CRITICAL ISSUES

KEISHA WAITES
Atlanta City Council  |  Post 3 - At Large

 

LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES

1.  Public Safety / Crime / Violence Prevention

2.  City Services - Streets, Sidewalks, Trash Pickup

3.  Affordable Housing Solutions

4.  Ethics & Accountability in City Hall


5.  Regional Transit Solutions

6.  Equality & Economic Development

1. Briefly describe your qualifications for this office and why you have chosen to run.

 

In February 2012, I was elected to the Georgia General Assembly as State Representative for District 60, where I served 3-terms.  I had the privilege of serving on the Public Safety, Transportation, and Juvenile Justice committees, and was responsible for vetting legislation and policy.

 

I have served in government for 19 years working at the local, state, regional, and federal levels.  I have existing relationships and intimately understand how to move important policy issues through all levels of government.  

I am running because the City of Atlanta is at a crossroad.   Having existing relationships and the support of members of the General Assembly and Fulton County Board of Commission will be critical to advancing local and state policy coming before the Georgia General Assembly.   Due to mutual interest, the City of Atlanta and Fulton County Board of Commission has a unique opportunity to streamline resources to address spiking crime, traffic congestion, and the long-term need for affordable housing. 

2. Please identify three issues or problems facing the City of Atlanta and specifically how you would work to solve them. 

 

A.  Public Safety/Violence Prevention

 

The Atlanta Bureau of Police Services must be fully staffed at all levels as quickly as possible, and the internal structure of the department should be reviewed to make sure it is meeting the demands of our residents and the needs of our officers as effectively as possible.

 

There should be wider and more efficient use of technology to prevent crime and to identify and arrest perpetrators.  I support the expansion of security cameras and automated license plate recognition systems where needed, and the use of other technologies such as the ShotSpotter system (currently in testing by APD) which allows officers to identify the location of gunshots in real-time.  

B.  Restoring Public Trust: Transparency and Ethics

 

One of the biggest challenges our city faces is the need to eradicate the current “Pay to Play” culture that has permeated for many decades.   Until we put an end to nepotism and cronyism city hall will remain toxic and plagued with scandal.   Public trust and integrity are essential for our city to thrive, attract new industry, new commerce, and new residents.  

 

As a city-wide City Council representative, I will propose and support legislation that all City of Atlanta employees abide by a much-needed, updated, and revised Employee Code of Ethics along with strict, actionable penalties for violating the code.  

 

C.  Regional Transit Solutions

 

During my tenure in the General Assembly, I served on the transportation committee sponsoring the authorizing legislation to bring high-speed rail to Georgia.  That legislation effectively advocates for regional transit expansion. 

 

As we explore solutions to regional transit problems, I will be utilizing existing relationships to solicit regional financial assistance from the federal DOT, State of Georgia, Fulton County, and other service recipients.

 

 

 

3. Describe your leadership style and an example of a strategy you have used to motivate others and deliver results.  

 

I’m a big proponent of trimming the fat and aiming for actionable, measurable results, which is probably why constituent services are so important to me.  I’ve also found that the best way to motivate others is to give them an opportunity to be heard and a seat at the table when they’ve done the hard work of identifying a problem and proposing a well-thought-out and researched solution.   

 

We have so many incredible individuals and organizations across the city with great ideas, working on issues you probably never even thought about.  I firmly believe in listening to everybody, evaluating, testing small, and scaling up what works, no matter where that idea comes from.  

 

We also had a rule in the office that all constituent requests would be called back by the end of the day, even if we didn’t have an immediate answer.  I felt it was important to make that initial contact to let our constituents know that their concerns are important and they deserve a personal response.  I think it’s completely disrespectful when elected officials are unreachable by the very people who put them in office.


 

4. Trust in the City’s service delivery and responsiveness is waning. What improvements would you make to these core service functions to restore public trust and improve the quality of life for citizens and businesses in Atlanta?

 

We are elected to deliver results.  If trust is faltering, that means residents aren’t receiving the services they expect.  Public trust and integrity are essential for our city to thrive, attract new industry, new commerce, and new residents.  

 

One of the most important tasks for the Mayor of Atlanta and City Council is to assure residents that their tax dollars are being spent wisely, with a focus on providing quality services.  These services include policing, infrastructure planning and maintenance, trash collection, and code enforcement.

