CL last month asked Atlanta City Council candidates to fill out a questionnaire related to the 2013 municipal election. We asked each individual about his or her opinions regarding public safety, the Falcons stadium, the Atlanta Beltline, homelessness, ethics, and other key issues. Many responded and some didn't. We've compiled all the answers we received to give readers a deeper look at the candidates' views. Note: These responses are unedited and directly what respondents sent our way.
Name: Natalyn Mosby Archibong
Occupation: Elected Official, Attorney at Law
Neighborhood: Council District 5
Name: Christian Enterkin
Occupation: Vice President of Acquistions/Landmark Dividend
Hometown: Fayetteville, GA
Name: John Paul Michalik Age: 37 Occupation: Designer Neighborhood: District 5 Hometown: Atlanta, GA Website: www.growatlanta.org
Name: Matt Rinker
Occupation: Property Management / Real Estate
Neighborhood: East Atlanta
Hometown: Fredericksburg, VA
What is the most pressing issue facing your district? If elected (or re-elected), how would you try and address it?
Archibong: Over the past 12 years, the residential and commercial population of District 5 has increased tremendously. As a result of such positive growth, technological advances, and the emergence of criminal enterprises, crime is the most pressing issue. Because of the overwhelming volume of complaints I received when I took office in 2001, I created the position of Public Safety Liaison to communicate directly with constituents, business owners, and neighborhood public safety representatives. I also created the Joint Public Safety Jurisdictional Team consisting of APD – Zone 6, Dekalb Police – South Precinct, and the City of Decatur Police to ensure that the various police forces are communicating with each other about crimes that happening by the same criminals across boundaries. I have continued to work with the Code Enforcement Unit to expedite securing and/or demolishing these hazardous structures. In fact, I was the first councilmember to actively participate in the Graffiti Task Force. Finally, I am currently working with APD to have cameras installed throughout District 5 as a part of Operation Shield. The first neighborhood to receive the cameras is East Atlanta, which has a very high volume of pedestrian traffic.
Enterkin: The most pressing issue facing district 5 is crime. Unfortunately, we recently had the 7th homicide take place along the East Atlanta Corridor this year alone. Also, we have experienced a spike in larcenies, home invasions. This has left many district 5 residents feeling unsafe. Once elected, I plan to work with the Police Chief to implement a 'Beat Walk' Program, where officers walk the neighborhoods – interacting with residents and businesses, personally introducing themselves so we can know our beat officers by name and they know ours.
Michalik: Public safety is the most pressing issue facing District 5 and the entire city. If elected, I would encourage a dialogue between the public, police, court and correctional systems. Communication is the first step towards coming up with realistic solutions to creating a fair criminal justice system.
Rinker: The most pressing issue that has continued to plague East Atlanta, Kirkwood, Reynoldstown, and the rest of District Five is crime. Our police force is doing all they can to help stop crime and apprehend the criminals that have preyed on our neighborhoods. Unfortunately, our streets are no safer for Councilwoman Archibong's twelve years representing us. This year alone we have had several high profile murders, armed robberies, and countless home invasions. It hinders our ability to revitalize our neighborhoods, bring new businesses to our storefronts, or make our children feel safer playing outside.
It starts with having an accountable, effective representative every day – not just in election years. I would create neighborhood committees to monitor street lights because far too many of our lights are burned out in our District. In addition, I will work with APD leadership to develop an incentive plan for officers that live in the precincts and zones they patrol. Having more officers call our neighborhoods their home will help deter crime and bring a more familiar relationship for our officers. Lastly, I will work with each neighborhood association to strengthen their individual patrol groups and help enhance our Community programs.
Most important though, I will be there. I won't leave my duties as your Councilman to my aides. When you need an answer, I will be there. It won't take 12 years for me to start working for you – that will happen on day one!
Mayor Kasim Reed has claimed that the crime rate in Atlanta is the lowest it's been in 50 years. But in many parts of the city, the perception of crime remains up. How would you address public safety in your district? What actions would you take as a councilmember to improve conditions?
