Atlanta: Council Candidates Speak at Georgia STAND-UP Forum

9-06-09, 12:08 am

Original source: The Atlanta Progressive News

With Additional reporting by Matthew Cardinale, News Editor

(APN) ATLANTA – Atlanta City Council candidates, including incumbents, challengers, and candidates for open seats answered questions at a forum held by Georgia STAND-UP Alliance at the IBEW Auditorium on Tuesday, September 01, 2009.

Candidates at the forum represented all three at-large Council seats as well as District seats in South Atlanta, where the organization's work focuses.

In all, 22 candidates competing for eight different seats endorsed a community issues platform compiled by Georgia STAND-UP.

The STAND-UP & Vote! Community Issues Platform, crafted by over 160 Alliance members, frames key issues facing candidates running for Atlanta’s public offices this year.

The platform contains seven planks: good jobs, economic development, affordable housing, public safety, transit and transportation, vacant and abandoned housing, and public land.

During the forum, Alliance moderators posed three questions related to these planks to each candidate individually. Each set of candidates, running for the same particular seat, were asked the same questions; however, candidates running for different seats were not necessarily asked the same questions.

Candidates had one minute to answer each question and the several dozen attendees rated the responses on a scale of one to five.

Here is a breakdown of what the candidates said, organized by topical areas.


In 1990, the City Council created the First Source Jobs Program, which requires any company that enters into a contract of $50,000 or more with Atlanta and has 15 or more employees to use the First Source Register to fill 50 percent of all entry-level positions.

'I would advocate for the people of my district to get some of those jobs,' Kendall Richardson, District 3 candidate, said. Richardson is an HIV activist who regularly makes public comment at Council meetings; he is running against Councilman Ivory Young.

Adam Brackman, Post 1 At-Large candidate, said he would find an 'automated solution' that makes sure companies are complying with the program. Stay tuned to APN for our recent interview with Brackman, an IBM consultant. Brackman, who is openly homosexual, has the backing of the national Victory Fund. He and others are running for the seat being vacated by Ceasar Mitchell, who is running now for City Council President.

Dwanda Farmer, Post 1 At-Large candidate, advocated putting mechanisms into place to ensure low-income workers receive priority. Stay tuned to APN for our recent interview with Farmer, an expert in community housing grants.

Farmer and Brackman will face off against former Councilman Michael Julian Bond, who APN has already interviewed, as well as Chris Vaughn. Numerous candidates who had declared their intent to run in that race, including Clarence Turner, did not participate in last week's qualifying.

Moderators also asked how candidates would spur economic development across the city.

Councilmember Cleta Winslow (District 4) called it 'a delicate balancing act.' Her goal is to have 'close relationships with developers' and 'good relationships with vendors' in order to bring businesses into her district.

Winslow--who opposed Council oversight of the Atlanta Housing Authority's public housing demolitions--is being challenged by LaShawn Hoffman, a community leader; evangelist Deborah Williams; and Sidney Wood.

To help ease ex-convicts back into the workforce, Curtis Davis, Jr., a District 12 candidate, would offer better education and training programs to help them earn a GED.

Davis and Keisha LaShawn Waites are challenging incumbent Joyce Sheperd.

Several candidates also shared their thoughts on privatizing city services.

Amir Farokhi, Post 2 At-Large candidate and former attorney, said privatization is not a solution because private companies are too profit-driven.

'There is a minority in the city that is continually calling for privatization as the panacea of all our solutions,' he said. 'We need to focus on creating equitable solutions using the services we already have.'

'What I’ve seen, for the most part, is our city is running very efficiently and there is no need to privatize at this time,' Weslee Knapp, Post 2 At-Large candidate and real estate agent, said.

Aaron Watson, Post 2 At-Large candidate, said Atlanta should reexamine 'some managed services that are not at its core.' Watson sat on the Board of Commissioners of the Atlanta Housing Authority which approved the public housing demolition applications before they were sent to HUD; he is also a former Atlanta School Board Member.

Farokhi, Knapp, and Watson are running for the seat being vacated by Mary Norwood who is running for Mayor of Atlanta. Former candidate Daryl Graham, Georgia NAACP spokesman, did not qualify for lack of funds.

Shelitha Robertson, Post 3 At-Large candidate, does not support privatization and said the Council should focus on holding government employees more accountable.

Councilmember H. Lamar Willis (Post 3 At-Large) supports closing the city jail, a move he argued could save $38 million.


Moderators asked several candidates how they would increase affordable housing and also how they would ensure mixed income developments contain more affordable units.