 

We also need to review and correct any communication gaps between residents and city services.  The Atlanta 311 program has been extremely successful in tracking and correcting resident-reported issues.  It may be time to either expand, simplify or publicize the program so that residents can easily get issues resolved.

Longer-term, one of the first actions taken by the Atlanta City Council should be a detailed review of each City of Atlanta Department, their role in delivering services to residents and businesses, and how they use technology to efficiently identify and respond to service issues.  This detailed review should be conducted by a consulting firm with years of experience related to the operation and management of cities.  Results from this study would be used as a guide to greatly improve operations.

 

 

5. What are your views on the Buckhead cityhood movement? What actions will you take related to this issue?

 

Residents in all Atlanta communities share the same concerns as residents who reside in Buckhead.  Quality of life issues such as public safety, effective use of taxpayer money, and the future of Atlanta as a cohesive city affect everyone.

 

I believe the Buckhead cityhood movement has come about because residents and business owners do not feel their concerns are being heard or addressed. This is a communication and action problem that never should have happened. As a city-wide City Council representative, I would make it my priority to be an effective conduit between Buckhead residents and the City of Atlanta government.

 

Buckhead residents are justifiably frustrated at corruption in previous administrations, wasted funds, lack of communication and transparency, and a spiking crime rate.  I am too, which is why I’m running.  I think the best next step is to vote for new leaders in November and give the new administration a very short time to start turning things around.  I believe that will deliver quicker results than splitting off at this time. 

Furthermore, multiple reports have indicated that both Buckhead and Atlanta would be harmed by a split.

 

 

 

6. What is your philosophy on taxation in the City of Atlanta? What future funding streams do you believe are needed to pay for the things we need to grow? How should these opportunities be evaluated?

 

Atlanta residents are pretty heavily taxed as it is.  My philosophy is that by providing good government services – such as well-maintained infrastructure, robust amenities, and proper zoning and development incentives, people move in, property values go up and our tax base grows.  There is definitely room for highly targeted special use taxes, but economic development and growing the tax base is my preferred method for raising funds, and those funds should be used to improve services and amenities.

 

By far, one of our biggest untapped potentials for economic development and growth is the south side of Atlanta.  It’s close, there’s a lot of land, and the opportunities there are endless.  It doesn’t make sense that people have been moving out to Power Springs and Woodstock when they could be 15 minutes away just south of I-20.

 

We keep promising to invest in south Atlanta then yanking funds for sexier projects north of I-20.  The BeltLine is a great example.  Yet, someone opens a single brewery in south Atlanta and people drive there from all over the city.  Home flippers see the potential and have been buying homes for $200k and selling them for $400k. 

 

We need to finally make an honest, robust, and concerted effort to drive development south of I-20.  The returns for the rest of the city will be huge.

 

 

7. If elected, describe your role in ensuring ethical and transparent management of City resources by City employees.

 

One of the biggest challenges our city faces is the need to eradicate the “Pay to Play” culture that has permeated for many decades.   Until we put an end to nepotism and cronyism city hall will remain toxic and plagued with scandal.  We must change the existing culture at City Hall and create a focus on openness, service, and stewardship of public resources. This must include timely responsiveness to open records requests, audits, and investigations.

 

If elected, I will propose and support legislation that all City of Atlanta employees abide by a much-needed, updated, and revised Employee Code of Ethics along with strict, actionable penalties for violating the code.  All-City of Atlanta employees would be required to participate in a range of workshops and seminars by experts outside of City Hall so that they would clearly understand that professional and ethical behavior is expected at all times.  This mandate must include the Mayor and City Council!  

 

I also support improving standards for transparency and expand the capacity of our city Auditing Department to perform routine as well as special audits as requested by the City Council and the Office of the Mayor.  Our Procurement and Building Permit Departments must be reviewed to ensure state of the art technology is being used, best practice policies and procedures are in place, and contracts are being awarded in a fair and proper manner. 

 

Finally, I fully support any and all measures designed to bring openness, oversight, and accountability to any use of funds and resources by city employees.  Previous administrations were able to waste taxpayer money on personal expenses precisely because the use of those funds was not transparent and ethics policies were not enforced.  That lack of transparency and tepid enforcement needs to end immediately.

