DeKalb District 5 Candidates Debate Cityhood, Annexation and Other Issues
Early voting is already underway for this seat, which has been without representation since July 2013, when District 5 Commissioner Lee May was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal as Interim DeKalb County CEO following the indictment and suspension of Burrell Ellis.
Earlier this month, May stepped down from his District 5 seat so that a new Commissioner could be elected, restoring voting power to District 5.
May had nominated George Turner Jr., President of District 5 Community Council, to fill his seat, but the nomination was blocked by Commissioners Jeff Rader (District 2) and Kathie Gannon (District 6).
Turner, a retired rail superintendent for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and former legislative aide for Georgia Senate District 43, is among ten candidates now running for the position.
The other candidates are:
- Greg Adams: Emory police officer and pastor at Deliverance Temple True Church of God in Christ, Inc.
- Harmel Codi: entrepreneur and education consultant
- Jerome Edmondson: CEO of TopTel, a call center company and owner of the Entrepreneur Development Network, which offers life coaching and online business development courses.
- Gwendolyn Green: Poet and library specialist for the DeKalb County School System
- Vaughn Irons: former Freddie Mac executive, CEO of APD Solutions, a property development firm, and Chair of the DeKalb Development Authority. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 investigation revealed that APD Solutions received a 1.5 million dollar contract from the DeKalb Neighborhood Stabilization program on the basis of a DeKalb Ethics Board opinion that may have been forged. The Ethics Board opinion contradicted a county attorney’s opinion that APD Solutions should be ineligible for the contract due to the obvious conflict of interest.
- Mereda Johnson: lawyer and former DeKalb County judge, wife of U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA); Johnson has been criticized for earning tens of thousands of dollars working for U.S. Rep. Johnson.
- Gina Mangham: attorney; activist who involved in stopping the development of a composting facility and biomass plant in DeKalb County; and treasurer of the South DeKalb Improvement Association
- Dr. Kathryn Rice: former Georgia State University economics professor; former Deputy Director of the Atlanta Empowerment Zone Corporation [funded by 250 million dollars in federal grants, this project is widely viewed as having failed to help Atlanta’s poorest residents and instead resulted in the gentrification of numerous areas]; founder of Building Quality Communities, an economic consultancy firm; advocate for municipalization in DeKalb County
- Kenneth Saunders III: Technology blogger and member of the DeKalb Community Council and the Hidden Hills Civic Association
The candidates answered questions about some of the most pressing issues for South DeKalb. Among them are the cityhood campaigns of Tucker and LaVista Hills. If these two areas incorporate, they will remove wealthy taxpayers and assets from the county.
A moderator asked candidates whether they think cityhood referendums should be held county-wide, not just within the cities that would incorporate, seeing as how the results will affect everyone in the county.
The power to allow such a referendum rests in the state legislature, and County Commissioners could put pressure on the County’s legislative delegation.
Turner, Mangham, Johnson, Codi, and Adams said yes, cityhood referendums should be county-wide and that, if elected, they would work to make that happen.
Saunders and Green said no, cityhood referendums do not need to be held county-wide.
Rice and Irons said no, but added that they would have supported such an effort if it were made earlier.
“The cat is out of the bag,” Irons said, referring to the fact that it’s too late to affect the Tucker and LaVista referendums.
Edmondson did not give a singular yes or no answer, but said cities shouldn’t be able to “cherry-pick our most prized assets.”
Another hot topic was the proposed annexation of Druid Hills into Atlanta.
All of the candidates were against annexation, but had different views on how to prevent it.
The moderator asked whether they would vote to litigate the issue.
“I don’t believe in frivolous lawsuits and there is nothing frivolous about this situation,” Turner said, affirming that he would vote to pursue legal action.
Edmondson used an anecdote about his granddaughter looking for some missing candy, to illustrate his position.
“She said to her Nana, ‘They sneakeded it!’ If you aren’t careful, City of Atlanta will sneakeded everything we got!” he said, to laughter and applause.
Irons and Codi also were in favor of a lawsuit.
“Annexation is what we used to call land-grabbing,” Codi said.
Others leaned toward a more placatory approach.
Rice said District 5 should “help others see a benefit to staying in DeKalb County.”
Adams compared the situation to a courtship.
“When I first met this young lady,” he said gesturing to his wife in the front row, “she didn’t want anything to do with me. She ran from me. I had to court her and convince her I’m the man she needs in her life. That’s what we need to do in DeKalb County.”
The other candidates did not specify whether they would support a lawsuit.
“I would first listen to my constituents and we would have to determine what’s in the best interest of DeKalb,” Johnson said.
The moderator also asked candidates if they would accept and use a purchasing card provided by the county.
Earlier this year, former District 1 Commissioner Elaine Boyer was sentenced to federal prison for spending tens of thousands of dollar in taxpayer money on personal purchases via the so-called “p-card.”
All candidates answered “no” with the exception of Adams, who said “yes,” and Johnson who didn’t give a yes or no answer.
The candidates also weighed in on issues like education, public safety, and economic development.
On the issue of public safety, most candidates focused on implementing programs for youth to keep them out of trouble. Only Mangham called for creating a Citizen Review Board to hold police accountable.
Early voting for DeKalb County District 5 Commissioner is ongoing until the day of the Special Election, on June 16, 2015.