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Candidate Q&A – District 1 Decatur City Commission candidate Katie Bell

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Candidate Q&A – District 1 Decatur City Commission candidate Katie Bell

Katie Bell. Photo provided to Decaturish

Editor’s note: Decaturish and the Tucker Observer have published an Elections Guide, a 76-page e-edition featuring Q&As with nearly every candidate running in our communities. To see it, click here. This special e-edition features candidates running for public office in Decatur, Avondale Estates, Atlanta City Council District 5, Clarkston Tucker and Stone Mountain.  There is a PDF version of this, which you can see by clicking here, but due to the format of this e-edition, we strongly encourage you to use the e-reader version.

Decaturish provided each candidate in our local races with a series of questions about local issues. Here are the answers of District 1 Decatur City Commission candidate Katie Bell. The answers have not been edited. 

1) Why are you running for this office?

I feel passionately connected to our city and want to use my unique skill set to serve our community. My priorities are restoring equity and diversity, strengthening partnerships between schools and the community, and making Decatur a place where EVERYONE can afford to live, work, and play. This includes our seniors who, without the tax exemption, might be forced out of their homes.

My husband and I have four jobs between us. We live in a two-bedroom condo in one of the last remaining “affordable” developments in Decatur. Even though we’re gainfully employed and don’t have children yet, we still find ourselves on a strict budget to pay our mortgage and the city taxes that continue to rise as property values increase.

I know my story is similar to many who live in Decatur and many more who would LIKE to live here. The vast majority of the people who work in the city of Decatur drive a half hour or more to work in our city, only to turn around and drive out of the city because housing is inaccessible to them. I’m dedicated to making sure working-class people from all backgrounds can live and thrive in Decatur.

As a Licensed Professional Counselor and an educator for children, adolescents, teens, and adults from diverse cultures and perspectives, I listen closely, actively advocate for others, and work with valuable stakeholders to ensure the success of those I partner with. I recognize Decatur is at a critical crossroads: our once strong school system is challenged, we have an affordable housing crisis made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, and diversity in our city is evaporating. We need a strong leader who will listen, connect with the community, and advocate for those who don’t have a seat at the table.

The Decatur City Commission must make inclusivity and equity the guiding tenets in all of our economic, housing, and policy development.  Those fundamental values have been missing in many of the critical decisions our leaders have made. It is why our school system is experiencing challenges, why our city is losing its diversity, and why there is a lack of affordable housing. We must commit ourselves to these values to put us on a better course.

2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponent? 

As a professor, a therapist in private practice, and school counselor, I have dedicated my life to listening, advocating, and helping people find their voice. I’ve found that the people who don’t have a seat at the table or don’t feel safe speaking up often have the answers to the problems we’re trying to solve. A good leader gives those people a voice.

I am ready to use my skills to strengthen our community. As an educator and therapist during the continued Covid-19 pandemic, I saw the direct impact of the pandemic on all of us. I am very proud to be part of a workforce of educators and mental health professionals who fiercely fought to support our students, individuals, and families, and I want to bring that passion to city hall. Like most of you, we were challenged every day; we pushed to find creative, innovative ways to engage with our students, provide them with hope and connectedness, and give them the support to persevere in a time of uncertainty.

As a therapist and small business owner, I help couples and families solve real, everyday problems. I help people dissect a challenging issue or concern, look at it differently, and take a new approach. The issues of affordable housing and inequity in the city are problems that every city across America is facing, and Decatur should be leading the way. We lead by asking the hard questions and advocating to find concrete ways to find answers to solvable problems.

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

Restoring equity, diversity, and inclusion are my top priorities. Communities function better when people of diverse perspectives, skills, cultures, and histories come together. Decatur was successful in large part because, 30 years ago, such a group came together and developed a shared vision based upon a desire for a strong educational system and good quality of life. In the last decade, more people have moved into our city to enroll their children in our schools, and now, we are in danger of losing the unique voices and perspectives as older residents and lower to middle income and communities of color are pushed out.

For me, diversity is about a mindset that you maintain. It means having a meaningful conversation with someone who has a different worldview; someone who is of a different culture, race, political affiliation, and/or moral belief system. It covers income differences. Backgrounds. Sexual orientation. Gender identity and much more. We need all these perspectives to make a strong city, and valuing every aspect of an individual’s unique identity is a non-negotiable for me.