Archibong: I have a well proven record of working towards the reduction of crime in Council District 5. For example, since most citizens use cell phones, the number of complaints about calls to 911 has increased. As a result of these complaints, I created the 911 Task Force consisting of representatives from APD, Dekalb PD, Decatur PD, Grady EMS, Dekalb EMS, and the presidents of each District 5 neighborhood in Atlanta-in-Dekalb. During my 2nd term I passed legislation that established drug free commercial zones encompassing East Atlanta, North Ormewood, Edgewood and Reynoldstown. This is another tool that prosecutors use in the fight to rid communities of illegal narcotics. I also sponsor an annual Focus on Seniors Seminar. As a part of that initiative, seniors learn about Elder Abuse, Fraud Protection, and Personal Safety. I look forward to continuing to work with the Fulton and Dekalb State Representatives concerning House Bill 242. This law is a great concern to District 5 constituents and me because it allows juveniles to avoid incarceration for several convictions of property crimes such as burglary, larceny, and auto thefts.
Enterkin: I know that when you are a victim of crime, you do not care about statistics. The reality is that crime today is much more brazen. We have youth that commit a horrendous amount of larcenies and robberies – especially during summer break. My office will partner with the Atlanta Public School system and the Fulton County/DeKalb County Juvenile Justice Center to identify at-risk youth and provide them with summer jobs and other opportunities, where they can contribute and be productive in the community instead of wreaking havoc.
Michalik: I don't know about you, but for me, massaging crime numbers doesn't make me the least bit relaxed. As previously stated, communication is the first step to addressing Atlanta's crime issue. It is imperative that we communicate with the real numbers, not watered down ones.
Rinker: Debate can be held on the actual numbers and whether crime is up or down, but at the end of the day if our neighbors don't feel safe walking down their street to their favorite restaurant or business, then crime is an issue. Our District, despite the rest of the city's numbers crime decreasing, has seen a dramatic and disturbing uptick in crime – from murder to larceny and everything in between. Ms. Archibong said in an interview with The GA Voice that, "Public Safety is something we do well." I disagree with that assertion.
When our neighbors are being robbed with AK-47s, our homes are being invaded, and businesses are robbed, then public safety is not something we are doing well. Drive down any street in Cabbagetown, East Lake, or Edgewood and street light after street light is burned out. Go through any neighborhood in Kirkwood, Reynoldstown or down Moreland Avenue, and abandoned homes are not being kept up to code. Public safety is not something that is doing well – it is quite the opposite.
Once elected, I will make sure that our street lights are shining bright by working with and keeping on the Department of Public Works and Georgia Power to replace and repair lighting. I will work with and hold accountable the Office of Buildings at DPW to make sure that codes are being enforced and when necessary abandoned homes are remediated. We must work with the leadership of our police force to make sure that we not only are recruiting the best, but retaining the best. A workforce of 2000 officers is a great acheivement, but officers need to patrol the same beats on a long term basis, and when possible live in that beat, to help foster strong cooperative relationships.
If you're an incumbent and you voted for the proposed Falcons stadium, why did you do so? If you're a challenger, how would you have voted and why?
Archibong: Tourism is one of the major export industries of downtown Atlanta. Arguably, the Georgia Dome is one of downtown's main attractions. The question before the council was whether we should use the existing Hotel-Motel tax, as it was intended, to make the Dome better. In voting for a new stadium, I was also voting to expand the capacity of our tourism industry. In addition, I was voting to ensure that the City continues to receive its proportional share of this tax. According to the CFO, Jim Beard, the existing stadium debt could be paid in full as early as 2015. If the existing debt on the current stadium was paid-off without building a successor stadium, the Hotel-Motel authorization would cease to exist. On an annual basis, the City receives in excess of 10 million dollars annually from the Hotel-Motel tax.
