Mayors of magazine’s top family cities meet in Madison

Published 12:04 am Sunday, November 11, 2007

The mayors of 10 nationally recognized cities have gathered in Mississippi to talk about what sets them apart from other municipalities and brainstorm ways to make their communities even more family friendly.

The weekend summit is hosted by Madison Mayor Mary Butler Hawkins, whose city of 16,930 was listed among Family Circle magazine’s best places for families.

Hawkins said she’s interested in several of the practices in other cities, including an annual father-daughter St. Valentine’s date in Chanhanssen, Minn., and a public forum sponsored by Castle Rock, Colo., to get citizens’ input once a year.

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Chanhanssen Mayor Tom Furlong said his city is home to music superstar, Prince, and the artist’s Paisley Park Studios, but he also boasted about its 80 miles of walking trails and numerous parks that “make it a wonderful place for families to get together.”

The other mayors attending the summit were from Diamond Bar, Calif.; Franklin, Mass.; Cedar Park, Texas; Derby, Kan.; Morton Grove, Ill.; Kennesaw, Ga.; and Cooper City, Fla.

Family Circle selected the cities based on low crime rates, health care, air quality, green space, schools and jobs.

Cooper City Mayor Debby Eisinger said her city of 30,000 has a “relatively small” operating budget of $32 million. To stretch those dollars, Cooper City relies heavily on volunteers.

Eisinger said the Optimist Club, a network of volunteers who assist with the city’s nine athletic programs, has saved Cooper City millions of dollars that otherwise would have been spent on personnel.

Eisinger said the city has room to grow as it doesn’t have a hotel and its largest retailer is Wal-Mart.

“We still want to keep the small town feel, but realize the need to have a tax base,” Eisinger said.

Hawkins, who has led Madison for 27 years, also wants to experience growth.

“Your city has to grow to be healthy, but it’s how you grow,” Hawkins said Friday. “We have tried to put policies and enforcement in place that will direct this growth, and it’s a challenge every day.”

Over the past two decades, Madison has become one of the most affluent suburbs in Mississippi. The median home value is $242,760. The median income is $83,477.

As the first city in the state to have a mandatory landscape ordinance, Hawkins’ has gained a reputation for being a stickler for aesthetics and often clashes with developers.

Nearly no business is given a waiver on design. An Exxon gas station located near the site of the summit has Corinthian columns separating the fuel pumps.

“Even though someone may have a piece of property, and they feel they can do whatever they want to with it, if it’s not done right, it could affect the property around it and it can affect the overall city in a negative way,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins said her policies have proven lucrative as property values have skyrocketed over the past few years.