what's really going on. And I walked in there and I just went to the core of my soul and I spoke and I said exactly what was going on and they were slack-jawed all over the courtroom. They could not believe that I had just said what was going on. And the judge, I think, was even shocked.

You appear to be someone who is not afraid of hard work. You work long hours. I've been the recipient of some 4 a.m. emails from you. Where does the work ethic come from?

My mom. My mom didn't graduate from high school. She worked blue-collar jobs her entire life -- the meat department at A&P and then Kroger. And she's just an extraordinary woman, and yet if you meet her, she's just one of eminent grace and intelligence. But she believed -- as does my dad too, obviously -- that you can do anything through hard work.

I genuinely believe that. Also, I've been underestimated my entire life. As a young person I was always told I wasn't smart enough. For some reason they weren't going to put me in the accelerated classes and all of that, so I just felt like I had to make it up through raw tenacity, through an incredible work ethic. And so that's just my way, I guess. And you don't want to leave anything on the bench. When I speak to young leader groups, I always say, "You are rich in value because you are inexperienced and uninformed. You don't know how things have always been done, and that is your tremendous value."

That was my tremendous value when I walked into some of those courtrooms completely inexperienced, without a full team, for good reason -- to go back to that discussion -- but I had to work with my ingenuity and my work ethic.

I always tell young people any time they are going to do something difficult, be able to say this to yourself: "I am a reasonable person, I have worked as hard as anybody could have possibly worked to understand this issue. I have been respectful of all people and have tried to educate myself as to what is going on here and I have no ill motive." And if you can say that to yourself, whatever happens next is going to be OK.

That's where I think I get confidence from to go into really controversial, even sometimes screaming crowds, and talk, is because I have that base that I genuinely believe I am a reasonable person, I've worked as hard as anybody to be there and understand it. I've respected all sides and I have no ill motive. And if you can say those things, you can stand up and do anything.

You are going to be known as Columbus' first Facebook mayor. How have you used social media over the last five years?

(Laughter) To communicate. A lot of times, people -- and also "Let's Talk With the Mayor" -- but Facebook people will message me or put something on my Facebook wall about they're angry and they're frustrated. ...

Do you respond to all of them?

Absolutely. And inevitably, they have -- and not maybe all of them, certainly a few -- have brought something to my attention that I didn't know about. But the vast majority are very, very angry about a seed of misinformation they have. And I'm so happy that they took the opportunity to share that frustration and anger with me so I can explain that that's not really what happened or that's not the fact of the matter, and then give them the information they need.

If they need a third party objective information giver, I put them in touch with ... and hear it directly from the source.

In the world of retail politics, Teresa Tomlinson is now a brand. Would you agree with that?

I guess so. Any candidate who has been successful twice, you would certainly (think that). You hear people saying things like "Team Tomlinson." I have a whole lot of kids who think my name is Teresa Works.

What is your political future after the next four years?

I have no present intention of running for any political office after this. I want to be the best mayor that Columbus, Ga., can possibly have at this time. ... I got into this because I think Columbus is a remarkable city that I wanted to see optimized and maximized. I didn't get into it to start a career in politics. Whatever the next door is going to be for me, is going to open up down the road. I may become an investigative reporter for the Ledger-Enquirer. I am certainly writing a book.

So you have begun to document your legal and political journey?

Yes. First of all, I love the great Southern storyteller tradition. I am a Southern storyteller. I think it is a dying art in some sense. Practicing law with Neal Pope, he was, of course, a great storyteller. I wanted to preserve that. ... I almost felt like Forest Gump sometimes. In this room where these incredible things would happen and I was just sitting there in this room. Sometimes when I share a story, people were just flabergasted that I was there and that happened. Largely, in Columbus people don't know that background about me. And if they did, it would explain a lot of what they see me doing now -- why I am so comfortable addressing controversial issues. This is nothing compared to what I have seen before. Sure, it is tough, emotional and controversial. And I don't like people not liking me. I would like to have had all 10 councilors applauding the whole time. But that is not life. And the truth is, I have been in worse trenches. I have been in scarier trenches, for sure. I think if people understood that they would recognize my motives are much purer than some of them think.

So, you are not running for Congress?

No. I have no intention of running for Congress. Of the future jobs that may be, that is one I could least envision. ... My life has a way of unfolding and I try and stay in the stream of the plan, whatever that may be.

Governor?

I don't see that, as well. I will tell you this -- and it will get to what you are saying. My personality type is much better in an executive, think-tank type role. That is just my strength. Less in something that would be as incremental as Congress. Running for elected office takes a great toll on your family. And I love my family. I am ready to enjoy life and enjoy my family a lot more. I don't know if that can be married with future public office. That plan would have to reveal itself to me.

Your husband Trip is a successful trial lawyer in his own regard. How has Trip handled the last five years where you've been in these battles and people may have said things about you that may or may not be true?

Actually, remarkably well, because we were law partners before we were married. And my role in the firm was actually -- it was rather humorous. I think they hired me by accident, by the way which is a whole other story. You'll have to buy the book to read it. But they sent me on cases that if they were turned around they would be great, but it didn't look like they were going to be turned around. So, I was in very difficult positions, usually with all kinds of daggers coming at me because I was alone, I was young, all the things that make up my package that make other more experienced, more established individuals think that there's a weakness there.

So, Trip had to watch that as one of my law partners. I was threatened by some of the most prestigious law firms to be taken to Bar, they were going to use all their power to disbar me. Of course it never came to fruition and no complaint was ever filed. But nevertheless, pretty vicious complaints. There was a lot of physical intimidation, and so there were a lot of things he witnessed.