Enterkin: As I travel Atlanta, it's very clear that they're many pressing issues facing our great city. While I wouldn't have put building a new stadium as my top priority, I hope that the new construction will bring much-needed jobs to our city, and may help us promote the city globally for revenue-generating conventions, Super Bowls, and potentially another Olympics. Since the agreement has already passed, only time will tell what it will truly produce.
Michalik: I would have voted against the new stadium. It's is time Atlanta takes a fresh look on how we conduct business. "Pay to play" never works. A level playing field will always encourage more growth. People need to trust the government. Right now that's far from happening. Why are they forcing a new stadium down our throat? $300 million was just spent remodeling the Dome a few years ago. If officials could only learn to communicate the real motives behind their decision$. To add insult to injury, most fans won't be able to afford to get in, unless of course we're selling peanuts.
Rinker: Like many citizens, I held concerns about the new Falcons stadium and continue to wonder why the issue was rushed to make a decision. I want our city to have world-class attractions, but we must also make sure that we're taking the time to properly vet the issue. If I were on Council at the time of that vote, I would have voted No in order to give the proposal more time for public comment, more information to be delivered, and for more concrete planning to have been conducted.
Ms. Archibong's vote in favor of the stadium is in stark contrast to her vote against the Atlanta Beltline. The councilwoman has said that she voted against the Beltline because it didn't benefit residents of Atlanta-in-Dekalb enough, yet the new stadium has no direct benefit for our District and she had no problem supporting it. The only benefit that a resident of District Five had from her stadium vote is Ms. Archibong herself, who received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from big business and contractors after this vote.
Last year, metro Atlanta voters rejected the T-SPLOST, which would have raised billions of dollars in funding for large-scale transportation projects throughout the region and smaller projects inside the city limits. Mobility remains an issue in Atlanta. What ideas do you have for improving transportation?
Archibong: MARTA is the workhorse of our local transportation system. If people had given up on it after one loss at the polls, our current mobility issues would be much worse. As a result, we will need to continue to work as a region to address our transportation issues because ultimately it will be a regional solution that solves them. At the community level, we should all look at the Beltline Trail, the downtown streetcar, and the 10th street cycle track as the future of transportation in Atlanta. On any given day, the Beltline Trail is packed with neighbors. Its immediate and overwhelming success shows how much pent-up demand there is for infrastructure like this. Expanding our network of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is a top priority for the city going forward. It is not just a transportation solution, but a magnet for new residents and new urban development. The amazing thing about Atlanta is its ability to recreate itself. We have the ability to turn our transportation challenges into one of our greatest strengths. It's the Atlanta way.
Enterkin: We still do not receive adequate funding from the state or federal government for MARTA. Metro Atlanta has an existing transportation authority that does not seem to be a part of the discussion when it comes to fixing our transportation issues. I propose increased funding from state and federal government to enhance MARTA's capabilities and improve its reputation. In addition, I support the Beltline and would like to see it expanded throughout every community in Atlanta.
Michalik: For starters I like the idea of making the streets safe enough to walk on. More people on the sidewalks means less cars on the roads. With the added health benefits of walking there would be presumably be less trips to the hospital (again, less traffic). Thirdly the need for a 200 million dollar streetcar and its estimated $2million annual operating loss would be eliminated, enabling local and federal funding to be steered towards the more viable solutions, like the running, biking and walking trails of the Beltline plan.
Rinker: The T-SPLOST failed because people don't have trust that our elected officials will use money properly. We see it too often that projects that are promised to us to come from the use of bonds gets cast aside and funds are diverted to other projects. Our transportation is a consistent setback for our city as we try and recruit major employers to move to Atlanta. We must push forward with projects that will get people out of their cars and using alternative methods of transportation. We must create more bike lanes, improve our sidewalks, and make getting to MARTA stations and bus stops easy. We must continue on plans for the Beltline and make the rail component of that project a reality. We should continue to make reducing dependency on our interstates a constant goal.
Homelessness in Atlanta remains a pressing problem. However, the city's charter limits what it can do to fight the issue. What realistic options does the city have when it comes to tackling homelessness?
