Alex Wan is running for Atlanta City Council District 6.
Candidate website: www.alexwanforatlanta.com
Q: What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
A: I currently serve as the Executive Director of Horizons Atlanta, a provider of tuition-free summer enrichment programs for approximately 1,300 K-8th grade public school students in metro Atlanta. I serve/have served on the boards of the Atlanta Regional Commission, Invest Atlanta, Piedmont Park Conservancy, Live Thrive Atlanta (recycling/sustainability), Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections (Chair), and the Mayor’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Board.
Q: What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
A: The biggest issue facing City Council District 6 is public safety. Rising crime rates, particularly violent crimes, have people not feeling safe in our community. I am the only candidate who has City Council experience, having served two terms as the District 6 representative from 2010-2018. Not only will I continue the work I did during my 8 years on Council championing legislation to increase public safety compensation to address recruitment and retention, I will also continue securing funds to invest in cutting-edge technology like security cameras in parks and neighborhoods to fight crime. Additionally, I will advocate for enhanced training of our officers – both as they join our force and as they continue serving – as well as improving 911 response times and responsiveness of 311 Policing Alternatives and Diversion operators. Finally, I will push for strengthening enforcement of our public safety laws, including alcohol license violations.
Q: How do you define “affordability” in housing and what is a specific tactic you would use to improve it?
A: Very generally speaking, I use a combination of what an individual or family earning 80% of Area Median Income (AMI) can afford and what housing an individual or family can obtain spending less than 30% of their income. Aside from working to secure a sustainable source of funding to build additional affordable units, we can immediately look to leverage the surplus land that the City of Atlanta owns to contribute to a project to lower the development costs (land is often one of the most expensive components). In return, the developer would have to promise a certain number of affordable units in perpetuity (we also have to eliminate the ability for those units to “flip” at any point to market rate.
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: I was the first City Council member to publish transaction level detail on my discretionary district funds so that taxpayers could see exactly how their dollars were being spent. I also wanted to demonstrate to my peers that their concerns and fears about providing financial detail at the district and city levels were unwarranted. I applaud the creation of the Inspector General position to investigate fraudulent activity. I would ensure that these efforts are properly resourced – staffing, funds, and authority – in each annual budget so that this department can pursue investigative actions and expand efforts around employee training and education to help spot and report incidents. Additionally, I would also fully resource the Auditor and Ethics Offices as an additional safeguard. Finally, I would utilize my role on the various committees as we deliberate contract awards as one more check on transparency and fairness of the procurement process.
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 events of the last year have brought into clear focus the urgency with which we as a society need to acknowledge and address the systemic inequities that permeate through so many of the structures within which we operate. The fact that communities of color were so disproportionately impacted by the pandemic – revealed through stark differences in health outcomes, education access, economic opportunity – may not have surprised many, but now that a bright light has been shone on them, we can no longer continue ignoring them. The protests brought visibility and voice to these injustices, and our public policy makers must constantly apply the “equity lens” to all decision-making processes.
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: During my two terms on City Council, I established myself as a solid community and neighborhood advocate, always striving to value and include all voices in the decision making process. This is particularly important in the planning process. Philosophy, principles, and theories are great, but we can never lose sight of the fact that implementation has real impacts on people in our communities. Consequently, planning should be done WITH and not TO all stakeholders. I believe that we need to ensure that we build in sufficient time for public input, especially with any proposals that would have wide impacts. We also need to do a better job approaching the public input process in a way that genuinely welcomes public dialog, even when stakeholders are opposed. Too often the public input process is simply a report out, which does not create the space to receive feedback that would improve what is on the table.
Q: Do you support the Atlanta public safety training center’s location on Key Road in DeKalb County? Why or why not?
A: Now that the project has been approved by the current City Council – and is not likely to be undone – it is imperative that the next City Council and administration closely track all of the conditions and project requirements (environmental mitigation, for example) to make sure they are all fulfilled. Likewise, I was hugely disappointed in the public input process and lack of transparency in the deliberation of this project, so the next City Council and administration will at least need to clearly and consistently demonstrate that they hear the concerns of their constituents about the new training center and are addressing those, to the extent possible. There is indeed a dire need for a new training center for our public safety departments given the dilapidated facilities they currently must use. Still, like the public, I do not have all of the information that current decision makers had access to, and it’s going to be crucial for not just the next Council to have such, but also the people we serve.
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: Public safety is a complex subject, as so many different factors must be considered in crafting any strategy to address crime. Consequently, I have always reached out to the Atlanta Police Department Zone Commanders as well as the neighborhood public safety leads for input and guidance to gain a more complete understanding of these issues. This approach has provided me with perhaps the most valuable lesson in addressing crime – that any solution must have the buy in and collaboration of both the police force and the community to be effective and sustainable. Additionally, communication between those that are in the neighborhoods and those in public safety can create an even tighter protective “shield” for the community.
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: One area that the City of Atlanta can collaborate with Atlanta Public Schools is ensuring the safety of our children as they go to and from school. This includes overall public safety, but also extends to the transportation infrastructure on their school routes – sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic lights, speed zones, etc. I think the City and APS also need to work more closely together in terms of economic development tools used to attract businesses to Atlanta as well as for redevelopment opportunities. We must remember that both entities rely on tax dollars and therefore must be at the table with a true voice when decisions are made that would impact those income streams.
Q: Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
A: It feels like the City is failing us in the most fundamental services it should be providing – increasing crime, crumbling infrastructure, and unreliable city functions like trash pick up, licenses and permits. We don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods or when we go to the store. Work and progress are halted waiting for simple city processes. Quality of life is declining, and people are moving away. Come January, City Hall will experience significant turnover with a new Mayor, Council President, and 6 of 15 council seats changing hands. As the only candidate in this race with City Council experience (2010-2018), I can hit the ground running on day one addressing these issues. My track record shows that I am a hard-working, ethical public servant who can provide valuable experience on how to get things moving forward, and critical leadership to ensure City Council provides the checks and balances to restore trust in our city government.
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