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Tucker Councilmember Virginia Rece debates challenger Karen Berry during District 1, Post 2 forum

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Tucker Councilmember Virginia Rece debates challenger Karen Berry during District 1, Post 2 forum

Tucker City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Tucker, GA — Incumbent Virginia Rece is being challenged by Karen Berry for the District 1 Post 2 seat on the Tucker city council. 

Both candidates recently attended a forum held by Decaturish.

In her introductory statement, Virginia Rece said that she was elected in 2021 to finish Bill Rosenfeld’s term after he passed away unexpectedly. She said that she ran on quality economic growth, community safety with community input, and rebuilding infrastructure. 

Rece pointed out that the city has built the first segment of its greenway, added sidewalks and lights all over the city, and improved its parks including Lord Park. 

“There’s a lot more work to do and that’s why I’m really excited to be running for re-election,” Rece said. 

Karen Berry said that she has lived in Tucker for seven years, has a real estate license, and would like to focus on the development of small businesses. Berry sees running for office as an extension of her interest in the community.

“I’ve always said that if you want to get involved, you should get involved,” Berry said.

Candidates were asked if they feel that diversity and inclusion are important in local government, and what they will do to promote diversity and inclusion if elected.

Berry said that everyone should be included.

“I think diversity is one of the things that makes Tucker so incredible,” Berry said. 

Berry added that she feels people should focus on what unites them rather than what divides them, and try to get to know each other on an individual basis.

Rece said that everyone wants to feel welcomed, represented, and included in their community.

“As you pointed out, I’m excited that in District 2 we will make history because we will have a person of color elected to Tucker City Council and I think that’s a wonderful thing,” Rece said.

Rece said that the diversity of Tucker’s community is a strength and that she goes out of her way to make sure that people feel included.

“Every voice matters to me,” Rece said.

In light of the recent announcement that City Manager Tami Hanlin will be retiring, the next city council will choose her replacement. Candidates were asked what qualities they would look for in a city manager.

Rece said she is sad to see Hanlin leave, and that she has done a great deal to get Tucker off the ground as a city and has been supportive of the city council in their work.

Rece said that hiring a new city manager is an opportunity to look at where Tucker is going next and that she wants to find someone with an extensive background in municipal management, who is task-oriented, has integrity, and is an inspirational team leader.

Berry agreed that Hanlin has done a good job as city manager, and said that in addition to the other skills mentioned, a city manager must be able to balance input from city council members, the mayor, and the public.

Berry said that a city manager has to be willing to tell people the difference between what they want and what is possible. 

“They have to be strong, and willing to say ‘Wait, this is reality,’” Berry said.

Each candidate was asked their opinion about the city’s non-discrimination ordinance and the process of adopting it.

Berry said that she was not there for the process, but that she feels such regulations are more of a state and federal issue rather than a city responsibility. However, now that the ordinance has passed, she added that the city will follow it.

Rece, who voted for the ordinance, said that she was on the committee that drafted the ordinance along with Mayor Pro Tem Anne Lerner and council member Cara Schroeder. Rece said that the committee conducted a year-and-a-half-long process, looking at potential drafts and comparable existing ordinances, holding multiple community discussions and seeking feedback from faith leaders, business people, and other members of the community.

“I feel grateful and proud of the process…I think it’s an example of what we should do on council when we look at something,” Rece said.

Candidates were asked what skills from their regular job they thought were useful for a city council member.

Rece said that she works in the hospitality and special event industries, which require a lot of planning, collaboration, and problem-solving. She added that the hospitality industry requires a focus on customer service.

“I used to work at the Ritz Carlton. It taught me a lot of patience, collaboration, and working with the community,” Rece said. 

Berry said that real estate requires a lot of negotiation and empathy.  Berry added that she used to work as a juvenile probation officer, which taught her to listen to families who were often in crisis.

Candidates were asked how they felt about Tucker’s term limits and if they would seek to change them.

Berry said that she agrees with term limits.  

Rece said that it offers an opportunity for people to jump in but there is also value in experience and the learning process of being on council. However, Rece added, that she has no intention of going through the process of trying to change Tucker’s term limits.

In response to a question on how to improve pedestrian safety, Rece said that she was focused on that issue from the beginning. 

Rece said that both the new sidewalks and the first segment of walking trails are examples of safety improvements that have already been made, and more are in process.

Rece said that evidence supports the value of barriers between traffic and pedestrians and cyclists.

Berry said that she supports what has already been done and would also focus on the maintenance and lighting of sidewalks once they are built.

