Job Application: Atlanta City Council - District 4
QUALIFIED TO GOVERN
Q: What do you think is the most important role of the City Council?
A: The most important role is to grow and build our city in innovative and sustainable ways, bringing together the ideas and resources of residents, nonprofits, and businesses. It requires a high level of engagement around issues specific to our communities and an understanding of the value of diverse voices in creating a clear path toward that vision. It also requires balancing the role of listening to constituents while serving as a guide to encourage new thinking around growth for a whole city.
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: Leading my neighborhood of Candler Park through our first Master Plan was a huge accomplishment for me. When I started volunteering with the Candler Park Neighborhood Organization, we were very disconnected from the city and focused on the annual neighborhood festival and approving variances. In 2012, we had a lot of complaints about an intersection in the neighborhood where multiple accidents occurred. When the CPNO president and I met with residents about the problem, I encouraged them to think about the bigger picture of how we move around the neighborhood rather than just fixing a single intersection. This led to a significant community engagement process with residents and small businesses as well as contracted work with urban planner Aaron Fortner. Our neighborhood came together to talk about green space, supporting local businesses, safety concerns, transit options, and more for the first time. In December 2013, the City of Atlanta adopted Candler Park’s first ever Master Plan.
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: Small businesses. We actively sought out diverse perspectives, particularly from those who don’t traditionally attend neighborhood meetings. I learned more about successful outreach methods as well as stronger listening skills. (2012-2013) Moreland Corridor Task Force – This task force is made up of neighborhood, small business, ARC, and GDOT representatives focused on improving Moreland Avenue. This work has helped me strengthen my skills in consensus-building and collaboration by understanding the unique needs of each party and how to turn that into a “win” for all involved. (2015–present) NPU Representative – I have served as the Candler Park’s NPU representative for several years. Through this leadership role, I have gained significant insight into the city’s planning and community engagement approaches. I have also learned how disconnected residents feel from this process. (2007–2016)
Q: What does it mean to be an Atlantan/ATLien in 140 characters or less?
A: It means thick southern air, neighborhood pride, a history of civil rights, music that’s all our own, and saying hi to everyone you pass.
Q: What is a new slogan for our city that could unite Atlantans and highlight who we are as a people?
A: “Atlanta loves you.” I know that both Maria Saporta and Monica Campana have also talked about this as a possibility, so if it needs to be completely original, I would say “Make Yours.” Either tagline has the same concept in mind – Atlanta welcomes all with open arms. We are an inclusive city as evidenced by our role in civil rights and human rights as well as in the diversity of our residents. This is a city where you can find your own unique niche and make it your own.
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: As evidenced by the sale of Underground Atlanta, Turner Field, Fort McPherson and Civic Center, the city’s community engagement process is broken. Whether community input is gathered through Community Benefits Agreements or through NPU/neighborhood leadership, the end result must be the same – our communities MUST have a role. We have an excellent Planning Commissioner as well as the new City Design Project. We need to be use the Project as a guide along with expertise of city planners to share knowledge about urban design principles as well as to listen to community input. It needs to be a two-way conversation. Our city will double in population in the next 20 years. This can be incredibly exciting if we do it well. But many residents (particularly longstanding ones) are fearful of that growth. We need to hear their concerns and communicate in such a way that residents begin to understand that how a more urban environment is an improvement to quality of life, not a negative.
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: One of my key priorities is to completely revitalize the NPU system. The fact that we have a neighborhood liaison system to connect to city government is unique to Atlanta and is also typically seen as a model for other cities. However, the NPU system hasn’t been updated since it was created in 1974, and many neighborhood and NPU representatives feel that their voices aren’t being heard. We need to pull together our multiple methods of community engagement (NPU system, APAB, the Community Leadership Institute, the City’s Technical Advisory Committees, and other civic engagement programs of groups like the Community Foundation’s Neighborhood Fund and CCI) to create a single robust model of civic engagement that operates like a two-way conversation. Residents’ concerns and questions about issues need to be heard, and City of Atlanta leadership needs to provide expert guidance on key issues like affordable housing, homelessness, transportation, green space, the arts, zoning, and more.
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: Working at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and in the nonprofit sector in general requires a significant ability to collaborate. Unlike the for-profit world, there are no traditional “winners” in making a deal. It’s about bringing together a diverse set of stakeholders to come up with a solution that can appeal across a broad group. That requires give and take from all parties. Also as a neighborhood leader and NPU representative, I’ve frequently had to collaborate with individuals who have differing viewpoints. I’m often on the side of most urbanists’ way of thinking about city building, but many of our residents either oppose this or haven't been exposed to it. Whether it’s about public art, preservation, development, bike lanes, public transit or more, I’ve often adopted the role of a guide trying to help many longstanding residents understand the value of these changes. That is a role I believe City of Atlanta needs to play as we undergo significant growth and change.
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: Atlanta is facing new challenges addressing individuals experiencing homelessness in our city. This issue isn’t new, but with the closing of the Metro Atlanta Task Force (Peachtree and Pine) we must be innovative and collaborative in our approach. As a nonprofit consultant, I’ve worked with several groups focused on homelessness including Partners for HOME, Crossroads Community Ministries, and HOPE Atlanta. Tackling homelessness in a comprehensive way requires a coordinated effort between the city and Fulton and DeKalb Counties as well as public and private partnerships. After the falling apart of the Tri-Jurisdictional Collaborative, Partners for HOME has taken the role of convener in a way that is bringing organizations and funders back to the table. I support working with Partners for HOME to create a network of small, low-barrier shelters throughout our neighborhoods. I will also work directly with MARTA so their transit-oriented developments include permanent supportive housing.
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 citizens of Atlanta should expect the highest level possible of openness and transparency from their city government. Again, my experience working in the nonprofit sector has required a high level of auditing and reporting since we work with public funds. City Council representatives are public servants working with public funds – every dollar and investment should be accounted for. In addition, the City of Atlanta needs to make significant improvements to its community engagement and communication approaches. We need to make it easier for residents to access city government so it’s not such a laborious undertaking to find out what is happening and why.
Q: Please describe any policies, programs, or ideas you are considering to increase the transparency of city government, particularly in your office.
A: I support using a cloud-based financial and performance management tool such as OpenGov.com. We need to strengthen the capacity of our auditors to make sure we are working as efficiently and effectively as possible, and we must share those learnings and investments online in a way that is clear and transparent. This could help us streamline our budget process, gain greater insights for future planning, and more effectively communicate impact with our citizens and businesses. This is how we truly test our own resiliency as a city. I also support updating the communications efforts of all departments of City of Atlanta government. We’ve seen some small improvements in signage through the Department of City Planning, but that has only been done with one department. We need communications to be consistent across the board – not just in one area.