SHAKING UP this year’s upcoming City of Savannah elections, popular local neighborhood activist Nick Palumbo is going to run for City Council in the Fourth District, currently represented by Julian Miller.
He makes his official announcement this afternoon at 2 p.m. in Hull Park.
Palumbo recently completed a very active tenure as President of the Ardsley Park/Chatham Crescent Neighborhood Association. He also speaks frequently on the need for smarter development in Savannah.
He says it’s time for a fresh start across the board.
“We’ve not had stable leadership for quite some time. I’m trying to make sure Savannah’s best days are ahead of us,” Palumbo says.
Palumbo says that Savannah has lost its way and has no strategic vision to ensure future success and quality of life. “We need to look at the city comprehensively. We need to make 100-year decisions again,” he says.
“It’s tough to imagine that in Savannah for centuries we were civic innovators,” he says, pointing out that Savannah was the first city in America to have an all-electrified streetcar system, and the first in America to have a formal tree ordinance and tree protection plan.
“This generation have been the recipients of that hard work and we’ve been milking that hard work for years. Somewhere we lost our way, and quickly eroded what makes us unique and makes us special.”
Palumbo says he has three main platform items: Public Safety, Infrastructure Improvement, and what he calls “Building and Development with Integrity.”
In the area of public safety, he says “The current claim is that crime is on a downward trend. But in the Central Precinct, crime has increased year over year by 40 percent.”
Palumbo says attrition of police officers is a serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately.
“We need to give our officers the benefits they deserve so we can retain them. It’s not just strategically important, it’s fiscally important. The Savannah Police Department has become the training agency for Southeast Georgia.”
Palumbo himself is a veteran of both the U.S. State Department security service and the U.S. Park Police.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working for two world-class law enforcement agencies,” he says. “I’ve worn the badge.”
Savannah Fire and Emergency Services is also facing dire threats, Palumbo says.
“With one of the busiest ports in the world, we must be certain to support our fire department so we don't end up putting Marine One in dry dock,” he says, referring to the City’s controversial decision to mothball the Savannah River emergency response vessel.
“That's not just my 2 cents, but also echoing the concerns of a professional study on the matter. I'm all about getting back to basics and making sure our public safety departments have the resources they need,” he says. “We’re a world-class city to visit. Let’s make it a world-class city to live. That will happen only when we adequately fund our public safety departments.”
As far as infrastructure is concerned, Palumbo says, “For decades, Savannah has been reaching for things we don’t have instead of taking care of what we do have.”
Palumbo cites the success of the recent Ardsley in Motion initiative he began, a citizen-led effort that identified over 2,000 specific infrastructure issues in Ardsley Park.
“I will cast an eye towards what’s happening in every neighborhood in the Fourth District,” he says, while reiterating that the Ardsley in Motion improvement template can be used by any neighborhood in town.
Palumbo criticizes the city’s reliance on Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes (SPLOST) as well as what he sees as too much dipping into the Capital Improvement Program.
“If you look at the last four years, with the exception of water line improvements, nearly every project went to supporting things like hotel parking garages and streetscape improvements for private developments like Savannah River Landing and Plant Riverside. Meanwhile our infrastructure basics are crumbling.”
On building and development, Palumbo is a firm advocate of preservation.
“We need to return to our focus as a historic city with market practices that are fair and transparent. We have to protect our architectural heritage, our invaluable tree canopy and actively involve citizens in decision-making,” he says.
“We continue to lose historic resources. Developers are still essentially creating personal zoning districts,” he says.
Palumbo points out the demolition of the Johnny Harris Restaurant as emblematic of the kinds of challenges the Fourth District will continue to face.
“If it’s not you today, it will be you tomorrow. The Fourth District is about to face an enormous amount of change. It’s a unique district that stretches all the way to the Southside.”
Palumbo says the Fourth District’s challenges mirror the challenges faced by Savannah as a whole.
“It’s time for a vision for the city as the biggest and best little town in the U.S. I’ve been working as an advocate for preservation. I know ways we can address it from day one, make improvements, and also take the long view,” he says.
“This is our last chance to get a sustainable vision for the city on the books.”
Palumbo says one reason he is announcing several months before the August qualifying date is to try and inspire other new fresh faces to step forward and throw their hats in the ring.
“I want people to know it’s not too late,” he says. “There is still time for others to get interested in running.”