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 am running for office because I want to serve my neighbors and the City of Atlanta. I believe I am qualified to serve on the Atlanta City Council based on my skills, experience and strong work ethic. I am a motivated, critical-thinker and problem-solver and a 25+ year resident of District One. Additionally, I am an attorney with strong business and legal skills, a former real-estate developer and media personality with exceptional communication skills. I can clearly convey information, ideas and policy. I have worked hard as a citizen’s resource for information and engagement in these roles for more than 20 years. Furthermore, I am an educator and community servant with strong relationships, having served my community since arriving at Spelman College in 1987. I have always wanted to serve my community and at this critical point in our City’s growth, now is the time.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
I believe I am a better candidate than my opponents because I am more qualified to handle the challenges that face our District. A city council person must be a pro-active, strong voice on the City Council to work toward solutions that affect the City and the District they serve. They must also be able to identify the unique concerns in their District and find solutions for problems that directly impact their constituents. Problems that have lingered in my District include affordable housing, responsible development, public safety and more. I have lived in the District longer than any of my opponents including the incumbent. As the only attorney in my race, I am uniquely qualified to bring years of experience analyzing, negotiating, writing, communicating and working toward solutions that fit the needs of all parties involved. It has been clearly evident in my District that we have not had that type of leadership for decades and I believe I am the most qualified to do the job effectively.
3) What do you think is Atlanta’s greatest strength?
Atlanta’s greatest strength is its people, its diversity and its economic opportunity for all. I moved to Atlanta when I was 18 years old to attend Spelman College. I moved into the Grant Park neighborhood because it was the only affordable option for my mother, a single parent who could not afford campus housing for both my older sister and I. Although Grant Park was not as developed as it is today, we had people who looked out for us. I waitressed at the local Taco Mac on Cherokee Avenue and relied on Bailey’s Tire Shop on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Cherokee Avenue to keep our cars in good repair. You could just call up a neighbor and your needs were met instantly. People caring about people. My vision for the City of Atlanta is to see it continue to be a world-class city in which to live, work and conduct business while insuring its growth includes and reflects the city’s diverse residents. As a City Councilwoman, I will focus on four significant areas to continue strengthening the City:
a. Finance: Our city’s financial strength and stability to ensure that we can continue the trajectory of sound fiscal management and cash reserves. Over the last seven years, the city’s fund balance grew from $7 million to more than $151 million; it’s imperative that elected city leaders build on this and commit to policy-making that will grow our already strong credit rating and our ability to deliver quality city services.
b. Economic Development: I will continue to support job creation through public- private partnerships, business expansion and capital and tax allocation district investments. I would lead the formation of a joint task force with the City of Atlanta, Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton County Schools, DeKalb County Schools and community and civic leaders. This taskforce would identify community goals that encompass education and training to build a healthy talent pool of entrepreneurs and employees.
c. Arts and Culture: Public funding for arts and cultural initiatives is valued by our residents. I want to see Atlanta offer greater partnerships with the ever-growing film and television production industry and the arts in general. Both are multimillion dollar industries that bring jobs from production itself, new artists, hospitality to real estate development. I will advocate streamlining the permitting processes to encourage this level of growth.
d. Affordable Housing: We must have the courage to address our immediate need for affordable housing and housing equity. As a city councilmember, I would envision a full-range of strategies including neighborhood stability and redevelopment and increasing the supply of affordable housing inventory especially near transit and major job centers. I want to see our city effectively track workforce housing affordability and displacement and develop a formal policy with fair, affordable housing requirements for developers seeking tax incentives.
4) What do you think is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
When I think about how I can best serve not only my District 1 neighbors, but our great city, the three issues that appear to be the greatest challenges are Affordable Housing, Public Safety, Transportation.
