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: Aaron Watson
Occupation: Corporate attorney, Atlanta City Council Post 2 At-Large
Hometown: South Bend, IN
Name: Mary Norwood
Occupation: Business owner
Neighborhood: Tuxedo Park
Hometown: Augusta, Georgia
What is the most pressing issue facing your district? If elected (or re-elected), how would you try and address it?
Watson: During my first term on Atlanta City Council, our executive and legislative bodies have worked in a collaborative manner to address the central issues of financial management and public safety.
Atlanta was the first major city nationwide to resolve its pension liabilities – a savings of nearly $20 million annually. Our operating expenditures have been reduced by approximately 16 percent and we have substantially increased operating cash reserves.
Not only are we a fiscally prudent city today, we are also a safer city. Over 800 police officers have been hired since 2010, bringing the force to nearly 2,000 officers. Crime is at historically low rates. The City must work in concert with our residents, local businesses and our public schools in tackling the perception of crime in our communities.
There is no doubt we have made tremendous strides in just one term, and there is more that must be done. As a citywide Council member, I believe there are three issues facing the City that we cannot afford to ignore.
Transportation and Infrastructure
The City of Atlanta must simultaneously tackle its aging transportation infrastructure and invest in alternative modes of transportation. We must invest in making Atlanta a walkable, bicycle-friendly and transit-centric city for everyone – students, senior citizens, and our expanding workforce. Next year, the City will seek to purchase approximately $250 million in bonds to repair crumbling bridges, worn roads, broken sidewalks and other infrastructure needs. My office is researching the feasibility of implementing a parking levy that would bring in $40-60 million annually to the General Fund that could provide for an aggressive timeline to address the needs outlined in Connect Atlanta, the City's comprehensive transportation plan.
Cities across the country are currently debating the notion of urban affordability and its correlation to our quality of life. While on the board of the Atlanta Housing Authority, I supported replacing public housing facilities that functioned as isolated silos that bred crime and discouraged family advancement.
The Atlanta BeltLine and the creation of Tax Allocation Districts have allowed us to rethink affordable housing and reduce the risk of creating concentrated pockets of poor and low-income housing. As we encourage residential development in the city, we should not be artificially restricted to the common practice of 20 percent of units designated for affordable housing. In determining what kind of City we want to leave for the next generations, I support exploring the possibilities of higher percentages of affordable housing units as the economics allow.
Education and Workforce Development
For Atlanta to retain its college graduates and attract high quality jobs we must improve the quality of K-12 education system. The City's legislative and executive branches need improved collaboration, shared accountability and consistent communication with the Atlanta Board of Education and the administration of the Atlanta Public Schools.
Norwood: Since I am running citywide for Post 2-At-Large, I feel that the entire city of Atlanta is my district. Safety remains the most pressing issue for our entire city. For our city to grow and our citizens to thrive, we need to feel safe in our homes, our communities, and throughout this great city.
The crime statistics seem to show that crime is coming down; however, when I am travelling the city for this campaign, our citizens are concerned. The random crime is alarming, causing apprehension and fear in neighborhoods all over the city.
The fact that we have hired more police is admirable, but I'm concerned about the deployment and retention of our officers. We need trained, mature officers to help with our new recruits. Atlanta has excellent training and spends tens of thousands of dollars on training of every officer, but we are losing too many of them to other jurisdictions. Both compensation and operational issues must be addressed, and if re-elected to City Council, I will be actively involved in resolving these issues.
Recently there was an issue regarding 911 calls that had to be rerouted between Fulton and Dekalb Counties. When precious minutes are wasted through communication errors, this is unacceptable.
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