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Candidate Q&A – Emily Halevy, candidate for DeKalb County Commission District 6

Avondale Estates Business campaign coverage COVID-19 Decatur Kirkwood Metro ATL Tucker

Candidate Q&A – Emily Halevy, candidate for DeKalb County Commission District 6

Emily Halevy. Photo provided to Decaturish
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About this series: Decaturish invited all of the candidates seeking the DeKalb County Commission’s District 6 seat to respond to a questionnaire about the race. The election currently is set for June 9. It was originally supposed to be on May 19, but was rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A longer announcement about the election changes is included at the end of this Q&A. All Decaturish.com election coverage can be found at Decaturishvotes.com. If you appreciate our work, please consider becoming a paying supporter of Decaturish. To sign up for as little as $3 a month, click here

Here are the responses from Emily Halevy, a candidate for DeKalb County Commission District 6.

1) Why are you running for this position?

I am passionate about improving the lives of all DeKalb residents. For years, I have been fighting for affordable housing, smart development and transit options at the County level and have gotten results that have improved our neighborhoods. I have seen firsthand how our communities are our County’s greatest strength. I am running to be your voice on the Commission to address the many specific challenges to each of our neighborhoods as well as work collaboratively with local, regional and federal partners to tackle our county-wide problems. Working together, we can achieve a well-functioning, forward-thinking DeKalb.

2) What do you feel makes you a better candidate than the other candidates in this race? 

First, I am the only candidate who has demonstrated years of participation, dedication and service to this County and its citizens. I am the only candidate who has regularly attended meetings, participated and made recommendations at every level of County government. I have created real, tangible results on behalf of DeKalb citizens. Through my advocacy work with Coalition for a Diverse DeKalb, our County will see a 33 ⅓% increase in affordable housing units built over the next 5 years under the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). I’ve fought developers across the County to protect our tree canopy and neighborhoods when development didn’t make sense. I’ve also advocated for smart development when it brings meaningful impacts to our communities, such as working to update the 2012 Kensington Livable Centers Initiative (LCI).

Second, I am the only business person in this race. I am the only candidate who has worked in multimillion dollar organizations at an executive level, and have been held accountable for people’s livelihoods, healthcare and work products. I understand the responsibility and have the knowledge to foster economic development, ensure taxpayer value and enact accountable policies for service deliverables. I also understand that at the core of any successful business or organization is a focus on customer service. I pride myself on my proven track record of excellent customer service and responsiveness.

Third, my leadership style is collaborative, honest and respectful. This seat is one of seven on the Board of Commissioners, which demands mutual respect and cooperation. I have a good working relationship with the current Commissioners and know that with fresh ideas sourced from citizens, we can accomplish our many goals and tackle our challenges.

Fourth, I am the only candidate who could consider themselves a servant leader. I am not a politician, nor do I have political aspiration outside of serving you as a DeKalb Commissioner. My priority is serving the will of the people, not a political agenda. I want to serve my fellow residents and ensure a bright future for all DeKalb families.

3) If you are elected, what will be your top two or three priorities? 

– Begin tackling smart development policies that address affordable housing, commercial development, sustainability and creating thriving, walkable communities regardless of your zip code.

– Focus on reducing traffic and expanding transportation access and options throughout the county, through light rail, Bus Rapid Transit and developing both the Kensington and Indian Creek MARTA stations.

– Ensuring there is complete transparency around our sewer repairs and that these repairs are completed in a timely manner.

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, I would like to add a fourth that would be an immediate priority after taking office: Ensure the County has the resources to deliver all services, develops a Stimulus Plan and is proactive in securing all available funding for infrastructure projects, economic development, public health programs and economic assistance programs. Furthermore, if the Commission had not yet codified the COVID-19 task force, I would ask for it to be continued for future public health crisis planning.

4) Do you support lowering the county’s overall tax rate to help residents who are facing economic hardships due to COVID-19?

I’m in favor of creating a DeKalb County Stimulus Plan that would include tax deferments and short-term relief loans for our small businesses and residents who are facing economic hardships due to COVID-19.

The county provides essential services such as sewer, water, waste collection, public safety and our court system to all residents of DeKalb County. No jurisdiction can operate without some or all of these basic functions. It is already anticipated that our tax revenues will decline significantly as a result of this public health crisis and we may have to tap into our “rainy-day” funds to make up the anticipated shortfall. To lower the overall tax rate, the county would be forced to exhaust these “rainy-day” funds; placing us further into an uncertain financial situation, which would be irresponsible to do.

5) What is your opinion of the county’s response to this pandemic? 

