Mayor Donnie Henriques
Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques is in his fourth consecutive term as Mayor and will serve through December 31, 2021. Prior to first becoming Mayor in 2005, he was also a Woodstock City Council member from 2000 to 2003. Throughout his 16 years of leadership as Mayor, Woodstock has enjoyed tremendous growth in population and has become an award-winning destination city known for its music, culture, restaurants, and businesses. He is a Vietnam Air Force veteran who, in 2019, authored his first fact-based fiction novel “Social Actions: A Vietnam Story” inspired by his experiences in Vietnam. Throughout his years as a resident of Woodstock and continuing through his terms in public office, Mayor Henriques has been an active volunteer for a wide number of community organizations including the William G. Long Senior Center.
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Speaker1: [00:00:02] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Woodstock, Georgia. This is Woodstock proud, spotlighting the individuals, businesses and organizations that make Woodstock one of the premiere destinations in metro Atlanta to live, work and play. Now here’s your host.
Speaker2: [00:00:28] Hello, and welcome back once again to Woodstock, proud here on Business RadioX, I’m your host, Jim Bolger, and once again, we appreciate you joining us and we have a very special show in store for you today. About eight months ago, when Stone Payton and the folks at Business RadioX approached me about hosting a show, Woodstock Proud was born. I’ve been a resident of Woodstock for over 30 years, and this gave me a chance to share with others the excitement that this town has generated in me and with a lot of other people I know. So our premise was very simple. Just have a forum where we can spotlight and celebrate and get better acquainted with the people who are making a difference in this community. Now, I knew from the very beginning that we would never totally deliver on that commitment or fulfill that promise without spending some time with our guests today. Mayor Donnie Henriquez, Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us on Woodstock. Proud.
Speaker3: [00:01:35] Thank you, Jim. It’s a pleasure to be here and good afternoon to all your listeners.
Speaker2: [00:01:40] Well, now we’re going to talk about your years as mayor and about some of the changes Woodstock has gone through. But before we do that, I’m going to kind of flip ahead to the latest chapter in the book after four four terms as mayor and a term as City Council member. Before that, you announced in February that you would not be seeking reelection. Talk a little bit about when you made that decision and why you decided it was time to pass the gavel.
Speaker3: [00:02:09] Yeah, good question. Back before the first of the year, young man, I called him young because I’m old. Michael Caldwell, former state rep, came to me and said, If you ever decide not to run, let me know because I want to do it, but I’m not going to run against you. So it started me thinking and into the next year, you know, I was doing pros and cons with my wife and some friends, Charlize and Mike Byrd. She’s a state rep now, too. We were doing the pros and cons and started adding them up, and it came to the decision of we always have big projects on the books, and that’s why I wind up wound up running four times. And I thought about this when we have a big project coming up, which I know you want to talk about, so I won’t steal your thunder. But I said, you know, there’s always going to be one. I’ve been here for four terms, more than any other mayor in the history of Woodstock. I’m very proud of that. But I figured it was time, you know, I started not enjoying some of the meetings that we had, which are long and contentious. And when I said that, my wife says, you don’t need to run again. So that’s when we made the decision. I let Michael know. He immediately announced he was running and I immediately immediately endorsed him. So that’s how it happened.
Speaker2: [00:03:50] Well, I mean, 16 years as mayor, I mean, what an amazing run, I mean, when you consider that. Kids that were going into kindergarten when you first became mayor are graduating college today. I mean, did you ever imagine that you’d stay mayor so long?
Speaker3: [00:04:08] Absolutely not. I thought maybe two terms and get get the ship righted, so to speak. Make sure the the vision is in place and in progress and move on to other things. But like I said, it was always another project, so I stayed on for two more terms and the rest is history.
Speaker2: [00:04:32] Well, and we thank you for doing that.
Speaker3: [00:04:34] Oh, I appreciate that.
Speaker2: [00:04:36] So if we go back to 2004. Are you decided to run for mayor against, I believe the incumbent then, right? Correct. And that was a fairly close race.
Speaker3: [00:04:48] It absolutely was. Five out of the six council members at the time came to me and asked me to run for mayor. They didn’t agree with the way things were going. So after a lot of thought and discussion, I decided to do it and it was a hard campaign. You know, I hadn’t had that many campaigns, but it was a hard one. I’ve seen others and it was very difficult. But the final votes came in in November and I won by 31 votes.
Speaker2: [00:05:22] Thirty one votes, yep. Which begs the lesson every vote counts,
Speaker3: [00:05:29] Exactly, you know. Even this morning, once a year, the third graders from Woodstock Elementary walked down from the school and I, I greet them at the chambers and they split up into groups and go to other locations. But I even said this morning, I told that story about the 31 votes and I said, What does that tell you? And of course, the parent said, every every vote counts, so they got the message.
Speaker2: [00:05:56] Absolutely. So let’s let’s go back to two thousand four. How would you describe Woodstock when you first became mayor?
Speaker3: [00:06:07] A sleepy town still, I mean, we had the buildings in place on the east side of Main Street. And it was a beautiful project. But every every store was empty. We still only had about five or six businesses on the original side of the street, and they were still closing up at five o’clock. So we had no nightlife whatsoever, and I knew that could change.