In response to a question about how candidates would make themselves accessible and keep constituents informed if elected, Berry said that she has a Facebook page and would make her email address and phone number available, as well as going out into the community to meet people.

Rece said that she has a newsletter and is very involved on social media, including making several posts a week to keep people informed. She said that she attends public meetings and events and asks people about their thoughts. She added that she holds events with other council members such as “Cocktails with Council” and plans to hold more.

Candidates were asked if they thought the city was fair about how it spends money on parks and recreation, and if not what they would do about it.

Rece said that every proposed project includes a public engagement process that incorporates at least two public hearings and solicitation of feedback to be incorporated into the plan. She said that there has been a lot of focus on Henderson Park and Fitzgerald Field which are both very big projects that are important to the city. 

“The dams at Henderson Park are in very bad shape and we really need to do something,” Rece said. 

Rece added that Fitzgerald Field is another high-dollar project that will add value and bring economic growth because it will be a state-of-the-art sports center. She said that while those projects are not in her district, Lord Park, Peters Park, and Rosenfeld Park are not being neglected. Improvements in programming and some needed repairs are being made in those parks.

Berry said that the process seems fair for now but that it would be important to monitor it going forward.

Candidates were asked how the city can reduce its carbon footprint. Berry said that she did not have an answer to that question and would need to do more research.

Rece said that she has advocated that electric vehicle charging stations be included as part of the Tucker Town Green project. She also said that protecting the city’s existing green space and trees is important, along with sidewalks and trails that encourage people to walk short distances or ride their bicycles rather than drive.

Rece said that she would like to pursue a bus rapid transit hub along 78 and a shuttle that would make it easier for people to commute into Tucker via mass transit.

Candidates were asked if the city should continue to outsource work to private contractors, or turn more of it over to city employees.

Rece said that she feels that the city has approached the process in a fiscally responsible way and has been able to consult with professionals while hiring employees as needed. Rece added that this approach has allowed the city to get things done without having to invest millions upfront on land and equipment.

Berry said that she agrees with the city’s current approach and that the city should do what brings the most bang for the buck.

Candidates were asked how they would work with other council members to manage Tucker’s growth while preserving its character. 

Berry said that she would communicate with other council members and staff to bring her constituents’ concerns to them and figure out what is best for Tucker.

Rece said that she thinks that the council has managed to balance those things in a thoughtful way while bringing the public along. As an example, she said that every time the city discusses the proposed Lawrenceville Highway special district, tweaks are made based on public feedback.

Rece added that a careful planning process that includes both public feedback and the city’s planning and economic development director will help to balance competing concerns.

“We do need to grow, we need housing…we need to figure out ways to do that. I know that our citizens are really attached to the charm of Tucker and the small-town feel, so we need to figure out ways to preserve that,” Rece said.  

Candidates were asked how the city should work with DeKalb County to improve education for the city’s residents.

Rece said that it was important to recognize that the DeKalb County School District is its own agency and that the city’s role is supportive. Rece said that she meets regularly with Board of Education member Allyson Gevertz and promotes events like Walk to School Day.

Rece said that she recognizes the importance of education in the health of the community.

“Without question, our children are our future,” Rece said.

Berry echoed what Rece said, in that the city’s role is as support. 

Both candidates were asked if they support inclusionary zoning that would require new multi-family projects to set aside a percentage of units as affordable housing.

Berry said that she supports it in principle as long as it is considered in the context of Tucker’s overall development plans and will actually meet needs.

Rece said that she supports mixed-use developments and multiple housing options. 

“We’re maxed out on senior housing,” Rece said, adding that the city needs cottages and townhouses to meet a variety of housing needs.

Candidates were asked how Tucker can do more to support seniors who live in Tucker.

Rece said that the city’s parks and recreation department has existing programming and events, but that the city could do more. Rece said that both making senior housing more available and quality economic development will help.  Rece added that walkable neighborhoods are good for seniors who may not want to drive.

Berry said that her neighbors have requested programming that is closer to where they live, so they won’t have to drive to it, especially in the evenings.

In her closing statement, Berry said that she appreciates the community’s willingness to hear what she has to say and will do her best as a council member.

Rece said that Tucker has made a lot of progress but there’s still more to do, and that her vision for her community is to create a place where people can thrive and live long happy lives. Rece said she wants people to be able to find housing options in Tucker that fit where they are in their lives.

Rece said that her specific goals include continuing to work on the Lawrenceville Highway special district, getting a transportation hub at Mountain Industrial and 78, making sure people have a variety of affordable housing options, preserving the city’s green spaces, and continuing to develop the city’s walking trails and parks. 

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