In an effort to help voters prepare for the Nov. 7 elections, Atlanta Loop sent questions to candidates running for Atlanta City Council, Atlanta Mayor and Atlanta School Board. Early voting begins Oct. 16. To see district maps, click here.
1) Why are you running for office in the city of Atlanta?
I’m running in the open race for Atlanta City Council District 9 to ensure our neighborhoods here in Northwest Atlanta continue to have caring, accountable, and highly-responsive representative at City Hall.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
I served as the Special Projects Director for current Atlanta District 9 Councilwoman Felicia A. Moore from February 2015 to January 2017, when I resigned to run for this seat with her support and encouragement. During that time, some of my top projects involved improving public safety and addressing blight across Northwest Atlanta. Working towards the goal of improving public safety, I managed the District 9-funded “Operation Shield” camera roll-out in cooperation with the Atlanta Police Foundation and the Atlanta Police Department’s Video Integration Center. In bettering code enforcement and mitigating blight in the district, I submitted and/or followed-up on over 1000 code enforcement cases and, in collaboration with other city departments, resolved over 800 cases. That included over 100 demolitions of blighted, open/vacant structures that were crime magnets in our Northwest Atlanta neighborhoods. I also earned my Masters in Public Administration with a concentration in Public Sector Management in December 2016.
In addition, I am a critical care nurse at Emory University Hospital where I work in the neuroscience ICU, earning the hospital-wide “Rookie of the Year” award in 2013. I also previously served on Emory’s Serious Communicable Disease Unit, which was responsible for successfully treating four patients that had contracted Ebola Virus Disease. As a nurse, I hope to bring an important public health and emergency preparedness perspective to the City Council.
I am proud to have the support and endorsements of our current Councilmember Felicia Moore, the International Brotherhood of Police Officers – Local 623, the Atlanta Professional Fire Fighters, and the Professional Association of City Employees. Councilmember Moore’s support is important because she is highly respected in our neighborhoods and has served our area admirably for 20 years. The support of our public safety and city employee unions is very important, as I believe addressing our city’s public safety and city service issues will be on the forefront of guaranteeing Atlanta continues to be a world class city for all.
3) What do you think is Atlanta’s greatest strength?
I believe our city’s greatest strength is its people, its neighborhoods, and Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs) we live in. As someone who has served on my neighborhood board and as a City Council assistant, I am continually inspired by how our people come together to advocate and fight for what they believe in from the neighborhood level, to the NPUs, to our City Council. To that point, I will be a councilmember who not only attends neighborhood and NPU meetings, but values and considers their feedback when I am tasked with making important decisions at City Hall.
4) What do you think is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
I think the biggest challenge for Atlanta, in one general word, is inequity. This is true whether we are talking about housing, income, education, or so many other needs for our people and families.
5) How would you address what you feel is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
I pledge to work together with my colleagues on City Council, our new administration, and other stakeholders to immediately begin working to achieve a more equitable Atlanta. Affordable housing must be addressed through implementing inclusionary zoning, strengthening affordable housing trust funds, and re-purposing long-vacant, blighted properties across our city. The City of Atlanta and Atlanta Public Schools must also stop living in their own silos and instead come together to address the inequities in education, bettering the accomplishment and quality of life for our children.
We cannot continue to have a dividing line of inequality running through the heart of our city from southern Northwest Atlanta to Southeast Atlanta. District 9 is admittedly a microcosm of this city-wide issue, with the district being split in half by that line, so I have an immense, driving interest to address our city’s long-standing inequities to make Atlanta one city that we can all be proud to call home.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as an elected official?
Managing growth & affordability – As Atlanta continues to grow, we will need to confirm that our city’s growth is healthy and that we do not displace people, as well as making the city more affordable to our families. I will work with my colleagues to implement the City’s new zoning rewrite, which will guide Atlanta’s growth for decades to come, and that we will continue to implement meaningful policies that prioritize affordable housing units. As we grow, we must also strive to address income and education inequality across our city.
Improving public safety – While statistics may show total crime is down citywide, many challenges remain. For example, District 9 is covered by portions of Atlanta Police Department (APD) Zone 1 and Zone 2. Zone 1 continues to lead the city in violent crimes, while Zone 2 leads the city in property crimes. Total crime in Zone 2, which covers over 40 square miles of north Atlanta, has also consistently increased over the past few years.
APD is also severely understaffed, currently down around 300 officers from its authorized force of 2000, due to low police pay and resulting attrition. I have personally fielded several complaints, as former president of my neighborhood association, of unacceptable hour-plus response times and lack of follow-up with crime victims. As someone who values neighborhoods and the safety of our families, I feel it is important to feel safe in our city. If something does happen, a victim should feel confident that police will be there within minutes.
To combat crime, we must implement a more community-oriented policing approach where police have smaller beats, leading to meaningful relationships with the communities they serve and improved response times. We must address repeat offenders and juvenile crime, which will require us to work hand-in-hand with our county and state partners. I will work with colleagues and the administration to make APD a world-class police department and reduce crime in our city.