Speaker2: [00:06:37] So do you remember your original campaign, what were the challenges facing the city then?
Speaker3: [00:06:44] We had a lot of big boxes that were empty. The Wal-Mart that is now Sam’s Club was empty. Kmart closed up, which became his hands church, you know. And we had several other type of big boxes that were empty. So that was one of my goals to get those filled because they were an eyesore sitting there. The other thing was to get those buildings in downtown filled up and jumping ahead a little bit. The way we did it is we recruited pure and canyons to come in, and they were really the first. Starter for the area, once they came in and attracted people downtown, that’s when the other merchants came in. So it became a lot easier at that point.
Speaker2: [00:07:42] Now was the developer already involved at that point, Edgewood
Speaker3: [00:07:46] Edgewood built the entire project and a lot of the housing back there. As a matter of fact, the one I bought in that neighborhood was the last one that they did before they went out of business for the recession. They they went out early during the recession. I’m not sure why, but they were fantastic partners to work with.
Speaker2: [00:08:11] Yeah, I remember downtown then and, like you say, a few stores. You know, I remember before that, I mean, the train depot was basically unused and abandoned. But even beyond the downtown area, when we look at Woodstock as a whole. Town Lake didn’t look like it does today. Ninety two didn’t didn’t look like it does today. So there were a lot of things going on in different parts of the city, correct?
Speaker3: [00:08:38] Yes, that’s true. We had the same issues in Town Lake and ’92 that we had in downtown. We had a lot of vacant buildings.
Speaker2: [00:08:51] And the population then was about what
Speaker3: [00:08:54] When I first became mayor, it was probably, I don’t know, twelve thousand fourteen thousand.
Speaker2: [00:09:01] And today we’re at
Speaker3: [00:09:03] Final census numbers I have not seen yet, but I’m guessing it’s between 38 and thirty nine thousand.
Speaker2: [00:09:12] That’s amazing. I mean, and and rapid, so was that growth surprising, or was it all part of the plan?
Speaker3: [00:09:21] It was part of the plan. But it was surprising in the fact that it happened so quickly. I mean. We had a national magazine, I believe it was money magazine that named us a few years ago, the sixth fastest growing city in the United States. So wow, that that tells you something.
Speaker2: [00:09:45] Well, and we’ve seen in other cities where you can grow too fast, you can outgrow your infrastructure, you can outgrow your capabilities. But somehow, Woodstock, through your leadership, through the council, through the city departments, it seems to have been more of controlled growth of really having a plan for it.
Speaker3: [00:10:08] Correct. We made a conscious effort when a developer wanted to do something like, for instance, Woodstock. No. We made sure when they started building that they they took care of the infrastructure that leads into their their development. I don’t think and most developers agree that it’s their responsibility turn lanes, sewerage and water pipes, pump stations, things like that. So that helped the process of, like you said, a planned development.
Speaker2: [00:10:48] Well, in planning and zoning has become more and more important as that growth continued, I would think just because of there’s a limited amount of developmental land to look at and you want it to be used the right way. And I know that they’ve been very involved and I’ve gone to a number of the planning and zoning meetings and city council meetings where, you know, there are some projects that definitely fit the plan that are approved. There are projects that don’t fit the plan that are not approved. And you know, when you have that kind of change and whether it be in a city, in a company. I mean, there are going to be some people that are going to embrace that change. There’s going to be some people that are going to resist that change. But because of the plan, at least the impression I get is that by and large, people have very much embraced the plan and have enjoyed the growth. Are you hearing that as well?
Speaker3: [00:11:47] Yeah, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Like you said, some people are not fans, but I think that is like a two percent minority. Overwhelmingly, when I get stopped on the street or in the supermarket or wherever people are congratulating us, they love what’s happening in Woodstock and they agree with the vision that we talked about.
Speaker2: [00:12:15] Well, and you know, I think there’s another piece of this, too, and that’s that sometimes and may not be the best analogy here, but I work with a lot of companies that are growing. And as those companies grow, dynamics change and they lose some of their culture, they tend to become more impersonal. They tend to become more corporate. And we’ve seen cities around us that have seen some of that happen, too. They just don’t have the same flavor they had years ago because of that growth. But somehow, here in Woodstock, one of the things I love about being a resident here is we’ve always embraced the history, we’ve always embraced the community, feel the the the small town atmosphere, even through that growth. How did that come about? How was that part of the plan?
Speaker3: [00:13:09] That was always in the vision? We never wanted to lose that small town feel and it stems from the downtown area. We still have some of the original buildings that have been here for years. We have. And I think it was 08 or 07. I named one easy to use the town historian, and she’s a former librarian. She’s now in her 80s, but she spent a lot of time when she retired at our visitor center, educating people, and we went to her when we had a question on whether a certain project fit and she would tell us, yes or no, you know what she thought. So we always wanted to keep that small town feel.
Speaker2: [00:13:59] Well, and as I mentioned, I mean, sometimes with that growth, people become more impersonal. I mean, it seems to me, and I’d be interested in your response to this, that when you look at. The business culture, when you look at the arts culture, when you look at the activity happening downtown, happening in town, Lake happening on 92. It almost feels like people have come together more through that growth than they were years ago. There’s more chances to interact, there’s more chances to find people of similar interests. I mean, are you finding that as well?
