Candidate Q&A – Tucker City Council District 3, Post 1 candidate Neal StubblefieldNeal Stubblefield
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.
The Tucker Observer provided each candidate in our local races with a series of questions about local issues. Here are the answers of candidate Neal Stubblefield, who is running for District 3, Post 1 on the Tucker City Council. The answers have not been edited.
1) Why are you running for this office?
I’m a 31 yr. resident who’s long seen the potential for Tucker and its great can-do community spirit. As a recently retired consulting engineer with a 42 yr. background in public infrastructure (particularly water), I can now contribute a more significant level of time and energy along with my deep experience in working with municipal governments and authorities across the U.S.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
Practical experience in leading and serving large groups to accomplish significant goals, whether that has been companies I’ve been part of, my church, or other organizations. I also was involved in the cityhood movement starting in 2014, including testifying before the legislature in 2015, canvassing neighborhoods, and monitoring precinct votes in the historic November 2015 vote that resulted in 74% voter approval of the cityhood referendum for Tucker. Subsequently I helped with the city organization process by reviewing various consultant proposals and recommending contract services to the newly elected Mayor and City Council in the spring of 2016. I’ve been on the Zoning Board of Appeals since its creation in fall 2016, serving as chair and currently as vice-chair. And I was appointed by the Mayor in 2018 to be the City’s representative on the DeKalb Co. 2070 Water/Wastewater Master Plan Steering Committee.
3) If elected, what are your top two or three priorities?
Delivering a consistently high level of service in the city’s core service areas (parks & recreation, planning & zoning, code enforcement) so that property values are enhanced, and all residents, businesses and visitors enjoy a satisfying quality of life.
Encouraging smart growth as well as thoughtful re-development and providing the infrastructure necessary to sustain both – this includes attracting and helping employers grow as well as the workforce those employers need in a vital economy.
Nurturing an atmosphere where all who choose to make their homes and businesses in the city feel welcome and integral to the success of Tucker with opportunities for volunteer efforts, public involvement, and other forms of service to the community.
4) In your opinion, what are the most important issues facing the city of Tucker?
As we grow, making sure that opportunities exist for all segments of our community to grow right along with us. Having attainable/equitable housing is an issue that touches almost all communities in the Metro area – fortunately Tucker still remains one of the most affordable “inner ring” suburbs with a relatively broad housing stock, especially with its great access to I-85, US-78, intown Atlanta, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. We must also seek ways to provide accommodations for those who are temporarily or chronically without adequate housing, food, and clothing as well as aid them in becoming more self-sufficient. Dealing with traffic congestion that growth often brings will require that we look at ways to enhance local commuting as well as major projects such as bus rapid transit (BRT) and the managed express lanes projects that GDOT is now developing that will affect the gateways to the City. (See also responses to questions 17 and 18 below.)
5) What is your opinion of Tucker’s current mayor and who will you be voting for in the mayoral election?
Frank Auman invested countless hours and brought people together in making Tucker’s cityhood a reality. He has a passion for doing things the right way and working with folks from all walks of life to accomplish good for everyone in our community. We need his continuity as we’ll have 4 of the 6 council positions occupied by new officeholders after this election. He was the right person in 2016 when we started on this journey and he remains the right person now to continue leading us. I’m voting for Frank Auman for Mayor for Tucker.
6) What is your opinion of Tucker’s current city manager?
Tami Hanlin is a terrific city manager – we’re fortunate she works directly for the citizens of Tucker! In my capacity on the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals since its inception as well as the City’s appointee to the DeKalb Co. 2070 Water/Wastewater Master Plan Steering Committee, Tami and her staff have been an invaluable aid to me. I’m the sole District 3 candidate to enjoy that working relationship with her and the staff.
7) What is your current opinion of the DeKalb County Police Department and are there any changes you would advocate for if you are elected?