The Federal and State governments’ failure to immediately act at the onset of this crisis made it difficult for local governments to protect their citizens. I agree with many residents that County leadership should have acted sooner on the advice of public health officials and ordered a shelter-in-place earlier. I commend DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond’s leadership to work in concert with neighboring counties, communicate openly with residents, institutions & faith leaders, and for forming the COVID-19 Task Force. This task force should continue after this current crisis and broaden its scope for future public health emergency planning. We need to be prepared with action steps, emergency protocols, communication standards and community resources when we face another public health emergency. Actionable inter-governmental plans should also be implemented with guidance from public safety officials to keep our first-responders safe, organized and adequately equipped during these difficult times.

While our county government continues to work during this crisis, public participation in government has been stifled. As of this writing, community engagement processes, such as the Community Council and pre-submittal community meetings, have been cancelled but zoning hearings and applications continue. Zoning in DeKalb County is a citizen-led process and it’s critical for our neighbors to have an opportunity to engage developers and interact with the county to protect their neighborhoods, ensure smart investments and discuss feasibility within the local community. Citizens have a right to participate in this process. While I certainly understand the county’s desire to keep meetings running, robust public participation for all county meetings needs to be addressed for what may be the ‘new normal’ for the foreseeable future. We simply must have public buy-in at every level of government – period.

6) What is your opinion of county CEO Michael Thurmond?

CEO Michael Thurmond entered his office facing an array of issues that have plagued the county for years, such as massive sewer spills, a water billing crisis and incredible ethics challenges. I was in attendance at the Maloof Auditorium during CEO Thurmond’s standing-room-only swearing-in ceremony in 2016 because I believed he was the change we needed. While he still has challenges to face, I do believe he is taking the county in the right direction. A suggestion for his leadership would be to delegate more so we can address multiple issues with greater momentum and efficiency.

7) As you know, DeKalb County water billing has been mismanaged for years leading CEO Thurmond to create the New Day Project to address the problems. What is your opinion of his efforts to address this problem and is there anything you think he should have done differently? 

I commend CEO Thurmond for prioritizing the water billing crisis. This was a heavy load to lift upon his entrance into office. While the major complaints have begun to subside due to the massive rollout of upgraded meters, many of these meters were poorly designed and were not functioning. There should have been a better vetting process for the replacement of water meters. Currently, there are residents still receiving incorrect water bills due to inaccurate calculations, which need to be addressed before all meters are replaced.

8) What should the county do to upgrade its sewer infrastructure to prevent sewer spills and overflows? 

Work is currently being performed county-wide, but not quickly enough. We need to create incentives for fast-tracking repairs, set metrics and benchmarks for completion of each sewer line. If contractors cannot meet the County’s completion goals, they should lose the contract. It’s clear that we will not hit the June deadline set forth in the consent decree and we will likely see an increase in sewer rates. We need strict accountability in place, along with concrete plans with performance expectations to complete these upgrades. Additionally, we need to ensure that earmarked funds for continual inspection and repair are not used for other purposes so we do not fall into this situation again.

9) What is your opinion of the push to create new cities in DeKalb County and expand existing cities via annexation? 

I respect citizen’s rights to determine their form of government. Annexation and cityhood efforts are often a symptom of service delivery issues. This could range from geographical challenges where county police have slow response times, economic development delays due to a painfully slow permitting process or simply a lack of communication between county departments and its citizens. Simply put, DeKalb County is in the customer service business. As with my proven track record in business, my priority, as your Commissioner, will be to ensure all residents are pleased with the services they receive from every department.

10) What will you do to mitigate the effect of new cities and annexation on the county’s budget? 

A piecemeal approach to annexation and cityhoods, such as the course we’re on now, will continue to place a higher tax burden on unincorporated parts of DeKalb. The essential services we all depend on, such as water & sewer, our court systems and even our landfill have to serve everyone in the county, regardless of their location.

If it’s decided that annexations and cityhoods are inevitable, we need to all sit at the table and determine the best path forward for our residents; not just for unincorporated residents but for citizens county-wide. Otherwise, the alternative of continual new city formation and annexations will be a constant distraction from bigger issues, like public safety and essential infrastructure.

11) As you know, the county’s Ethics Board currently is in limbo. In 2018, the board was deemed unconstitutional due to its makeup. Plans to fix the board have stalled in the Legislature. Do you support a clean fix to change the appointments process or do you think the Ethics Board needs to be overhauled?

I support a clean fix to the ethics bill.

12) Do you think the county’s “front line” employees – including sanitation, police, fire and watershed department employees – working during the coronavirus pandemic should receive extra pay? 

Yes. County employees that are deemed ‘front-line workforce’, such as police officers, sanitation workers and our medical examiner, interact directly with the public and are risking their lives each day to provide our essential services during this pandemic. I commend CEO Thurmond for executing the executive order which temporarily increases the wages of these important workers as they continue to do their jobs.

13) Do you support removing the Confederate monument in the Decatur Square? 