Speaker3: [00:14:39] Absolutely. I mean, you mentioned other cities and I’m not going to name any disparage them. But sure, they grew faster or as fast as we did, but they lost their small town feel we consciously. Wanted to have people come together, and I think they’re doing that because they’re proud of Woodstock and we provide them opportunities to interact. Of course, the downtown is so small that you know, it’s what, two miles square or something like that. It’s easy to run into your friends and neighbors. We have the bike trails. We have the walking trails. I mean, you walk down one of the trails from downtown to see the dog park. You’ll run into a neighbor. I guarantee you I do it all the time. It takes me a while to to make that trip because I get stopped so many times, even from people I don’t know. And like I said earlier, they’re there congratulating us on the job that we’ve done. So I’m very proud of that.
Speaker2: [00:15:48] Well, and it’s it’s real. I mean, it’s not artificial, it’s not window dressing. I mean, you go to a lantern series concert and you just watch people going from table to table greeting people they know, you know, you go to the the different business functions. And the networking piece of it is why a lot of people go just to connect with their friends in the business community. So it is real and it is very authentic. When you look at. The 16 years as mayor. What do you think were the major milestones for Woodstock during that time?
Speaker3: [00:16:28] I’ll tell you the first one and it’s it’s human, is we hired Jeff Moon, our city manager. By far, that was the most important piece of the puzzle. We needed a strong, knowledgeable city manager. We didn’t have it before. I did not inherit one. So two years into my first term, we hired Jeff and he gathered what I call the greatest staff that any city has of our size. That was the first piece of the puzzle when he did come on. He brought a Parks and Rec director, which we had really never had one to build that department. But we sat down for lunch one day as soon as they got here, and I said I won three things. I want more parks base. I want more trails and I want an amphitheater. They delivered on all three within 10 years. Wow, which is phenomenal in my book, I think we were 10 years ahead of schedule, so that was a milestone. We got the amphitheater, so then we started concentrating on filling those voids in different buildings and different areas of the city. Unfortunately, it was at the beginning of the recession, so we had a big hill to climb. But Jeff and I sat down at that point and said, you know, a recession is the best time to buy property. So you can’t get it any cheaper than during that period of time. So we did, we went out on the limb. We bought what is now the city hall annex for five point two million included all the contents from Robert Harris Homes, and that building today is worth about 10 million. Wow. So we went out on a limb and we mortgaged the thing. We didn’t have the cash to pay for it.
Speaker2: [00:18:45] And that’s the one located where
Speaker3: [00:18:46] On 92, right off, right near trick them. But what a what a buy. I mean, couldn’t have done anymore. Then we bought what is now our chambers, where our council meetings are and the theater behind it, that Elm Street now or Woodstock Arts, they’re called now where they’re headquartered. So these were two great purchases that we made. We we we bought some other park space. Um, we expanded Dupree Park on this road. So we took a chance during the recession to add to what we knew we needed. And I think it’s paid off tremendously.
Speaker2: [00:19:36] Well, and none of that has remained stagnant, either, I mean, the trail system continues to grow. I know the chamber’s center just went through some renovations and you know, it is. It’s interesting how those purchases that were made back then have continued to be vibrant have continued to be used. It wasn’t just a one and done where, you know, people were interested in it for a while and then kind of lost interest and they continue to be used and used widely. And you mentioned before, I mean, obviously another thing that’s occurred over these years is our visibility. I mean, Money magazine named us one of the best cities to live in homes magazine named us one of the best suburbs in the U.S. to move to. And I know that our main street has gotten awards. Our city departments have gotten awards over the year. As you interact with other cities, which I know you do all the time. How do you think their impression of us has changed over the years that you’ve been mayor?
Speaker3: [00:20:46] I think they’ve come to realize that, you know, first of all, we’re a destination city. People come from all over if you go downtown on a Friday night or a Saturday during the day. Look at the license plates. They’re from all over Georgia. They’re from North Carolina and Alabama. I mean, that’s what people are doing. They’re coming here to ride our bike trails from North Carolina. And when they do that, they take a break and they go to lunch and downtown. So you see that license plate. So other cities have seen that and trying. They’re trying to emulate us. We get visitors from all over the Southeast Cities, council members and staff that come here. We spend a half a day or a day with them and they want to know how we did it. So we show them, we show them what you have to do to achieve what we’ve had here in Woodstock.
Speaker2: [00:21:50] Well, and I know and again, I’ve lived here about 32 years now. When I first moved here and for many years after that, people would say, Well, what part of town do you live in? You’d say Woodstock, and they’d say, Where’s that? Now somebody says, where do you live? You say Woodstock stuck, they said, Oh, I’ve been to Woodstock, I love Woodstock. And it doesn’t matter where they’re from in the metro area. It really has been a magnet for people that are looking for that kind of arts, culture, shopping restaurants, and there’s so much going on all the time. I know that the city has a real job just keeping that calendar active and going because. As you said Friday night when you first became mayor, walked downtown and you were walking alone. Now go downtown on a Friday night or a Thursday night or a Wednesday night, and there’s music coming out of mad life. There’s music coming out of pure and there’s crowds of people everywhere down there. I mean, it is such a difference and it has to make you feel wonderful to see that under your watch.