The intergovernmental agreement (IGA) that the City struck with the County to consolidate policing resources into the single Tucker Precinct has been a win-win for us. It’s helped 911 responsiveness, we have a dedicated officer liaison to the City, and because the police headquarters is also located in Tucker less than 0.25 mile away from City Hall, we have access to the department’s senior management, too. Our officers are also doing an admirable job with community engagement – as soon as practical with the virus, I’d suggest that “Coffee with a Cop” be brought back to further strengthen those community bonds. As with many police departments around the metro Atlanta area and the country, the County’s resources have thinned and are heavily taxed so I would support ways to recruit and retain officers for our area – CEO Thurmond has offered the use of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to provide retention pay and signing bonuses. I would encourage that practice as well as the further use of technology to assist law enforcement in having “eyes and ears on the ground” through opt-in partnership with private surveillance cameras by businesses and others into the County’s FirstNet and similar integrated systems.
8) Tucker residents, all involved in boards or committees in city government, drafted a non-discrimination ordinance. Many of the cities surrounding Tucker have an NDO, yet Tucker City Council has not brought it for a discussion. What is your position on the non-discrimination ordinance?
I support non-discrimination laws generally and the desire to eliminate unlawful discrimination. However, I see a number of issues with the proposed ordinance as currently drafted that would need to be addressed before I could consider it. There are numerous federal and state laws that already prohibit various forms of discrimination against the groups this ordinance seeks to protect and provide recourse to those whose rights are violated. Those laws, the regulations that implement them, and the court decisions that interpret them are thousands of pages long. The proposed ordinance attempts to supplant that body of law with a few pages of very broad statements and another layer of enforcement, resulting in lots of unintended consequences. Any proposed ordinance should not duplicate existing federal and state laws and enforcement procedures. It needs to preserve logical exemptions for such things as senior housing, private homes, and small employers. It should not subject the City of Tucker, its taxpayers, or businesses to potential claims, expenses and liabilities arising out of overly broad wording, and it must ensure due process. It needs to be appropriately drafted to comply with the basic requirements of the City’s charter before it is put to a vote. If these issues are addressed, then I would be willing to consider it.
9) Racial justice and diversity have been points of conversation over the last year. What will you do to promote racial justice and diversity in the city of Tucker?
I believe in bringing people together and not dividing them as we pursue common goals. One of my three focus areas stressed in my candidacy announcement in July as well as my kick-off event in early September is: “Nurturing an atmosphere where all who choose to make their homes and businesses in the city feel welcome and integral to the success of Tucker with opportunities for volunteer efforts, public involvement, and other forms of service to the community.” In our church, I along with our other 7 elders drafted a leadership statement in response to the racial unrest during the summer of 2020 – that statement encouraged our members to act as Christ would and treat others as brothers and sisters in Him. We followed that with a series of conversations last fall with members of color and others from our immigrant community who worship with us to share their personal experiences of racial bias and mistreatment. I believe our various Tucker civic and volunteer organizations do a tremendous job in reaching out to the entire community to encourage participation and service to others – I will always promote that kind of selfless involvement.
10) 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?
The City has pursued the right level of “touch” during the pandemic by giving away masks during the early days, encouraging mask wearing in public spaces, and promoting and facilitating vaccination through various public and private events. The message has been consistent from day one that although many actions we can take are ones of personal choice, we should do them for the benefit and protection of not only ourselves but others, particularly those who are medically vulnerable. We should continue to emphasize vaccination for those who can be safely immunized as that’s the most effective tool to stem the tide of the virus and its variants. The City also administered CARES Act funding that helped support struggling businesses and extended aid to individuals in need through partnerships with NETWorks Cooperative Ministry and other charitable organizations – a similar approach is being taken with the ARP funding that’s becoming available.
11) Residents frequently complain about roads and drainage. As of now, the majority of the responsibility lies with DeKalb. How would you work with the county to improve these services? Should Tucker start the process of taking over roads and drainage?
Roads and drainage, “public works” in general, require significant capital outlays for equipment, have large continuing operating costs especially in labor and materials, and legacy costs associated with pensions, insurance and other benefits – i.e., these services don’t come cheaply. We need to continue to partner through our IGA with the County for as long as possible to maintain this infrastructure because cost of service flattens out at increasing scale of operation. Where we need more accountability from the County seems to be in day-to-day maintenance operations. Conversely the City has done a laudable job in managing the repaving and sidewalk program through the SPLOST funding; we’ve demonstrated the ability to prioritize the needed improvements and effectively managed the design and construction professionals who’ve executed the work. So we need to weigh level of service against cost to taxpayers before we fully take on public works responsibilities, including the extensive regulatory aspects such as stormwater (MS4) permitting that go along with those responsibilities.
