Dustin Hillis is running for City Council District 9.
Candidate website: www.votedustinhillis.com
Q: What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
A: City Councilmember – City of Atlanta. I am also a licensed/certified critical care nurse, but do not currently practice in order to dedicate as much time as possible to my family and City Council job.
Q: What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
A: Public Safety/Crime is the number one issue across the city and District 9. Citywide, total crime is up 10 percent, with violent crimes up over 15 percent. Both APD and AFRD are at or over 25 percent vacancy. The fire fleet and stations are in deplorable condition, with 5 or more apparatus down some days and well over 10 fire stations needing to be rebuilt. We must focus on retention and recruitment in public safety. This will allow APD to practice true community policing with smaller zones and beats, so officers are not simply running from call to call but taking time to be engaging with our communities. Addressing our AFRD issues will also lead to much lower response times. I am the best candidate to address these issues because I have the experience bettering public safety, serving as Public Safety Committee Chair in 2018 and 2019.
Q: How do you define “affordability” in housing and what is a specific tactic you would use to improve it?
A: While “affordable housing” has a broad definition, I believe the focus should be on where it is needed most, at or below 60 percent AMI. Since being elected, I have worked with Invest Atlanta and developers to establish or save over 900 affordable units in District 9, with over 85 percent of those being in that at or below 60 percent AMI category. I also worked with the administration to craft the Westside Park Overlay, which includes the city’s first for-sale affordability requirement. I will look to bring parts of the to previous overlays, and recently cosponsored legislation that would do just that. The city also needs to evaluate a dedicated funding stream for affordable housing, in addition to the $50 million bond we approved.
Q: City Hall has been dogged by an apparently ongoing federal investigation involving accusations of corruption in the previous mayoral administration. How would you help restore public trust on matters of staff spending and contract procurement?
A: The city made a big step in reigning this in with the establishment of the Inspector General. I will be an advocate for always ensuring that department is fully-funded and fully-staffed so they can doggedly monitor our procurement processes and staff spending/transactions. Regarding procurement, for more reasons than corruption, it is my belief that department needs to be totally dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up, as there continue to be questionable practices and unwarranted delays taking place within the process.
Q: In 2020, Atlanta and the nation experienced two historic events: the COVID-19 pandemic and protests about racial justice and police brutality. What is a public-policy lesson you learned from those events?
A: Lesson number one is that governments need to have response and contingency plans, not only for short-term disasters, but long-term disasters as well, in order for government to continue functioning, especially essential city services. Regarding the racial justice and police brutality movement, it certainly showed more accountability, training, and alternatives to arrest are needed in our police departments across the nation. However, I believe it also showed the basic need for policing and always providing some control over protests, given the events that transpired in what the administration negligently allowed to be an “autonomous zone” during the Rayshard Brooks protests.
Q: The debate about the location of a public safety training center is an example of longstanding tension over whether Atlanta’s urban planning should be more top-down from corporations and private groups or more bottom-up from communities and neighborhoods. What is your approach to planning processes and is there a specific change you would make?
A: I support both top-down planning with community input, as well as bottom-up starting with our neighborhoods. Long-term urban planning, like the Atlanta City Design, is needed to guide the city decades into the future. However, just like with zoning changes and modifications to the Comprehensive Development Plan, we must remember that things change and sometimes modifications of plans are needed. Regarding those zoning and CDP changes, I inform every person or group that comes to me to present their plans that my support for their plans, rezoning, special use permit, etc. is contingent on neighborhood and Neighborhood Planning Unit support. I fully support our NPU system, attending as many of those meetings as I can, along with meetings of individual neighborhoods. I have been involved in many bottom-up plans, including revised NPU master plans and community improvement district master plans. I am also working to get decades-old community plans updated.
Q: Do you support the Atlanta public safety training center’s location on Key Road in DeKalb County? Why or why not?
A: Overall, I support the Public Safety Training Center on Key Road. A new fire and police training facility is direly needed – not only because of the deplorable conditions of the current classroom facilities, but because those locations do no currently incorporate all training at one location. Currently, APD must travel an hour away for EVOC training, and AFRD must travel to Douglas County to utilize their burn building. The city has owned the site for over a century, with public safety training already taking place there for around half that time. This will open up 100s of acres of greenspace. While I support preserving and expanding greenspace, we also cannot ignore our duties to provide other basic city services. To me, this agreement is comparable to Westside Park in District 9. Both will end up being around 75% greenspace, with 25% used for another much-needed basic city service.
Q: Who is the main expert you turn to for information on understanding and addressing crime and what is an important fact you have learned from them?
A: I cannot say that I turn to any particular individual when it comes to addressing crime, or any other issue. I instead rely on researching best practices of other comparable cities. One item in particular that I have been looking to improve in Atlanta is the Pre-Arrest Diversion Program, which we recently expanded to serve all six APD zones. One city’s program and success I have looked at is Los Angeles, which has a 24/7 PAD program. I believe that should be a goal here in Atlanta and is one that I will work with my colleagues on implementing best practices, while also monitoring the successes and challenges.
Q: What are some areas of opportunity for the mayor’s office to work in partnership with the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board?
A: I believe the mayor’s office should have a dedicated liaison to serve as a much-needed connection between the City of Atlanta and Atlanta Public Schools. This position could serve as a on-stop-shop in coordination of efforts/programs between the city and school system that will greatly benefit our children and their education. There is much opportunity to not only educate children on their city government, but also to work with APS in establishing vocational programs as a direct-line to City of Atlanta (or APS) employment upon completion of high school. This would be a dual benefit to both the city, in getting more quality workers, and to APS, in further enhancing its graduation rate.
Q: Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
A: I am seeking re-election to keep working for the people of District 9 on our greatest needs. Voters know they can count on me to deliver on our biggest issues, which is the need for safer neighborhoods, better infrastructure, and greater city services – getting us “back to the basics”. My voters know this because I delivered on issues my 2017 campaign called out. That included leading the push for long-overdue raises for public safety employees, securing funding for fire stations, adding or saving almost 1000 units of affordable housing, cleaning up neighborhoods of over 200 blighted structures, working in lockstep with the community to defeat the plans to build a gigantic fuel terminal along the Chattahoochee River at Proctor Creek, and opening 100s of acres of new greenspace in Westside Park – which also extended the city’s emergency water supply from 3 days to 90 days.
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