Candidate Q&A – Tucker mayoral candidate Robin BiroRobin Biro. Photo submitted to Tucker Observer
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 mayoral candidate Robin Biro, who is challenging Mayor Frank Auman. The answers have not been edited.
1) Why are you running for this office?
I have served my country honorably as an Army Ranger with the 75th Ranger Regiment and fought in Afghanistan, and now that I am retired from the military I feel called to public service and want to serve my community and set an example for my children about the value of public service. I believe very strongly that government should be representative of the people that it governs, and I would assert that our current leadership is irreflective of the values and beliefs that the majority of Tucker residents share, judging from conversations with many residents. The good people of Tucker that I have talked to support protecting its citizens from discrimination, and they support local government following basic health recommendations from the CDC and DeKalb County. The number one complaint that I hear from residents is that we don’t have enough transparency in our city government, and that their messages often do not get replies. I am running for Mayor of Tucker to change that because the people deserve for their voices to be heard, and they deserve transparency from their public servants.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponent?
I am battle tested, and I live my life by a code of values instilled in me by the U.S. Army, to include Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. The values taught to me as a U.S. Army Ranger include a strict moral code of ethics, and I believe very strongly in transparency and truth in advertising. I am a man of my word, I am who I say that I am, and as a single father I have had to struggle and can appreciate hardships. As a business leader in commercial real estate with 20 years’ experience formerly as an appraiser and broker and currently as a commercial real estate consultant, I understand the needs and mechanisms of municipal government. I also developed a unique ability to work across party lines to get things done from my time in the Army, working with team members across of every political spectrum to accomplish missions. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am passionate about bringing people together and finding commonality across the political spectrum.
3) If elected, what are your top two or three priorities?
1) Passing a city-wide nondiscrimination ordinance, 2) Fighting the crime, blight and unchecked growth that threaten our quality of life in Tucker, 3) Repairing and protecting our infrastructure, 4) Balancing the budget and making the city solvent beyond 2026 when SPLOST funds are set to expire.
4) In your opinion, what are the most important issues facing the city of Tucker?
We are facing a wave of crime, emanating from across U.S. 78, and will need a greater police presence and patrols from DeKalb P.D., as well as coordination with neighborhood watches to tackle this problem. We also have more than 200 collapsed storm drains within the city limits, many which have been collapsed for well over a year and present safety concerns for area residents. Another infrastructure issue that faces the city is that we have several commercial and industrial properties within the city limits are unable to be used / repurposed because the sewer lines cannot handle any increased capacity, so they are sitting derelict.
5) What is your opinion of Tucker’s current city council and who will you be voting for in the city council election?
I have recognized each of the council members including Mayor Auman for the job that they have done standing Tucker up as new city, particularly regarding parks and recreation. Frank is a good person – we just have a difference in political ideologies, because we hail from different sides of the political aisle. Mayor Auman was a two-term Chairman of the DeKalb GOP before becoming Mayor, just as I have held numerous positions within the Democratic Party and was a Director on President Obama’s 2008 campaign. I need to clear something up though – section 2.04 of H.B. 515 (the City Charter), states that “Political parties shall not conduct primaries for city offices, and all names of candidates for city offices shall be listed without party designation.” This means that the election itself is nonpartisan, but what it does not mean is that candidates themselves cannot be transparent about their respective political affiliations and backgrounds. I take issue with some members of City Council telling the public that “nonpartisan elections” means something else entirely, and I do take issue with certain specific votes and positions. The composition of city council will be changed after this election though, and it will be more politically diverse and more representative of the community that it serves, which is a good thing for Tucker. I choose to be transparent about my political background and not obfuscate how I align politically because the voters deserve to know who they are getting in a public servant. I will be voting for a more diverse city council, both politically and in its composition so that it is more balanced and representative of the people that it governs.
6) What is your opinion of Tucker’s current city manager?
My interactions with our City Manager, Tami Hanlin, have been pleasant. Both Tami Hanlin and John McHenry, our Assistant City Manager have been nothing but welcoming to me and my family and have been helpful in addressing questions and concerns. They also both came to Tucker with a wealth of experience. As you can imagine, through the process of campaigning door to door I have met numerous Tucker residents who have very specific questions and concerns, which has necessitated a regular dialogue with Tami and John already. I look forward to working with them both to meet the needs of Tucker residents.
