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Candidate Q&A: DeKalb County Commission District 7

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Candidate Q&A: DeKalb County Commission District 7

Carol Calvert (l) and Lisa Cottrell handle the voter registration table during a ‘Get out the Vote’ rally hosted by the Avondale Alliance for Racial Justice at the ArtLot in Avondale Estates on September 19, 2020. 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 7 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 

Editor’s note: A third candidate in this race, D. Marie Monroe, was sent a Q&A but did not respond. To see a map of Super District 7, click here.

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Gregory Adams

Candidate name: Gregory Adams

Candidate website: Facebook.com Gregoryadamsforcommissioner

What is your occupation? Minister (Bishop)

What neighborhood do you call home? Hiawatha Estates

Why are you running for this position? There has been a cry from the residents of DeKalb County who know me, know that I will work hard for the people to fulfill the needs and desires of the people. I want to serve, and it’s in my heart to make the county grow and flourish.

If elected, what are your top two or three priorities? If I am elected as Commissioner of District 7 my focus is and has always been public safety. I want to make sure that all of the citizen of DeKalb County feel safe to travel freely without fear of and level of criminal activities. By aggressive recruitment of men and women to serve a law enforcement agents. I want to make sure that our public safety personnel are adequately trained and paid a proper wage for their service to the county. The other focus, is to mental health, within the county, by collaborating with state officials and the local health departments and schools to see what we can to do together to assist our citizens in their needs of proper counseling.

How would you work to accomplish your priorities if elected? In order to accomplish my priority, the first thing will be getting the support of the community and us working together. Then I must establish a relationship with my fellow colleagues , because no man is an island and we need to the supports and assistance of other.

What do you think is DeKalb County’s greatest strength? The strength of DeKalb is its citizens and knowing that as we work together, we can get anything done. The second is the local media such as The Decaturish, who helps it citizens to be widely informed of what’s going on in their community.

What do you think is DeKalb County’s biggest weakness? To be honest it’s hard to pinpoint the exact weakness in the county. But I can say that with strong leadership and working together with the cities, and state legislators we can accomplish anything. And i’d be remississed, if I don’t include collaboration with the citizens of the county, who voices should mean more than anything to every elected officials.

How would you address DeKalb County’s biggest weakness? In order to address the weakness, one needs to pinpoint what are the weaknesses or issues that are plaguing the County. And when this is established, an aggressive attack on those issues will allow us to mitigate them and move forward and become a stronger.

What do you think the county’s spending priorities should be? When It comes to spending tax payers’ dollars, public safety is always on the forefront of my mind. The Police, the Sheriff, the Marshal, the Fire Department, the Solicitor and The DA Office needs to have the best trained and qualified individuals to provide the proper service to our community. Not to mention, funds should be allocated to the Health Department to help our citizens in all areas related to physical and mental assistance.

What would you do to promote housing affordability in DeKalb County? During the time that I serve as Commissioner, I wanted to make sure that developers that were building houses, made them affordable to our citizens by small tax incentives, so that they would not loose in their investments as build to provided decent, affordable and adequate living for our residents.

Do you support lowering residential property taxes to offset the costs of inflation and rising home values? The economy is turning around and the cost of living is going up. Due to Covid our economy suffered great loss and everyone has felt the pinch of it. So for me to honestly say that I support lowering property taxes will offset the cost of inflation. I can’t. So in respect to this question I wouldn’t recommend this action at this present time. This matter really needs to be review and discusses in detail with individuals that exam the state of the economy. And careful consideration should be made, by those who are more educated in this matter. However, I do know that, when prices are cut in one area, it’ll have to be made up in another area.

What is your opinion of DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond? Michael Thurmond is a great man, and has served the State of Georgia as Labor Commissioner, and as the DeKalb County School Superintendent. Now he reigns as the CEO of DeKalb County. His body of work in all areas allows me to say that he’s done a decent job and i’m pleased with it and him.

Do you think DeKalb County should consider changing its form of government? If so, what changes would you make? I am pleased with the current form of government that DeKalb County has, and I see no reason to change it.

