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 Atlanta City Council President to continue my record of service on a larger scale, and I have had the honor of serving the diverse District 9 as their representative on Council for nearly 20 years. In addition, I have also served citizens city-wide, and those who work, play, visit and pass through our great city.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
My years of active service uniquely positions me as the best candidate for the next Atlanta City Council President. I started my community service as a neighborhood leader, and I understand the issues facing our city and I have a deep connection to the people of our city. I am a veteran member of the Atlanta City Council, elected in 1997 to serve the diverse residents, businesses, and institutions of Northwest Atlanta, District 9. Over my nearly 20 years of service, I have served on every standing committee and/or been the chair or vice chair. I have chaired and/or been a veteran member of the Finance and Transportation Committees throughout my service on Council. I have also, served as Chair and/or member of the Committee on Council, which deals with ethics and the operation of the Council and its offices.
On the important issue of ethics, I am the author of the Charter Amendment that requires all city elected officials to take Mandatory Ethics Training at the beginning of every term in office. This makes sure that all officials are aware of the rules. As President, I will ensure that this training be made available. on fiscal issues, I have authored and passed legislation requiring a 5 year budget and mandating a percentage of each budget be saved in a reserve for an emergency fund. To date, we have gone from $9 million when the legislation was passed in 2009 to over $175 million today. Both initiatives have allowed our city bond rating to improve, and save the city money on bond interest rates.
On council operations, I am a student of the Charter and the Code of the City of Atlanta. Having read and reviewed its contents consistently, I have been known to be the “go to” person on rules and procedures by my colleagues, the public, and others. I have also, introduced and passed several pieces of legislation over the years that have reformed and created processes and rules to produce better ethics, accountability, and transparency in city government. In addition, I have a better than working knowledge of Robert’s Rule of Order, and was the leader of the committee effort to update the Rules of Council and the jurisdiction of Standing Committees. on leadership, I have held leadership positions outside of the walls of City Hall and I am the only candidate that has fully engaged with colleagues across the country, received relevant training. I am best qualified, because I understand that relationships with others is important to keeping Atlanta as “Georgia’s undisputed intellectual and commercial leader.” I am an active member of the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), having served a Board Member and other positions. I am an active member of the National League of Cities (NLC), having served on the Board, National President of NBC-LEO, and numerous other committees.
3) What do you think is Atlanta’s greatest strength?
As the capital city, Atlanta’s reputation around the world as a city rich in history and culture is one of it’s greatest strengths. Strong cities are places where people want to live and work and where business want to come and create jobs. The diversity of our city and the talents of its people are also strengths of our city.
4) What do you think is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
Strengthening our city’s infrastructure is our biggest challenge. We must plan and rehabilitate our infrastructure. Without a strong foundation our growth will be limited. This includes, but is not limited to expanding transit options to deal with traffic, increasing our water/sewer capacity, providing high speed internet capabilities, providing power and employing alternative power sources.
5) How would you address what you feel is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
We must implement best practices to ensure we develop a workforce to meet the demand of the future job growth. As President, I will work with council and Mayor to revamp and make viable the Atlanta Workforce Development agency to get citizens trained and ready to enter workforce in critical areas. Additionally, I will work with all entities to make the agency the preferred one stop for the Atlanta Business Community to seek all levels of personnel to fit the current and emerging labor force needs.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as an elected official?
The top three things I will focus on during my term are improving the city’s infrastructure, restoring public faith, and strengthening our public safety.
On the campaign trail many voters have talked to me about the deplorable condition of our roads. I would work with the new administration to review the Renew Atlanta Bond Fund dollars and the Transportation SPLOST dollars to see how they can be reprioritized. A city is only as great as our foundation, ours is crumbling. Our roads, sewers, and water delivery system are in desperate need of repair and rehabilitation. We are currently experiencing record growth and development, without any discussion and planning of our infrastructure’s capacity to handle it. Most of our sewer and water infrastructure is over a 100 years old. We need careful planning to ensure the above ground development can be supported by our underground infrastructure. As president, I will be a voice to keep this top of mind for the Council and Mayor.
