Candidate Q&A: DeKalb County Commission District 3Kenny Ray holds a vote sign during a voter registration rally and vaccination clinic hosted by DeKalb County District 5 Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson at the DeKalb County Voter Registration & Elections Office in greater Decatur on Friday, April 1, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.
Decaturish.com sent a Q&A to all candidates running for DeKalb County Commission. Here are the responses of the candidates running for District 3 in the May 24 election. Early voting starts May 2. To see your sample ballot, visit the Georgia Secretary of State’s My Voter Page by clicking here. The answers have not been edited. All our elections coverage can be found at Decaturishvotes.com
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Candidate name: Andrew W Bell
Candidate website: electandrewbell.com
What is your occupation? Entrepreneur (Homefolkz LLC)
What neighborhood do you call home? If you put points at Austin Dr & Snapfinger Rd; Snapfinger Rd & Columbia Dr; Columbia Dr & Glenwood Rd; Glenwood Rd & Austin Rd and then connect the points with four lines my home would be in the box.
Why are you running for this position? I’m running because of the negative changes that I have seen in my community. During the last 20 years the county has collected more revenues but provided less services. I was born and raised in Dekalb County and I have witnessed these changes.
If elected, what are your top two or three priorities? My top three priorities are getting a proper audit performed, after school programs and job training, and gang prevention & eradication.
How would you work to accomplish your priorities if elected? I have to convince the public and at least three other board members that my priorities are in the best interest of the Dekalb County. My first priority is the audit because in order for the government to have an opportunity of working in the most effective and efficient way there has to be to an absolute transparency of the revenues being collected, how the funds are allocated, and after the funds are allocated there needs to be a method or methods of determining if the funds are being used or spent by the County’s departments in the way that funds were originally allocated. My second priority is after school programs and job training. For elementary and middle school children I would like to partner with the school system to provide resources for children to engage them in positive extra-curricular activities. For the older children job training, more especially in the skilled trades. My second priority can aid and assist in my third priority which is gang prevention and eradication.
What do you think is DeKalb County’s greatest strength? I think the biggest strength of Dekalb is it’s diversity. There are a variety of people with different socio-economic backgrounds from different cultures and different walks of life living in close proximity and coexisting in some of the same spaces. The uniqueness of a diverse Dekalb brings different ideas and perspectives to the forefront. However, there are some inequities. While the kids play soccer behind Fred A. Toomer Elementary School there are no rims or nets at Shoal Creek Park, therefore there are no children playing. Although there are new grocery stores being built in Kirkwood, Kroger left Candler Road. Instead of learning from each other strengths and building each other’s weaknesses we have and are turning a blind eye to these parts of our community that we know need improvement. There are few places in the world that are as diverse as Dekalb. There should be collection of ideas and talents that can make Dekalb reach its highest potential.
What do you think is DeKalb County’s biggest weakness? There is an overwhelming level of bureaucracy. The bureaucracy has led to years of stagnation in the County. There is a Planning and Sustainability Department yet the commercial buildings on Candler Road are comprised of single-family homes built in the 1940s. I am disabled Marine Corps veteran and I have been trying to get an addition to my garage since Dec 2020. Dekalb used to have the best roads, the best schools, the best sanitation, the lowest water bills, affordable summer camps and recreational programs, but unfortunately that is no longer what we experience in South Dekalb.
How would you address DeKalb County’s biggest weakness? Find a more efficient way to govern. I would look at local cities like Hapeville that have transformed in less than a decade. I would try and recruit individuals that have made that city successful to work for Dekalb County. There has been no real effort to open up the County. It’s difficult to obtain any information regarding a business license, pick up a new trash can, pay a water bill in person instead of paying an extra fee by telephone , and numerous other services that are inept. The County doesn’t maintain it’s storm-water system. There are several citizens whose property has been damaged from storm-water runoff yet their needs or concerns are not being addressed.
