Mike Russell is running for Atlanta City Council President.
Candidate website: https://www.mikerussellatlanta.com/
Q: What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
A: US Army Officer (ret), small business owner. Lifetime member of VFW, member of The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Working with the organization Prison Doctor to intervene with at risk youth and their families. Working with volunteers to improve living conditions for our firefighters at dilapidated fire stations.
Q: What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
A: Public safety is the first responsibility of government, and it will be my first priority in office. During my 28 years in the Army, I served as the chief of police at military bases around the world. I have more experience dealing with crime than all the other candidates combined. Others talk about community policing and intervention; I have successfully done those things. I will ensure our police and fire departments are properly, staffed, equipped, and trained. I will use my negotiating experience and skills to form strategic partnerships with other organizations to address the root causes of crime.
Q: How do you define “affordability” in housing and what is a specific tactic you would use to improve it?
A: When I speak about goals for affordable housing, I am referring to housing that can rented/purchase by working class people. Living in a government complex or paying government supplemented rent to a landlord in my view should be a temporary solution. The ultimate goal should be to make it possible for people to own their own home, have equity in the economy and build generational wealth. That goal is greatly diminished when your biggest expenditure is building another person’s wealth. If we are innovative and zone for purpose-built communities, we can have market-based homes that are affordable for working class residents. This will take careful planning, zoning, and detailed management of our available space.
Q: City Hall has been dogged by an apparently ongoing federal investigation involving accusations of corruption in the previous mayoral administration. What do you see as the role of the City Council in holding the Administration accountable and in helping restore public trust on matters of staff spending and contract procurement?
A: Spending must be transparent and tied to performance. Our city budgeting process is dysfunctional. I have watched numerous times as city council members have voted to spend tax dollars without even reading the bill. As City Council President, I will work to ensure we have rule changes that require every voting member to publicly affirm they have read all funding bills before they can vote. I will work to ensure each department lays out specific, measurable standards of performance and service to justify their requested funding, then hold the chief administrators accountable for meeting those standards. Those standards will be made public, so taxpayers clearly know what to expect for their tax dollars. The contracting process in Atlanta has been plague by corruption for so long and the cheating so pervasive I am advocating for an independent third party to take over this responsibility starting with the airport.
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: There is no excuse for lawlessness, no matter what the grievance. No individual has the right to harm another or to destroy their property or livelihood. This is a basic human right than must be upheld. If an individual engages in criminal activity there must be meaningful consequences. The cities that upheld the rule of law did not experience massive riots, the destruction of property or loss of life. Cities that did not act immediately or tried to placate lawlessness suffered a great deal.
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 Council in coordination with the mayor, sheriff, and other agencies (both private and public), should develop comprehensive strategies that cross jurisdictional boundaries to fight crime, preserve our environment, improve our infrastructure, schools, etc. The Council is a co-equal branch and must act as a check on the executive, but this does not have to be a confrontational relationship. There will be disagreements, but integrity and civility are key to working as a team to get things done for the people of our city. The recent proposals to revamp the NPU system should be closely studied, and changes made to make the process of community input and involvement more viable, transparent, and accessible to residents.
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 have been engaged in law enforcement for nearly 30 years, I know how to address crime. However, I am always seeking new methods and ideas. There is no one person i have turned to during my career. The techniques, tactics and technology are constantly evolving so I look across the spectrum of organizations and individuals (both US and foreign) to gain insight and knowledge.
Q: What are some areas of opportunity for the Atlanta City Council to work in partnership with the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board?
A: It does not matter how many good paying jobs are in Atlanta if our young people do not have the skills, and qualifications, to secure those jobs. Currently our public schools are failing to prepare students for the real world. Only 30 percent read at the proper level despite the fact Atlanta Public Schools are some of the best funded in the State spending approximately $17,000 per student per year. It is time for change and that is why I am a strong advocate for school choice. If the mayor’s children can go to private schools every child in our city should be afforded the same opportunity. Schools should be the gateway to success not a pipeline to prison. We can and must do better and the time is now! I will work with the school board, educators, parents, public and private organizations to afford disadvantaged children the same educational opportunities as children from wealthy families have.
Q: Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
A: As Atlanta City Council President, I will advocate for a better city, not just a bigger or more densely populated city. My vision is to elevate our city to the next level, from sidewalks to security, excellence is the standard. I will focus on planning/building a city of the future that takes into account that technology is rapidly changing how and where people work. The need to relocate to large metropolitan areas for employment is diminishing. Companies are currently working to provide greater opportunities for highly skilled workers to remain in small towns and medium sized cities while earning a great income. To attract future residents and to better serve current residents, we must be more innovative in our approach to development and better in city governance.
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