What would you do to make DeKalb County safer while still holding police officers accountable for their actions? As a County Commissioner, we are responsible for making sure that the proper amount of funds are allocated to Public Safety. In today’s culture, public safety is on the forefront and one that the world is facing and crime is running rampaged. Some would think that more cameras in area could give a level of comfort, but that still won’t stop criminals. And we know that the recent level of brutality done by several police officers has given law enforcement agents a bad rap. But there are so many good officers and we have to acknowledge and appreciate their labor. At the same time punish those who abuse the badge. I also believe that those individuals that commit criminal acts should be punished to the fullest extent of the law, in order to send a message to those who consider doing the same thing.

What would you do to make permitting more responsive and efficient for businesses and residents? The problem of permitting for businesses and residents is not on them, but the complaint is the process within the counties permit office due to employee turnover. So I would play an intricate part in helping this process, by asking individuals and businesses that are experiencing such issues to reach out to my office.

What is the role of the county commission in coordinating development and infrastructure within DeKalb’s cities? The Commissioner does have control over the operation of municipalities. The cities that exist have their, Mayor’s and City Counsel and all the necessary employees to run their day by day operation. However, collaboration with the city officials as it relates to development can be had, but we can’t force their hands to do anything that they deem necessary for their city.

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? I have served as the County Commissioner for the very seat that I am seeking again. I was very open and transparent during my term. I treated my employees and others with respect and I adhered to county policy as it related to being ethical. I will continue to promote those values of ethics and transparency, not only that which is subscribed by the county. But also even the more, by that which is subscribed by God. When he said “what soever ye would that men do unto you, do even so unto them.

Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson. Photo provided to Decaturish

Candidate name: Lorraine Cochran-Johnson (Incumbent)

Candidate website: www.LorraineForChange.com

What is your occupation? DeKalb Super District 7 Commissioner

What neighborhood do you call home? Sandstone Estates Stonecrest

Why are you running for this position? I am running for District 7 Commissioner to complete the work I have begun. I look forward to seeing my Moratorium on the the issuance of building permits for dollar stores to a full Ordinance and seeing my 58-acre E.M.B.A.R.C. Youth Farm complete.

If elected, what are your top two or three priorities? As an elected official, I am concerned with many issues that are critical to the future of DeKalb. However, public safety, economic development, and infrastructure are my top three priorities. Public safety is not only critical for public trust – it is a critical component in economic development. Everyone deserves the right to live in a safe community. It is important to note, DeKalb has seen a decrease in crime overall, however we have experienced a rise in murders, homicides, battery and violent crimes making DeKalb have the highest rate of murders in Georgia. So, the CEO and Board of Commissioners has invested over $30 million in the recruitment of officers, pay increases and the latest technology to fight crime. In south and unincorporated DeKalb economic development lags-behind north DeKalb. It would take hours to unwrap all the factors that contribute to where we are – but aggressively recruiting businesses through Public-private partnerships, tax abatements and supporting entrepreneurship is key to changing the trajectory of south DeKalb. Lastly, during the past five years we have made tremendous gains in infrastructure by expanding, enlarging, and increasing our water capacity, which will have an enormous effect on development and ensures public health moving forward.

How would you work to accomplish your priorities if elected? Understanding the need to protect the health, welfare, and safety of DeKalb residents, I recently presented a Video Surveillance System (VSS) Ordinance to reduce crime. My legislation defines “high-risk” retail businesses as any business where a murder, aggravated assault, kidnapping, armed robbery, rape, or any felony possession or possession with intent to distribute controlled substances in violation of Georgia or federal law has occurred. The Ordinance requires all gas and service stations and high-risk retail businesses to have mandatory VSS in continuous operation twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week with a minimum resolution of 4MP. Understanding the importance of small businesses, I started the DeKalb Small Business Summit (DSBS). Annually the DSBS attracts 250-400 small business owner for a day of learning how to leverage Empowerment and Opportunity Zones, county resources, loan products, franchising and are taught how to scale and do business with DeKalb and more.