Speaker3: [00:23:04] It does. You mentioned the early days in 06 when I first became mayor. We looked at how to get people downtown at night. So we started what was called Friday Night Live, and we convinced the businesses that we did have open to stay open later. Eight o’clock, nine o’clock, whatever took some arm-twisting, it took some persuasion to keep them going. But I said, Stay the course, it’s going to work. And it took about a year, a year and a half before we started seeing the big crowds on Friday Night Live. And now you can’t find a parking space on that night. It just it’s been phenomenal.
Speaker2: [00:23:52] Well, it’s amazing that an event like that would be so crucial to everything that went after it. And how that’s continued, so we’re talking about milestones, you mentioned, Jeff. We’ve mentioned Friday night’s live other milestones.
Speaker3: [00:24:06] Yeah. Like I said, the amphitheater is a biggie. We’ve we’ve tried to improve traffic. There’s only so much we can do on Main Street because of the railroad and historical buildings bordering it. But we’re about to start a big project. One of the reasons I stayed on for this term. It’s called the Hub Transformation Project, and that’s going to improve the travel from Main Street to five seventy. We’re going to have a roundabout at the split off where Mill Street in Town Lake separate. There’ll be a left turn lane at Town Lake and Main Street, going north, which I’ve been fighting for for 10 years. So, yeah, to me, that’s a big milestone, you know, but we’re going to improve Mill Street to make it a two way. So we’ll get people off of Main Street a lot faster. But to me, that’s a milestone, also trying to improve traffic. We’re improving parking. I know you want to talk about the
Speaker2: [00:25:18] Oh, please go ahead.
Speaker3: [00:25:19] Morgan’s ace hardware site, which is a big milestone when it happens. We bought that property a couple of years ago, actually in Morgan’s just this past Monday opened up in their new location on North Main. So we’re going. We own that property is about four acres there. We’re going to tear everything down and make it a temporary parking spot until we finished the design phase of that property. That property will hold a parking deck, which will accommodate four to 500 cars, depending on how big we make it. There’ll be a boutique hotel 80 to 90 rooms. And the neat part about it is I insisted that they have balconies overlooking the amphitheater so they can sell those rooms for concerts. And I think that’s a big deal, and there will also be some retail and restaurants in that area. So that’s a big milestone. And that was the reason I thought about staying on for one more term. But like I said, you know, there’s always a project.
Speaker2: [00:26:27] Well, can you talk about the parking downtown? I mean, as things started to develop downtown? You know who thought that would be a problem and good problem to have because the amount of activity down there? But yeah, it’s probably the one thing I hear most people talking about as far as an improvement they want to see is with the parking just because it’s tough to find a parking spot sometimes. But this will alleviate that. And so that that construction will begin when
Speaker3: [00:27:01] The tear down is actually I just got an email this afternoon. They’re going to start that project tearing down within the next couple of weeks. Oh, wow. The actual buildings in the ground probably is a project that’s going to start late next year. We have a development partner, which is Terry and Cherie Morris, who was instrumental with her Wedgwood in developing what’s already there. So we thought they were natural. They they they get it. We have a hotel partner picked out. The unique thing about them, I can’t tell you their name for whatever reason. I don’t know. They they don’t want it public yet. No, I understand. But they every hotel they own across the United States is different. There’s no identical hotel that they own. So that’s very unique. And we’ve been in some of their properties on field trips and they do a beautiful project.
Speaker2: [00:28:04] So during that construction phase, will that allow any additional temporary parking on any of that acreage?
Speaker3: [00:28:12] Well, when once they get everything down within the next couple of weeks, it’ll be traveled for a temporary parking spot. Okay. I think they told me there’d be somewhere around 100 spaces on that because it’s only surface.
Speaker2: [00:28:26] Well, that makes a big difference, though.
Speaker3: [00:28:28] Yeah, Hundred Spaces is 100 spaces. So but the parking deck, there will be the first thing that probably goes in the ground. And the nice part about it is for the residents that live there, it’s going to look like a building. It’s not going to look like a parking deck.
Speaker2: [00:28:46] That’s great. So as we talk about the growth, as we talk about the changes. How has the role of mayor changed over those years, I mean, you know, 16 years ago? It was small town mayor. Now it is this destination, city mayor. How has your role changed?
Speaker3: [00:29:08] That’s hard to to define. When I first took over the former mayor, the one I beat, the incumbent like to have his hands in all the pies. And I firmly did not believe in that. I believe in getting the right people in the right position and let them do their jobs. And there again comes Jeff Moon. So. I’ve been able to kind of step back from the day to day, I was more involved in the day to day the first two years, but once Jeff came on board and got good department directors in place, good staff. I mean, Jeff and I talk every day or meet every day and talk about what’s going on. But that’s as far as it goes, unless he needs me to get involved in something, I don’t get involved. So it’s evolved that way.
Speaker2: [00:30:05] Well, and he has hired great people as well for the many city departments, and the number of city departments has expanded over those years, too, as the population expanded. Exactly. So everything’s going along. We have the strategic plan development is taking place under that controlled growth and under that plan development, things are going along pretty smoothly. And then we hit 20 20 in COVID. Talk a little bit about the the mobilization, the urgency, the strategies you had to put in place to quickly handle those restrictions that were necessary, how people mobilized and how that changed some of the city’s plans a little bit.