Our city used to be a bastion of LGBTQ homeowners. Since 2010, we’ve lost 74% of same-sex homeowners. In 1990, Decatur was 50/50 Black and white residents. In 2020, the city population decreased to only 20% Black residents. Now, we have some classrooms where there is only one child of color in a kindergarten class. Incomes have changed drastically too. Almost half (46%) of Decatur residents earn over $100,000. Black residents’ income has only increased 12% while the rest of the city has seen a 31% increase. We must recognize this is a huge problem and be committed to solving it — together.

Focusing on affordable housing, while leading with equity and thoughtful sustainable growth that considers everyone, is our best way forward.

4) In your opinion, what are the most important issues facing the city of Decatur? 

Unsustainable growth and a lack of affordable housing are our most important issues. We’ve grown so much in the last 10 years. Apartment buildings and condos have gone up, while older homes and our tree canopy have begun to disappear. Our schools have expanded, but teacher’s pay and workforce housing has not kept up. Affordable housing is sparse and diminishing. People who work in the city, ranging from the DeKalb County courthouse to teachers at Agnes Scott to our City Schools and Decatur offices as well as many others in between, can’t afford to live here. That’s not sustainable. It must change.

5) What is your current opinion of the city of Decatur’s police department and are there any changes you would advocate for if you are elected?

The City of Decatur Police Department is a good example of community policing. The force is involved and approachable, and continually works to do better, to lead the way in having a responsive and responsible police force. As a mental health professional, I think it’s critical for us to consider having licensed social workers on staff to help support police officers in triaging incidents, especially those that involve a mental health crisis. We should take every opportunity to have a holistic approach in law enforcement and to improve our connections with the community. I would advocate that all officers be trained in the evidence-based Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) as well as promote training in Trauma-Informed Practices. Additionally, I think it is critical to provide officers with free mental health and wellness services.

6) Climate change was an overarching theme to come to out of the strategic plan. What will you do to help the city establish clean energy targets?

When studying the impact of climate change on cities, I have noted time and time again that climate change increases cities’ vulnerabilities and has shown to put stress on the adaptive capacity of those marginalized by its impact. I support groups like Save Decatur’s Trees and Decatur Cares About Climate Change. By 2030, I believe Decatur can be 100% clean energy. I have met with people like Commissioner Ted Terry and think we should do more for conservation. We should look into growing greenery atop buildings, utilizing a shuttle during peak hours of business, and push for all Decatur’s businesses to have 100% compostable waste. Finally, Decatur needs a stronger tree ordinance and strong enforcement of that ordinance.

7) What are your thoughts on supporting more affordable housing? How do you think the city should balance concerns about increased density with the need to build more housing?

We need to make this issue the foundation and lens through which we view all policy and decision-making in the city. As commissioner, I will:

*Promote educational engagement concerning the impact of the lack of affordable housing on economic, environmental, and social sustainability. Sharing knowledge can spark change and open minds.

*Protect existing affordable rental units through supporting policies and plans that protect preservation efforts for these units.

*Remove exclusionary zoning ordinances that only allow for single family homes to be built.

*Facilitate creation of “missing middle” housing such as backyard cottages, duplexes, and townhomes (These housing options also create core paths to ownership because they are generally less expensive than high-rise residential units).

*Target new affordable housing in ideal locations close to public transit, safe, accessible roads and walkways, and other valuable resources.

*Fast track new affordable housing construction such as projects like Legacy Park and Decatur Land Trust holdings.

*Think outside of the box on housing, like legislation giving the city the opportunity to purchase multi-family properties for use as affordable housing.

*Legislation also needs to be considered to protect affordable housing landlords from assessment increases by the county — keeping their taxes down and encouraging them to keep rents down.

8) Do you support raising taxes to create financial support for more affordable housing? 

I do not support raising taxes to create financial support for more affordable housing. The approaches outlined in question seven are more sustainable and cost-effective.

9) How would you like to see the city and the school district work together to plan for future growth?