What do you think the county’s spending priorities should be? Again first there needs to be an audit performed. After that is done the County’s spending can be addressed. However, I think the top priority for the County should be the best possible quality of life it can provide to its residents. In turn, it must ensure the safety of its residents without any unnecessary harassment. Second even though the school system has its own budget I think the second priority should be educating or training our youth. Thirdly we having a growing problem where people who are working cannot find adequate housing. There is a growing homeless problem. We have school buses full of children being picked up at extended stay motels and the like. We have to come up with some ideas to slow down this trend.
What would you do to promote housing affordability in DeKalb County? The first thing that needs to happen is pass legislation that limits the amount of single homes that can be purchased by these billion dollar corporations. It has created a domino effect and has robbed many people of the American dream. There is a shortage of homes due to the fact that these corporations are buying up all the homes and then turning around and renting the homes well above market rate. They are able to do this because of the demand for homes. Meanwhile the apartment rents are going up because there are not enough apartments being built. Those that can’t find apartments are seeking residents in extended stays, and those that can’t find extended stays are left for the streets. The second thing that needs to happen is for the County to require any new developers of rental properties to cap their prices for 10 years with annual increase of a very small percent. It will probably take a decade for this period of inflation to work itself out.
Do you support lowering residential property taxes to offset the costs of inflation and rising home values? No. The thing that will reduce inflation is the lowering or stabilization of prices over time. Taking money away from the government will not solve inflation, it could possibly make it worse by forcing residents to pay for services that the government once provided.
What is your opinion of DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond? Mr. Thurmond seemed to be moving the Dekalb County in the right direction before the pandemic. However, I would like to see the County reopen to its full capacity, because the quality of life for the residents of Dekalb County depend on it.
Do you think DeKalb County should consider changing its form of government? If so, what changes would you make? Yes. Right now I don’t feel that the residents of unincorporated Dekalb are being properly served.
What would you do to make DeKalb County safer while still holding police officers accountable for their actions? Policing has to be reprioritized. Most residents are concerned about the rise in violence and people racing through their neighborhoods. However, the arrest in the Dekalb County do not represent results in the areas that most residents are concerned about. For many years the police have been told to “patrol” certain neighborhoods and look for those people “looking suspicious”. While crime is at an all-time high, it seems like the funds given to law enforcement are not being spent efficiently. We will put more focus on responding to and solving violent crimes. In high crime areas we can use a convergence of technology with the use cameras, drones and other technology to aid and assist in the apprehension of the perpetrators of crime, a kind of special forces way to attack crime. We need to start locking up the people terrorizing our community instead of spending time locking up people for smoking marijuana and having expired tags.
What would you do to make permitting more responsive and efficient for businesses and residents? The whole department needs to be reformed from top to bottom. We should do a country wide search for the cities with the best performing urban planning and development departments and hire someone from one of those places. The last 20 years have been a disaster for South Dekalb. They have not developed anything, and at the same time, they’ve lost the area around Emory and the CDC, they lost grocery stores, bowling alleys, movie theaters and the only thing on Candler Road that has been renovated in the last 20 years is Red Lobster. Glenwood Road looks like Gary, Indiana or better yet the Southside of Chicago.
What is the role of the county commission in coordinating development and infrastructure within DeKalb’s cities? Being that there are now thirteen cities in Dekalb I think it is vital for the County to constantly keep abreast and make themselves aware of what’s going on in the cities and determine what impact the development and infrastructure may have on other cities or the County itself. For example, a traffic plan might involve several cities, including the County, in an effort to improve traffic flow in a certain area or several areas.
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, I plan to conduct myself in an ethical manner. I believe if you make everything as transparent as possible the government has no other choice but to be ethical. It’s when everything is done behind close doors and outside the eye of the public when things get sketchy.
Candidate name: Commissioner Larry Johnson (Incumbent)
Candidate website: www.ReElectLarryJohnson.com
What is your occupation? County Commissioner
What neighborhood do you call home? Southwest DeKalb
Why are you running for this position? To ensure $100M in infrastructure funding is allocated. This funding yielded sidewalks, playgrounds, park restrooms, trails, Fire Stations, police and fire vehicles. I will continue to champion small business, park funding and premium pay for Police.