'Everyone needs somewhere to live,' the Rev. Darrien Fletcher, District 3 candidate, said. 'We need to find ways to keep from pushing people into the streets.' Fletcher is also challenging incumbent Ivory Young.

Michael Julian Bond, Post 1 At-Large candidate, said the City should use Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to create housing enterprise zones, an economic development tool that provides tax and other incentives in low-income areas for in order to increase the quantity and availability of affordable housing.

Brackman said lawmakers should be careful about how they define affordable housing, noting a $200,000 home in a $400,000 neighborhood does not fit the definition.

'I would hold developers' feet to the fire to ensure when it comes to affordable housing, it is done fairly,' he said.

Farmer, who called affordable housing her 'specialty,' advocates mandatory inclusionary zoning policies that would ensure developers set aside a specific portion of affordable units in any new construction.

Deborah Williams, District 4 candidate, would place an emphasis on supportive housing, a combination of housing and services targeted to very low-income citizens with persistent issues like homelessness or substance abuse.

'I think anybody who wants a home should have one,' she said.

To ensure citizens are not priced out of rapidly developing communities, Alvelyn Sanders, District 11 candidate, would strengthen community benefit agreements to ensure citizens 'have a voice... in seeing where their community goes.'

Sanders and six others are running for Jim Maddox's old seat; Maddox is retiring.

Watson said Atlanta should 'penalize developers who don’t comply' with community benefit agreements.

Moderators also asked how candidates would reduce the high number of vacant and foreclosed properties around Atlanta.

Councilmember Ivory Young (District 3) noted, 'three quarters of this city is plagued with abandoned or foreclosed properties.' He said the Council should work on acquiring these properties so they can be repaired and made livable for citizens in need.

LaShawn Hoffman, District 4 candidate, said the Council should identify property owners using a database and hold them accountable. He said the tax assessors in Atlanta and Fulton County could communicate and share information better through such a database.

Williams would offer 'incentives' to police officers and fire fighters to live in these homes.

Some candidates also shared their thoughts about putting a stop to predatory lending.

Councilmember Felicia Moore (District 9) said Atlanta could do better on 'code enforcement.'

'The city has got to partner with non-profits... and do some investigating,' she said. Moore was initially facing opposition from someone named Darryl Moore [no relation], but he did not qualify.


Moderators asked some candidates how they would ensure recreation centers and parks receive the funding they need to remain open, safe, and clean.

Fletcher, who opened a recreation center in Vine City with his own money, said he would use his funding method as a model for the city’s other centers.

Young said he would work with the Council to seek 'every opportunity we can' to help the parks and centers.

Farokhi advocated for a 'dedicated funding stream' to protect parks and centers and would consider using a portion of the funds generated through the recent 3 mill property tax increase.

Knapp, who said this issue is 'a priority for me,' wants funding 'mandated in the budget.'

Watson, also a former president of the Piedmont Park Conservancy, would look for community partners who could help when economic times are hard.

'I’m always for youth first,' Richardson said. 'When you take [recreation centers and parks] away, it causes crime.'


Several candidates shared ideas about how to improve public safety, many ideas which several mayoral candidates have also already endorsed – such as growing the police force.

Councilmember Joyce Sheperd (District 12) and Felicia Moore both said Atlanta has to get its finances before it can pay for any public safety improvements.

Sanders would retain police officers by offering them affordable housing in neighborhoods they serve.

'A major problem is the deployment of police officers,' Juanita Smith, another District 11 candidate, said. 'I don’t think they’re deployed properly.'

Edith Ladipo, District 11 candidate, encouraged citizens to 'engage in community policing programs.'

'Money is not always the answer because often times we train police officers and they leave the city to go somewhere else,' she argued.

Moderators asked several candidates how they would strengthen the Citizen Review Board (CRB), a panel created by the City Council to review grievances of citizens who have complaints against any member of the Atlanta Police or Corrections Departments.

The CRB has had trouble so far obtaining full cooperation from the Atlanta Police Department.

Robertson said the Council should 'redefine the scope and jurisdiction' of the panel.

Willis, who coauthored the legislation that created the CRB, said there has to be a change in department leadership.

'There has to be an edict from the chief of police that says if you don’t answer [questions]... you will be [punished],' he said.

'The officers are there at the behest of the citizens and at the end of the day, they ought not be afraid to be held accountable,' Young, another CRB coauthor, said.


Moderators asked the candidates what they would do to make public transportation more accessible to all.

Smith said there should be a tiered MARTA fare system that favors disabled and frequent riders. Sanders supports a streetcar.

Ladipo argued elected officials could promote public transportation by using it more often and educating the public about its importance.

--Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News, reachable at