Samuel Bacote is running for Atlanta City Council District 5.

Candidate website: https://www.votebacote.com/

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

Executive Secretary/Director – Grand Boule of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Director of PATH Foundation, Board Member – Children’s Hospital of Atlanta, Hughes Spalding, Chairman – Atlanta Convalescent Center for the Aging, Former Board Member – Common Cause Georgia, Former Treasurer, Board Member – Development Authority of Fulton County, Former Chairman/CEO – Metro Atlanta Land Bank Authority, Former Chairman – Project Community Connections, Inc. (PCCI), Former President – Alternate Life Paths Program (ALPP), Former Treasurer/Board Member – Atlanta Sister Cities Commission, Life Member – N.A.A.C.P., Returned U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, Returned Catholic Relief Services Volunteer.

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? 

City Hall is often the main point of contact between Atlantans and elected officials. Unfortunately, Atlantans are experiencing an acute aura of corruption with accompanying effects on trust in elected officials and our local government. Therefore, addressing corruption risks surrounding City Hall is crucial.

To successfully tackle corruption challenges, the City Council should: implement even stronger municipal codes of ethics; engage a diverse group of Atlantans in corruption risk assessments and the development of integrity plans; digitize processes (such as procurement and licensing); introduce human resources reforms and capacity building for city employees; and increase access to information for Atlantans and implement more open data measures.

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? 

First, universal health care is a significant public health strategy to help deal with similar outbreaks in the future. Second, tackling air pollution is a win–win, not only for the environment but also for better preparedness against Covid-19. Third, lockdowns may help reduce community spread, but their impact on reducing COVID-19 is statistically insignificant. Fourth, municipalities should encourage home-based work until some treatment or cure is found for the virus.

Regarding racial justice and police brutality, to create safer, freer, more just, and more prosperous societies, policymakers and public leaders must work harder to dismantle systemic racism and related forms of discrimination. Governments should strongly commit to social justice while focusing on their power and influence in partnership with others.

When this occurs, significant leverage and expansion opportunities emerge, setting the stage for achieving racial equity in our communities.

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? 

I believe that urban planning in Atlanta should come from the bottom up. Unfortunately, our city planners often lack complete awareness to know when to attempt to control urban design. “Good” and “bad” design can be ambiguous and subject to disagreement among reasonable people. Even if our city planners could identify circumstances in which design regulation was appropriate, they often lack full knowledge to independently lead location decisions or set design standards for every single lot, even at a small scale.

The type of knowledge needed to ascertain ideal location decisions and feasible designs is distributed among the many interested residents, tenants, architects, developers, and financiers. These are, after all, the people with the greatest local knowledge and incentives to succeed in community development. I would strengthen the neighborhood engagement process to ensure their voices are prioritized in all parts of the planning process.

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? 

Doug B. is a dear friend of mine and he has a son in a comparable city serving as a police officer. I have turned to him on many occasions to help me better understand how social conditions impact urban crime often associated with violence. He shares lessons from his son to suggest “better” ways we can address root causes of crime. I have learned from him that by overly criminalizing much of our behavior, we will continue to have concerns about the industrial prison complex.

I listen closely to the police officers who attend neighborhood and NPU meetings from Atlanta’s Zone 6. I have learned from them that crime is sporadic and that fortunately, much of Zone 6 is considered safer compared to years ago. This underscores the need for making public more data on crime.

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

Living in a dynamic, vibrant part of Atlanta, my constituents will continue to face pressures balancing growth to protect our culture while making room for new people through additional housing. I bring considerable civic and leadership experience to this role that is different and well-suited for the work at hand. As an example, as a former Chairman/CEO of the Atlanta Land Bank Authority, I can help increase the power vested in the Land Bank and help fund it in a more thoughtful way that increases effectiveness. Ultimately, the person who controls the land – controls what happens on the land.

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

“Affordability” occurs when housing meets basic shelter needs, and there are no oppressive cost burdens regardless of income level. I will make affordable housing a priority through the following tactics:

  • Champion good policy like inclusionary zoning and make it even more incentive-based for new affordable housing
  • Reduce bureaucracy that increases costs and stifles construction (fast track affordable housing developments)
  • Support use of city-owned land to help provide affordable housing

What are some areas of opportunity for the Atlanta City Council to work in partnership with the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board? 

Much of the challenge with APS graduation rates and student disengagement, stems from problematic encounters with city services or the lack of effective outcomes. We will need to work together to prioritize serving marginalized APS families to ensure they are experiencing social equity and access across Atlanta. I would also promote stronger collaboration between planning functions. To the fullest extent possible, these planning departments need to share their assumptions, closely collaborate, plan, and work in alignment so that growth can effectively happen.

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

I am an authentic example of a bridgebuilder and servant leader in that I put people (and neighborhoods) first and I listen more than I speak. I checked my ego at my parent’s door many years ago, and I vow to never allow anything but my drive to serve the greater good guide my leadership.

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