 

 

8. Describe your philosophy as to the City of Atlanta’s role in implementing Public Safety reform. Which strategies should be prioritized, and if elected, how will you work to advance them? What partnerships are necessary to achieving success?

 

In my tenure vetting policy on the Juvenile Justice Committee, I ran across a significant amount of data showing that successful intervention with those in the juvenile court system eliminated or significantly reduced future issues involving police.

 

The successful intervention involves participation from the parents or guardians of the child and the Fulton County Juvenile Court.  The court can connect parents and children with a broad base of family services.  A key partnership that is often overlooked as a public safety strategy is the participation of the local public school system in violence prevention programs.
 

I will encourage and advocate the next Mayor and every member of the Atlanta City Council to meet with the Atlanta Board of Education and discuss implementing a school violence prevention/conflict resolution program for elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.  Professionals from other cities who have been implemented this type of curriculum are available to provide a range of services to assist us.

 

We need a fully funded and staffed police force that uses compassionate community policing, we need better use of technology in policing, we have to support youth and redirect them away from crime through social services and more effective judicial remedies, we need to support and monitor the re-entry of adults from prison, and we must address repeat violent offenders so they are off the streets. The judicial branch as well as local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies will be key allies in our efforts to keep all Atlantans safe.

 

 

9. What role should diversion and policing alternatives play in the City’s broader Public Safety strategy? How are these programs evaluated and funded?

Having served on both the Juvenile Justice and Public Safety committees during my tenure in the General Assembly, I quickly realized the Policing and Alternatives & Diversion Initiative (PAD) is an essential tool to addressing the underlying factors that impact crime and violence.

Arresting and jailing people who are causing disturbances or harm as a result of substance use, mental health challenges, or survival activities doesn’t serve our communities. Instead, it pushes people even further to the margins, away from the connections and resources that support recovery and wellness. 

The cycle of arrest and incarceration does not address the actual issues people are struggling with. In the meantime, our communities continue to suffer from a lack of housing options and access to income, mental health services, medical care, and substance use recovery services. There is widespread agreement: we need a different approach if we want safer and healthier communities for all.

PAD fosters a new approach to community safety and wellness by engaging in creative problem-solving to respond to community concerns and addressing people’s human needs with dignity, patience, and care. 

PAD provides housing support and case management through a Care Navigation team, building relationships to support people in achieving their goals for a more stable and healthy life.  PAD is supported by funded by the City of Atlanta, Fulton County, Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Open Society Foundation.



10. What role should the City of Atlanta play in economic development? What is your perspective on urban redevelopment tools as the City competes for jobs, talent, and its share of economic growth?

 

The City of Atlanta absolutely should be a driver of economic development. Economic development and growth occur when companies and workers want to live in the area, and when policies are in place to help locals start and grow businesses.  By providing high-quality services and amenities, rezoning, and by collaborating and coordinating with public and private partners, the Atlanta city government can be a positive influence on growth.

 

The most important task for the Mayor of Atlanta and City Council is to assure residents that their tax dollars are spent very wisely, with a focus on providing quality services to residents.  These services include policing, infrastructure planning and maintenance, trash collection, and code enforcement.

 

Next is providing amenities that make people want to live, work and play within city limits.  This includes parks and green space, public transportation, city beautification projects, culture, and the arts, and revising zoning and other policies to create mixed-use spaces that people want to be in and around.  For example, the brewery scene in Atlanta is booming, and people love food trucks, open container areas, festivals, pop-up farmers’ markets, makers' spaces, etc.  These are the types of amenities that draw the best talent to our city from across the country and generate new ideas and economic growth.

 

Finally, there are a number of public and private sector organizations which have the skills and experience to drive economic development. Invest Atlanta’s investment model should work very closely with private sector entities to develop a range of employment opportunities for including professional and skilled trade occupations.  Ikea, Google, Amazon, and Porsche Headquarters are examples of success stories we can build upon.   We must also collaborate with our state and county partners such as the Georgia Department of Economic Development and Fulton County Department of Economic Development.

 

 

 

11. What role should the City of Atlanta play in addressing economic mobility and the racial wealth gap? Which tools and strategies would your office advance if elected?

