Keisha Sean Waites is running for City Council Post 3 At Large.
Candidate website: www.keishawaites.com
Q: What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
A: Small Business Owner and former State Representative-House District 60, National Foundation of Women Legislators, Women in Government (WIG), Economic Security and Opportunities (ESO) Advisory Council, Young Elected Officials (YEO) – former State Director, Women in Numbers (WIN), David Bohnett Fellowship Foundation, Henry Toll Fellowship, Harvard University Leadership Institute, Harvard Kennedy School of Government-Executive Education, Women in Government, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Victory Fund/Institute, National Council of State Legislators (NCSL), Council of State Government (CSG) Governing Institute
Q: What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
A: The biggest issue facing constituents is relative to each person or family impacted. For some it’s crime, for others it’s housing and food insecurity, while for others it’s spiking taxes, or inconsistent city services such as trash removal and repairs to roadways and sidewalks. All of these issues are interrelated, so focusing on just one doesn’t really tackle the whole problem. However, in my conversations with my neighbors and constituents the following 3 issues are raised the most:
A. Public Safety/Violence Prevention
B. Restoring Public Trust: Transparency and Ethics
C. Regional Transit Solutions
I’m the best candidate to address these issues because I have a legislative track record built upon constituency service. During my 3-term tenure in the Georgia General Assembly, I took the time to listen to my constituents and focused on the issues that impacted their quality of life.
Q: How do you define “affordability” in housing and what is a specific tactic you would use to improve it?
A: When nurses, teachers, police, EMTs, young professionals, restaurant and retail workers can’t afford to live in the areas they serve, we have a housing affordability problem. What’s “affordable” is going to change from area to area throughout the city depending on what the people who need to work in that area earn, or how far they commute to and from work with a mortgage or rent they can afford. I support updates to zoning codes, and incentivizing opportunities to create more density: supply of duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and attached apartments, especially in areas close to public transportation or in walkable neighborhoods. Changing zoning to allow multi-unit housing provides “invisible density” that increases affordable housing supply but is relatively indistinguishable from single-family houses. Cities need a variety of housing options and styles to develop the vibrant, diverse neighborhoods that older cities like Boston and New Orleans are known for.
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: Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Open and transparent bidding processes, public expense records, regular audits, and a mayor committed to reform are all necessary to restore public trust. We also need to eradicate the “pay to play” culture that has permeated for many decades. Until we put an end to nepotism and cronyism, city hall will remain toxic and plagued with scandal. If elected, I will propose and support legislation that all City of Atlanta employees abide by a much-needed, updated and revised Employee Code of Ethics along with strict, actionable penalties for violating the code. I fully support any and all measures designed to bring openness, oversight and accountability to any use of funds and resources by city employees. Previous administrations were able to waste taxpayer money on personal expenses precisely because use of those funds was not transparent. That lack of transparency needs to end immediately.
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: I think the clear public policy lesson is that good communication and trust between residents and the city, and between decision makers and residents is critical. When it’s not there, it doesn’t matter how much benefit a policy or project will bring because people will react to the most inflammatory comments they hear without a full grasp of the situation. Managing a city is complex and complicated. Things look black or white on the surface because they get boiled down to a half-sentence social media post, when in reality the world is shades of gray. There are multiple factors to consider and balance in every decision. When people trust their representatives to listen and make good decisions, you don’t see the types of conflicts generated in the COVID and racial justice situations. People want to be heard, they want competent governance, and they deserve good, honest, communication.
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: Public Safety remains the #1 issue impacting our city! Therefore, this should be a collaborative process between city planners, elected officials, and relevant stakeholders including businesses, neighborhoods, individual residents and issue advocates, guided through a centralized planning department. Where the initial idea for a project originates shouldn’t matter as each stakeholder has their own spotlight, blind spots and time horizon. We need corporations and private groups making proposals. We need more communities and neighborhoods proposing improvements. We need experts planning for growth and what the city will require 50 years down the road. With a guided, collaborative process each stakeholder gets a better picture of the overall situation and can better affect the outcome of the development, making sure as many people are positively affected as possible. If handled properly, that process allows for interesting development in the near-term while also planning out the longer horizon needs of a rapidly growing city.
Q: Do you support the Atlanta public safety training center’s location on Key Road in DeKalb County? Why or why not?
A: Absolutely yes! I fully support the training center’s overall location and purpose, but I don’t support the way we went about the whole project. Unfortunately, DeKalb residents had little input because it is city owned land. For Atlanta to thrive we need to be good partners, good neighbors, good communicators, good listeners, and consensus builders. Like other issues affecting the city, this is a complex topic but conflict was largely avoidable and unnecessary. Secondly, a misinformation campaign was created due to a lack of public input and engagement early on! I support this project for multiple reasons. The city already owns the land and there are significant private contributions, saving Atlanta taxpayers millions. Part of our crime issue is our inability to attract, train and retain top talent, and our existing facilities are beyond inadequate. This facility reduces costs, improves training, and incentivizes good officers and firefighters to stay in Atlanta.
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: First and foremost, I am a Christian and woman of faith! Therefore, I take all matters in prayer. Secondly, I rarely turn to “one main expert.” There are a lot of really clever people out there tackling problems in ways you’d never think about, along with robust state and federal resources. Getting a variety of viewpoints is essential. One of my main advisors is a mechanical engineer who specializes in troubleshooting. He can quickly gather data from a variety of experts, throw out the nonsense, boil down problems to their likely root causes, and then start systematically testing solutions by implementing the fastest, cheapest and most-likely-to-be-successful strategies first. Sadly, one crime fact I learned from him is confirmation of the obvious — crime is a complex, multi-faceted issue with different causes and solutions. Reducing crime will take a coordinated effort between police, the Atlanta City Council, the Mayor’s office, the justice system and mental health services.
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: A large portion of property taxes are allocated to the schools, which is an investment in our youth. Everyone needs to be focused on providing the best experience for the children that we can. Having served on both the Juvenile Justice and Public Safety committees during my tenure in the General Assembly, I recognize that there is an excellent opportunity to work with the schools to implement a violence prevention and conflict resolution program. This would tackle one facet of our crime problem before it even starts. This type of curriculum has been implemented with great success in other cities and can work here. Furthermore, schools are in direct daily contact with families. We can be doing more to educate parents about available city services and making sure our students the resources needed to thrive and be successful.
Q: Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
A: I have dedicated my entire professional career to helping people and trying to improve our city. In the Georgia General Assembly, I was a fierce advocate for women and families, and I focused on public safety. I currently work for FEMA helping individuals and families recover from events outside of their control. I’m running for a citywide post on the Atlanta City Council because turning on the headline news reporting violent crime, the concerns of our constituents constantly being ignored, poor quality services provided, money being wasted, and flagrant corruption. There’s a real opportunity to position our city to equitably manage and capitalize on the growth that’s coming. I feel I can help the most people by influencing the policies and legislation governing how the city operates, and making sure services are delivered. I have the experience, legislative knowledge, and connections at local, state and federal levels necessary to get the job done.
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