Jodi Merriday is running for City Council Post 3 At Large.

Candidate website: www.jodimerriday.com

Q: What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations? 

A: Chief Diversity Officer/CEO, Diplomacy, Inc.

Q: What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it? *

A: The biggest issue facing Atlanta is a trifecta: crime, affordable housing, and transit. I am the best candidate to address these issues because I understand the necessity of addressing all three simultaneously and have the education, experience, and expertise to do the work ahead of us. We cannot arrest our way out of crime. People who cannot access or afford housing experience despair and desperation. The absence of geographically accessible employment opportunities creates barriers for those residing south, west, and east of downtown. Our current transportation grid does not connect economically thriving parts of the city to those needing opportunity. Moreover, an individual earning minimum wage cannot afford housing in Atlanta. We must increase the minimum wage, subsidize and build affordable housing, and actualize a transportation infrastructure that connects neighborhoods that share economic opportunities, amenities, and a good quality of life.

Q: How do you define “affordability” in housing and what is a specific tactic you would use to improve it? 

A: I define affordability in housing as housing that can be obtained with 30 percent or less of an individual’s income (earning minimum wage in the state of Georgia). The tactics that I would advance to improve affordability include: 1) increasing funding and access to federal, state, county, and city programs that give money or discounted housing to low-income families; 2) increasing the number of dwellings available through the utilization of property owned by the city; 3) utilizing rent control and inclusionary zoning ; 4) supporting legislation that allows for accessory dwellings and the construction of missing middle housing ; 5) incentivizing development that prioritizes the provision of affordable units at rents below the 80th percentile of median income; 6) encouraging income diversity in our neighborhoods; and 7) advocating for building code reform and multifamily gap financing programs.

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: To restore public trust on matters of staff spending and contract procurement I would support: 1) concretizing transparent, ethical, and fair practices that allow the public to see, understand and experience equal access to opportunity and information; 2) upgrading technology and strengthening the professional acumen and service delivery model of city services; 3) providing point of service keypad-based feedback from constituents; 4) departmental performance audits; and 5) ongoing professional development to advance integrity and positive ethical behavior.

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: The two most important public policy lessons I learned from the pandemic and protests for racial justice included the necessity of reaffirming equality and the urgency of advancing systemic and institutional equity. Marked disparities in justice, healthcare, and education were glaring and as such, expedient policy reform is required. Equitable policy includes: 1) municipal government providing needed resources {PPP, free and accessible COVID testing, and vaccinations}; 2) responding to the social impacts of our ongoing health crisis (i.e., for example rent and utility grants, tax assistance grants, moratoriums, installment/payment plans, food/grocery give-a-ways and support to small businesses to recalibrate); 3) funding a 90-day safety net point of capture for those who are unsheltered; 4) providing technology to aid children who do not have access; and 5) criminal justice reform, diversion programming, and decriminalization of minor offenses.

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: The first change that I would make would be to ensure that consensus is derived, and transparent processes are instituted. Many communities did not feel as if their Council person voted in alignment with voices of opposition and other Atlantans felt as if public comment was disregarded. Communities and neighborhood must be a part of this process as they constitute the foundation of our city. My leadership style is inclusion, diplomacy, and consensus building. I lead with sentences such as, “we all agree,” to minimize discord, highlight agreement, motivate enthusiasm, and direct results. Rather than leaving people behind, I strive to bring everyone forward.

Q: Do you support the Atlanta public safety training center’s location on Key Road in DeKalb County? Why or why not? 

A: This decision has already been concluded 10-4. I did not agree with how this decision was made nor how public comment was handled. I fully support having an Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. However, I do not believe that Key Road was the best location.

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 leverage the expertise that I possess as a subject-matter expert on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Masters level educational experience regarding complex emergencies (from London School of Economics and Political Science), and Barack Obamas recommendations for 21st century policing to understand and envision how Atlanta can best address crime. An important fact that I have learned is that the key to decreasing crime in not building more jails and arresting more people. We cannot arrest our way out of crime. Crime must be solved at its point of origin {poverty, ability to receive mental health and substance abuse services, equity in education, ability to earn livable wages, affordable housing, etc.}. Ameliorating crime requires systemic and institutional justice, equality, and equity.

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: Three critical areas of opportunity for the Mayor’s office to work in partnership with APS include: 1) transforming the city’s recreation buildings into @ Promise Centers in partnership with the Police Foundation to provide homework completion assistance and extracurricular activities to Atlanta’s youth and wrap around services to families; 2) providing a Youth Employment Program (YEP!Atl) to all APS students 15-18 in the summer and as an extended learning day through Atlanta Workforce Development; and 3) implementing risk-reduction and conflict resolution programming in schools to decrease youth conflict, gun violence, and early intervention to prevent crime.

Q: Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided? 

A: I am a passionate and dedicated native Atlantan who will bring 30 years of leadership and professional experience from higher and secondary education, private sector, government, social work, and social justice to my aspiration to be elected to City Council Post 3 At-Large. I was a member of the leadership team recruited to support Atlanta Public Schools (APS) following the cheating scandal and established the Ombudsman’s Office. During my two-year term, I provided impartial and confidential recourse in more than 1,600 cases of conflict. I have also worked as a Project Manager at the Atlanta Committee for Progress and wrote the grant that secured funding from the Rockefeller Foundation for Atlanta to hire a Chief Service Officer and become a City of Service. I have chosen to run to lend my expertise, skills, and education to being a thoughtful, collaborative, and dedicated servant on Atlanta City Council.

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