Sonya Russell-Ofchus is running for City Council Post 2 At Large.
Candidate website: sonyaforatlanta.com
Q: What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
A: I’m a retired federal agent and current business owner.
Q: What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
A: Crime is the biggest issue right now. My background includes 25 years of public service including law enforcement. My ideas areas follows: We must empower our community and reconnect with law enforcement. Get back to the neighborhood watch mentality. Have officers get out of their vehicles and engage the community. Rid the culture of distrust and aggressive style policing. Adopt an ordinance to provide airborne support (UAS) to help police operations by reducing response times and increase risk for priority one calls. Reduce the scope of policing. No police enforcement for personal use drugs or mental health issues. Prioritize social services and community development. Create a Crisis Assistance Team (CAT) to help with the mental health crises instead of sending our police out to handle those calls they are not equipped to handle.
Q: How do you define “affordability” in housing and what is a specific tactic you would use to improve it?
A: Affordability is being able to live in a location where the bulk of your earnings are not paid to rent. As we know the rents are rising, but incomes are staying the same. We should create more housing choices for diverse families. City should provide tenant relocation assistance when they are displaced. Explore commercial linkage fees where developers will be required to pay the city a fee per square foot for new commercial development. Use the revenue generated from the fees to directly fund construction of new affordable housing. Propose tax breaks for landlords who agree to restrict rents at existing properties. Create ordinance to allow renters to be the first to make offer on property being sold by their landlord.
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: Develop a more robust monitoring, evaluation and auditing group to be used for oversight of city hall. Make sure it is monitored on a more regular basis. Streamline communications more effectively for oversight. Start an Inspector General’s Office to improve integrity, accountability and performance on contract issues. Start holding people accountable.
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: With COVID-19 I learned to follow the science. As a kidney transplant survivor, I listened to what the most experienced doctors were advocating for to stay healthy and save lives.
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: My approach would be collaboration. Police, fire, city hall, and the community should be able to have mature discussions about how the process will work. There should be transparency in how things will move forward. The public should not be left out of the process. The city should maintain dashboards, town halls and teleconferences to keep the public informed. Open communication is a must.
Q: Do you support the Atlanta public safety training center’s location on Key Road in DeKalb County? Why or why not?
A: The decision was made by city council to go forward with the building of the public safety training center. I support a safer city: more training for police and fire. I support adding a mental health department at the training facility to help with the homeless problem and other social service problems taking our police away from keeping our city safe.
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: My husband and I are both law enforcement professionals. There is enough experience in our household that we don’t have to go outside to address crime. We need to police in a different way than how it is being done now. Invest in and support our police so they can be in a better position to protect us. It’s time for a collaboration with the mayor, city council and the people of Atlanta to progress our city and improve the lives of everybody that lives here.
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: Having reading enrichment programs and adding early childhood learning centers for the summer is a great place for the mayor to help APS. Starting early for our youth is the answer to a lot of the issues we are having with our youth. Just going to school during the school year is not enough. We need to leverage additional resources with public, private partnerships.
Q: Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
A: It’s time for the community to get creative and find ways to help each other build back better. We need new energy, new ideas and a new sense of responsibility on our city council. We must improve trust and accountability between the citizens and city hall. We all have a responsibility to help make Atlanta better.
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