Kelly-Jeanne Lee is running for City Council District 1.
Candidate website: www.kjl4atl.com
Q: What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
A: Teacher, Fulton County Schools. Lifetime Member, Girl Scouts, USA
Q: What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
A: I was raised by a single mom who at 25 had just a high school diploma and two kids under three. She had the task of finding affordable housing with access to transit in a school district that could support my academic needs as well as the challenges that my brother faces – he was born with a chromosomal abnormality, mild cerebral palsy, and a host of other differences that impacted his body and his learning processes. Her ability to do that shaped both of our lives. My brother received job training and was able to find work to help support himself and to give him purpose and a sense of community. I’m running because I know first hand that affordable housing, transit, and education can dramatically change the course of peoples’ lives and I want to fight so that families across our city have what they need to thrive.
Q: How do you define “affordability” in housing and what is a specific tactic you would use to improve it?
A: Affordable housing is housing that meets the needs of our community members at a variety of AMI points (30, 50, and 80%). It is both housing for renters and housing to purchase. It considers that the metro-Atlanta AMI of $85,000 is not an accurate representation of our urban core nor is it especially an accurate representation of the areas where affordable housing is most necessary. It is housing supported by programs such as tax increment financing, demolition taxes, and linkage fees. Continually attempting to fund initiatives to support our most vulnerable with sales taxes, which by their very nature disproportionately impact the people least able to pay them, works at cross-purposes to the goals we are attempting to achieve.
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: We must have open, transparent, and accessible processes in place in all matters relating to city spending in order to regain the public trust. This means leveraging 21st century technologies to make more information readily available. We must also assure that the process for selecting city contractors is free of self-dealing, nepotism, or other grey-area practices that cause the public to lose faith in their city governance.
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 live less than a mile from the Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was murdered. Our neighborhood was in utter turmoil in its grief and outrage. I sat at my window one night with my baby girl watching the sky turn orange as the building burned and watching police helicopters coming and going from the scene. It was a truly scary time for my friends and neighbors and one where I felt at a loss for how to best engage in a way that would keep my family safe from the pandemic raging concurrently around us. Inaction went on far too long, and the result once there was one, satisfied no one. If we had better structures to respond to incidents like the one where Rayshard was murdered, structures that do not unnecessarily put guns on the scene, we could avoid incidents like this occurring as often.
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: Genuine public engagement is critical for the city of Atlanta. This does not mean excluding the input and advice of experts, but it does require a sometimes lengthier process of community engagement. In a situation like the public safety training center, the city could have done a broad location search, presented three possible options to the community that would all meet the requirements for the facility, and solicited more than just “yes or no” feedback. If our community had three equally feasible options to debate, it’s possible (though, in my eyes, not likely) that we would have settled on the location chosen by the city. Without a process that presents real options, we will never know and there will continue to be unresolved rancor surrounding a facility that is by all accounts critically needed.
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. I was interviewed at length on this topic and would refer readers to the July 8th episode of the A+ Political Podcast.
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: One of my dearest friends has been an activist in the prison/justice/policing space for the past several decades. When we met, she was working for the Harvard Prison Law Project. Since then, she has gone on to be a Robert Bosch Fellow where she studied the prison and policing systems of Germany. She now is the COO of the International Refugee Assistance Project. She is who I speak with most about issues surrounding crime in our country. She has pushed me to really consider our incarceration practices as a community and what we can do better and differently to support a more holistically sound justice system. I also met with directors of Police Alternatives and Diversion very early in my campaign because I wanted to be able to completely understand their work and ways that I could dovetail with and champion the initiative.
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 must build bridges between the school board and city council. At times it has seemed like the relationship between these two bodies is fractious, but this does not serve our community. The city can and must work to assure that we have complete streets so that our children can move to and from their schools and school buses in safety, this means sidewalks, crosswalks, lighting, and signaling. We must also address that property taxes in the city are partially controlled by the Atlanta Public Schools and that they provide no cap for annual increases. For our families to have predictable, steady, affordable housing, we must be able to plan for tax increases. The city, the county, and the school system must be of one accord about assuring affordable housing for our community.
Q: Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
A: I have been privileged to serve our community as an educator for nearly 10 years at both the middle school and high school levels. Being a teacher gives one direct, daily insight into the needs of a community that not many have access to. My years in education will always shape who I am as a person and who I am as a leader, but teaching during this pandemic has changed me more than all the prior years combined. It has long been acknowledged that teachers serve communities in far more than just meeting the educational needs of our children; but during these pandemic years, educators and school staff were asked to stand in the gap left by our society. Teachers should not be standing in this gap. We need to work to build a society that bridges the chasm and we must build services that uplift our families and children.
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