Archibong: There is great hope for the success of Mayor Reed's Unsheltered No More homelessness initiative. Unsheltered No More has established a goal of finding permanent housing for 800 chronically homeless individuals by December of 2013. Today, over 700 individuals have received permanent housing, case management and other supportive services. Unsheltered No More utilizes partnerships of government, corporate and non-profit organizations, to address homelessness – particularly among veterans.
Enterkin: The city can partner with shelters and (other agencies) that assist those who have fallen on misfortune and/or those with mental health issues. I believe there's a compassionate way to assist individuals who may not be able to help themselves.
Michalik: The only option is to stop making generalizations about people. Let's treat people like people with responsible outreach programs. Homeless or not, we all have a complex story of how and why we are in Atlanta. City officials should treat everyone with courtesy and respect. We need to remind ourselves that we are all neighbors and working together will make us thrive.
Rinker: The city is limited on what it can do to fight homelessness but that doesn't mean that we should not continue to work to help those who are in need. Public / Private partnerships should be strengthened to help provide those wanting help the avenues to get it and to improve their life. We need a comprehensive assessment of the true number of homeless people that are on our streets. Until we know the full scope of the issue, we can't come up with reasonable ways to solve the problem.
Councilmembers are policymakers; they're technically not supposed to serve as liaisons between constituents and city departments (for example, failure to pick-up trash or broken traffic lights). Yet they often fall into that role. How would you handle your job once the 311 call center, which is designed to address residents' and businesses' complaints, comes online?
Archibong: Once the 311 call center is fully operational, I will monitor its effectiveness to ensure that the needs of District 5 are being met. I will also carefully review the 311 call center's annual funding and staffing projections, to ensure that there is alignment between those projections and the measurable effectiveness of the 311 call center. Finally, if it is found that the service being offered by the call center is inconsistent or ineffective, I will provide feedback to the Mayor or his designee to ensure that our budget priorities address the needs of the 311 call center. Complaints which are received directly by my office will be forwarded to the 311 call center for further review and response.
Enterkin: We are one city. And when you're on public payroll or hired to do a job, you have a duty to assist the residents if/when they reach out to you. If you can help solve a problem for your constituents, you should do so, because they are the ones who are paying your salary. Once 311 is implemented, nothing changes. If a residents of my district calls my office with an issue concerning something that can be resolved by the city, I will connect with the department that can solve their issue.
Michalik: I think focusing on policymaking is a great idea. Council can sometimes have a tendency to rush decisions and not think them all the way through. As for helping residents hold the executive branch accountable, it is just the neighborly thing to do.
Rinker: City Councilmembers should be producing legislation that helps move the city forward, but should also be there when our neighbors need help navigating the many complex departments that make up our city government. The role of the Councilmember should also encompass educating citizens about pending legislation and also about policies and ordinances that are coming into effect.
What can you bring to the Atlanta City Council that it currently lacks?
Archibong: I have consistently brought my passion and commitment to serve the citizens of Atlanta to my service on the City Council. Having deep roots in the community, and having been present throughout the revitalization of the district, I have a depth of perspective which will uniquely assist me in addressing the complex issues and challenges Atlanta continues to face. I will continue to bring my educational and professional experience, my focus on matters of greatest importance to the constituents of Council District 5, and my vision for the City of Atlanta to my position as a member of the Atlanta City Council.
Enterkin: Improved constituent services and accessibility. I'm a bridge-builder – results are my top priority. I don't mind working with anyone. My only commitment is to be the best public servant for my district.
Michalik: The council lacks some serious objectivity. One example is their vote on the parking enforcement. Is it just coincidence that campaign contributions came from Wisconsin, where the company that received the contract is based? Nonsensical contracts reinforce a "pay to play" system, stifling growth throughout the city.
