City Council Post 3 At-Large
In your opinion, what are the three greatest issues (problems or opportunities) facing Atlanta?
Job Creation and Retention continues to be a major focus for our city as we work our way out of the recession. As the City of Atlanta continues to strive to be the preferred place to start and own a business, we must take care of our existing businesses as well as our local entrepreneurs by ensuring advocacy for and access to the myriad of local, state and federal programs available to small business owners. By increasing the job opportunities at all levels, we can continue to lift the individuals who are more experienced, while also filling positions for less-skilled workers. In addition to creating jobs, making sure that there is equitable access to these new opportunities is also key. Workplace equality is not only good for business; it’s good for Atlanta. Looking long-term, I will also advocate for programs to help our unskilled workers acquire a pathway out of perpetual poverty by equipping them with training and knowledge. If we invest in the future and help people by giving them the tools to break prior trends, I believe our entire community will benefit. Rising tides lift all boats.
The second issue is safer neighborhoods, which I believe everyone deserves. Although we’ve seen a reduction in crime over the past few years, I think we still have room for improvement. People don’t “feel” safe and most of us either know someone, like me, who has been the victim of crime and/or have experienced it first hand. (*My home was burglarized and one of my campaign staffers was recently mugged in Midtown.) I believe the challenge with creating safer neighborhoods is that the solution must be integrative and scalable over time.
Collectively, we can achieve public safety goals through a combination of 1) increased police presence (as a crime deterrent, visibility helps build community trust,) 2) removing blight and vacant properties that are a haven for crime, 3) initiating programs for youth to decrease petty crimes and lastly, 4) improving our school system by instituting best practices that have proven to be effective in cities facing similar challenges.
The third, but not least, issue is higher ethics in government. The current office holder has proven to have numerous ethical challenges. It is time for us to no longer tolerate unethical behavior – in any form. Some may argue that there are no absolutes, but to me, as a public servant the bottom line is about acknowledging right from wrong – even in so called, gray areas. You are either trustworthy or not. Ethics is knowing the difference between what you “can do” by virtue of position, and what is “right to do.”
As stewards of the public’s trust, I believe the onus is on elected officials to avoid conflicts of interest and comply with all ethics codes and regulations. The city’s ethics code was strengthened in 2002 to ensure citizens that officials are acting in their best interest. I strongly support upholding the code of ethics and being accountable to the people of Atlanta in both word and deed.
Describe briefly your qualifications for holding this office.
I received my BS in Chemical Engineering from Georgia Tech and will complete a Masters of Public Administration from Georgia State this fall.
I currently work at Georgia Tech as an assistant director in the Office of Institute Diversity managing the graduate recruitment program, incoming freshmen programs, the African-American Male Initiative, and other programs that aim at improving retention and graduation rates of students. I have authored and been funded on several grants that led to job creation and student development. I manage numerous budgets in excess of $500,000. I report my expenses and performance outcomes to the Georgia Board of Regents annually.
Previously, I worked as a chemical engineer and chemical salesperson. I became salesperson of the year for a multi-national firm because of my ability to negotiate and manage the interests of hundreds of clients. My engineering background aids me in the solving complex problems, making process driven decisions and “building” things to fill a need.
Along with my sister, I co-founded City Living Home Furnishings in Atlanta, which grew into a multi-million dollar business with two locations and over 20 employees. My experience as a small-businessman and Georgia Tech administrator will offer a more compelling profile to voters who want someone who can effectively manage the city’s finances and help Atlanta retain and recruit businesses of all sizes.
From a leadership standpoint, I been the president and vice president of the Underwood Hills Neighborhood Association in northwest Atlanta. I have been the rep for NPU-D where we worked on numerous zoning and land use matters, and was a founding member of the Northwest Communities Alliance where I helped to ensure smart growth occured along the northwest corridor. We formed a coalition of neighborhoods to strategically and carefully craft an agreement with a master developer, Wal-mart, and the community. I also work with the Westside Communities Alliance, Southwest Atlanta Youth Business Organization, Youth Enhancement Services, Pentorship, and numerous other community based organizations that look to improve the condition and education of Atlanta’s youth and seniors.
