The Buckhead Business Association invited the top eight polling Atlanta mayoral candidates for a panel Sept. 28 where they discussed how they would handle ethics, public safety, property taxes and bringing Amazon’s new headquarters to the city.
The candidates invited included Peter Aman, Keisha Lance Bottoms, John Eaves, Vincent Fort, Kwanza Hall, Ceasar Mitchell, Mary Norwood and Cathy Woolard. Fort arrived late and Hall did not appear at the panel.
The panel was moderated by Daryn Kagan, a former CNN anchor, and held at the City Club of Buckhead on Peachtree Road.
Kagan asked questions from a list previously submitted by BBA members and did not take questions from the audience.
Aman drew from his experience as the former chief operating officer for the city to answer a question about how he would handle a recent string of ethics scandals in the city government.
“There is no question that there is corruption at city hall,” Aman said. He said whenever found “dirty things” happening in the government, he had it investigated. This led to him firing five people in the procurement office for not following code in his first year as COO, he said.
“I was relentless on making sure people did the right thing,” Aman said.
As mayor, Aman would send clear messages that not following code or participating in unethical behavior would lead to punishment.
To have a more transparent government, Aman said he would have published online all purchases, contracts and information about who owns companies with contracts.
Bottoms answered a question about how to address crime and public safety by discussing how she felt when her nephew was killed after being mistaken for a gang member. She said the city needs “a proactive approach” to decrease crime.
“The police pulled video from the camera system to arrest people who killed him,” Bottoms said. “It was a reactive approach to what happened to my nephew, not a proactive approach,”
She said the police department and city need to understand why people commit crimes, and how to address the high rate of high school dropouts committing crimes.
“We have to treat these issues in order to find solutions,” Bottoms said.
In response to a question about how to deal with rising property taxes and the recent assessment problems, Eaves drew on his experience dealing the assessments as Fulton County chair.
“We received the backlash when the assessments went out. We did something courageous as a board in a bipartisan way,” Eaves said, referring to the board of commissioners vote to reject the tax digest and freeze property assessments.
Eaves said he they can freeze the assessments for a second year, but he would also look to implement exemptions for seniors.
He also said development is partly to blame for rising property tax assessments, and that it needs to be controlled, especially around the Atlanta BeltLine.
“Development is uncontrolled around the BeltLine,” he said.
In making a deal with Amazon to bring a second headquarters to Atlanta, Fort said he would ensure residents are not displaced as a result of its move to the city.
“If we’re going to do a deal with Amazon, it needs to be a deal that does right by all the citizens of Atlanta,” he said. “We need a community deal that ensures the whole community’s needs are taken care of.”
The “affordable housing crisis” would also have to be addressed, which he warned about when BeltLine development was first underway.
“Twelve years ago when the BeltLine was proposed, I said it could be an engine for gentrification and it is,” he said.
To fight corruption while making a deal with Amazon and other city contracts, Fort said he would bring an inspector general to city hall “to make sure corruption is dealt with.”
As mayor, Mitchell said he would audit the procurement process to fight any corruption in creating contracts with companies.
He said city council has “limited review of what happens in procurement process” and they have tried to find information about the process, but have been denied.
He would created “an open, transparent and fair process,” he would bring a compliance director to the procurement process.
He also drew on his recent statement that city contracts that extend past Mayor Reed’s tenure should be created so that the next mayor can chose the contracts.
Norwood used the question about making a deal with Amazon to address transportation and traffic congestion in Buckhead. Bringing Amazon could help convince people of the need to have transit funded at the state level through a tax on gas, she said.
“We know that the traffic is killing us. We know it is tough to get around in Buckhead. We need a subway coming in from the northwest part of the region,” she said.
Development needs to be spread to other parts of the city, not just within the northern third that has seen the most development in recent years, she said.
“We need to do a better job of marketing the entire city, not just a third of the city that has been developed,” she said.
She also said she would be happy to see Amazon come to any part of the metro area, not just within the city of Atlanta.
“We have done way too much competing against each other in the region,” she said.
For Woolard to make a deal with Amazon as mayor, she said Atlanta would have to be benefit significantly, especially regarding creating more transportation options.
“We’re not going into a dowry system in this marriage,” Woolard said. “Amazon is very interested in transportation. We are very interested in transportation.”
She also said Amazon’s diversity could benefit from moving to Atlanta. Amazon needs to attract more minorities and women to leadership positions, and having two women’s colleges in Atlanta – Spelman College and Agnes Scott College – “could help them with that,” she said.
The city would have to ensure residents are not displaced by the move, which could raise property and rent prices.
“If you’re trying to figure out how you stay here in the midst of rising property prices that doesn’t work,” she said of potential real estate value increases.
She also said Amazon could help bring the state on board with funding transit.