Speaker3: [00:30:52] Yeah, once March of Twenty hit, when everything shut down, my job suddenly became full time. Good thing. I was retired from my other job because now I was devoting 40 to 50 hours a week. We just had to, like you said, mobilize. We had to change the way we did business. We could not stop having council meetings that that wasn’t in the cards. So we shifted gears and started having Zoom meetings. I would show up in person, but most of the council would be online. People could join the residents if they wanted to. We shifted gears and did the same thing with staff meetings on Monday mornings that I attend. So we had to we had to make some changes. Nobody saw this coming. Obviously, nobody was really ready for it. But I should say kudos to the school system. They were in place with remote learning and I congratulate them on being ready for it. But, you know, we didn’t have any idea it was going to happen. We had plans in place for pandemics as far as the health goes. But as far as the operations, we never imagined you couldn’t be in the same room with somebody. So we had to shift gears and it was difficult. But I think we did it fairly well.
Speaker2: [00:32:30] Well, and it seems like we were kind of on the leading edge compared to some cities around us. As far as some of the steps we took and some of the rules we put in place,
Speaker3: [00:32:40] I think so. I think we acted a lot faster than some of our compadres over there in different areas. But we all struggle. There’s no doubt about it. Like I said, it was unforeseen, you know, historic.
Speaker2: [00:33:00] Well, in a. I guess it’s part of the job, but you know, you say, OK, I’ve been mayor for three and a half years now, I kind of got this down to a certain rhythm. You know, everything’s going along as planned and then something like that hits. And all of a sudden, as you say, plans change, operations, change priorities change. And I’m going to assume just because of COVID and the restrictions and everything else, probably some of the strategic plan change too as far as development, right?
Speaker3: [00:33:33] Yeah, it did. First of all, it slowed down because we wouldn’t allow developers coming in filing their plans for a new development. We had to make them do it online. Some of them were not set up for that. So that slowed things down. It just it’s just the way we had to do business.
Speaker2: [00:34:00] Well. Thank you for. Reacting as calmly and as quickly as you did, because. Everybody just kind of fell in line, it seemed. And did what they had to do, and none of us individually or collectively were prepared for it. But we’re getting through it. We thought we would have been through it by now, but we’re getting through it. So as the city has changed, the world around us has changed, too over those six years, and one of the ways I want to talk about things changing is social media. I mean, social media has expanded exponentially over the six years you’ve been mayor, which on one side of the coin makes it much easier for people to express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with things that are taking place immediately and widely. And on the other side of the coin, it allows city officials to more easily communicate with their constituents. So can you talk a little bit about both sides of that and how social media has played a part?
Speaker3: [00:35:12] A tremendous part. I’m not the most social media savvy person, but there’s a reason why we’ve been successful. It’s not about me. We promoted Stacy Brown to handle our PR and our social media, and she’s done a fantastic job. She gets the message out for all our departments Fire Department, Police Department, City Administration, Downtown Development Authority. She handles it all. And you’re right, we now we hear more from residents and business owners, as you say, dissatisfied or satisfied. We can address the dissatisfied a lot quicker and we know about it a lot quicker. So that’s been a boom for us social media.
Speaker2: [00:36:06] Yeah, I can’t imagine going through the. Covid changes without having social media to communicate to the population about just what was going on, what the city was doing about it. What we had to do to help the city meet their goals in that. I mean, I can’t imagine trying to do that in any other way.
Speaker3: [00:36:29] Yeah, it got right off the bat. We we realized we needed to get the message out that we’re still open for business. So we started a podcast series. And I was the host in the beginning, interviewed people like the Department of Health. Chief honcho Dr. Taylor had the CEO of Northside Hospital talking about the effects of COVID, and it continued on. We had department directors and interviewing them on how they had to function. And Stacy Brown took over and continuing those podcasts, so we wanted to get the message out.
Speaker2: [00:37:12] Well, obviously through it all, be it COVID or just the growth. You’ve had a lot of support and well-deserved support. And even though that first term as mayor was run by 31 votes, you had two of the next three where you ran unopposed. That had to make you feel pretty good and pretty confident of the leadership you were giving the city.
Speaker3: [00:37:39] It did. But I always tell people I said, either people liked what I was doing or they weren’t paying attention. One of the two.
Speaker2: [00:37:47] So I think you’re probably being modest there.
Speaker3: [00:37:51] You know, like I said, it wouldn’t have been possible without a good staff and a good council. And for the most part, we’ve had good councilors, my entire four for four terms.
Speaker2: [00:38:05] Well, you keep an amazingly busy calendar. It seems like everywhere I go, you’re there. If I go to a business meeting, there’s the mayor. If I go to a concert, there’s the mayor, ribbon cutting ground-breaking mayor, mayor. I mean. And on top of that, for a lot of the years as mayor, as you said, until you retired, you’re also carrying a full time job. How did you keep up that pace? How do you how do you and I mean, even the public events, there’s so many private events as far as city meetings and whether those be public or closed door. How did you keep up that pace?