Addressing ethics & transparency – The city is currently embroiled in a bribery scandal due to its lack of implementation for best practices regarding transparency in local government. I will work with my colleagues and the administration to implement identified best practices to improve our city’s transparency and make the city’s most vulnerable departments (such as Procurement) less susceptible to “pay-to-play”. This includes establishing a central online portal for all the city’s financial and budget data (down to the checkbook-level) in an easily-accessible, downloadable database. Furthermore, we should place all city contracts online, as well as details and costs of all subsidies awarded to corporations.
7) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Beltline? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
I support the BeltLine and would have voted for it, if I were on Council at that time. However, the City and the BeltLine have grossly failed when it comes to implementation of affordable housing in the BeltLine Overlay District (BOD). I will work diligently on with my colleagues on Council to fully address this issue.
One of the first steps is to cement a meaningful inclusionary zoning into the BOD that requires a certain percentage of units in new multifamily developments to meet affordable housing standards. In short, the City and the BeltLine must work together to ramp-up the number of affordable units in the BOD, through both inclusionary zoning and a larger, stronger commitment to the affordable housing trust fund.
8) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Streetcar? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
I was admittedly against the current streetcar because it was proposed (and then built) along a route that many knew would result in very low ridership, and the City was suddenly jumping into transit management. The latter is thankfully being resolved by transitioning the streetcar over to MARTA. Putting aside my initial opposition to the streetcar, it is now a reality and our city needs to make it an asset instead of a cash-guzzling liability. I think the City (or MARTA) should study where a streetcar expansion would be most successful before committing to any more streetcar lines.
Streetcars can be successful if built and managed correctly, as is the case for Kansas City’s, for example. However, they offer free ridership (Atlanta’s dropped significantly once a fee was instituted), and the streetcar is instead supported by businesses along the line that pay into a Transit Development District (much like our TADs) and a special assessment. So, moving forward, I will support streetcars as long as feasibility studies show they would be sustainable and would be managed by MARTA.
9) What should the city of Atlanta do to reduce traffic congestion in the city?
As our city and metro region continue to grow, expanding mass transit is vitally important, especially in regards to heavy rail, light rail, and bus rapid transit. The City of Atlanta should make it a priority to work with its metro, state, and federal partners to ensure needed expansions are realized as soon as possible. The state’s recent MARTA funding and the transit TSPLOST will be extremely useful to reaching that goal, but we must make sure the improvements are based on needs and facts, not politics.
Our other outdated transportation infrastructure also must be addressed. To achieve that, I fully support the establishment of an Atlanta Department of Transportation, a measure currently on the agenda of Post 3 At-Large Councilmember Andre Dickens. This will place more focus, expertise, and accountability on addressing our transportation issues in the city. Most of Atlanta’s traffic issues on local roads occur due to “choke points” in our commutes – old traffic signals that lack optimization, busy intersections with no dedicated left and/or right turn lanes, and unanticipated closures due to the continual repairs of our aging water and sewer infrastructure. Addressing these and other transportation-related issues through a laser-focused Atlanta Department of Transportation will allow traffic to flow more optimally throughout the city.
I will also be an advocate for expanding our sidewalk and bicycle networks. As a personal example, my family lives within 1.5 miles of three City parks, however, none of which we can safely access by sidewalk or bicycle due to lack of sidewalks, missing pedestrian signals at major intersections, and/or major streets lacking shared or unshared bike lanes. These issues are prevalent throughout District 9 and the City of Atlanta.
10) What should the city do to increase affordable housing options for its residents?
One way to obtain affordable housing in Atlanta that I do not hear talked about enough is through reclaiming our vacant and blighted properties. Currently, the City’s program for addressing these blighted properties is through either demolition or “clean & close.” Either way, the City’s current process allows that property to remain in the possession of the irresponsible absentee owner, continuing to be useless to the city and attract more code enforcement complaints. I favor a judicial In Rem process where, upon completion, the property is transferred to a land bank (currently the Fulton County/City of Atlanta Land Bank Authority), or a similar process to achieve the same goal. This would allow the city to then transfer the land to non-profits, developers, and even private citizens so affordable housing can be built.
I also support other strategies to improve our supply of affordable housing, such as inclusionary zoning (particularly along the Beltline Overlay District), housing bonds, and city-funded/incentivized workforce housing.
11) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
Yes. Taking that a step further, I will also seek to make our city government more transparent by introducing legislation that will shed more light on our city’s finances, contracts, and tax subsidies.
The city is currently embroiled in a bribery scandal due to its lack of implementation for best practices regarding transparency in local government. I will work with my colleagues and the administration to implement identified best practices to improve our city’s transparency and make the city’s most vulnerable departments (such as Procurement) less susceptible to “pay-to-play”. This includes establishing a central online portal for all the city’s financial and budget data (down to the checkbook-level) in an easily-accessible, downloadable database. Furthermore, we should place all city contracts online, as well as details and costs of all subsidies awarded to corporations.