Rinker: More than what I can bring to Atlanta City Council, I will bring accountable, effective representation to the neighbors of Glenwood Park, Edgewood, Lake Claire, and the other neighborhoods of District Five. For 12 years, we've been represented by a Councilwoman who has done little to make our neighborhoods safer, our streets easier to navigate, or our storefronts bustling with new businesses. For 12 years, we've had a long term incumbent politician skirt the line when it comes to ethics standards. For 12 years, we've had a representative who would rather create task forces to talk about the issues that plague our district instead of working to solve them. We deserve better.
I will bring to our district my full attention – working in my office daily, attending every meeting. Ms. Archibong, according to the City Council's own website, is absent from council meetings more than any other Councilmember. She is late or absent 90% of the time to Council meetings. That is unacceptable. We deserve better.
I will bring a new voice to the Council – one of a transplant in their mid-thirties. I came to Atlanta to follow an opportunity for a great career like so many people who have decided to make Atlanta their home. Buying a home in a vibrant, eclectic, and diverse neighborhood like East Atlanta just felt right. I plan on using my experience in business working in development and management for some of the nation's largest apartment and retail developers to work to help build a better Atlanta while honoring our great a history. My unique background will help bring different experiences to discussions before the Council.
What is a city issue in Atlanta that, in your opinion, very few people have paid attention to? Could you — and would you — address it?
Archibong: Heavy rain event related flooding is a chronic problem throughout the City. I would like the City Council to investigate the feasibility of instituting a storm water utility, so that there will be a dedicated funding source for the remediation, maintenance and construction of an updated, comprehensive storm water management system.
Enterkin: I would like to say that we have not defeated a sitting city council person in over a decade. Within the last 12 years, we have seen police furloughed, reduced bond rating, and ethical lapses. Yet, election year after election year, our incumbents cruise to re-election. That shouldn't happen! I believe there has been a lack of accountability in the City of Atlanta and a lot of misuse of power during election year. I encourage the citizens of Atlanta to ask themselves this question: If your job performance was that of your council person, would your boss keep you employed?
Michalik: I'd like to see the city NPU system revamped. The current system can leave participants frustrated. There current system lacks accountability. One solution would be to realign the 25 NPU boundaries to mirror those of the 12 city council districts. A direct correlation would lead to direct accountability.
Rinker: Did not respond.
Southeast Atlanta residents recently raised concerns about a big-box retail center along the Atlanta Beltline. As the Beltline continues along in its development, what steps would you take to make sure its vision — specifically, the one residents laid out in planning meetings — is fulfilled?
Archibong: The single most important thing we can do as councilmember is to complete the proactive rezoning process that is already underway. Zoning is what gives the master plans the force of law. Good development, that is people oriented and pro-Beltline, must become the official policy of the city. Once that zoning is complete, any developer that wants to deviate from the Beltline vision would have to request a variance and go to the NPU to make their case and answer to the residents. Currently, the opposite is true. Developers can sidestep the master plan and it is the residents that have to mobilize to defend it. We should not be defending the Beltline one parcel at a time. We should finish the zoning and then go on offense, actively seeking developers to invest in our neighborhoods, confident that any new proposals will benefit the community and not detract from our vision.
Enterkin: I would encourage resident to stay involved and connected to their respective councilmembers – not just during election time, but during their entire term in office. Proactive zoning measures could've been taken to prevent the recent Big Box fiasco, but the response and backlash was likely too late. As your Councilmember, I will work hard to stay connected to my constituents – and also keep them informed about zoning and other issues that may affect the community.
Michalik: I am the only candidate that has spoke out publicly against "big box" legislation for years. In 2010 as other council member sat back, I organized support against "big box" legislation. In the rezoning of City Hall East for the privately owned German investment firm, Jamestown Properties, stipulations were specifically changed to allow "big-box" stores. And it too is directly on the Beltline. If that wasn't insulting enough, they cut down 60 healthy old growth trees while they were at it. Council members Smith, Archibong, Hall and Wan were all for it.
To nefariously change the zoning after the fact is short sighted, irresponsible and has opened the door to a costly legal battle.