12) Parks and Rec is working to turn Fitzgerald Field into an arena that will attract sports tournaments and outdoor events. How will this go over in Tucker? Does the city have enough infrastructure, like sidewalks, to support a sports complex?
Tucker will embrace having a multi-sport facility in its midst, especially one that will provide not only youth league but also semi-professional and professional competitions. In addition to being another recreational and fan-focused attraction, it will be a jobs generator and will spin off revenue that can be used for other parks’ needs around the City. With the design efforts underway for Fitzgerald Field we’ll have a stadium and practice fields that get year-round use for youth programming and hopefully Tucker High School can utilize as its home football field, too. These design efforts of necessity include considerations for traffic, water, sewer and other infrastructure needs as well as ways to make the stadium continue to fit in as a good neighbor to the surrounding residential and commercial areas.
13) The city of Tucker largely is staffed by contractors, people who do not directly work for the city. Do you support the current method of staffing the city’s government or would you want to change to a more traditional system where employees work directly for the city?
The Mayor and Council continually assess the cost and benefits of contract staff versus direct staffing – a number of staff including the city manager and the parks & recreation staff have already been converted from contract to direct employees. This hybrid approach has been used successfully by other cities for decades even before Sandy Springs was incorporated in 2005 as the first of a new wave of cities of which Tucker was one with its referendum in 2015.
14) Do you support continuing to stream Tucker’s meetings online? Why or why not?
Yes, the technology has been enhanced considerably through the pandemic and it allows access by all with an internet connection. The staff, Mayor and Council, and the various appointed boards have become adept at its use including how to facilitate public hearings.
15) What can be done to improve pedestrian safety on Tucker’s roads?
The addition of vehicle speed monitoring displays should help drivers recognize how they’re driving compared to posted limits and provide credible data for adjusting speed zones and implementing other safety measures such as traffic calming and road diets. The latter can provide both some physical buffer for pedestrians and in larger corridors, room for bike lanes. Some periodic police enforcement in areas with high volumes of traffic infractions will also convey the message to drive safely. I wouldn’t rule out traffic monitoring cameras at key intersections as part of enforcement.
16) What do you think is Tucker’s greatest strength?
It’s people and their spirit of community! I’ve often heard Tucker compared favorably to the fictional town of Mayberry because of the outgoing and friendly demeanor of our residents. Events like Tucker Day, Taste of Tucker, Tucker Cruise-Ins, the weekly Farmers Market, and the myriad of volunteer and service organizations that attract people from all stations in life reflect a vibrant community that as Mayor Auman often says “lives, works, plays and prays” together.
17) What do you think is Tucker’s biggest challenge?
Managing our growth effectively: we’ve grown 38.1% from the 2010 census to the 2020 census. At just over 37,000 people, we have to re-examine our plans so that growth is sustainable, issues like traffic congestion are managed, and that all of our citizens are brought along in a way that provides a satisfying standard of living.
18) How would you address what you believe to be Tucker’s biggest challenge?
Re-calibrate and execute on our various master planning efforts, always giving our citizens, businesses, and other organizations a voice in the process. Whether its zoning, additional greenspace, law enforcement, public works, or whatever, we have to educate one another in the matters so we can build the necessary consensus to move forward.
19) If you are elected, what will you do to support the business community in the city of Tucker?
I would encourage a strong partnership with Decide Dekalb and the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce to highlight what Tucker has to offer businesses, make business permitting as quick and no-hassle as possible, and promote approaches where our citizens can be trained and ready to be employed in the businesses when they come to town as well as when they expand their operations here. I’d further encourage small business generation so that more people can become owners. All of this means trying to keep the cost of doing business in Tucker reasonable for those who want to be here. This includes having well-maintained infrastructure whether in our various industrial and business parks or right downtown.
20) If you are elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner? How would you work to promote ethics and transparency in government?
Yes, ethics and transparent governance are paramount. In my kick-off event remarks on September 3, I noted that I will resist the distraction of partisanship including that I’ll not accept monetary support or influence from any political party or their affiliates. I also noted that partisan-sponsored candidate slates are already attempting to divide our community. I will not be beholden to those attempts by any party or special interest group.
More information about voting in the Nov. 2 election:
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.
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)
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