5) How would you address what you feel is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
I would address the biggest challenges as follows:
Affordable Housing: Post the Great Recession, Atlanta is building again and District 1 is clearly represented in this growth; however, as I see the many construction crews arriving early and staying late in various neighborhoods to build luxury homes, high- end apartments and modern renovations, I see affordable housing disappearing. In my conversations with District 1 neighbors, many like the conveniences of certain resources, jobs, etc.; however, there are others who are being pushed out to make way for these new conveniences and upscale housing options. I grew up in rent- stabilized affordable housing apartments. I understand that affordable housing for families and seniors is vital, and District 1, like other intown neighborhoods, lacks quality, safe, affordable housing options. As a city leader, I would urge my peers to consider the examples of similar cities that successfully balance the affordable and market rate housing options for citizens. I would seek the expertise of the Urban Land Institute; explore making affordable housing an integral part of the City’s regular general obligation bond issuances like other basic infrastructure; and develop partnerships with nonprofit affordable housing developers. Affordable housing is simply critical to Atlanta maintaining our world-class distinction.
Public Safety: Public safety remains a critical issue no matter where you live in Atlanta. I believe in working with police, firefighters and other first responders to develop public safety solutions. In District 1, random gunfire is a major problem for us. I would advocate for immediate implementation of existing gunfire protection technology that is being used in other cities. The technology is an aid to law enforcement tracking down the sources of gunshots and ensuring safety in our communities.
I would also advocate for an appropriately-sized police force and police officer staffing target to support daily public safety operations. Understanding that recruitment and attrition remain a challenge, I would support Atlanta Police Department’s efforts to use innovative recruitment strategies, training, and succession planning to ensure consistent development of the next round of department leaders. I know these recommendations—across all public safety operations—will require additional funding to recruit top talent, offer competitive salaries, first-rate equipment and opportunities
for advancement. However, if public safety is the most important city service that our residents expect, then we should do all we can as elected officials to provide the best- in-class public safety operation.
Transportation: With all of Atlanta’s growth underway, our plan to get people moving efficiently will continue to challenge every resident and visitor alike. As an effective city government, we must do a better job of moving people across District 1 and the city at-large. My plan is to support alternate transit options that are more accessible and to change the perception of how to best get around Atlanta. I will push for more bike lanes, walkable sidewalks, and extended MARTA bus and train routes. District 1 is not alone in benefitting greatly from more efficient synchronization of the city’s traffic light system to improve the flow of traffic on major streets. I will also implement strategies to fix lagging infrastructure problems and necessary sped reduction barriers to support safe travel among our drivers and walkers in the city.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as an elected official?
In addition to working to address Atlanta’s biggest challenges set forth above, I will also focus on keeping the City fiscally healthy. The City of Atlanta’s overall financial position appears to be strong. Our solid AA+ rating speaks to our potential to continue to be good stewards of our taxpayer dollars. This is in large part due to the strong fiscal management of the current administration, the growth of Hartsfield International Airport, and the explosion of film and television production in the city. While the 2018 budget shows a slight increase overall, I think we must continue to spend wisely. Given the growth happening across the city and the demand for more city services— from traffic management to hiring additional workers to provide required city services—I want to have a voice in making sure that the spending is equitable across the city. I would like to see increased government efficiency and expanded monitoring of the annual budget. Additionally, I would push for greater oversight of the city’s investment in grant services and how it leverages our assets. I would work to provide information to constituents to involve them in understanding the budget preparation process and how to maximize allocations in District 1.
I would also focus on the property tax issue and assessment process. I would recommend an absolute overhaul of the Fulton County tax assessment process. I would work in collaboration with Fulton County to review the current operations because it is time to update the process to align with the advances of modern times. In addition to the City, the school district and others who share in these taxes should be included in this review. I would like for us to explore recommendations such as conducting assessments annually using a fair comparison and revising or possibly eliminating the incentives awarded to the Tax Assessor. Additionally, I believe it is important not to lower the mileage rate, which helps us to provide city services. We collect the least amount; therefore, we should be mindful that we are providing services for more than 500,000 residents, and the impact to our services from the nearly 400,000 people who come to Atlanta daily to work and to visit.
7) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Beltline? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
I believe in the Beltine, the original plan to bring to Atlanta the most comprehensive transportation and economic development effort in urban redevelopment. Unfortunately, the original plan has been overtaken by expensive development, out of reach property values and less than what its neighboring communities expected as a benefit. I think it is critical for the Beltine to refocus its efforts toward its original goals and move forward in a direction that benefits all Atlantan’s and visitors. I believe a smarter way to develop the Beltline is to acquire of all the remaining Beltline right of ways. This would complete the 22-mile loop and 17 miles of connector trails and trigger economic development in all segments of the planned Beltline area. The City could potentially secure the real estate and construction at a reduced cost versus acquiring it piecemeal. We need to act on this now because I believe this approach would position us to complete the long-term planning and the greatly needed 5,600-unit affordable housing commitment.
8) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Streetcar? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
The Atlanta Streetcar was a wonderful concept but not fully realized in its development and implementation. Extension of the Street Car is a must along with connectivity to our larger transportation hubs. By implementing the Atlanta Streetcar System Plan, we will support our economic development goals by connecting neighborhoods and residents to major employment and activity centers. This plan is also crucial to continued managed growth and quality of life. Positioning this project as a priority means we could align it with current development plans and spur thoughtful transit-oriented investment in underutilized and vacant properties, lower traffic congestion and reduce our dependence on cars and emissions.
9) What should the city of Atlanta do to reduce traffic congestion in the city?
First, Atlanta leaders need to create a Department of Transportation where all transportation needs are addressed and solutions are created. Citizens will be able to see a transparent process by which TSPLOST dollars are spent and follow timelines for projects affecting their Districts and neighborhoods. The Atlanta DOT would begin to implement a robust public transportation system that provides congestion-free travel options like high speed rail, bus rapid transit (BRT), streetcar and circulator buses that provide connectivity across every neighborhood, active working zones and leisure/tourist attractions. Express lanes, bus rapid transit (BRT) and repair of surface streets will also reduce traffic congestion and help to extend connectivity to expanded rapid transit options to Cobb, Gwinnett, and Douglas Counties.
10) What should the city do to increase affordable housing options for its residents?
In this post economic recession, we know there is now an affordable housing problem in Atlanta. My candidacy is focused on finding workable solutions for our neighbors who are unable to keep up with the growth and high-end housing that is permeating District 1 and across Atlanta. I will support policy that provides continuous funding for anti-displacement initiatives, educating communities on predatory purchasing tactics, and creating residential development alliances and partnerships with developers and investors. Moreover, I want to make affordable housing an integral part of the City’s regular general obligation bond issuance, like other basic infrastructure, it is critical to our success. Equally important, I believe our residents can be proactive and have a strong voice in the early phases of the development process. District 1 has neighborhoods that are extremely popular with developers. I want all our Atlanta neighborhoods to thrive, but that means working together with the honest intention that there is room and housing options available for everyone.
11) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
Accountability, transparency, and openness are standards of good government that enhance public trust. I will always commit to act from this standard. As a City Council member, I would first recommend an annual code of conduct review and commitment from city employees. I would also call for a review of current operations—from hiring policy, performance management and evaluations to compensation/benefits. I would expect the outcome of these audits to trigger actions to remove unethical practices from city government, acknowledge the honest and fair practices; and rebuild the public’s trust. Additionally, I absolutely believe that the City of Atlanta’s procurement process needs to be reviewed and refreshed to become more transparent, professional and to reflect today’s business technology advances. The procurement operations need to be revised to follow best practices as used in other cities. I would support changes that remove the onerous requirements and bring in simplified and digital practices that would encourage competitive bidding, pricing and quality products and services. A streamlined approach to procuring services will be in the best interest of taxpayers. Furthermore, considering the recent developments related to alleged bribery in the City’s procurement process, ethics and transparency should be a focal point of the 2017 municipal elections. The City must restore integrity, eliminate conflicts of interest and rebuild trust with its citizens and businesses. I also support commissioning an internal audit of procurement procedures by an independent firm and implementing new ethics and procedure training for City employees who handle sensitive financial matters. An external oversight committee of procurement practices would be appropriate and build public trust.