 We need better collaboration and communication between the city and the school board. Our city and its school board need to choose a new superintendent who will prioritize equity in the school system, restorative justice, and establish higher pay for teachers. Joint planning meetings should be encouraged to ensure that the school system and community goals support each other and are building toward the same vision of equity.

10) What is your opinion of Decatur’s current city manager?

Andrea Arnold is a dedicated, hardworking professional who has a close eye on the budget and the inner workings of the city.

11) What do you think of the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and what steps do you think the city should take to help reduce the spread of the virus?

I was very grateful that the city was responsive to the pandemic. I support the city’s mask ordinance, and I’m also supportive of getting vaccinated. I think it is prudent to continue to support businesses as they try to keep their staff safe and establish best practices based upon the culture of their business. I support (businesses/schools/staff, etc.) limiting the number of individuals in indoor spaces, the autonomy to establish social distancing protocols, the funding of personal protective equipment (thinking of gloves/sanitation and cleaning supplies for waste removal workers, teachers, fire fighters, nurses, etc.). I think one way we can really get a handle on this pandemic is through strengthened communication, through receiving testimonials from workers, employers, residents, etc. in order to get a more robust understanding of how this virus is impacting our city so that we can use this knowledge of real-life experiences to inform our practice. Ultimately, Decatur has gotten a lot of funds from the CARES act and has acted quickly to disperse these funds.

12) What do you think of the city’s current tree ordinance and what would you do to change it?

Protecting trees, greenspace, and native plants is crucial to our ability to reduce the impact of deforestation (due to development) and the increase in temperature from climate change. Aerial maps of the city clearly illustrate the lack of trees downtown and the heat deserts caused by our numerous parking lots and lack of trees and greenery along many streets. Decatur’s current tree ordinance needs to be revised to increase our canopy to 70%.

13) Every year (except for 2020) the Decatur City Commission holds its annual retreat two hours outside of city limits and does not record the meeting or stream it for people who cannot attend. Do you support the city commission’s practice of holding its annual retreat two hours away from its city limits?

I support retreats for team building; however, I do not support having them in isolation from the residents that we represent. In the words of Brene Brown, “Clear is kind”. I am a strong supporter of transparency and advocate that our Commission host its retreat in a location that is accessible to all residents. I believe that having transparent and accessible retreats is a way that we can strengthen the trust in our elected officials.

14) The city of Decatur has taken several steps to become more bike and pedestrian friendly, including cycle tracks and pedestrian walkways. Do you think the city has done enough to make the city friendly to bikers and pedestrians and, if not, what do you think the city should do to improve its pedestrian and cycling infrastructure? 

We can still do more to ensure that our city is biker and pedestrian friendly. One of the benefits of affordable housing is less traffic congestion, and this lays the foundation for safer roads and walkways for pedestrians and bikers. There are some areas of the city, including along Commerce Drive, where better sidewalks and lighting are needed, and crossings (including near the High School) that can be made safer. There continue to be many near-misses at the intersection of Commerce Drive and West Ponce, and Scott Boulevard and Superior (I was a near miss myself while I was running). In order to improve our pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, we need to take further steps to ensure that safe sidewalks are present in front of schools (especially Westchester and Talley) including barriers to protect our children and families walking and leaving schools. Additionally, I believe we need to take a look at signals to ensure efficient and safe traffic transitions. I would support a 25 mile per hour speed limit throughout the city and would encourage Decatur Police to make that enforcement a priority.

15) Prior to the pandemic, the ability to find parking was a common complaint from people visiting Decatur. Do you think access to parking is a problem in Decatur and, if so, what would you do to address it?   

I do believe that parking is a huge concern. If it is the perception, then, perception is reality. I listened to Mayor Garrett discuss parking at the State of the City and was impressed with the work the city is doing around parking. However, we cannot dismiss the perception that parking in Decatur is a hassle as it continues to harm our local businesses. We must make parking a top priority if we want to address our continued loss of businesses. Moreover, we must determine ways to effectively improve our existing parking such as providing better lighting and signage to our parking garages. Additionally, I think it may be prudent to propose a shuttle service that could transport individuals from various locations to downtown and/or students to various locations after school so that parents do not need to be on the roads at peak hours.