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?
Ultimately the City of Tucker needs to work toward eventually establishing our own police department, instead of subsidizing unincorporated DeKalb County. Until we can achieve that we will need to call on DeKalb P.D. to continue increased patrols in areas that are evidencing higher crime. A wave of crime has been emanating recently from across U.S. 78, resulting in a 1:40 odds of Tucker residents being affected by violent crime or property crime (vehicle theft is becoming a particularly significant concern). We need to work towards assuming more efficient and responsive local control instead of relying solely on the county. In the meanwhile, though, DeKalb P.D. needs to work with local HOA’s to implement robust neighborhood watch programs – the City of Tucker can help foster and facilitate these neighborhood watch programs.
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 the nondiscrimination ordinance – government has a fiduciary responsibility to protect its residents from unfair treatment, and to ensure that we are all treated with dignity and respect, therefore I pledge to place the NDO on the council agenda within my first 60 days once I am elected Mayor. When the NDO was brought before council in 2019, the team who drafted it understood and in fact expected council to make their own adjustments in conjunction with the recommendations of the City Attorney. I know because I met with them. It is two years later, and there has been no traction – I have heard nothing but excuses, the worst being that there is no such thing as discrimination in Tucker – despite news stories detailing specific instances of discrimination within the city limits. The buck stops here. A vote for me will be a vote to get the NDO on the Council Agenda for consideration. I have read the proposed NDO in its entirety – it protects veterans, people of all different creeds, races, ages, familial statuses, and all walks of life from discrimination within the city limits. I will add that not having an NDO puts us in a particularly worrisome position in terms of our ability to attract new businesses to Tucker, especially from emerging industries like the film industry.
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?
As stated above, I would start by getting the NDO, on the council agenda within my first 60 days if elected. I would also support our Tucker’s schools with their district approved teaching of racial inequality and injustice. I would make sure that our hiring practices and committee appointments are reflective of the community that our government serves. I support modifying the city charter to allow for public art.
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?
It is fair to say that the city seemed unprepared for the pandemic, and like many other Tucker residents I was frustrated at some particulars of the city’s COVID-19 response because I felt that it did not go far enough to protect the health of the public. To the city’s credit they did disseminate masks to local area businesses, schools, and nursing homes, but failing to mandate the wearing of masks was a missed opportunity to lower the curve. I read responses from Tucker residents stating that it was not enough for council to merely suggest the wearing of masks, and that curfews are ineffective, and I agree with that sentiment. Bad health policy is the bedrock of bad economic policy. We could have done better by the residents of Tucker, and the public criticism that I witnessed was justified, in my humble opinion.
11) Residents frequently complain about roads and drainage. As of now, most 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?
The city needs to work toward assuming local control – we did not incorporate as a city only to be subservient to DeKalb in perpetuity. Residents right now are having to sue DeKalb County for them to make any repairs, and/or go to council meetings as I have done myself on behalf of homeowners to get Tucker City Council to issue a demand action. We can do better by Tucker residents – in fact it would save the city money in the long run to have one employee whose full-time job was to coordinate these repairs and demands for action from DeKalb County. The bottom line is that DeKalb County must be held to account to be better stewards of our tax money by repairing problems that they are responsible for, now, before the city inherits a boondoggle later.
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?
I am open to hearing arguments in favor of the proposed $1m improvements to Fitzgerald Field, but because my questions and the questions and concerns of the homeowners surrounding Fitzgerald Field have not been satisfactorily addressed, I do not support this endeavor until they are, and until I have more information. Specifically, there are still questions remaining about off-street parking, traffic concerns through residential areas, and environmental concerns that will need to be addressed.
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?
I am in favor of anything that gives the city more local control, therefore I would be in favor of paid staff, rather than reliance on outside contractors. Outside contractors are typically used in lieu of staff to save on the expense of health insurance and pensions. This pandemic should have taught us the importance of keeping employees healthy. Paid city staff also tend to feel more personally invested in the cities that they serve if they are working toward a pension and receiving the benefits usually afforded to full-time employee’s vs contractors.