Other relevant experience includes being a proud alum of the United Way VIP program which trained me on how to fund, manage, and grow non-profit organizations. I am also an alum of the American Institute for Managing Diversity which trained me on how to manage the similarities, differences, and tensions within any group of people, organizations, or ideologies. Both of the experiences have prepared me with transferable knowledge and skills to become an effectual public servant who understands Atlanta’s diverse community of stakeholders.
Last but not least, I am an ordained deacon, Sunday school teacher, and finance chairperson for my church, New Horizon Baptist Church. These roles have deeply influenced the core of my personal fabric by keeping me in tune with the human condition – the challenges, trials, and triumphs that people face daily. Because of this lens, I have learned to listen more closely, show patience in finding creative and sustainable solutions, and understand the value of collaborating to find the sweet spot between the faith-based community, business community, and the people.
What events or experiences caused you to decide to run for this office?
I am running for Atlanta City Council Post 3 because I love Atlanta. This city has given me the opportunity to get a good education at Benjamin E. Mays High School and The Georgia Institute of Technology, to own my own small business, to live in Underwood Hills a neighborhood that is safe and healthy, to worship at New Horizon Baptist Church and to work as a young professional at GA Tech helping to mold our next generation of leaders. Currently I am a student at Georgia State University finishing my masters in public administration (exp 2013). I set out 2 years ago to learn more about the inner workings of public policy and how to run a government before bidding for office.
I offer myself for public office with great humility and anticipation that I will have much to learn. Likewise, I’m also confident that I have a lot to offer as an engineer, a small businessman, from my experience in higher Ed and a deeply faithful person.
I truly care about the future of the city and believe we can build on the successes of those who precede us and learn from missed opportunities. I’ve seen how we can grow when we work together and stifle when elected officials are not responsive to serious constituent concerns.
While I agree Atlanta is a great city, I decided to run for office because I believe in more – we deserve an even better Atlanta. We deserve safer neighborhoods, good paying jobs, and ethical government. The current office holder has proven to have numerous ethical challenges. It is time to say to unethical leaders that there is no more room to “wiggle” ethics from an absolute to a grey area. For voters in Atlanta who agree with a basic premise of right from wrong, I want to give them a viable alternative.
Please identify up to five organizations or individuals who are actively supporting your candidacy.
1) Former Mayor Shirley Franklin
2) Michael Koblantz, Northwest Communicites Alliance
3) Former State Rep Ralph Long
4) Shelitha Robertson, Attorney
Describe how you think that your candidacy will improve upon what the current officeholder has accomplished in the past.
Our government is based on a few very simple ideals. One of these ideals is that the people must trust their government. Without that trust, our system just doesn’t work. The people – you and me – start to lose our faith in the very fabric that binds us together.
Unfortunately, some politicians do things that erode our trust in the very foundations of government – they forget that it’s our government; it’s not their government. They don’t play by the rules. They ignore the laws. They try to do things that specifically weaken your oversight of your government by attempting to weaken our Ethics Laws.
Unfortunately, the incumbent is one of those politicians who has lost the trust of many voters because of his constant ethical problems in his personal and professional life. I believe I can better represent the people of Atlanta.
I want to work with you to improve economic opportunity for all Atlantans. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to start a business with my sister that grew to 20 employees and nearly $3 million a year in revenue. We recruited, hired, trained and promoted people within our company. We understood that the company could only be as good as our people, so we invested the time and resources necessary to ensure that our employees had the skills to succeed in the workplace.
In the years to come, we will need to do a better job serving the city with fewer resources. I know I don’t have all of the answers, but I know that by working with the people and organizations like yours, we can create the right solutions for our city. We need to be accountable to the people. We must also better engage the public as to their vision of the city. I believe that using key learnings from my personal experiences and professional experiences as an entrepreneur and at Georgia Tech, I can help build an even greater Atlanta.
On difficult votes, how would you manage collaborating with your colleagues on citywide issues versus representing your own constituents?