If elected, what are your top two or three priorities? Public Safety Funding Infrastructure Improvements Prevention and Pandemic Protection
How would you work to accomplish your priorities if elected? Linking residents to resources. Leveraging Public/Private Partnerships. Empowering residents through education and awareness. Continue to work collaboratively with the CEO and Board of Commissioners.
What do you think is DeKalb County’s greatest strength? The residents are DeKalb’s greatest strength! They have shown resilience and strength while dealing with death and disruption. This energy has helped me deliver over 30,000 COVID tests, 7,000+ shots, 20 tons of food, rental assistance and PPE.
What do you think is DeKalb County’s biggest weakness? Infrastructure: I knew there was a great need for sidewalks, road repaving and park improvements. I didn’t understand the magnitude of the need and cost because we were decades behind in water, sewer and infrastructure. I pushed for the $650M SPLOST and water improvements; that push has yielded sidewalks, street repaving, park improvements, trail improvements, public safety improvements (including fire stations and public safety vehicles).
How would you address DeKalb County’s biggest weakness? The SPLOST has delivered over 200 miles of road resurfacing, new fire stations and Park improvements. We need to keep that funding going because of over 50 years of neglect. I urged the CEO and Commissioners at the time, to deal with projects that residents can see. We included property tax relief for homeowners as well as over $120M for the county portion of taxes. So, we are dealing with both the infrastructure improvements and property tax relief for our residents.
What do you think the county’s spending priorities should be? Public Safety Infrastructure Public and Mental Health
What would you do to promote housing affordability in DeKalb County? I am currently authoring a Workforce Housing Bill. The average home price in DeKalb is $475K. We need to provide more affordable housing and incentives for our essential workers including Police, Fire, Nurses, Teachers and individuals in the Non-profit sector to live in DeKalb. We also have a wait list for Senior housing. The bill will address policies for essential workers and seniors who want to age in place.
Do you support lowering residential property taxes to offset the costs of inflation and rising home values? Yes. I support lowering residential property taxes to offset the costs of inflation and rising home values.
What is your opinion of DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond? CEO Michael Thurmond is a problem solver, gentleman and trusted Scholar.
Do you think DeKalb County should consider changing its form of government? If so, what changes would you make? I don’t want to comment before hearing citizens input and results from the Charter Review Committee which is a citizen input process. This committee will provide more insight into this question. I was however one of the individuals who lead the effort to change the form of government in 2008 to allow Commissioners to chair their own meetings, set the agenda and share the County Clerk. This helped to shift a much-needed balance of power to the legislative branch of the government.
What would you do to make DeKalb County safer while still holding police officers accountable for their actions? Create more bike and walking patrols, reduce the number of residents required to start a neighborhood watch, develop an ambassador program for civilians to walk the business corridors an add more flock cameras in major residential and business corridors. Continue the Special Grand Jury to investigate Police Shootings and support the GBI to provide an independent investigation process.
What would you do to make permitting more responsive and efficient for businesses and residents? This process must involve the latest and best technology. The pandemic has yielded great opportunities to learn and we will not return to in-person options only. I had the Planning Department start a stakeholder group of users to provide feedback and encouraged the group to look at other municipalities best practices and promising approaches we can adopt to make our system more effective and efficient. We are continually evaluating our processes for improvement.
What is the role of the county commission in coordinating development and infrastructure within DeKalb’s cities? Cities are independent from the County. The Commissioner’s role is a facilitator, convener and catalyst that bring various entities together to coordinate economic development and infrastructure projects. We know and understand the county function (i.e, departments that need to be at the table) that help the cities because we all represent the same constituency and provide an effective and efficient way that makes the quality of life better for all involved.
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, by continuing to make sure our meetings are open to the public and promote public engagement. This is the best way to keep the government for, of and by the people.
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