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?
Atlanta is on the precipice of significant growth, and I want to ensure that we do not lose the things we love about the City as we grow. Neighborhoods are what make up our great city. We can’t have a great city without preserving and strengthening our neighborhoods. Likewise, we can’t have great neighborhoods without thoughtfully enhancing our City. I can help make both happen with vision, passion and dedication to those goals.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
I bring a unique perspective and skill set as a lawyer, entrepreneur, parent, and community volunteer. I have the experience, skill set, and temperament to be an effective policy maker, problem solver, and leader on the Atlanta City Council.
In my law practice, I represented individuals, large and small companies, municipalities, and school systems. My practice included regulatory, commercial, employment, and land use matters, and gave me a solid understanding of the issues of the business, individual, and governmental concerns of our City. In my long history of pro bono legal work, I have assisted Atlanta residents with a wide variety of problems, including housing, criminal justice, and consumer protection matters.
In 2012, I left private practice and co-founded a digital health company focused on developing technology and using innovation to address societal disparities. I understand the concerns of small businesses and believe the city can do more to help our small business owners and entrepreneurs.
I have taught elementary and middle school, worked in child advocacy, and volunteered extensively with Atlanta Public Schools. I was born in and have lived in the City of Atlanta essentially my whole life, and I have lived in Morningside for the past 17 years. I am committed to a City that supports its children and youth and works to provide every opportunity, from cradle to career, for success of all of its residents.
To guide Atlanta to the next level as one of the greatest cities to work and live in America, we need leaders who are innovative problems solvers, have an attitude of service to the people of Atlanta, are not beholden to interest groups or seeking personal gain, are responsive and effective communicators, and have an optimism and vision for what a great city Atlanta is and what a greater city it can become. I will be a true public servant to Atlanta and its citizens.
3) What do you think is Atlanta’s greatest strength?
Atlanta’s greatest strength is its history of collaboration among local government, business leaders, and the philanthropic community. This history of collaboration and support is what brought Atlanta through the Civil Rights era, how Atlanta won the bid for the Olympic Games, and is what is helping transform some of the most in need neighborhoods today, with projects such as the revitalization of the historic Westside neighborhoods.
4) What do you think is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
Atlanta biggest challenge lies in the income disparity among the city’s residents and barriers to economic mobility. While Atlanta overall has come out of the recession in sold financial condition, a significant segment of the population is being left behind. Residents on the lower end of that financial spectrum are faced with numerous barriers to their economic mobility, making it nearly impossible for them to move up economically. Atlanta must work with Atlanta Public Schools, Work Force Development, and Fulton and DeKalb counties to ensure that we are providing services to our residents that equip people for productive lives. And, as Atlanta continues to grow into a vibrant and bustling city, our city’s leaders must take steps to ensure that the city’s development occurs evenly, affording every resident the opportunity to shape, and benefit, from that growth, without leaving anyone behind.
5) How would you address what you feel is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
In order to effectively address economic disparity in Atlanta, we must realize that barriers to mobility are woven throughout every area of Atlanta resident’s daily lives and therefore our approach must be multi-faceted, focusing on the best ways in which we can provide residents with access to education, workforce development, accessibility to transportation, and affordable housing.
To start, we must invest in our residents. Workforce development is a critical component of addressing poverty and disparities in the city. Today, if you are born poor in Atlanta, chances are you will remain poor. We need to work with our partners in education to improve high school graduation rates and pathways to careers and ensure that we have a workforce program that trains and connects individuals with the jobs that are in available and in demand with local employers. This will take a comprehensive approach and coordination with Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County Schools, Fulton and DeKalb counties, the Technical College System, local colleges and universities, and AWDA. Education and job training are essential to economic mobility. We must have positive, collaborative relationships with our partners in education and make sure that, where the City provides wraparound services, such as afterschool programming or transportation, that they support the holistic educational needs of our youth. The City should look to work done by the Federal Reserve and other thought leaders on how to transform workforce development and develop best practices. Workforce programs need to focus on opportunities for meaningful economic mobility, be aligned with the needs of local employers, and be data-driven so that we are matching training with available opportunities.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as an elected official?
(1) Promote Greater Equity and Economic Mobility–No matter who we are or where we live in the City, we all want the same thing- good schools, safe neighborhoods, and quality housing. Unfortunately, Atlanta has significant disparities across all of these areas, and an abysmal degree of economic mobility. As discussed above, we need to focus on education and work force training, and address other barriers to access such as affordable housing.