Yes. I support removing the Confederate monument in Decatur Square. I advocated for its removal at the State Capitol last year when the bill was debated and was active in community efforts to draw attention to this issue. I am committed to continuing to work with local activists, faith leaders and historians on finding a home for this monument other than our town square.

14) This question comes from a reader: Do you support a county minimum wage and, if so, how would you implement it? 

The state minimum wage in Georgia is set at a pathetic $5.15 per hour with federal wages following closely behind at $7.25. In early 2019, the DeKalb Board of Commissioners passed a budget to raise the minimum wage of all county employees to $15/hour. The budget in DeKalb is approved twice each year and serving as your Commissioner, I’m committed to providing a living wage for our employees.

15) Another reader question: Do you support the expansion of MARTA, including rail to Stonecrest and increased bus rapid transit?

I support MARTA expansion with light rail and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

MARTA needs to be held accountable to taxpayers who paid for expanded access through South DeKalb without it coming to fruition; promises were made and were not delivered. Going forward, we need to ensure that DeKalb’s tax dollars are used for our specific purposes and completed in a timely fashion. While it may not be feasible to provide heavy rail in DeKalb within a reasonable time frame, we can provide light rail and BRT in a cost-effective and reasonable time frame.

DeKalb County and MARTA need to continue to address services that can be implemented now, such as increased accessibility, bus stop shelters, benches & garbage receptacles at heavily-traveled stops. As your Commissioner, I will also continue to advocate at the state and federal levels for increased support for transit in DeKalb.

In addition to creating more transit options and access points, we also need to create sustainable development around existing stations. Through my advocacy, I am currently working with Emory University’s Community Building and Social Change Fellowship Program to create a vibrant transit-oriented development at Kensington MARTA station. As your commissioner, I look forward to seeing this TOD project to fruition, in addition to development at the Indian Creek station.

16) If you are elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?

Absolutely. I will have an open door policy to all constituents and plan to regularly engage our neighborhood organizations, faith leaders, advocacy groups, department heads and members of our various boards to ensure all stakeholders are well-informed, understand the issues, have a voice in the process and stay involved in our community. By working together, we can ensure a bright future for all DeKalb families.

More information about voting in this election:

The voter registration deadline for the June 9 election is May 11.

You can look up your status by visiting the Georgia Secretary of State’s “My Voter Page.” To visit the My Voter Page, click here. You can check your status by providing basic information like your last name, birthday and the county you live in. You can also see a sample ballot.

If you find you are not registered and want to be registered in time for the next election, there are a few ways you can get back on the voter rolls.

You can register online with the Secretary of State’s Office by clicking here.

According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, in order to register to vote you must:

– Be a citizen of the United States

– Be a legal resident of the county where you are voting

– Be at least 17 1/2 years of age to register and 18 years of age to vote

– Not be serving a sentence for conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude

– Have not been found mentally incompetent by a judge

For more information about how to register, click here.

People are being encouraged to vote by mail in the upcoming election. Most people should’ve already received an application for an absentee ballot form in the mail. Absentee ballots can be requested online through the Secretary of State’s Office or the County Board of Registrations and Elections. The county board of registrar’s office is located at 4380 Memorial Drive Suite, 300, Decatur, GA 30032. Once the ballot has been requested, election officials will mail each voter the appropriate ballot.

People voting by mail will be identified using signature verification. If a signature doesn’t match, those voters will be mailed a provisional ballot and asked to return that along with a photocopy of their identification. Three people have to agree that a signature does not match before a provisional ballot is sent to a voter.

Here is the most recent election update from DeKalb County:

Update on General Primary Election and Absentee Ballots

DECATUR, Ga.– On Thursday, April 9, 2020, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger postponed the May 19, 2020, presidential preference primary, special election, general primary and general nonpartisan election to June 9, 2020.

All votes previously cast in the 2020 presidential preference primary/special election originally scheduled for March 24, 2020, will be counted on June 9, 2020.

Voters who have previously cast ballots in the presidential preference primary / special election originally scheduled for March 24, 2020, will receive a ballot that contains the races for the June 9, 2020, general primary and general nonpartisan election only.

Voters who have not yet cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential preference primary/special election will receive a ballot that contains both the presidential preference primary/special election races and the General Primary and general nonpartisan election races.

On Monday, March 30, 2020, the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office mailed absentee ballot applications to all registered active voters in the state.

Applications requesting a ballot for May 19, 2020, will be processed as requesting a ballot for the June 9, 2020, election.

Completed applications must be received by the DeKalb County Voter Registration and Elections Office no later than 4 p.m. on Friday, June 5, 2020, and absentee ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on June 9, 2020.  Uniformed and Overseas Citizens (UOCAVA) ballots must be postmarked by June 9, 2020, and received no later than Friday, June 12, 2020.

For more information, contact the DeKalb County Voter Registration and Elections Office at 404-298-4020.

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