While many local candidates have spent much of the campaign cycle devoted to attending Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods meetings, the council gave political hopefuls in several Atlanta City Council at-large races the opportunity to introduce themselves to voters Thursday night.
Candidates who spoke at the meeting, held monthly at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, included H. Lamar Willis, Post 3 at-large representative, and his opponent, Andre Dickens, as well as Post 2 at-large representative Aaron Watson and his challenger, former councilwoman and mayoral candidate Mary Norwood.
Watson, who was first to address the council, was asked to explain his 2012 vote in favor to rezone a portion of the Lindbergh area of Buckhead for a Walmart and mixed-use residential area despite opposition from Neighborhood Planning Unit B.
Watson said the development had promising features including senior housing, bike trails and a park, though the decision ultimately fell short of council approval by one vote.
“You don’t always get to take your cues from the neighborhood when it comes to these decisions,” he said, but noted he often does side with community groups.
Watson said his priorities for his next term include determining how to best allocate city funds to improve infrastructure, addressing the city employee health benefit plans and finding ways to encourage alternative transportation.
Norwood said she is running because she wants to return to the work of helping neighborhoods and communities. She said her top priority is improved public safety, condemning a recent shooting at Fellini’s Pizza in Buckhead. She said she hopes to address issues with compensation and operational practices to retain high-performing officers within the Atlanta Police Department.
“The idea that we have shootouts in the middle of Buckhead, … I don’t care what the crime stats say, the random, violent crime, the rash of bash-ins and burglaries and carjackings, we just can’t have that,” she said.
Other issues Norwood would like to address focus on other quality-of-life issues, including identifying more places for parks, improving traffic flow and ironing out ordinance issues to help get properties throughout the city in compliance with code.
In the Post 3 race, Willis withstood many questions from the council and other guests about his recent disbarment while his opponent Dickens said, if elected, he would remove leaders who fail to uphold ethical standards.
“If you have leaders in office, if you have challenges that are in office, you really have to look at that and say, ‘That’s not the type of government we want,’” Dickens said. “Every decision requires integrity and trust, the ability to trust your leaders. I think we strengthened our ethics laws in 2002 but now we have to enforce them. I would remove people. I would put laws in place to remove people in office that have betrayed the public trust or have been found to undermine the public trust.”
Willis, when asked why the public should continue to trust him, said in his role as a council member, there has never been a question of his capabilities or his performance, but a “lack of responding on [his] part” to ensure funds were properly handled that “cost him dearly” in his professional life.
“I’ve been raised in this city. I love this city and I have held myself up and would hold my record up against anyone who served in this city,” Willis said. “I hope that the voters will see that. To the extent that they don’t, I respect that decision.”
In other business, Chastain Park resident and attorney Claire Murray voiced her concerns about a proposed change to Atlanta Public Schools policy that would allow the superintendent and his staff to lease school facilities for up to year without approval from the board of education or input from neighborhood groups. Chairman Jim King said he would review the proposed revisions and allow council to discuss the issue at the next meeting.