Post 3 At Large is a citywide seat. While I must live in districts 9, 10, 11 or 12, I represent the entire city. I see the role of the at Large seat as one that works with district representatives to create shared growth across the city such that all areas and stakeholders of Atlanta reach their fullest potential. I will listen to my colleagues and all constituents while promoting the best practices discovered across the whole city. My diverse background in business, education, and the community will serve me very well as I strike a balance between them all to find optimum solutions. While I am a team player, I am an independent thinker that seeks input from all sources before making decisions, particularly the difficult decisions that we will face. As an engineer, I am analytical and process driven with the belief that process is just as important as outcomes.
What is your vision for the city of Atlanta and what can we do to maintain our competitive edge?
I want to work with people across Atlanta to make this the greatest city we can be. We have some of the greatest assets a city can hope to have: some of the greatest universities, the world’s busiest airport, among the highest concentrations of Fortune 500 companies, a phenomenal quality of life. Our city changed the world because of our leadership role in the Civil Rights Movement.
In the new millineum, we will need to be even better and implement the best practices of others. We need to do a better job of ensuring that every Atlantan has the opportunity to do great things. I believe we are all endowed with value and that we all want to contribute to a better society through the work we do.
I want to work with you to make Atlanta the greatest place possible for economic opportunity – whether that means building a company or getting a good paying job. If you work hard and play by the rules, I believe there should be a path for upward mobility for you here. I want entrepreneurs to look at Atlanta as the best place to start and build a company. And I want a workforce program that meets the needs of our people and our businesses for 21st Century job training and career development.
I also believe that we must do the hard work of ensuring that the children who are raised in Atlanta have access to a world class education and the greatest opportunities on this planet. As a father, I want more for my children than I had for myself.
I believe we must set high goals for our city and that we must work with the public to attain those lofty aspirations.
We need only to look to leaders like Atlanta’s own, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Benjamin E. Mays to know that we are a city of dreamers, but we must be dreamers with shovels in our hand! We can also look to leaders who heeded that call to know that we are a city capable of getting the (hard) jobs done. It is our legacy. Working together, I want to help make that our future.
In your opinion, what are the three greatest infrastructure problems facing Atlanta over the next four years?
1. The estimated $1 billion of above ground infrastructure backlog of repairs needed for the city’s streets, bridges and sidewalks
2. Completion of the multi-billion water and sewer consent decree
3. Continued investment in Hartsfield-Jackson airport
How would you pay for these improvements?
In order to be a world-class city, we must invest in safe and walkable roads, bridges, and sidewalk infrastructure. Mayor Reed has referred to this as “above ground” infrastructure and estimated Atlanta’s backlog to be as large as $1 billion. This issue, like our water and sewer challenges when they first were presented, does not come with a dedicated source of revenue. However, it’s vital that we address infrastructure, as Atlanta’s brand would suffer irreparable damage if a bridge were to collapse or a building fell because of disrepair. I would advocate for exploring our funding options, including the possibility of investing a portion of the MOST tax in above ground infrastructure and voting on a new bond referendum that takes advantage of the city’s improved financial condition and the recovering economy. Whatever Atlanta does, the money must be well-spent and the project effectively managed to keep the public’s trust.
Secondly, we must continue meeting deadlines and budgets for the ongoing water and sewer consent decree. The city has done a commendable job of managing the consent decree and those efforts must be continued for the “below ground” infrastructure. The best way to ensure the project’s continued solvency is managing the project with transparency, so that city leaders can strongly advocate for continued passage of MOST taxes. This sets Atlanta up nicely to leverage our well-documented record of making local investments before requesting national ones, in our quest for continued federal support.
Thirdly, we must continue innovating and investing in Hartsfield-Jackson Airport to ensure that it remains dominant and competitive. That includes planning for another new terminal and runway in the long-term. I have read about the ongoing master planning process, and I believe that the best way to keep our airport at the top is working with the airlines and FAA while preserving our strong bond ratings so municipal investors will have the confidence they need to continue to invest.
As a first-time candidate, I acknowledge that I don’t have access to all the information that incumbent council members have at their disposal. However, I believe that creative and data driven-decisions will serve our city best, and if elected, I am committed to helping to solve our infrastructure challenges.