Andre Dickens, Willis’s Council Opponent, on the Issues
(APN) ATLANTA — Over the last two days, Atlanta Progressive News interviewed Andre Dickens regarding his position on the issues in preparation for this November’s Municipal Elections for the City of Atlanta, in which Dickens is challenging Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large).
As previously reported by APN, Willis has had numerous ethical issues over the years. He is currently facing a disbarment recommendation that is pending before the Supreme Court of Georgia, although for some reason, no other news medium seems interested in reporting this fact.
Willis is basically Mayor Kasim Reed’s floor leader; he is one of the least progressive members of City Council; and he has a history of verbally attacking citizens, like William Perry and Ron Shakir, and city staff, like Rosalie Joy.
Dickens has raised quite a war chest–over 55,000 dollars as of the most recent disclosure filing–and appears to be one of the most serious challengers to a City Council incumbent this year. Former Mayor Shirkey Franklin is one notable contributor to Mr. Dickens.
Dickens works at Georgia Tech as Assistant Director of Outreach Initiatives.
On APN’s City Council Scorecard–which is comprised of over forty individual votes dating back to 2003–Willis has a score of 35.13 out of 100, making him the third least progressive member out of fifteen.
APN asked Dickens how he would have voted on some of the same controversial issues to determine how he might substantively contrast with Willis’s voting record. Here are his positions, in alphabetical order by issue:
Dickens at first expressed disbelief that Atlanta has a shortage of affordable housing units, pointing to the number of foreclosure-related vacant houses.
However, after APN provided Dickens with a report by the Beltline Affordable Housing Advisory Board, noting that Atlanta is at least between 35,000 and 50,000 units short, Dickens emphasized that he is concerned about affordable housing.
In a move detrimental to the cause of meaningful affordable housing for low-income families, Willis voted in 2010 to allow a waiver of affordability requirements for the expenditure of Beltline Affordable Housing Trust Fund dollars that were proposed in connection with the redevelopment of the former City Hall East.
AIRPORT CONCESSIONS CONTRACTS
“I remember that one, it took a lot to get that done. I’m trying to tread lightly on that one. No comment right now,” Dickens said.
Willis supported the controversial airport concessions contract approvals.
Dickens said he would generally support rolling back bar closing hours to 4am. Willis supported changing them to 3am, and opposed changing them back to 4am.
“That’s not one I’d really thought about. I don’t have any reason to restrict it. I’m okay with moving bar hours back to 4am. It may cost extra money to make it secure. Our neighborhoods need to be safe – East Atlanta – areas by bars are areas of concern. I don’t have a personal real problem with changing that,” Dickens said.
BULLHOOK BAN AT ATLANTA CIRCUSES
Dickens said he did not know about the efforts of some Councilmembers to ban the use of bullhooks to torture elephants at circuses in Atlanta.
Willis did not support an amendment by Felicia Moore (District 9) that would have banned the bullhook.
CHESHIRE BRIDGE REZONING
“I’ve only looked at that a little bit,” Dickens said on the Cheshire Bridge rezoning proposal.
Willis supported getting rid of grandfathered-in adult entertainment establishments on Cheshire Bridge road.
Dickens said he would have opposed a proposal by Willis to change the process by which the Chair of the Ethics Board is selected. The proposal would have allowed the Council to pick its favorite person to oversee them out of a list of three nominees, instead of voting a single nominee up or down.
“It’s designed to be separate for a reason. You know them trying to change that would never fly and I don’t know why the person with the most ethics violations on the Council would open himself to scrutiny by wanting to change the way the ethics officer is selected,” Dickens said of Willis.
After opposition from many citizens and Councilmembers, even Willis supported filing his own legislation.
“The deal with the stadium is, that goes back to my whole thing about public participation. We can all agree on an outcome, if it’s jobs and all that stuff. The process is not going well at all. The way they get community input and community benefits is not the way it should be,” Dickens said.
“Why are we rushing it? The community deserves to be heard, deserves a benefits agreement, not a plan. We can get there if we keep having meetings with the proper respect for the neighborhoods. Not only should everyone be respected at the table, everyone should be expected at the table,” Dickens said.
“I would vote no until we have a Community Benefits Agreement set up; that’s not no to the stadium. I’m a Falcons ticket-holder, I have been since 2003,” Dickens said.
METRO ATLANTA TASK FORCE FOR THE HOMELESS
Dickens said he did not have a position on the controversial homeless shelter, which has been victimized by an apparent illegal conspiracy to drive it out of business.
Willis is opposed to the Task Force and he opposed legislation by Councilwoman Moore that would have clarified in a letter to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development that the Council had not taken a position on future federal funding for the Task Force.
Dickens expressed shock to learn that the panhandling legislation enacted last year by the Council allowed for a sentence of up to 180 days in jail for a person convicted of aggressive panhandling, or of panhandling in disallowed areas, even for a first offense.
Dickens told APN that that seemed extreme and he would want to know why such legislation would have been supported unanimously by the Council, with Natalyn Archibong (District 5) absent.
In a later conversation, Dickens accused APN of misleading him about the contents of the legislation, noting that he had read news reports saying that the legislation called for community service and not jail time.
In fact, the Mayor misled most news organizations and the public regarding the contents of the ordinance. APN requested a correction from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time but does not believe it ever ran.
APN forwarded a copy of the actual legislation to Dickens, which shows that the Council did approve a sentence of up to 180 days in jail for certain panhandlers, even for a first offense.
Dickens said he would not have supported the Yolanda Adrean (District 8) pension reform proposal, which, among other things, would have taken away the defined benefit for existing city employees. Willis was one of seven Councilmembers who lined up to support the Adrean pension proposal, although the issue did not come to a vote.
“I think to not honor the existing contract would’ve been against the law. I think the Council got it right [in approving a compromise shepherded by Felicia Moore] – Felicia deserves a lot of credit for that,” Dickens said.
PUBLIC COMMENT LIMITATIONS
Some Councilmembers, including Willis, have set out to limit public comments at meetings of the City Council’s seven Committees.
“I’m a big advocate of public participation, public input. Part of my whole reason for running is because of the input we allow to the NPUs, neighborhood associations. I am all for people that live in these neighborhoods. I think we need to allow and afford for citizens to communicate directly,” Dickens said.
“I think people can communicate their ways – in Committees,” he said. “At general Council, no; in Cmte, you want to hear it all, you want to flesh it out… But to firmly place limits, I can’t say that,” Dickens said.
Willis supported setting Multi-Cmte public speaking limits in a 2010 vote now known as the secret vote, and again in 2013.
When asked if Dickens would participate in a secret or unrecorded vote, and then refuse to tell citizens how he voted, Dickens said he would disclose how he voted.
Willis, who participated in the secret vote of 2010, refused to disclose how he voted until the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled against him two years later.
Willis’s refusal to disclose his secret vote in part led to APN’s Editor–the present writer–suing the City of Atlanta regarding the nondisclosure, later winning a victory in a ruling by the Supreme Court of Georgia that at least certain government agency vote details must be recorded in the minutes in the case of non-roll call votes.
Dickens said he supports the street vendors, who have been disenfranchised from Atlanta’s public spaces due to a combination of actions and inactions by Mayor Kasim and the City Council of Atlanta.
“I believe people should have the right to earn a living. They deserve to be on that corner. Government’s job is to make sure there’s rules and that they’re enforced. I think vendors have a place in major cities,” Dickens said.
Willis supported the problematic street vending ordinance of 2008, although, to his credit, he opposed the General Growth Properties (GGP) contract, which purported to provide GGP with a monopoly over street vending in Atlanta.