Ari Durham and Bill Grant are vying to replace retiring Councilman Bill Bryan.
Durham, a school administrator in Roswell, is hoping his years of being a “servant-leader” will show Canton residents that he has something to offer on the City Council.
“Whether building bridges at Boling Park, marking storm drains or gathering food or clothes for the needy, there have been many opportunities to serve the Canton community,” Durham said Wednesday, adding that his job at Fellowship Christian School has given him even more opportunities to serve.
“This week, I was fortunate to have led over 800 students in packing 60,000 meals for children in a third-world country,” said the candidate, who is also a Boy Scout leader. “The gym, for a day, became a processing center where kindergarten through seniors mixed, weighed, sealed, packed and boxed fortified meals.”
For Grant, it’s his 17 years as a Canton resident, volunteer and downtown business owner that he says prepare him for the job on the council.
“I have a firm grasp of the pros and cons of living in this city and operating a successful business in its central core,” Grant said Wednesday. “I have regularly attended council meetings since moving to Canton, and I have a firm grasp on the issues.”
Through the years, Grant said he has served the community in many roles. Those roles, he said, have included being a member of the Commission on Canton’s Future, the City Charter Review Committee, the Cherokee Arts Center, where he served as president, and as the president of the Main Street program since its inception.
Grant said he has also been a “champion” for revitalizing downtown.
One issue Grant has often brought up throughout his campaign is the idea that the city is in need of changes to how it welcomes — or doesn’t welcome — business in general. The city needs to “Roll out the carpet and reduce the red tape,” has been one of his campaign slogans.
Grant also managed to keep his business afloat during the Great Recession.
“So, I have experience in making the necessary cuts and strategic planning to move Canton forward in a fiscally responsible manner,” he said.
Durham agrees that steps need to be taken to make Canton more welcoming to business.
“We need to do all that we can do to build on the attachment people have and can have with Canton,” said Durham, a long-time city resident. “People love that Canton is a modern day Mayberry. It has a nostalgic aspect because of its history and Canton being the county seat.”
Much like Mayberry, Durham said Canton can take steps to present a “friendly attitude” to those wanting to come into town.
One practical solution Durham said he would look at if elected was to work with the owners of vacant space downtown to makes sure their rent lines up with other nearby cities.
Durham added that he would work the city manager and the Downtown Development Authority to make sure Canton was, in general, more business friendly.
“Actually, if Canton as a whole is more business friendly and partners with new businesses, it will have an effect on the downtown, too,” he said. “All of Canton becomes stronger when a part of it is growing.”
According to Grant, part of what is making Canton a little less than open to business are the premiums paid for business licenses.
As an example, Grant cited his business in downtown, a design firm with four employees, which he said paid $1,072 in 2013 for business permitting fees. Grant said that cost would be much less in other nearby cities.
“Today, my business license would cost $170 in Woodstock, $190 in Roswell and $225 in Alpharetta,” he said.
Grant said he’d like to have a review of these fees if elected, and that, in general, he would like to streamline the process of opening a business in Canton.
Grant said the city could also create a “5 easy steps” tutorial program for new business hopefuls, and that Canton should actively work with property owners and help them covet tenants.
“This focus should be for all of Canton property owners,” he said, “not just downtown.”
Grant said he would also form a “Pro Business Task Force” and give it 90 days to consider and streamline the process for new businesses hoping to start out in Canton.