DCA Commissioner Camila Knowles speaks with Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt during GMA’s 2015 Mayors’ Day conference.
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has a new leader, Camila Knowles. Knowles was sworn into office on January 15. Her staff interviewed her back in January and GMA is publishing that interview along with the commissioner’s answers to a few questions of our own.
DCA: Congratulations, Commissioner Knowles, and welcome to your new role in public service to Georgia. Working in Washington, D.C. as Chief of Staff for Senator Saxby Chambliss, you had the unique advantage of seeing Georgia from the outside in, while still being a Georgian. What do you see as some of our state’s strengths in terms of economic and community development?
Working with Senator Chambliss, I had the opportunity to get to know so many Georgians, and I am always impressed with how hardworking and resourceful our citizens are. It may sound clichéd, but I do believe that the people of Georgia are one of our greatest economic development assets, and I look forward to working to grow businesses in Georgia that see their employees in that light.
Georgia’s transportation infrastructure has made us internationally famous. Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the Ports of Savannah and Brunswick, our interstate systems and network of railroads all have been crucial to Georgia’s growth. These systems allow us to connect the smallest town in our state to anywhere else in the region, and even the world. We’ve got the opportunity to grow businesses in small communities because of this transportation network.
And how could I not mention the diversity of our geography? It’s just amazing—we really have it all here in Georgia. We’ve got farmland and metropolitan areas, the coast and the mountains. Every region is so unique. I’ve learned that these differences are fascinating, and what make Georgia so special. Moultrie and Marietta are different—each has its own unique features—but each plays an important role in our state’s economy and character.
DCA: How did growing up in a rural area of Georgia, then going to Harvard and Georgetown Universities influence your thinking about growing Georgia’s economy and building its communities?
I love being from South Georgia and I think my heart will always be a part of rural Georgia. I appreciate that in order to thrive and grow our state needs our metropolitan areas and all that they have to offer. I’m raising my family in Atlanta and we love it, and I see the beauty and allure of a big city. I believe, too, that our rural areas have an influential role in Georgia’s economic growth and success.
Our rural communities have so much to offer to small and midsize businesses that are looking for a high quality of life. So much of the history of our state is rooted in small towns, and I see potential for tourism opportunities across rural Georgia. Of course, agriculture is still Georgia’s number one industry, and our small towns have a role to play in keeping agriculture and agribusiness strong in the future. I’m looking forward to working my way around the state and helping communities set goals and achieve their visions. DCA has so much to offer our communities, citizens and businesses, and I am honored to have the opportunity to lead this agency as we continue to make a difference in as many communities as we can.
DCA: As you’ve been working through the transition period over the last month, what are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned or seen?
The breadth of the work this agency does is fascinating and surprising. The people here are wonderful professionals and really know what they’re doing. They’re great technical experts in their program areas and I look forward to working with them and supporting them as we work with communities throughout Georgia to help prepare them for opportunities to create jobs and offer safe and affordable housing options for their citizens.
GMA: In 2014, the Georgia legislature passed the Georgia Downtown Renaissance Fund Act. How does the funding of this program fit into your priorities for the Department?
There is no doubt that downtown development remains a priority of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the State of Georgia. The Office of Downtown Development at DCA is a wonderful example of the technical resources our agency can provide to communities to assist with small business development, historic preservation and making downtowns an attraction for people from near and far.
Once the Renaissance Program is funded, DCA will be able to expand our work in downtowns across Georgia. In the meantime, DCA remains committed to ensuring that our downtowns continue to lead the nation in small business and job growth by providing the national standard in downtown development support. We have taken steps within our Downtown Development programming to ramp up our efforts in technical assistance. We have added a new position of Education and Outreach Coordinator in our Downtown Office. Our staff worked very hard to bring the National Main Streets Conference to our state this year to provide an opportunity for Georgia communities to attend a national training without paying hefty travel costs. We have added more training opportunities to our annual agenda for the conference, including webinars, regional meetings and more in-depth financial training for local staff.
GMA: DCA is a partner in the Georgia Downtown Renaissance Partnership along with GMA, the Georgia Cities Foundation and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. How do you see DCA’s role in the partnership evolving?
The Georgia Downtown Renaissance Partnership works with communities to encourage community input to help with the overall design and function of the local downtown. DCA’s role in the partnership is to provide the post-planning technical assistance to help communities achieve the goals they have set in their master plans. Much of this assistance includes providing financial frameworks to help leverage investment, providing professional design support for projects, and working to ensure the community has access to and is utilizing economic development tools. We see this hands-on technical support continuing to be our major function in the partnership.
GMA: Each year, local governments are required to submit various types of information to DCA through state-mandated surveys, including the Government Management Indicators Survey (GOMI), and the Report of Local Government Finances (RLGF). Why is this information so important and what is it used for?
The GOMI survey solicits answers to non-financial questions and covers local government management practices, procedures and policies.
The state relies on DCA each year to provide the General Assembly with the fiscal impact of certain proposed legislation upon local governments—the GOMI is a key source of the data needed for this analysis.
The Report of Local Government Finances (RLGF) provides financial data used (1) by a variety of entities for analysis of revenues, expenses and debts, (2) by similar-size local governments to ascertain averages that validate or expose their own performance and (3) by Georgia’s residents to gain transparency about how their local tax dollars are put to use.
All surveys and reports submitted to DCA constitute a form of accountability to the public for each local government and authority. The answers and data they provide are a matter of public record and carry a responsibility for accuracy and integrity upon which citizens and legislative leaders can base their decisions. We’re grateful that GMA’s leadership team stays in touch with us regarding these surveys, often providing helpful feedback and assistance in ensuring their members are aware of survey and report deadlines.