(2) Expand Transportation Options–The City is on the precipice of significant growth, and we will not be able to accommodate this growth without a negative impact on our quality of life unless we expand transportation options. Our highways and intown streets are packed, and traffic is an issue across the city. We need a better mix of public transit options and streetscape designs that make commuting more efficient, walking and biking safer, reduce cut-through traffic, and make school zones safer for our children. We need to expand public transportation to connect residents to job centers. The citizens of Atlanta have put their trust in the City and MARTA with the MARTA SPLOST, TSPLOST, and Renew Atlanta funding, and we must prioritize these projects to bring economic growth and prosperity, be transparent about decision making, and be good stewards of this funding. A City of Atlanta Department of Transportation that would plan and implement the City’s transportation projects, working closely with MARTA, could greatly facilitate these objectives.
(3) Restore Trust in City Government–With the procurement scandal looming over Atlanta, restoring trust in our elected officials and City workers is essential, both to ensuring citizens that we are good stewards of the city and in retaining and attracting business. Restoring trust will require self-examination to determine where the system has allowed dishonesty and favoritism, and the implementation of additional checks and balances. In addition, after identifying and addressing any weaknesses, the City needs to go above and beyond in making its finances, employment, and procurement processes as transparent as possible. Steps I would take toward these goals include: fully cooperating with any and all investigations, having the City Attorney and auditor provide a review of all improprieties for the past 5 years (what happened, why, and what remediation has been done), commissioning an audit of procurement procedures, mandating ethics training for City employees dealing with procurement, contracting, and other sensitive matters, then moving forward, making the City’s finances and service delivery data searchable on line so citizens can hold us accountable.
7) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Beltline? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
The Atlanta Beltline is one of the most innovative and transformational projects to come to Atlanta. We are fortunate in District 6 to have direct access to the Eastside Trail, which is an enormous asset for health and wellness as well as pedestrian and bike access to adjacent neighborhoods. Art on the Atlanta Beltline has been another real asset to the City. The Beltline has brought such a vibrancy and inter-connectedness to the areas it touches. I think it should be a priority to complete the 22-mile loop so that all areas of the City can benefit from the Beltline.
I agree with the direction that the new Beltline President and CEO Brian McGowan has stated he will take the Beltline—as a catalyst and “opportunity to address issues like economic inequality and economic mobility.”
8) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Streetcar? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
Any future expansion of a streetcar system in Atlanta needs to look carefully at whether this mode of transportation decreases traffic congestion and is the most efficient means of providing transportation. For additional streetcars or bus rapid transit (BRT), we need to consider how to put these vehicles in dedicated lanes so that they are not competing with car traffic.
9) What should the city of Atlanta do to reduce traffic congestion in the city?
Atlanta has terrible traffic congestions. We need a better mix of public transit options and streetscape designs that make commuting more efficient, walking and biking safer, reduce cut-through traffic, and make school zones safer for our children. We need to expand public transportation to connect residents to job centers. The citizens of Atlanta have put their trust in the City and MARTA with the MARTA SPLOST, TSPLOST, and Renew Atlanta funding, and we must prioritize these projects to bring economic growth and prosperity, be transparent about decision making, and be good stewards of this funding.
Additionally, implementing technology such as synchronized traffic signals will provide much needed relief and could be commenced on an expeditious basis. It is important that the City begin making tangible progress on its infrastructure projects to demonstrate to the taxpayers that it is indeed acting as a good steward of the bond and tax revenues, and doing a project such as traffic light synchronization that can be implemented in a relatively short time frame compared to larger projects would be a very good first step. The City is currently piloting a traffic light synchronization project on North Avenue. We should take the findings of this pilot, adjust as necessary, and begin implementing the technology city wide in areas of high traffic congestions.
10) What should the city do to increase affordable housing options for its residents?
Affordable housing is a difficult issue getting a lot of attention, but not having one clear cut solution. First, we should look to the cities that have done this well, acknowledging that state law may impact what solutions are viable in different regions. Next, we should consult with subject matter experts such as City for All and the Urban Land Institute. Finally, there is a real need to educate our community as to the critical need to have high quality neighborhoods for all of our citizens. This is not just an issue for the low-income community. San Francisco demonstrates how the middle class can be driven out of their neighborhoods. I would spend time with the Atlanta Housing Authority and other governmental agencies involved with this issue as well as the business community. I applaud the current council and mayor for passing the $40 million housing opportunity bond. These bonds will present a key funding opportunity to address homeowner renovations and loans to promote affordable and workforce housing
Inclusionary zoning is one of the most effective means of providing affordable housing, without significant cost to government. The 2016 Affordable Housing Ordinance is a step in the right direction by requiring any multi-family residential property for lease that receives a subsidy, grant or incentive from a development authority or public entity doing work in the City of Atlanta to set aside affordable units. The recently introduced legislation requiring affordable housing along the Beltline and Mercedes Benz stadium is another good step in the right direction.
Our affordable housing policies must support development of affordable housing, not just for single individuals but housing for families as well. We also need to consider whether the current ordinance serves the very-low income. Expanding inclusionary zoning to private development should be considered. Incentives, such as density bonuses, reduction in setback requirements, expedited approval processing, are critical to the success and legality of inclusionary zoning.
11) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?