In the heart of a bustling city lies the promise of a dynamic future, shaped by the vision, determination, and leadership of its residents and officials. Roswell, a city known for its vibrant community and rich history, stands at a crossroads where possibilities are endless. Joanne Curtin, sits down with Mayor Kurt Wilson, a visionary leader committed to propelling Roswell into a new era of prosperity. This candid conversation is about the city’s future trajectory, the challenges it faces, and the timeless principles of leadership that will guide its journey towards an even brighter future.
Joanne: Thank you for having me over today. I am admiring your wall of photos here. Can you tell me more about it?
Mayor Wilson: I am glad you’re here. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve enjoyed your “Behind The Curtin” videos. These photos on the wall are all people that have had an impact on me.
Joanne: I think it’s great that you reflected on who to put up there. That’s awesome, because you don’t get where you’re going without learning from others. So, if you could have dinner any of these people, who would you invite?
Mayor Wilson: That’s a great question. I would probably be more contemporary oriented than historically oriented. I definitely would talk to Mother Theresa. Everything I read about her is authentic, honest, and courageous. She’s an incredible warrior who has this great courage most of wish we had and she’s challenging her faith all the time. And Johnny Carson, of course. My dad was Carson’s doppelganger, they looked like twins.
Joanne: Most of our clients are in the area we like to call “The Platinum Triangle”, that’s Roswell, Alpharetta, and Milton. I’m curious about what you think sets Roswell apart from Alpharetta and Milton?
Mayor Wilson: I love my sister cities, let’s start there. I routinely have the mayors of Alpharetta and Milton over to my home. I believe in personal engagement because we are all in this together. Roswell has been successful in part because it won the geographic lottery. It was once the crown jewel of North Fulton County. Now, I acknowledge that Alpharetta has grown and they have some advantages over us, take for example the number of exits off the 400. Whereas Milton has stuck to their vision of being made up of mostly single-family homes. And that works for them.
The city of Roswell is 42 square miles, that’s it. And 65% of that is made up of single- family homes. We’re looking at the other 35% that, until now, did not have a viable long term economic strategic narrative. How do we get ahead in terms of industry? We can’t chase manufacturing businesses that we don’t have the room for. And without an intentional strategy, someone else was going to make the strategy for us – the state, the federal government, Fulton county. When I came in to office it was clear to me that Roswell needed to be a city of 120,000 people in 20 years. We are currently at 96,000. That means the city of Roswell is going to be very intentional. In other words, the development community is not going to come to us. We’re going to do the placemaking for the development community. As I said, we have limited space, 42 square miles, and because we have limited space we have scarcity. So, we’re about to use that to our economic advantage. The city is already heavily invested in zero based budgeting. That means we’re really serious about how we spend our money and reimagining how each department works and what services to provide, from an entrepreneur perspective. We are looking at what we do well, and what we don’t do so well.
Joanne: Since you’ve been in office, what’s something you are most proud of?
Mayor Wilson: All credit goes to God and my team. I am proud to say we’ve gotten more done in 12 months that has been done in 20 years. We have the best in class police force focused on de-escalation, a full-time fire department, and passage of the $180 million dollar bond overwhelmingly approved by voters.
I am a big believer that we’re building our organization in a different way. I hope we are building a political legacy and leadership that will last beyond my term. The question we ask ourselves is “what’s the right thing to do for the city of Roswell?” I hope the legacy is an organization that is highly competent, highly effective.
Joanne: You talked about looking at things done well and things that need improving. Is there something in particular that you’re working on?
Mayor Wilson: Communication is the hardest thing for us. We’re a fairly static organization and it seems we’re always playing defense. The challenge is to reach people with consistent, authentic, and sophisticated messaging.
I really believe that leadership has responsibility, not just for governing, but for bringing rational discussion into the marketplace. The overwhelming majority of us want to have sober discussions with healthy skepticism. I hope we heal the acrimony that has overtaken our political debates.
Roswell is a great place to live, There’s an unbelievable quality of life here. And I want to people who live here to really know that, to enjoy it, and to celebrate it.
Joanne: We love Roswell. In 2017, Tom and I started a 501c3 non-profit, Curtin Team Cares. We are committed to helping local families and organizations where help is needed most. Currently we are actively working with the Children’s Development Academy of Roswell (CDA). Are there any other organizations in Roswell that you feel others should know about?
Mayor Wilson: I love our community and I love CDA with the leadership of Maggie DeCan. I believe in the mission of CDA [www.cdakids.org]. We have so many great charities that operate in Roswell. HomeStretch [www.homestretch.org], North Fulton Community Charities [www.nfcchelp.org] with Sandy Holiday at the helm, Sunny and Ranney [www.sunneyandranney.com], and can’t forget The Cottage School [www.cottageschool.org]. The Cottage School has a beautiful mission and has really helped save students and their families.
Joanne: Since we’re in the South, I’m sure you know that people are just as interested in where you are from as who you are for.
Mayor Wilson: You saved the toughest question for last. Well, I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama where half the town loves Alabama and the other half loves Auburn. I went to college at Ole Miss. And then I moved to Georgia and I’m still learning how to respond whenever someone says, “Go Dawgs!”. I love the Braves. So, I guess, I root for everyone. How’s that for a politician’s response?
Joanne: (laughs) Okay. That’s a fair answer. It’s been pleasure talking to you today. I am excited to hear about the new developments in Roswell that will soon be announced. We’ll have to meet up again so we can talk more about them.
Mayor Wilson: Thank you! It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Roswell is a remarkable place and I’m looking forward to its bright future.