Courtney English is running for Atlanta City Council President.
Candidate website: www.courtneyenglish.com
Q: What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
A: Director of Community Development, Star-C; Former Chairman, Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education
Q: What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
A: The city government is failing to live up to the promise of Atlanta. We need a strong city council to ensure our neighborhoods are safe, our homes are affordable, and our government delivers basic city services such as picking up trash, filling potholes, and answering 9-1-1 calls in a timely manner. 10 years ago, Atlanta Public Schools faced the largest cheating scandal in American History. Together, we uncovered and cleaned up years of dysfunction. We raised teacher pay, the graduation rate, and classroom spending. Now, I’m working to create affordable housing in Atlanta, and I helped lead an eviction relief fund that raised $10 million and kept over 4,000 families in their homes. After leading a legislative body, leading on affordable housing, and having led the APS Comeback, I am a proven leader, fighting for change with the experience to ensure Atlanta is a city that works for everyone.
Q: How do you define “affordability” in housing and what is a specific tactic you would use to improve it?
A: “Affordability” should be defined by the amount of an individual’s income being spent on housing. The US Federal Reserve, HUD, and the Atlanta Regional Commission define “housing cost-burdened” as a family that spends more than 30% of their income on housing. Too many of Atlanta’s families exceed this threshold. For Atlanta to be strong, we must ensure no family is so burdened by housing costs. My experience as a leader in affordable housing proved we must work with urgency to deploy multiple strategies to address this growing problem. The city must build on undeveloped land owned by the housing authority, identify a dedicated stream of revenue for affordable housing, work closely with neighborhoods to examine our zoning code to increase density where appropriate, expedite the development of transit-oriented developments, work to refurbish aging housing, and connect people to jobs so that families a=can afford to live where they choose.
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: First, by leading by example and ensuring that all laws, city ordinances, policies, and procedures are followed. Second, by giving the city’s new Inspector General has all of the tools and resources needed to investigate and root out wrongdoing. Third, by ensuring the council is more than a rubber-stamp and has access to independent experts so that it can fully exercise its oversight responsibility. Finally, we will do what we say we will and deliver on promises made to the citizens of Atlanta.
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 impact of COVID reminded us that from healthcare to housing, the current social safety net is inadequate. Our students and teachers struggled because of the digital divide. Eviction relief programs struggled to meet demand because too many families were cost-burdened and lacked access to jobs that paid living wages while our unemployment system struggled to keep pace. In the end, we were shown that an ounce of prevention is far cheaper than a pound of cure. Regarding the protest for racial justice and against police brutality, it is important to note that people have been in this struggle for generations. The country witnessed the passion of millions of people–tired of a justice system that too often failed to deliver on equal protection under the law. The biggest lesson is that we can be a safe, just, and equitable city at the same time. We don’t have to choose.
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: Processes should be designed to incorporate the needs of the city and must include those the voices of those directly impacted by decisions that will be made. Atlanta should commission a comprehensive needs assessment for each neighborhood. Then, align that assessment with proposed developments. Said development should comply with the development plan for the city and tackle some of the needs identified on by the neighborhood needs assessment. The process should include extensive community engagement from conception to ribbon cutting.
Q: Do you support the Atlanta public safety training center’s location on Key Road in DeKalb County? Why or why not?
A: This process to create a new training center was flawed. While I do believe we need a new facility to train first responders, I do not support the development of this land in this way. The plan, hatched in secret, moved without community involvement or the needed shift to community-based public safety efforts. The lack of public input into this process eroded public trust in the development of large-scale projects in our communities and garnered almost universal opposition from neighborhood groups who live closest to the project. I’m confident new leadership on the council can create a facility that meets our public safety needs, protects our greenspace, and honors the expressed wishes of the people of 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: While a teacher, I worked with a school resource officer who had served in APD’s gang and homicide units for almost 20 years and still rely on their advice on how to address crime. The biggest lesson I learned is that we can create a public safety eco-system that empowers police to catch bad guys, build meaningful relationships within the community, applies the law equally, and addresses the root causes of crime.
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: The city and school system should be working to create affordable housing, eliminating food deserts, increasing job training, expanding out of school care, creating universal early education, and reducing the barriers to attain a 2-4 year degree.
Q: Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
A: I have led a legislative body through tough times and have a track record of tackling the biggest issues facing our city and my experience has embedded a deep belief that there is nothing wrong with Atlanta that can’t be solved by what’s right with Atlanta. I am a proven leader, fighting for change, and to build a city that works for everyone.
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