And that was before we were married, so I think he was a little used to it. This last go-round was a little tougher for him, although he did great, because of some of the personal stuff. And I think he sees how hard I work and how much I care, and to have some suggest I don't like crime victims or I don't care about animals, the injustice of those statements I think shook him a bit. But otherwise, he muscled though very well.

What do you do to relax? What do you do to unwind?

I do nothing better than anybody you have ever seen. I know that amazes you, but when I am off, I am so off it would floor you. I love to swim. I do yoga almost every night. I walk with my husband almost every night, which is great therapy for me. I'm not so sure how much therapy it is for him.

So, you bend his ear.

I bend his ear. Oh, my gosh, he's my therapist to say the least. He's saved me I don't know how much in therapist fees through the years.

Has he ever said, "Whoa, you don't want to go there?"

Yes. He's actually very adept, let me just say. Usually he doesn't say quite that because if I'm very passionate about that particular course, (if you're) saying no, (then) "you don't want to go there" is probably not the way to get me to hear it.

So, he usually angles up some sort of a devil's advocate point of view and throws a few scenarios out there and lets me deduct how that might play out a little bit. And he also is masterful, as is my sister, frankly with catch phrases by simply saying things that I say in substance. And so they will offer to me these great ways to communicate.

Who came up with "Teresa Works?"

I believe that was my sister. Because it was undeniable and of course it had double meaning -- I work, I'm a good fit. And it would resonate I think with people, the merit of it. And if the campaign did turn negative, that would be undeniable.

You campaigned four years ago on lifting the freeze. You've talked about it throughout the last four years of ways to lift the freeze gradually. Are you still going to pursue lifting the property tax freeze in Columbus?

I've never suggested lifting the property tax freeze. Unless you restate your question, I'm not going to answer that question. I think the property tax freeze is a constitutional entitlement. I don't think you can lift it. So what I have suggested, which is contrary to your question because I've never suggested lifting the property tax freeze ....

You suggested gradually phasing out the property tax freeze.

No. I have suggested if you have it you keep it in perpetuity ....

But once the sale of a house (is done) that freeze is gone, right?

I don't think you can lift the freeze. So what you have to say is everybody who has the freeze keeps the freeze in perpetuity, but all new transfers vest in a system with a 10 percent property tax decrease. That's the plan.

That's phasing out the freeze.

That would mean that with time as new transfers occur, fewer and fewer people would have the freeze, because they would be vesting in a new tax system with a 10 percent property tax decrease.

Are you going to pursue that option?

Yes. I've been pursuing it every day. I'm going to pursue the discussion. It's that important and I cannot tell you the broad appeal it has with seniors because seniors are downsizing.

Here are the things we cannot get over right now with the current system we have. Seniors are downsizing and when they do they are hit with a tremendous amount of tax impact because they are going from a four bedroom, three and a half bathroom house at $300 a year in taxes, and they go to a two bedroom, two bath house and now they've got $3,000 in taxes a year. They are having real trouble with that. The other thing is we're one of the only jurisdictions in the country -- maybe the only jurisdiction in the country -- that taxes people on property value they prove they do not own. So, when their assessment goes down because of a recession or whatever, your property evaluation is still frozen in an upward position. We have thousands of people in Columbus, Ga., right now who can prove to us that the $250,000 house that they bought in 2006, or whenever it may be, 2007, is now only worth $200,000, and we don't care, we continue to tax them on the $250,000. So we actually tax people on value that they can prove they don't own and we agree they don't own any longer.

Does the freeze jeopardize Columbus' long-term financial stability?

There's no doubt that the freeze has been an economical hindrance on us. There is no doubt that it makes running our city government very, very difficult, and also pushes taxes around the other places that are less transparent.

And I don't think people appreciate that. We have the highest occupancy tax rate in the state of Georgia. And that is an economic development deterrent. You're talking about jobs, things of that nature.

How is the Teresa Tomlinson who won in 2010 different than Teresa Tomlinson sitting here right now?

Gosh, I don't know. I would say pretty much the same. I was just telling you earlier that one thing that will amaze you after knowing me for a long period of time is really how consistent and steadfast I am. Certainly, there's more mileage and more experience, but I wasn't terribly surprised when I came into office in 2010 because I had been so involved in the community, with other mayors, and also in politics, as I had said, and also with difficult and controversial situations.

I can't say there's really been a big surprise. There's been an emotional drain. One of the things I don't know that I expected is that there are families who have lost loved ones. The ones I can think of now are all before my tenure in office. And as their mourning process moves forward, they tend to call upon the mayor in a very frustrated way to fill that hole they still fill. The Mill Branch fire mother and so many others -- Kirby, the unsolved murder, I think his sister. She actually called me to congratulate me on the win. And others who have lost loved ones, like I said, almost all I'm thinking of now were before my tenure.

Are you misunderstood?

Actually, I am very well understood by most and I think the election showed that. But by some certainly.

Does it bother you?

Yeah, I want to be 100-percent popular. I want everybody to think that I'm the greatest, nicest person who ever lived, but you just can't convince all people all the time. The only thing I can do is to continue to live my life and show by example what's in my heart and hope that other people will see that. That's what I get up and do every day, and I have great faith that it will turn out.

Teresa Tomlinson

Age: 49 Job: Columbus mayor since 2010. Prior to that was executive director, MidTown Inc. 2006-2010; attorney with Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison & Norwood LLP, 1991-2005.

Education: Chamblee (Ga.) High School, 1983; Sweet Briar College, Bachelor of Arts, Government and Economics, Business Management, 1987; Emory University School of Law, Juris Doctorate, 1991

Family: Husband, Wade (Trip) Tomlinson; parents, Dianne and Bob Pike; sister, Tonya Pike; mother-in-law, Fran Tomlinson Miller.

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