14) Do you support continuing to stream Tucker’s meetings online? Why or why not?
I absolutely support streaming Tucker’s governmental meetings online. We reviewed this issue in my church leadership and I heard firsthand how helpful it is to our elderly, disabled, and single parent heads of household like myself to provide a streaming option. Some of these individuals (particularly the elderly) expressed that they feel left out societally, therefore I fully support anything that we can do to provide greater accessibility so that Tucker’s residents feel included and can let their voices be heard.
15) What can be done to improve pedestrian safety on Tucker’s roads?
A horrific accident occurred recently where a pedestrian was killed by an intoxicated driver, right here in Tucker. Field sobriety checkpoints on Fridays and Saturdays at key intersections would help curb some of the drunk driving in our area – typically these are coordinated between MADD and the police department, so that is something that we can look at doing, to keep residents safer. It is worth nothing that City Council has also approved additional radar-controlled signage to address speeding. I know that a pedestrian was also killed near Kroger and that excessive speed could have contributed to that fatality. The radar-controlled signage is cost-effective, and I would support adding additional stations. I would also support feasibility studies for traffic circles which are safer for pedestrians and are shown to alleviate traffic bottlenecks.
16) What do you think is Tucker’s greatest strength?
The people of Tucker are our greatest strength – we are one of the oldest communities in the state, with deep roots, and we also represent one of the most diverse communities, which enriches our shared humanity. The people of Tucker look out for one another. When my father passed away and I became guardian of my two school-aged half siblings, the community rallied together to welcome them to Tucker and to provide support, for which I am eternally grateful. For Tucker area businesses, our greatest strength is location, location, location. We have tremendous accessibility to major traffic thoroughfares, making Tucker a hub for manufacturing and distribution businesses.
17) What do you think is Tucker’s biggest challenge?
Unchecked growth and infrastructure problems are our biggest challenges right now. Anyone who lives here will tell you that traffic and infrastructure are already bad, but the city is growing, so these problems will get worse. Existing sewer lines cannot handle increased capacity and have restricted commercial and light industrial growth and redevelopment in some areas. I have reviewed the traffic studies and they show that we are poised for unacceptable traffic wait scores, sooner than later.
18) How would you address what you believe to be Tucker’s biggest challenge?
We must improve certain specific intersections and arterial linkages right now to plan for growth, and we must work on a comprehensive plan for transit – two prior bond referendums have failed so we need to rethink the wheel and go about this a different way. To address the inadequate sewerage will require engineering studies, schematics, and collaboration with DeKalb Public Works – in the end we may have to look at taking over watershed management / sewerage sooner than later to remediate this problem, if we have any hope of repurposing some of the existing stock of derelict industrial spaces and recapturing the lost tax revenue from those properties.
19) If you are elected, what will you do to support the business community in the city of Tucker?
I’d start by showing up for their meetings in times that weren’t just election season. The Tucker Summit CID and Northlake CID are invaluable to our community and provide for a massive portion of our tax base. We can do a better job of hearing out and addressing their concerns. I have met with them both, and they presented me their top three concerns for Tucker. Chief among those is addressing crime, infrastructure, and transit. We are a growing city and have some catching up to do. I would also support small business incubators.
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?
It is often said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Whether large or small, government functions at its best when it provides the community that it serves with transparency – some call it “government in the sunshine.” I would start with making meetings more accessible with permanent streaming options, and by conducting business openly with publicly posted RFP’s in lieu of privately awarded contracts. As far as my personal ethics are concerned, as an enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army, who later went on to be a U.S. Army Ranger and noncommissioned officer of the year, I swore an oath to defend the constitution when I raised my right hand – that responsibility did not end when I retired. The Army Values that I mentioned at the begging of this questionnaire are very dear to me and ingrained into my core being. I will carry those same values forward as Mayor. As Mayor, I would also strive for a more inclusive, diverse, and accessible government that protects and respects all the people that it serves. At the end of the day though, whether you vote for me or for my opponent, I do hope that you vote, because your vote matters. Local politics affects your life so much more directly than it does at the state or national level.
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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