Housing and Transit as a part of infrastructure
We need a wider range of affordable housing options. We can use City-owned property and Land Bank Authority property, review Tax Allocation Districts and re-prioritize remaining funds for affordability. I will be a strong advocate of revamping our in-house Department of Housing. Our city needs to get serious about public transit solutions and reducing the number of cars on the road. We need to build more workforce housing near transits stations, and deploy smaller buses to reach into communities. Transit must be able to provide for those who must use it, and those who will choose to use it. As president, I will work to develop relationships and stay engaged with other government entities and MARTA to advocate for smart transit solutions. I will charge our Transportation Committee to set priorities and hold them accountable.
Transparency and its role in restoring Public Faith
I will work with the new Mayor and Council to lift our “F” rating on transparency to an “A”. To do that, the City must develop a “Transparent Atlanta” website that will provide checkbook level expenditures, revenues and other information online. It is the public’s money and we should not have to put in an Open Records Request and pay to receive information. Until it is launched citywide, I will require all Committee Chairs to post their office financial information online Public Safety As Council President, I will work with our Mayor and Council to focus on a Pay and Class Study for personnel (police, fire, corrections). It would determine the competitive salaries needed and incorporate strategies for funding over the next 10 years. I will work with other stakeholders in addressing the juvenile crime issues, recidivism rates, and lack of diversion and second chance programs. I will use my position to hold sessions with police and the community to better relations.
7) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Beltline?
Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently? The initial vision was for the Beltline to become a transformative project thru transit that would connect neighborhoods across the city. We have began the connection with paths and trails. As President of the City Council, I will do my best to appoint as Chair and Members of the Community Development/Human Services committee, that will provide oversight and transparency to Invest Atlanta and the Atlanta Beltline, Inc. Without our elected officials making an intentional effort to hold our development arms accountable, we will continue to be disappointed with the results.
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 needs to be reviewed for opportunities to increase ridership and revenue to cover the cost of operation and maintenance. Suggestions have ranged from killing it to extending it to a future Beltline. As Council President, I will pull for city leaders to have a comprehensive review and thoughtful interaction with the public and stakeholders before committing either way.
9) What should the city of Atlanta do to reduce traffic congestion in the city?
In the short-term, the implementation by MARTA of its smaller bus fleet so that it can reach more residents by bringing its service closer and more convenient to residents. In the mid-term, developing light rail projects and expansion of the MARTA line to connect more people with the city and its destinations. Immediately, we need to do an assessment of our infrastructure and its capacity for the current and future growth. We also need to identify funding sources to accomplish this to ensure that our high water/sewer rates will not inhibit growth. I always say that MARTA is used by two customers: those who need it, and those who choose to use it. Those who need it have no other mode of transportation to get to work, the grocery store, doctor appointments, leisure, etc. So, the increased ridership will only come from those who choose to use it. They will be influenced to use MARTA when it is more convenient and efficient than using a personal vehicle. MARTA must go to destinations that people what it to go.
10) What should the city do to increase affordable housing options for its residents?
We must require affordable housing with any governmental money that is used in development. And, we must monitor to ensure the city gets the promised results. One way to keep housing affordable in the city limits is to stabilize established neighborhoods. There are many areas still left in the city that can be rehabilitated and affordable housing provided to the public. Opportunities also exist with the use of city owned property to build affordable units. As president, I will look for the best chair and members on council who have the will and capability to address this issue in the Community Development/Human Services Committee. I will use my participation on the state and national organizations to find best practices to bring to the city for consideration. In addition, I will use my position to host listening sessions with residents, housing advocates, organizations, businesses, and other stakeholders for their input.
11) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
Yes. I always have and always will conduct myself in an ethical and transparent manner.
In addition, I am the author and advocate for a more transparent government. I will continue to push for a “Transparent Atlanta” website that will host checkbook level spending information for all funds citywide. The info will be searchable and downloadable for analysis. It will not require costly and time consuming Open Record Act Requests. I believe that money collected, held and spent by the city belongs to the citizens. It’s our money. I am transparent, and today you can go online to my council page and see all expenditures made in my office account for several years. As president, I will work with the Council and Mayor to strengthen processes already in place to ensure ethics and management transparency. I will work to: boost and better market the Integrity Hotline, advocate for increased independent performance and financial audits with follow-up by Council, and encourage council oversight and consistent updates on internal controls for inventory, time management, etc. And, I will appoint standing committee chairs that will keep this as a top priority of their work.