Speaker3: [00:38:42] I had a great boss at Northside Hospital. Billy Hayes hired me. And what was it? Thirteen, I think it was, and he knew that my schedule was kind of. Campbell bladed or whatever the word is, Campbell, I don’t know if that’s a word. But anyway, he understood that I’d be pulled away sometimes. And he knew that I would make up the time, so to speak, with my regular job. So that’s the way I was able to juggle it while I work full time. After I retired, things seem to get busier. I got I got pulled into a lot more meetings than I had
Speaker2: [00:39:31] Because people knew you
Speaker3: [00:39:32] Could. Exactly. So you know, that little 20 hour a week thing got to be 30 hours or whatever. So I try to be engaged in the community, like you said, going all those ribbon cuttings and whatever. Never missed a concert, if I could, unless I was out of town. But I believe it’s part of my job to stay engaged. People want to know what’s going on in the city, and most people were not afraid to approach me and ask me pointed questions on what’s happening. So I wanted to be out there to make sure that was possible.
Speaker2: [00:40:14] So as you look back at your terms as mayor, I mean, we talked about. Why need to use a little while ago, as our historian and I know the new renovation at the Reeves House has a little nook where Juanita has put in a display of Woodstock’s history down the road if she puts in a display about your history as mayor. What’s the legacy, what’s what are we going to see in that display?
Speaker3: [00:40:42] Hopefully it won’t happen, but
Speaker2: [00:40:45] I’ll talk to Juanita, though. Yeah.
Speaker3: [00:40:47] All right. I don’t know. I think it should say something about. 06 to to present day that the growth of the city has, as you said, has been controlled and planned. On the. The idea that we’ve actually got a nightlife in downtown says volumes for for our council and staff, so that’s kind of what I think should go in there. Nothing about me personally because it wasn’t just me. It was a team.
Speaker2: [00:41:29] Well, there’s got to be a picture of the amphitheater there because I know how involved you were in that.
Speaker3: [00:41:33] Yes, yes, there should be. So.
Speaker2: [00:41:41] When you and your term in January, is there anything on your to do list that didn’t get checked off? What are what are the. What still needs attention? What future development plans have been made that are going to come under Michael’s watch now?
Speaker3: [00:41:59] Well, first and foremost is the Morgans Ace hardware store site. To me, that’s one of the biggest projects that the city has ever undertaken. It’s going to cost multiple multi-million dollars to do. Luckily, we have these development partners in place, but that’s the biggie. Like I said earlier, if I would have stuck around, that was the reason why. But other than that, the Transformation Hub project will be in the ground in progress. We have a we purchased a bunch of land on Tricom Road in conjunction with the Corps of Engineer property. It totals about one hundred acres. And that’s going to be a tremendous park pass. A park. Wow. People are going to be excited about this project. That’s a little bit longer term than the Morgan site, I believe it’s in the design phase now, but those are some of the things that I would have enjoyed sticking around for.
Speaker2: [00:43:08] Well, I’ve heard some talked to about additional fire protection. Is that true to about another fire station? It is.
Speaker3: [00:43:16] We have an ISO rating of one, which is the highest you can get, and there’s only about 100 fire departments in the country that have that designation. Wow. But in order to to maintain that designation, we need a third fire station because of growth. We have the site picked out. We’re working on acquiring the money to be able to build the fire station and staff it, which is a big deal, but but it’s in place. Council knows it has to be done and they’re actively supporting it.
Speaker2: [00:43:57] We said a minute ago that that display at the Reeves House shouldn’t be about you. We’re going to talk about you a little bit what what some people may not know is that you are an Air Force veteran having served in Vietnam. Thank you for that.
Speaker3: [00:44:14] I appreciate
Speaker2: [00:44:14] It. And with everything else you had going on in 2019, you decided to publish a book that was inspired by your experiences in Vietnam, and the book was called Social Actions a Vietnam Story. Talk about what prompted you to do that, I mean, you had a pretty busy calendar going on anyhow, but had that book been in the making for a while and was that just the publishing date or were you actually working on it right before that?
Speaker3: [00:44:45] No, it was a long term process. I actually started it in the 90s. Really? Yeah, I I thought about it. I was a stay at home dad with my infant daughter for two years and I started writing it. I knew I had a story to tell. I didn’t want to make it. Real, real personal, so I made it fact based fiction, so what I call it. And I set it down. Life happens. I picked it up again. Set it down. And then about two years prior to 19 or a year, my daughter, who was the infant, is now an adult, and she prompted me to get up and finish it. And she helped put it together and present it to a publisher. Miss Juanita was one of the editors of the book. I was reluctant to let her do that because the book is R-rated and, you know, she’s a mild mannered person and I was working, she says. Donnie, don’t worry about it. I’ve read worse.
Speaker2: [00:45:55] So she’s still making eye contact with you now.
Speaker3: [00:45:57] Yes, she does. She still talks to me and stuff. So but my my daughter was the prompt that got me to finish it and get it published, and it came out in January of nineteen.
Speaker2: [00:46:12] And I know that it’s available on Amazon and other outlets, and if you haven’t read the book, it is a great book and it got great reviews. So with all this extra time you’re going to have on your hands now in 2022 and beyond. Is there another book in you?