What do you think is DeKalb County’s greatest strength? DeKalb County’s greatest strength is our land capacity and ability to grow. Many metro counties similar to DeKalb do not have the land mass we possess, so our land capacity places us in a unique position to grow strategically. Our close proximity to the City of Atlanta has created unique opportunities for us, as residents shift from crowded metropolitan cities to suburbs like DeKalb, we see many of our communities transition and rise in income. The need for affordable housing and the changing dynamics of communities following the global pandemic is to be noted, as many within the workforce have traded their daily commute to work from home. Yet, although such transitions are a strength from an economic development perspective, we must temper such growth to avoid the ills of gentrification. Through proper planning and the DeKalb Unified Plan along with the engagement of professionals who focus on planned development we have the ability to positively transform many areas of DeKalb.

What do you think is DeKalb County’s biggest weakness? DeKalb’s biggest weakness is the limits placed upon us as a result of a lack of water and sewer capacity. For several decades, DeKalb has not had an ongoing Capital Improvement Plan. Consequently, we are under an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Consent Decree. A Consent Decree is a mandated order to take corrective action as it relates to our water infrastructure that has resulted from decades of neglect. In 2017 DeKalb began replacing, enlarging, and expanding our water and sewer capacity. As we increase water and sewer capacity, we are seeing a marked decrease in Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO). Also, as we increase water and sewer capacity, we increase our ability to issue building permits that require water-sewer hook-ups. Our hard work can be seen with the expansion of PepsiCo Beverages in Tucker, as they invest $260 million to expand its manufacturing facility. This expansion would not have been possible without the expansion of our current water system capacity.

How would you address DeKalb County’s biggest weakness? To overcome the weakness caused by the water and sewer capacity issues the county faces, DeKalb must meet the current Consent Decree and its deliverables. As the current Chair of Public Works and Infrastructure (PWI) I have been present during a critical time, to support securing EPA Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) and the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) loans. These loans will provide more than $265 Million to ensure all necessary work associated with the Consent Decree. GEFA and WIFIA loan rates are between 1.4% and 1.45%, making these loans lower than the rate of inflation and saving DeKalb residents $60.6 Million. Beyond the creation of static models, identifying and correcting Priority Sewer Assessment and Rehabilitation Program (PSARP) and Ongoing Priority Sewer Assessment and Rehabilitation Program (OPSARP), as Chair of PWI we passed an ongoing Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) in 2021 that will carry DeKalb into the future on solid ground.

What do you think the county’s spending priorities should be? Public safety, courts, senior programming, and quality of life – including parks and greenspace – should be top spending priorities for DeKalb. There is no way to overstate the importance of safe communities as they are the core of community pride and economic development. We must address our courts as they continue to face extreme backlogs following the global pandemic. Courts must have the ability to administer justice swiftly as a deterrent to criminal activity. So, increased budgets for court resources and personnel to avoid further backlogs is imperative, as some cases have a statute of limitation. As seniors age in place, we must expand senior services and ensure this often-vulnerable population has the resources they need while functioning on fixed incomes. As we discuss seniors, within the same vein, we must be committed to ensuring a high quality of life that includes securing green space, investments in parks, and the expansion of our trail and path system.

What would you do to promote housing affordability in DeKalb County? To promote housing affordability in DeKalb we must engage developers and builders through county incentives. Currently DeKalb, like many urban cities, is facing an affordable housing crisis. A recent study showed in 2020 and 2021 over 50% of all residential homes sold South of Memorial Drive was purchased by LLCs, investors and Wall Street. DeKalb has 4,700 affordable housing vouchers issued and a waiting list with 45,000 individuals seeking affordable housing. DeKalb cannot solve the housing crisis without construction partners. To this end, I recently held a Town Hall to enlist our local clergy and developers as partners that resulted in three active housing partners currently working through the process to build affordable housing. Also, as it relates to Community Development Black Grants (CDBG) and other federal funding, I believe we need critical conversations on changing requirements from a minimum 10% set-aside for affordable housing units to 50% or greater.

Do you support lowering residential property taxes to offset the costs of inflation and rising home values? I do not support lowering residential property taxes to offset the costs of inflation and rising home values, however I support a formula that considers the current housing market that would include a percentage cap on the increase in tax liability to ensure we do not overburden DeKalb residents due to a housing market controlled by a lack of inventory, supply chain inflation, and unscrupulous practices – as everyday people now compete with Wall Street and private investors who are disrupting the housing market eco system. Many individuals can no longer afford to pursue the American Dream. Moreover, many DeKalb residents could not afford to purchase a home in their existing communities if they were to sell their homes today. So, as elected officials we must watch market trends carefully and take action to ensure no resident faces hardship due to an unreasonable tax liability formula that does not consider market trends.