Rinker: Unlike my opponent – Ms. Archibong – I have been a huge supporter of the Atlanta Beltline since it was first introduced. This is a project that has the ability to transform our city and link neighborhoods that were inaccessible without sitting in a car. It is imperative that we make sure that proper zoning is in place to make sure that development occurring along the Beltline is in line with the Overlay plans for the Beltline. If a developer wants a project bad enough in an area, they will build in line with zoning standards.
What's your favorite part of the district you want to represent? What's your least favorite part that you hope to change?
Archibong: Because I represent the most diverse district in the city both demographically and economically, I like everything about District 5. Every day, I see people from all walks of life enjoying their neighborhood, interacting with one another and participating in the richness of city life. It's that liveliness that I enjoy the most. My least favorite part is seeing gaps in the urban fabric, like old buildings and industrial sites that are waiting to be redeveloped. My hope is that we can activate those spaces and breathe new life into them. In District 5, we have great opportunities along the Beltline, Memorial Drive and Moreland Ave to link neighborhoods together and create new focal points for the community.
Enterkin: I'm a fan of every community and business corridor in my district. I see potential and greatness in every part of district 5. I want to leave office knowing that people feel safe, more jobs have been created, and that more bike paths, sidewalks and parks are being constructed.
Michalik: I enjoy the multicultural melting pot that is Atlanta the most. I also really appreciate and admire the creativity of local entrepreneurs their commitment to the city as well as their ingenuity. I would like to see the inefficiencies in our criminal justice system resolved.
Rinker: I love how different and unique each neighborhood of District Five is. While very different, one thing is certain, the people who live from Downtown to East Lake and the district neighborhoods in between all love where they live and will fight for it. I want to strengthen our neighborhoods by making them safer, promoting businesses, and working to repair our roads and sidewalks.
I would also work to improve our 911 services for residents who live along the city-county lines. Too often these residents get bounced back and forth between Dekalb emergency services and City of Atlanta emergency services. This issue is not new. Over 10 years ago, after a murder that rocked East Atlanta, Ms. Archibong told Creative Loafing that she would work for better effectiveness to pinpoint where a call was coming from. Yet, now 10 years later, when she is in an re-election battle, Ms. Archibong wants to set up another one of her infamous "task forces". It's too little too late, she has had 12 years to work on the problems we face, but she has been absent.
How would you feel about Atlanta's current ethics and transparency practices? What, if anything, would you do to improve the current rules? If nothing, why?
Archibong: I have consistently voted for greater transparency in our practices, and for a strong Ethics Code. I would like to update the Ethics Code to incorporate expanded definitions and additional points of clarification which would be based, in large part, upon case-by-case published opinions rendered by the Ethics Commission.
Enterkin: Considering that the Incumbent in my race just paid a $250 ethics fine for hiring her brother to perform constituency services for her office – to the tune of $11,013.46 (that she never disclosed), I have very little confidence in the City of Atlanta's ethics and transparency practices – and very little faith in the Ethics Board, who would approve such a soft slap on the wrist. I believe there should be mechanisms put in place that would prevent these types of transactions to take place in the future.
Michalik: The current rules are sufficient enough to keep honest people honest. Criminals will circumvent rules, regardless.
Rinker: There is still a lot to be done to improve our current ethics and transparency practices. This has been made evident by recent ethics violations by Councilwoman Archibong. I would propose strengthening the ethics codes to eliminate the use of "pass through" companies. In addition, I would ask that the Audits Department conduct regular audits of Councilmember expenses so that my constituents can clearly and easily see what their tax money is being used to do.
Ms. Archibong's recent violation of Ethics Code is just one more example of where she has skirted the line on ethical behavior but doesn't do anything about it until she is called out for the behavior. When the AJC questioned her as to why she paid her own niece close to $6000 for a 6 page "manual" on how to answer email, Ms. Archibong quickly repaid the money. It shouldn't take people asking questions for our elected representatives to do the right thing.
Atlanta deserves better!
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