Speaker3: [00:46:27] There is. It’s a continuation of the protagonist protagonist where he goes back into civilian life, and it’s more of a crime mystery than the other book was. Now it’s not complete. I put it down when COVID happened because of my schedule increasing with the city, but also my wife works for the school system and of course, they were shut out. They had to start doing Zoom meetings and we had downsized a few years ago and our she was working in the dining room. I’m working in the living room, sitting in a chair with my laptop and with her and Zoom meetings all day. I couldn’t concentrate, so I had to put it down. But unfortunately it’s taken me a while to pick it back up. But I have. I’m about, I’d say, a third of the way finished. This will be a more complicated book to write because the other one I actually lived. This one is pure fiction, but it has the same character. That’s the only difference.
Speaker2: [00:47:38] Well, and one of the things that impressed me about the first book is you talk a lot about the main character, Patrick Heaney, is that right?
Speaker3: [00:47:49] Exactly.
Speaker2: [00:47:50] Patrick Heaney. Patrick Haney’s transitions. And one of those transitions is going from military life to civilian life. I know they call it going in back into the real world. Exactly. And you went through that transition. In a couple of months, you’re going through a new transition from public figure to private citizen. Is that going to be a difficult transition for you?
Speaker3: [00:48:17] I don’t think so, I think the transition from military life, especially being in Vietnam and Thailand, was more difficult than I think this will be. I’ve got a lot of support from my family and friends. And actually the public, I’m always thanked for my service with the city. So that transition, I don’t think, will be very hard. I’ll still be involved with the city, I’m sure. Michael Caldwell will call me and ask my advice on something. Jeff Moon and I will still communicate. We’re very good friends now. Matter of fact, I just got an invitation to his daughter’s wedding. So, you know, I’ll still be involved, and I think the transition will be a lot easier.
Speaker2: [00:49:07] What do you think you’ll miss most not being mayor?
Speaker3: [00:49:11] Working with city staff? I really love all those people. They do a tremendous job. They all know what they’re doing. I don’t have to guide them in any way. It’s just it’s a pleasure working with them. And then the other thing is the public I enjoy, like you said, I’m out there ribbon cuttings, whatever. I enjoy meeting people. You know, that’s how I met you through. Absolutely. The Main Street program. So those are two things I’ll miss.
Speaker2: [00:49:44] Well, and I know that both as mayor and just as a resident of Woodstock, you’ve been very involved in some of the nonprofits very involved in some of the charitable causes in town, I know, especially with seniors in the schools. Hopefully, you’ll be able to keep up that involvement as well.
Speaker3: [00:50:03] Yeah, I will. I’m still involved with a lot of service organizations. I was member of optimist and rotary and so forth. I’m not now, but I still help them. I still support them in their efforts. The senior center, I’m obviously old enough to be a member, which I will become a member. Don’t play hand and foot and all those other card games, but they do have pool, a pool room and different functions, and I’ll still be involved.
Speaker2: [00:50:38] When you had a kind of a special relationship with them over the years at the senior center because in the event that you put on for them every year, right?
Speaker3: [00:50:46] Well, it’s actually every quarter North Side sponsors it. It started when I was an employee of North Side. We would bring in a doctor once a quarter to talk about different subjects health wise and to help attract the seniors to come listen to this doctor. I would cook jambalaya for them, and it’s become so popular that they have a waiting list for these events. And I always cook enough for the extra people so well.
Speaker2: [00:51:24] But you grew up in New Orleans, so this is authentic jambalaya. And I know before getting involved in politics, you were in the restaurant business too, so you know your way around the kitchen. I do.
Speaker3: [00:51:37] Yes, I do. Most of the cooking at home. My wife is a great salad maker, that’s for sure. She calls herself the salad queen. But I do. Most of the cooking don’t do a lot of baking because we don’t eat a lot of desserts and things, breads and whatnot. But typical New Orleans dishes is my staple.
Speaker2: [00:51:58] Yes, that’s good cooking. Yeah. So let’s look at the next chapter for Woodstock, we talked a little bit about Michael before Michael Caldwell, former state representative when you announced that you were not going to run. Michael threw his hat in the ring, ended up running unopposed. So in a in a normal election year, you wait for the November elections and then the the person coming into office has about two months for transition to months to kind of get acclimated, get assimilated and that that sharing of information with Michael running unopposed that two months became six or seven months for you. So talk about that transition. How is that going and how do you think it’s benefited not only him, but you too, as far as being able to pass along information that you wanted to make sure you shared with them?
Speaker3: [00:52:58] Well, as far as me concerns, it’s a lot of peace of mind because I know there is a learning curve for every mayor that comes into office, whether or not you’ve served as a city councilman or you have no experience whatsoever. There is a learning curve. I always say it’s about six months before you feel comfortable enough to express opinions. Michael has been involved with us for quite a while. We have now brought him in to meetings that that are called Executive Session, where it’s a closed door meeting where we discuss real estate litigation and personnel. Which is, you know, protected by state law. Michael’s in there, so he’s getting a feel for what we’re doing. We’ve sat down with him. We’ve gone over all of our projects that are on the board, all of the projects that are in the ground, finance, community development, economic development, you name it. He’s he’s been exposed to it. So his learning curve, especially with his government background, is going to be a lot less than mine was.