What is your opinion of DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond? Having had the ability to work alongside CEO Thurmond for the past three years, I have an enormous degree of respect for him. He came to DeKalb following a difficult time in our history. Prior to the presence of CEO Thurmond, DeKalb had been plagued with several years of leadership instability. Thurmond’s presence has given DeKalb much needed stability and our government is no longer viewed as unstable. Walking into DeKalb, he was immediately hit with the EPA Consent Decree and critical issues that could no longer be denied, so having seen him own the issues we face has given me a great deal of respect for him, as many difficult decisions were necessary to get us here today. So, his administration has not been Camelot. However, the work that has been done during his administration will allow our next CEO to take the baton and move DeKalb towards an era of unprecedented growth that I have coined the Renaissance.

Do you think DeKalb County should consider changing its form of government? If so, what changes would you make? I have no opinion on the form of government that leads DeKalb, my only care is that DeKalb have good, efficient government led by competent leaders. DeKalb County is the only CEO form of government in that State of Georgia out of 159 counties. Whether we have a CEO or Mayor is not what is important – results are what matters most. The ability of a leader to hire effective staff, demonstrate vision, master operations, and create a shared vision matters far more than titles. Elected officials should aspire to be like Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was a simple, inherently good man who once said, “Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.” So, under whatever form of government I function, I will continue to do my best, that I may be worthy of the esteem of those whom I have been trusted to represent.

What would you do to make DeKalb County safer while still holding police officers accountable for their actions? To make DeKalb safer and hold officers accountable we must ensure proper employment screening of peace officers. We must properly document disciplinary records and remove individuals with disturbing patterns of violence or improper conduct. Understanding the difficult job peace officers face, we must invest in sensitivity training, and de-escalation techniques, crisis management,. I have found in the most disturbing incidents of police behavior, the officer often has an established pattern of questionable behavior. In 2021 I presented legislation to the DeKalb Delegation to require all hiring agencies to follow the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) process when each peace officer is hired. Currently, when an officer is initially hired POST must be followed, however subsequent employment does not require an officer’s previous employment record to be researched, thus many questionable officers move from one job to another without his previous record being known.

What would you do to make permitting more responsive and efficient for businesses and residents? To make permitting more responsive and efficient for businesses and permitting, I would institute Service Level Agreements (SLAs) in Planning and Sustainability. Planning and Sustainability directly oversees both permitting and the issuance of business licenses. SLAs create established performance timelines for every step of the permitting and business license process. Through established guidelines, DeKalb would remove ambiguity and a lack of responsiveness to applicants. Also, SLAs increase consumer confidence. Permitting and businesses licenses are both very important processes. The people of DeKalb deserve efficient government, so in 2020 I proposed the adaptation of SLAs, however due to a variety of factors my request did not move forward at that time, however I look forward to the day DeKalb runs like the well-oiled machine I envision.

What is the role of the county commission in coordinating development and infrastructure within DeKalb’s cities? As a Super District Commissioner my role on the county commission in coordinating development and infrastructure within DeKalb’s cities is varied. As DeKalb County has thirteen cities each with their own charter, I work alongside our cities as needed to support their vision and provide support and resources. Also, I make our cities aware of efforts on the county level that could have a potential effect on their development. So, it is important I am aware of key projects within cities to support their vision. As it relates in particular to mass transit, this is a conversation that must be had among all cities, as we must be on one accord if we move forward a referendum to provide critical funds for the expansion of heavy rail, light rail, or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), because any tax dollars received would be disseminated on a pro-rata basis.

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? As the super District 7 Commissioner I promise to continue operating in an ethical and transparent manner. I work hard to do the right thing and as an elected official, one must always be careful to ensure they do not cross improper lines – as often there is a thin line between what is appropriate for a layperson and an elected official. I believe firmly in the right of the people to have easy access to information through the Georgia Open Records Act. So, often I send along information without creating layers of bureaucracy for constituents, as I believe all residents should have access to government records with the least amount of difficulty.

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