Helfman seeking Senoia mayor's seat
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Suzanne Helfman has been very involved in Senoia in the past 10 years, and she is now running for the open mayor's seat.
Helfman has served as the chairman of the Senoia Downtown Development Authority since 2005.
'A lot of people have been encouraging me to do this for the past couple of years,' Helfman said. 'I don't consider myself a politician.'
But with Mayor Robert Belisle not seeking reelection, people kept urging her to run so she decided she would. 'I am so grateful for their support and the positive response to me running. It has been pretty amazing.'
'I love Senoia,' said Helfman. 'I know how to run meetings. I've been in a leadership role on the DDA, and I like to set goals and carry them through.' Serving on the DDA has been 'a very rewarding experience for me because I have seen what hard work and dedication can do for a city.'
With all her experience working with the city for 10 years, she thinks she'll be well suited for the position.
When it comes to issues, 'maintaining the historic charm of this city, while at the same time balancing that with positive economic development, is key,' she said. 'We've been so blessed to have had investors and stakeholders who have come here and it's worked… we're an example statewide of a city that has made it through the rough times - and in a way that is basically phenomenal.'
Senoia gets tourists, for a number of reasons. 'We've consciously marketed it as a destination for tourists, be they here for the movie aspect, or for the history and homes and the driving tour,' she said. 'When the (Southern Living) Idea House was here that was another draw, and (country music artist) Zack Brown and his involvement here is another big draw,' she said. 'I'd say it's been well-rounded.'
'We have something for everyone, I think. But maintaining the historic, charming aspect of this town is something I'm very, very passionate about. That's the basis of people coming here and the others have just been wonderful additions.'
As a grandmother of small children, 'I'm definitely interested in improving our parks and maybe adding more attractions for families and young children,' Helfman said. A 'splash park' was discussed at a recent town hall meeting, and the DDA has discussed it before.
It would be great to have 'a premier park system.' There have been a lot of park-related improvements over the past few years and 'it can just keep getting better and better. I would like to focus on that as well as maintaining what we have.'
She'd like to have continued economic development and controlled growth. However, 'You have to be very careful… I think a standard has been set with new historic infill and even the renovations.'
She'd like to see more involvement of the people who live in the subdivisions.
'I'd like to even get some kind of an advisory board set up that has representatives from the subdivisions,' and meet with them as the mayor to get their input. Many subdivision residents are families with children and 'they don't have time to go to a town hall meeting. They want to be involved but their time is limited,' she said. 'To get their feedback on what they would like to see in Senoia, to improve the quality of life here, I think that would be a great tool for planning the future of Senoia.'
She'd also like for there to be opportunities to involve people who have a Senoia mailing address but don't live within the city limits. 'We welcome people who say 'this is my town.'' Helfman and her husband, Sam, moved to Senoia after retiring from careers in the entertainment advertising and marketing industry. Their retirement dream was to run a bed-and-breakfast.
'I would look up a B&B for sale in any state where I remotely knew a person, cousins, anything,' she said. Her daughter, Alison, lived in Atlanta and they were visiting one day, and decided to drive to Senoia to look at the Culpepper House. 'We were there about an hour, we went back to L.A., and I took the virtual tour of this place 100 times,' she said.
'It's been a great experience,' she said. 'We have enjoyed every minute of it.'
When they first arrived, in 2002, 'I could see the potential of how great it can be,' she said. She was appointed to the DDA in 2003 and has been involved ever since. 'Of course, I have been involved with my church and other charity groups as well,' she said.
People ask her why she does so much volunteer work.
'I say, but my payoff is I get to live here,' Helfman said. 'We've been blessed with diverse stakeholders who have made an investment here and I believe most of them are very happy they made those decisions.'
Why should people vote for Helfman?
'I'm hardworking, I'm dedicated. I don't drop the ball on anything. The best interests of the city are foremost for me. I know I'm qualified to do it,' she said. 'I am not a politician. I am somebody who is passionate about Senoia and wants to continue to make a positive contribution.'
'I love this town and I want to be a part of it.'