Job Application: Atlanta City Council - District 2
QUALIFIED TO GOVERN
Q: What do you think is the most important role of the City Council?
A: The most important role of Council is to actually legislate for the progress of the City. Often, City Council falls back into the safe space of constituent services. While this is important , City Council can and should play a bigger role in solving problems for the City. This includes working closely with the Mayor to make both small adjustments and transformative changes. The second most important role is to be a thorough check on the executive branch of City Hall, including departments.
Q: Please describe, in sufficient detail, one professional accomplishment or contribution of which you are most proud. These examples should illustrate skills and capabilities you think apply to governing the City of Atlanta.
A: I am most proud of founding and building GeorgiaForward into a sustainable organization with a profound impact. Born from the frustration that Georgia is a fragmented state with little cross-sector, cross region collaboration, GeorgiaForward convenes diverse stakeholders to chart a meaningful vision for Georgia’s future. Among the most rewarding efforts was launching the Young Gamechangers program which brings together 20-40 year old professionals to work in and with a Georgia community to wrestle with its long-standing challenges. Over six programs in six cities, the results have been remarkable: projects implemented, cities rallying around new energy and ideas, and hundreds of young professionals who see their state in a new light. I list this example because to be an effective City Councilmember requires more than advocacy or bold statements. It requires the ability to navigate multiple interests, reduce resistance and build trust among stakeholders, and, then, act.
Q: Please list or describe no more than 3 current and past activities you participated in as a private citizen (not an elected official) in which you have acquired skills and perspectives that will make you a stronger mayor. Include your role in the activity and the year(s) in which you were involved.
A: 1. Working as Board Member of Atlanta Bicycle Coalition (2010-2013) to help launch Atlanta Streets Alive! in 2010. In my role on the Board, I provided strategic guidance, connections to elected officials, and some sweat equity to help staff the early events. 2. Serving as a Board member of the Drew Charter School in East Lake from 2007-present. Drew has served as a catalyst for the revitalization of the East Lake community while still remaining committed to serving low-income residents and providing a path, from cradle to college, for socioeconomic mobility. 3. Co-authoring the first Georgia Civic Health index. When I served as Executive Director of GeorgiaForward, I managed two institutional partners and three funding partners to create and develop a unique Georgia Civic Health Index to measure our state’s level of civic engagement and where we can improve.
Q: What does it mean to be an Atlantan/ATLien in 140 characters or less?
A: To be polite but visionary. To feel the bump of the bass and the sun on your face. To believe in progress and a place for all.
Q: What is a new slogan for our city that could unite Atlantans and highlight who we are as a people?
A: In the hopes of avoiding the disappointing tendency of the City to manufacture slogans, I’ll go with: “Rise, for all.”
DEMONSTRATES PEOPLE-CENTERED APPROACHES
Q: The City of Atlanta currently owns several hundred surplus properties that could be redeveloped. In deciding what to do with these properties, what is the role of community input and when should it take place?
A: Any time (a) public property or (b) private development over $75 million receives any form of public assistance, I believe there should be a mandatory Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) through the following City-supported process: • Step 1: The affected community nominates 10 people to serve on a CBA committee for a project; • Step 2: The City narrows the list to 7; • Step 3: The community’s committee of 7 sets out requests of the developer (or City is the City is the developer); these can could include, for example, community job requests to funds for nearby streetscape or park improvements; • Step 4: The developer responds to what it can or is willing to do; • Step 5: The City, through a small, independent CBA review committee comprised of a panel representing various interests/expertise, reviews and determines which of the requests will be set in the CBA. For vacant public land, community needs (from housing to retail to green space) must be considered fully.
Q: The NPU system was envisioned as a place for communities to engage with development in their neighborhoods. How would your administration support the existing NPU system or seek to change it?
A: 1. We need to give the NPU process more teeth: NPU decisions should be given greater weight by City bodies that make final determinations. This can take the form of requiring city bodies that make final determination to have clear public interest in overruling NPU wishes. Separately, impact fees for developments need to get spent largely in the community in which a development occurs. 2. We need to bring more voices into community input: younger residents, renters, immigrants, low-income residents, people who cannot make monthly meetings, etc. NPUs are often attended and governed by a small subset of residents. To expand the diversity of voices that influence City policymaking, we need to use telephone town halls, community engagement officials that meet people where they are (festivals, community centers, ESL classes, etc.), direct mail comment cards seeking resident input, online surveys instead of public comment cards; and Skype calls instead of evening meetings.
PROACTIVE & RELENTLESS RELATIONSHIP-BUILDER
Q: Give an example of a time when you had to collaborate with many people and/or organizations, especially those who may not hold the same views as you do.
A: In 2012, I traveled to Americus to meet with local leaders about launching a program in their city that would bring young professionals from around Georgia to help solve longstanding challenges in Americus. Around the table was a bank president, hospital CEO, technical college president, economic development and city officials, and a non-profit leader. Each of them was skeptical of the idea and had different motivations and wants in their city. Ultimately, those in the room took a leap of faith and welcomed the program but not before we had to craft a program agenda that respected the work done to date in the city and took into account longstanding divisions in the community. Throughout the program, as we moved toward proposing solutions to the challenges, we had to be mindful that to get buy-in from disparate parties, ideas had to be pragmatic and account for community history and politics. In the end, several project proposals for their downtown were embraced and implemented.
Q: Think of one major Atlanta issue impacting the district you seek to serve and that needs to be tackled with a collaborative approach, how would you build relationships across the city and region with other governments, private enterprises, or organizations to effect change in our city?
A: Navigating disparate stakeholders requires building trust and lowering resistance among many parties...toward a solution that works for many. To do so requires listening to understand everyone’s interests before moving toward common goals. Affordable housing is the most difficult and complex issue that will require building relationships across developers, neighborhoods, non-profits, philanthropy, government agencies, and more. I have many of these relationships today and have experience convening disparate groups around issues. Yet, this approach must be summoned across the City, not just in District 2, because this is a citywide issue that requires more than ad hoc responses. To this end, I’d like to see a diverse set of stakeholders lead an affordable housing planning group, blending best practices and where Atlanta is today and what it needs for the future, to make policy recommendations to the City (see, e.g., Miami).
STRONG INTEREST IN TRANSPARENCY
Q: What level of openness and transparency should the citizens of Atlanta expect from city government under your leadership?
A: The next Mayor will drive the level of openness and transparency at the City. As a City Councilmember, I will, however, call for: • City departments to publish monthly their expenditures in an easy-to-understand format/graph as well as make available data that the public can use to improve city services or the city experience. • Telephone and Skype town halls so that more residents can ask questions and learn about city developments. • Independent third-party approval of procurement decisions in emergency situations. • Strengthening conflict of interest provisions to require disclosure of assets, previous employment & paid positions outside the public service for procurement employees. • Increasing transparency of the procurement process by making all bids, bidder background, and decision criteria publicly available in an easy-to-use online portal; and invite civil society groups to monitor the process. • Engage the Sunlight Foundation to improve our procurement policy.
Q: Please describe any policies, programs, or ideas you are considering to increase the transparency of city government, particularly in your office.
A: See my responses to the previous question, above. Moreover, in my office, each month, I will publish (1) where my City Council budget has been spent; and (2) how I have spent my time while working on Council business. This will be done on a user-friendly interface and made available via social media platforms. A counterpart to transparency is access. I will endeavor to broaden the scope of residents who have access to me and my office by holding listening sessions in places where city government doesn’t always go but where people are: apartment complexes, playing fields, neighborhood groceries, etc. as well as telephone townhalls and bilingual community engagement.