Matt Westmoreland is running for City Council Post 2 At Large.
Candidate website: www.mattwestmoreland.com
Q: What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
A: Councilman, City of Atlanta. Board of Directors, ArtsBridge Foundation; Board of Visitors, Emory University; Board of Advisors, Atlanta Speech School; Board of Directors, Hosea Feed the Hungry; Young Professional Board, Meals on Wheels Atlanta; Board of Advisors, Bearings Bike Shop Member, League of Women Voters of Atlanta-Fulton County. Member, Peachtree Road United Methodist Church.
Q: What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
A: Ensuring all residents have access to economic security and mobility. In April 2019, I authored legislation co-sponsored by 11 colleagues outlining a new approach to economic and community development. That work culminated with Atlanta’s first-ever (and metrics-based) economic mobility plan, refocusing us on community-focused development in underserved neighborhoods, increased support for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and building wealth in communities of color. I was also proud to create our Middle-Wage Jobs Fund, a first-of-its kind initiative focused on growing high-quality jobs with salaries between $40,000-80,000—especially ones that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. These dollars will help directly connect residents in disinvested neighborhoods to roles. And as a former APS Board Member, I can help lead a citywide conversation around expanding access to quality Early Childhood Education. It is one of the most-significant investments we can make to address economic mobility and the racial wealth gap.
Q: How do you define “affordability” in housing and what is a specific tactic you would use to improve it?
A: “Affordable” is spending no more than 30 percent of your income on rent/utilities. In January, we voted to authorize a $100 million housing opportunity bond—the city’s largest-ever investment in housing affordability. Regular bond issuances are an important tool. We also need a dedicated, recurring local funding stream. Establishing one is a top priority for me. I’m also proud of our recent work on the Invest Atlanta Board of lease-purchase bonds, tax-exempt bonds, and TAD grants to help create or preserve thousands of units of affordable housing– the vast majority for residents earning 60 percent or below of the region’s median income Finally, the City (and its partner agencies) own thousands of acres of vacant land. Continuing to partner with Atlanta Housing, Invest Atlanta, and the Atlanta BeltLine to use those parcels to build housing that is both deeply and permanently affordable is critical in these next four years.
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: This issue should always be top of mind, but that was especially true when I joined Council in January 2018. In those early months, we adopted several pieces of ethics legislation around increasing transparency, reforming our procurement process, fully and quickly honoring open records requests, and managing credit card use as well as the practice of giving bonuses. Council also worked to draft and adopt legislation creating Atlanta’s first inspector general to identify and prosecute wrongdoing within city government. In the FY22 Budget unanimously adopted in June, we fully funded the increased budget request from our new inspector general as well as continued funding for our City Auditor and Ethics Office as they continue their important work in ensuring an ethical and transparent city government.
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 clearest public policy lesson is one that was evident before both historic events, but was certainly reinforced over the last 18 months: Health, financial, and public safety crises disproportionally impact residents of color, the levers that government can pull are many (but they must be coordinated at the local, state and federal level to be most effective), and that decades (or centuries) of systemic racism and oppression have created incredibly deep divisions that will take such a long time to close, heal, and right.
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: This was an incredibly complex and difficult issue to navigate over the last few months. And that was partly because the number and diversity of stakeholder groups engaged in the conversation: Our men and women in uniform, criminal justice reform advocates, members of our philanthropic community, residents from across the city with sometimes divergent opinions, and folks from environmental and greenspace organizations. Throughout the last several weeks, there were many criticisms made over the process that led up to a vote. I think those criticisms are very fair. Frankly, they’ve been made at various moments over the last four years on issues where my votes would’ve put me, at different points, on both “sides” of this debate. As I’ve reflected on this one, it’s increasingly clear to me the City doesn’t begin engaging with the public early or earnestly enough—leaving people to grieve the process, which is never acceptable.
Q: Do you support the Atlanta public safety training center’s location on Key Road in DeKalb County? Why or why not?
A: The City has owned various properties on Key Road for decades—and for much of recent memory, used parts for public safety training purposes. In early September, Council passed a proposal to use roughly quarter of the site to develop a much-needed training center, to preserve the remaining three-quarters as greenspace to be restored and opened to the public— and to achieve both thanks to significant philanthropic support. This was the hardest vote of the term. And before voting in favor of the legislation, I offered three sets of amendments – incorporating feedback from the Nature Conservancy, South River Forest Coalition, and residents — that meaningfully altered the final language. They included significantly limiting the area to be developed, codifying the preservation of the remaining acreage, a commitment to acquire and preserve forested property, and the creation of a community stakeholder advisory committee to guide every phase of the work ahead.
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: Understanding and addressing crime is an incredibly complex topic. On this issue (like some others), I find it most helpful to seek out advice and counsel from an intentionally diverse group of advisers and colleagues who offer varied (and some times completely opposite) feedback. Over the last four years, I’ve leaned on representatives Women on the Rise, Racial Justice Action League, Southern Center for Human Rights, Atlanta Police Foundation, Atlanta/Fulton County Pre-Arrest Diversion Initiative, Purpose Built Communities– as well as numerous of our own current and retired men and women in uniform. The diversity of the groups listed above means they fall on both sides of virtually every vote we’ve taken this term. But every conversation has helped inform my thinking and my final decision.
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: As a proud product of Atlanta Public Schools, former teacher at Carver High, and former member of the Atlanta Board of Education— this is incredibly important to me. City government must partner with APS and philanthropic and business communities to provide universal, high-quality Early Childhood Education for our youngest residents. It is, without question, one of the most-significant investments we can make to improve opportunity and choice (and address economic mobility and the racial wealth gap). Our collective goal must also be for every APS student to walk across the graduation stage– and either onto a college campus or into a job that pays a living wage. After years as a much-troubled agency, we have begun to see a turnaround at WorkSource Atlanta. We must ensure progress continues—as well as ensure every Atlanta resident can benefit, without concern to cost, of the programs offered at Atlanta Technical College.
Q: Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
A: Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to talk more– at firstname.lastname@example.org.