 

The City of Atlanta can and should play a large role in addressing economic disparity and the racial wealth gap.  Cities function better when there is a solid middle class and people are able to move up.

 

One way Atlanta can address these issues is by reforming our bid process so that smaller companies have a chance to secure city contracts.  Providing access to smaller players helps grow their business and funnels money directly into local jobs which keep wages and profits in the community.

 

Using a combination of rezoning, community land trusts, and community benefits agreements, the city can direct investment into predominantly minority-owned sections of the city, thereby increasing property values, grow the tax base and help close the racial wealth gap.

 

The City must also continue to support our Equal Business Opportunity and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise policies and programs.   

   

Another area where we need to do more is expanding homeless services so that we can provide access to jobs and wraparound services. By working with the Partners for H.O.M.E., the United Way, and other organizations we can provide opportunities for homeless individuals and families to get back on their feet as quickly as possible.


 

12. As we emerge from the pandemic, what are the major challenges facing the City for economic recovery? How will your candidacy address them?

 

COVID changed the way people live, work and play.  One of the results is that our mix of commercial, office, industrial and residential needs have changed.  As a City Council representative, I would push to have our long-term zoning plans reviewed to see if we need to rebalance our mix of land use designations.

 

Although the economy appears to be booming now, several businesses were not able to survive the unique challenges of the past 18 months.  I would support the formation of a special team to reach out to failed business owners and evaluate their situation.  By matching up former business owners who want to reopen with landlords of underutilized commercial spaces, we can put more people to work and help drive additional food, entertainment, and retail activity.

 

Additionally, we must find ways to support landlords who have been hurt by the eviction moratorium.  Many are local small business owners who rely on rental income.

 

 

13. What strategies would you implement to improve the City’s supply of affordable housing? What are the barriers to succeeding on this front and how will you work to overcome them?

 

The lack of affordable housing is partly due to zoning regulations that reduce the housing supply.  Higher density, smaller minimum footprints, and redevelopment of blighted properties and other strategies can create more housing.  

 

Unlike other cities, Atlanta doesn’t have any natural boundaries (mountains, ocean, etc.) but traffic has become our limiting factor.  Expanding public transportation can create access to more affordable housing by expanding the available options for workers to live in the suburbs while still having quick, efficient transportation to work.   Increased commute time is a major factor pushing people to move back inside the Perimeter versus simply living further and further out.  This further drives up housing and rental prices.

 

We need to push to make sure that agreements with developers that guarantee a portion of affordable housing in new developments are actually provided as agreed.

 

Other cities and organizations have experimented with holding long-term land leases, thereby reducing the cost of a house by eliminating the land price.  This is another avenue we can explore to create more affordable housing, either directly or by working with private developers.

 

In partnership with HUD and the state of Georgia, the city can re-invest in bank-owned and foreclosed multi-family housing units that have been abandoned or condemned due to high water bills.  

 

I also support a special tax on blighted or unoccupied properties.  Blighted properties bring down neighboring property values, reduce available housing and reduce the tax base for the city.

 

14. What strategies would you implement to protect residents from being displaced from their communities, as housing prices continue to rise and eviction moratoriums expire?

 

Gentrification has a bad name because it forces long-time legacy residents out of their homes due to rising values leading to increased property taxes.  Revitalized neighborhoods and increasing home values should be a good thing!  We can solve this problem by freezing property taxes for residents who are over a certain age and have been owner-occupant for a certain length of time.  The data is there.  We can easily protect our legacy residents with a smart tax policy and a simple computer search.

 

Second, legacy residents on fixed incomes may not have the funds to improve or maintain their homes to keep up with current standards.  This can be tackled with a public/private fund that provides low or no-interest loans to help renovate and maintain properties.  The loan would be paid back when the home eventually sells.

 

Finally, legacy residents need to be educated on what the true value of their home is, even in as-is conditions.  Legacy residents can be easy prey for investors who flash a seemingly large check when in fact they’re only being offered pennies on the dollar.  We can also make sure that residents know what exemption they qualify for based on income and age.