Speaker2: [00:54:16] Well, I’m sure he appreciates that as well, and just, you know, not coming in feeling unprepared or just less prepared to go into the job and to serve the citizens. So 20 years, I’m going to broaden this out a little bit 20 years ago, you made the decision to. Run for city office as a councilman and later as mayor. For someone who’s considering entering public office, what advice would you give them
Speaker3: [00:54:49] Be involved in the community first? Don’t try to jump into a city council position or even mayor, especially mayor. I got involved in my neighborhood first and then in, like I said, service organizations. So I was well known in the community before I even ran for city council. That’s what I would recommend. Somebody do get involved somehow, you know, volunteer to serve on the Parks and Rec board or the Planning Commission or whatever the case may be. That experience will pay dividends down the road.
Speaker2: [00:55:30] I’m going to ask you a real personal question. Ok. I think you are a great example of servant leadership. I mean, we see some people in politics in the corporate world who as they reach a certain level of leadership or a certain level of power. They kind of lose sight of that a little bit. And I’ve never I mean, you’re always so modest, you’re always so giving of your time and of your advice. I mean, I’ve never seen any kind of power trip or anything else on your part as to, you know, how the Office of Mayor has affected you. How do you how were you able to keep that all in perspective?
Speaker3: [00:56:20] Well, I always sing the same song. It is about service leadership. It’s not about you. It’s about a team the team gets the job done, and we do it for our thirty eight thousand bosses. One of the kids this morning when I was talking to a third grade class asked the question, Do you work for the president? I thought for a minute I said no. He works for 350 million people. That’s how many bosses he has, and I take the same tact. You know? If you don’t do it from a service point of view, you’re not doing your job. And that’s what I believe.
Speaker2: [00:57:14] Well, and and that is evident. That is obvious. I think it’s one of the reasons you’ve been able to handle things on such an even keel is by keeping that perspective to. So before we wrap up here, give us some advice as residents, as citizens of Woodstock or whatever city somebody’s listening happens to be in. How can we better assist? How can we better serve our elected officials?
Speaker3: [00:57:41] First and foremost is vote in every election. That’s what I tell kids when they turn 18. Make sure you register to vote and vote. Secondly, give them feedback. It’s important to hear from the residents and business owners, and we do. But it could be better. There’s a lot of people out there that may complain or congratulate or whatever we never hear from. We’d love to. They need to hear that feedback, whether it’s good or bad. So.
[00:58:19] You know. I.
Speaker3: [00:58:23] I think people ought to be more involved. You know, we have low turnouts in our elections. You know, my my election in 05 was about 2000 people turned out to vote. You know, out of a city at the time of 14000 or whatever it was, that’s not very good. And we need to we need to do better with that.
Speaker2: [00:58:47] So when you talk about people making their opinions known, you’re talking proactively, not after a decision has been made, not reactively, but even just get to know your officials have conversations with them about what’s important to you. Because while that may not be being addressed today, it may be addressed months from now and they need to have that information so they know where the people they serve
Speaker3: [00:59:17] Are
Speaker2: [00:59:19] Most, most embracing and most supportive of the change.
Speaker3: [00:59:24] Yeah, I remember when I first took over as mayor, I remember several people when I was introduced to them as mayor of Woodstock, they said I didn’t know we had a mayor. Really? Yeah. Believe it or not. And so I found that mystifying. And that’s what I’m talking about people not being engaged. I mean, we’re the ones that take your tax money and put it back into the community. You should have a say so over that it’s your money. And the only way to do that is to be engaged, like you said, talk to your representatives.
Speaker2: [01:00:06] So with that said, if somebody wants to contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Speaker3: [01:00:11] Best way is email and my email address is De Henriquez DHEA, NRI kuti’s at Woodstock, G.A. a dot gov. I also have a phone number at City Hall. I don’t answer it. I checked the voicemail. It is seven seven zero five nine two six zero zero seven.
Speaker2: [01:00:38] Well, thank you. And before we wrap up, any final thoughts, you have any final. Message you want to share with the people here in Woodstock.
Speaker3: [01:00:49] Yes, I want to thank them for their support and their confidence in me. It’s very humbling. To be able to serve four terms. Two of them unopposed. And I want to thank them for this support and I’m going to miss them, but I’m not going away.
Speaker2: [01:01:11] We will see you around, I’m sure.
Speaker3: [01:01:13] Yes.
Speaker2: [01:01:14] Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for sharing your time with us today and what we understand is a busy schedule. Sharing your thoughts, sharing your insights and more importantly, we can never thank you enough for your service and for your leadership to this city. Over the past 16 years as mayor, you have had a big hand in the pride we all have in our city. And again, we can never thank you enough. We obviously wish you and Jan and your family all the best in the future. And as I said, I know we’ll be running in each other again.
Speaker3: [01:01:50] Absolutely. And I appreciate you having me, Jim.
Speaker2: [01:01:53] Well, and thank you all for listening to Woodstock. Proud. We hope you enjoyed getting to know our guests. Mayor Donnie Henriquez a little bit better. Until next time, this is Jim Bulger saying Take good care of yourself. Stay safe and we will talk with you again. Real soon.