16) What do you think is Decatur’s greatest strength? 

Our greatest strength is the diversity of our community members including all political parties, faiths, economic backgrounds, and other unique, beautiful pieces of our residents’ identities, and we are losing this so quickly that we must take action. This is why it is my number one priority.

17) What do you think is Decatur’s biggest challenge?

Loss of diversity and affordable housing in Decatur is not inevitable. We must develop policy and take political action to better engage and incorporate diverse citizens who make our city unique.

18) How would you address what you believe to be Decatur’s biggest challenge? 

The best way to address challenges is to challenge the status quo itself. I will ensure that we are looking at our city’s challenges from multiple angles. I will utilize the lens of equity and inclusion while listening to the voices of our community. We cannot subsist as “business as usual”. I am committed to taking steps to better engage and incorporate the voices of our citizens who make our city unique.

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

Yes. As an educator, school counselor, and Licensed Professional Counselor, I have a strong internal compass committed to integrity. Not only is my integrity on the line but so are my licenses. I am dedicated to the code of ethics that guides each aspect of my profession, the way I treat others, and my internal compass. The code of ethics is what guides me to be such a strong advocate for equity and inclusion. Q: How would you work to promote ethics and transparency in government? An integral part of promoting ethics and transparency is making sure that we are always educating ourselves on better ways of doing things, through benchmarking best practices and seeking continued professional development. We should also increase communication with those we serve and make a better effort to include new voices in our public discourse. I am ready to serve the City of Decatur ethically, with transparency, and with an equitable, inclusive lens.

More information about voting in the Nov. 2 election: 

All elections coverage can be found at Decaturishvotes.com and Tuckerobservervotes.com.  

Election Day is Nov. 2. Early voting will begin on Oct. 12 and will end on Oct. 29. The voter registration deadline is Oct. 4. To register to vote, click here.

To see a list of important dates in the 2021 election year, click here.

Voters in DeKalb County are eligible to apply for an absentee ballot as of Aug. 16. 

To apply for an absentee ballot:

— Visit the Georgia Secretary of State website.

—  Complete the absentee ballot application using the state’s official paper form. Use black or blue ink only.

Applications can be mailed to the county elections office at this address: DeKalb County Election office, 4380 Memorial Drive, Decatur, GA 30032-1239.

Applications can also be submitted by fax, 404-298-4038, or email, [email protected]

Voters may send an absentee ballot request for multiple people who live in the same household in the same envelope or email.

If an absentee ballot is not mailed to you, call DeKalb Elections office, 404-298-4020. You may still vote in person, either early or on Election Day.

An absentee ballot application must be received by Oct. 22.

In accordance with SB202, a new voting bill signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in March, a copy of a voter’s ID is required to apply for an absentee ballot. A Georgia driver’s license, Georgia state ID, Georgia voter card, U.S. Passport, U.S. military ID, employee ID issued by any branch of the federal or state government, tribal ID, or a document verifying a voter’s name and address – including a paycheck, utility bill, or bank statement – are accepted forms of ID.

Early voting begins Oct. 12 and ends Oct. 29. The hours for early voting are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There will also be weekend early voting on Oct. 16, 17, 23 and 24. Call your elections office for hours.

Beginning Oct. 12, you can participate in early voting at the following locations: 

– Bessie Branham Recreation Center (2051 Delano Drive NE, Atlanta, GA 30317)

– Lynwood Recreation Center (3360 Osborne Road NE, Brookhaven, GA 30319)

– Berean Christian Church – Family Life Center (2197 Young Road, Stone Mountain, GA 30088)

– DeKalb Voter Registration & Elections Office (4380 Memorial Drive, Suite 300, Decatur, GA 30032)

– Tucker-Reid H. Cofer Library (5234 LaVista Road, Tucker, GA 30084)

– Stonecrest Library (3123 Klondike Road, Stonecrest, GA 30038)

– County Line-Ellenwood Library (4331 River Road, Ellenwood, GA 30294)

– Dunwoody Library (5339 Chamblee Dunwoody Road., Dunwoody, GA 30338)

For the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding early voting times and locations, visit Decaturishvotes.com and Tuckerobservervotes.com or call 404-298-4020.  

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