 

As for eviction moratoriums expiring, otherwise good tenants who end up with an eviction on their record face an extreme challenge finding future housing.  I would look into what can be done similar to a “ban the box” initiative or perhaps some sort of “eviction insurance” program, however, landlords need to be protected from truly negligent tenants.  Finding the right happy medium will be a challenge, but one we must pursue because right now an eviction on one’s record is an indelible black mark that makes finding housing almost impossible.  That affects families and children the hardest.


 

15. What improvements, if any, need to be made to transparency and oversight on the More MARTA program? How should candidates for city appointments to the MARTA board be vetted and approved?

 

There’s too much money involved and the More MARTA program is too important to the future of Atlanta to chance to let it get bogged down in inefficiency, poor prioritizing, or non-transparent decision-making.  I think that Atlanta’s various transportation-focused advocacy groups could better coordinate with each other, with city planners, and with More MARTA to make sure their concerns are being heard and addressed.  

 

I believe that candidates for city appointments should have a strong vision for what the city needs to look like 30 years down the road, and expertise in city transportation and growth management so that transportation improvements are focused on where they should be focused for the overall health of all communities within the city, and not simply where the loudest voices or flashiest development projects are today.  They must also be held to strict ethical standards.

 

Charlotte, North Carolina, and Portland, Oregon are great public transit examples of what is possible with proper planning and leadership.  This is our one shot to build the Atlanta of 2050 versus just puttering along with minor improvements to what we already have.

 

 

16. Describe your philosophy on the City’s current infrastructure backlog. If elected, what strategies will you pursue to ensure forward progress is made? How would you expedite project delivery in the City?

 

Infrastructure is paramount.  Atlanta is on track to be the 6th largest metro area in the country within 20 years and infrastructure is the foundation that all other cities and business functions rely on.  One of the first things I’d look at is to see if contractors are using the latest construction techniques and materials.  Newer construction processes are faster, create sturdier roads more resistant to ruts and potholes, and would save the city money which can be put towards more infrastructure projects.  I would also check to see what percentage of work is being performed by local companies and workers.

 

An audit from last September found that the city had significantly overspent on administrative costs related to Renew Atlanta bonds, and lacked a detailed up-to-date procedural manual that reflects current business practices.  This is unacceptable.  I would push for a full review of our current practices and backlog in order to cut out the waste and focus resources on the field.

 

Infrastructure will only be a priority if we make it a priority.  Our resources must be focused on the most effective and efficient processes so that we can deliver noticeable improvements as quickly as possible.  We must also ensure our water and sewer system is ready for the increased demand that comes with population expansion. This is a regional issue, as growth will extend to the entire metro region. We must upgrade our water and sewer system to meet increasing demand while providing clean, potable water at affordable rates.


 

17. How important is sustainability to Atlanta’s continued growth and vitality? What sustainability initiatives have been most successful in Atlanta to date and how do you plan to build upon them?

 

Sustainability is extremely important to Atlanta’s continued growth and vitality.  The water shortages a few years ago really drove home the realization that without water we don’t have a city.  Fulton County is expected to need more than 300 million gallons of water per day by 2035 (only 14 years from now!) and we’re almost entirely dependent on surface water.  No rain, no water.  The weather is also getting hotter which means more and more days of high electricity usage for air conditioning.  We can’t risk the same types of grid failures Texas just experienced.

 

Sustainability is good for business, good for residents, and good for growth.  There are new and exciting building construction technologies such as engineered wood beams as strong as steel, on-site water treatment systems, solar integrations, and other building design techniques that create interesting and sustainable architecture.  I would love to see Atlanta regularly featured as a leader in innovative green building design and the high-paying architecture, construction, engineering, education, manufacturing and maintenance jobs that come with that.

 

Furthermore, you get the best results with changes on the system-wide level.  I fully support zoning and legislation changes promoting sustainability and more efficient use of resources.  The City of Atlanta government is large enough that we can have a major effect by upgrading our fleet, improving our city-owned buildings, and promoting innovative projects such as the “parklets” project currently being tested by the Atlanta Department of City Planning.

 

We must include putting transit on the Atlanta Beltline, expanding MARTA’s rail and bus network, and ensuring Atlanta is a safe city for pedestrians and cyclists. As we strive to encourage more transit use, we must also keep our existing roads in good health by repaving and improving our pothole repair system.

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