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Devin Barrington-Ward is running for City Council District 9.
Candidate website: www.wakeupatl.org
Q: What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
A: Managing Director of the Black Futurists Group
Q: What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
A: Poverty remains the biggest issue impacting residents of council district 9 and Atlanta as a whole, as reflected in high rates of crime. As someone who has overcome poverty and homelessness, I know what it takes to end poverty. On council, I will prioritize using city construction projects and city approved developments to put people to work and generate business opportunities for people from westside communities impacted by high rates of poverty. This will especially focus on youth between the ages of 16 to 24, because unfortunately they are the demographic that is engaging in much of the property crime. Ending poverty and providing jobs for youth is the best pathway to reducing crime. Additionally, I will increase funding for violence prevention programs to include a 24 hour mental health crisis response unit, conflict resolution centers, and expanding Pre-Arrest Diversion Programs to provide 24 hour/7 days a week coverage.
Q: How do you define “affordability” in housing and what is a specific tactic you would use to improve it?
A: If grocery store workers or those providing cleaning services at the airport cannot afford to live there then I would not consider that affordable housing. First, the city should do everything in its power to increase wages for low-income workers. For example, this means making sure everyone working at the airport is making at least $18 an hour. Specifically as it concerns housing, I will vote to increase tax incentives to developers who build housing specifically for lower income workers. I will also fight for more money in the budget to create incentives for landlords who keep more affordable housing units online. This would include grant funds for landlords to renovate their properties if they agree not to increase rent for low and middle income tenants for at least 3 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: Like Congress, the members of city council have the power to hold public oversight hearing and compel the Mayor and executive departments heads to provide public testimony about the operations of their departments and how money is being spent. Unfortunately, our city council very rarely holds these types of hearings and because of this corruption and mismanagement has run rampant. As a member of council, I will push my colleagues to hold more oversight hearings and push for more punishments of public officials who misuse the public money and trust. I will also work to reduce the amount of money city contracts can donate to mayoral and council candidates. Additionally, I will introduce and pass legislation that requires that the budget be broken down to a council district level to ensure that city funds are being used equitable across the city so residents can ensure that their communities are getting their fair share of the city budget.
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: I was affirmed in my knowledge that racial justice and equity must serve as the guiding principle for how this city council develops public policy on behalf of the people of Atlanta. We cannot continue to quote Dr. King without living up to those ideals. We must have a city budget that reflects a commitment to Justice in form of dismantling economic inequality, reimagining public safety away from mass incarceration and towards programs and services that reduce crime, and improving the social safety net so that public health emergencies don’t disproportionately harm minority communities. I was affirmed in my knowledge that mask wearing and vaccines work and that our current city council does not listen to the people as reflected by the vote against the Rayshard Brooks Amendment and the vote to bulldoze the forest for the #CopCity training facility despite hours of public comment demanding a different decision.
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: As a community organizer, I know that planning progress that starts with community is always the best approach. As a member of the city council, I will put funding in the budget to contract with organizations and community civic groups that have a proven track-record and the respect of neighborhood groups to help lead and organize the city’s community engagement efforts for any major projects or decision such as the need and location of a police training facility. I will lean heavily on public comment in my decision making process and my council staff and I will personally canvass and call residents of my council district to solicit input ahead of controversial proposals before the council. I will lean on this approach because I recognize that many working families and people cannot always attend Council or NPUs meetings and need the government to meet them where they are at.
Q: Do you support the Atlanta public safety training center’s location on Key Road in DeKalb County? Why or why not?
A: I do not support the military style police training facility on Key Road in DeKalb County. First, 68 percent of the 17 hours of public comment were from Atlanta residents demanding that the council not move forward with the facility. I believe the Council should listen to the people. Second, this decision was made without an environmental assessment. Daily, Atlantans are seeing the impacts of climate change and it is irresponsible to move forward with this facility that will destroy 90 acres of forest without full knowledge of how this will impact flooding and the region’s sustainability goals. Third, this facility is wasteful as the GA Public Safety Training facility is 45 mins away. And finally, there has been no clear articulation of how this facility will address Atlanta’s immediate concerns about public safety and desires to see a reformed and de-militarized police force that keeps all Atlantans safe.
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: The main experts on public safety are the people in my community. They are fully aware of how and what is needed to keep people safe. In polling commissioned by the Community Over Cages Coalition, only 7 percent of Atlanta voters believe that crime is rising because there isn’t enough police. The majority of people surveyed in this poll believe that crime is on the rise due to the lack of economic opportunities in their communities with 47 percent of Black and 31 percent of White voters sharing this perspective. Additionally 19 percent of all respondents said that the lack of mental health and youth programs are also contributing to the rise in crime. Atlantans see the disinvestment in their communities and know that this is what is causing crime. As a member of council, I will listen to Atlantans who are the experts of their community’s experiences and act accordingly.
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: We need to bring vocational training back to our schools. Many youth aren’t interested in college and that is okay, but what is not okay is not providing viable alternatives that give our kids a shot at a future and keep them out of trouble. I believe a vocational partnership between APS and the Department of Public Works is an opportunity to expose kids to good paying jobs with the city while also addressing our staffing shortfalls that are causing potholes to go unfilled, streets unpaved, trash uncollected, and sewers to become flooded. The city also missed the mark with the Waterboys. Rather than doing nothing or turning to the police to address the problem, we should have brought paid entrepreneurship training to those youth selling goods on the road, created a youth vendor license system, and connected them with sport and entertainment venues where they could sell their goods.
Q: Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
A: Please visit my website WakeUpATL.org to learn more about my progressive platform for Council District 9.
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