Cobb Chamber of Commerce

Advocacy

Election Information

In preparation for the 2018 General Primary and Special elections on Tuesday, May 22, the Cobb Chamber Government Affairs Committee conducted a questionnaire strictly for educational purposes as a service to the Chamber's membership. Responses have been compiled, and are posted unedited below.

Exercise your right to vote! Early voting opportunities can be found here.

For more information on Cobb County elections, candidates, dates and voter information, visit the Cobb County Board of Elections website.

 

Cobb County Commissioner

District 1 District 3
Keli Gambrill Caroline Holko
Melissa O'Brien Jim Smith
Forest Shealy JoAnn Birrell
Bob Weatherford Tom Cheek


Cobb County School Board

Post 2 Post 4
Jaha Howard Cynthia Parr
Angelia Pressley David Chastain
   
Post 6  
Charisse Davis  
Scott Sweeney  


Kennesaw City Council

Post 2  
Kemela Carlson  
Tracey Viars  


Smyrna City Council

Ward 6  
Alexander Backry  
Shaun Black  
Tim Gould  
Idelia Moore  
Brant Suddath  

 


Cobb County Commissioner


Keli Gambrill (Cobb County Commissioner, District 1)

If elected/re-elected, what will you do to promote continued positive job growth and economic development opportunities in Cobb County?

When elected, I would support the County’s key objectives as defined pertaining to business retention and expansion programs and support Select Cobb in these efforts.

What is your position on offering tax abatements to attract new businesses to Cobb County?

Cobb County has and will continue to be a desirable location for existing and new businesses.  Prior to tax abatements being granted they are reviewed to ensure the benefit of the abatement to the applicant does not outweigh the burden to the community.

What specific solutions would you offer to solve Cobb County's transportation and traffic issues?

Cobb County has sufficient road capacity.  However, development to the North and West of Cobb impacts our ability to move without having to sit through multiple light cycles before advancing to the next intersection to wait again.  Cobb needs solutions today utilizing our existing infrastructure and resources available.

CobbLinc is over-funded and under-utilized.  While the service provides transportation, we must better utilize resources to maximize the benefit.  Cobb needs a flexible, efficient transit solution that can be customized based on need.

Do you support the expansion of public safety as the County continues to grow? How should this be done from a budgetary standpoint?

The primary responsibility of government is protecting people and property.  Funding for Public Safety should come from the General Fund that protects the financial source of  revenue.

Prior to considering expansion of Public Safety, we must first address retention of our Public Safety personnel that the County has vested time and interest in training.  The County has had compensation issues for years that have not been resolved.  The County needs to restructure Public Safety compensation and benefits programs to retain our existing Public Safety personnel.

What is your view or position regarding Community Improvement Districts (CIDs)?

Cobb County has two CIDs – Town Center and Cumberland, to promote and improve development opportunities.  The Cumberland area has experienced exponential growth over the last several years due to the The Battery.  We need to maintain a balance of growth in commercial and residential development within the means of our infrastructure.

If elected, what will you do to promote continued positive job growth and economic development opportunities in Cobb County?

Viable economic development and job growth will greatly depend on ease of access.  These types of developments should be located along corridors that can handle large volumes of traffic.  Some of this traffic will be generated from areas outside the County, yet Cobb County needs to be diligent in preserving various housing options from apartment / townhomes to multi-acre lots in an effort to provide various community characteristics that attract people here and want to call Cobb County home.

What elected leader past or present do you admire and why?

The former President Ronal Reagan and his boldness to bring about new political and economic incentives.  Paraphrasing Reagan’s quote from October 27, 1964, “The Founding Fathers knew a government can’t control the economy without controlling people.  And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose.” 

Cobb County used to be the County that raised the bar for other Counties to follow.  In recent years, Cobb County seems to be comparing itself to neighboring Counties and has lost sight of being the leader in the region.  Cobb is thriving, but it has and will continue to be the people that make it a great place to live, work and play.  It’s the people that deserve to have a Commissioner that recognizes this greatness while leading within the means we have to live.

Cobb has a history of rising above petty politics and working together to solve problems and getting big things done. What will you do to promote active engagement, with all sectors of the community, to move Cobb forward?

None of us is smarter than all of us.  Communication requires listening, respect of another’s viewpoint and the ability to address as many issues as possible in the final decision.  Cobb County has many wonderful programs that I had not known about prior to becoming a candidate.  Once elected, I will continue to help promote and engage the community as it is the people who have made Cobb County a desirable place to live, work and play.

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Melissa O'Brien (Cobb County Commissioner, District 1)

If elected/re-elected, what will you do to promote continued positive job growth and economic development opportunities in Cobb County?

When I am elected Cobb County District 1 Commissioner, I will work with local groups like Cobb Chamber of Commerce, Cobb Edge and numerous city business associations to ensure the positive momentum we have seen in business growth in Cobb County. As someone who has worked for a state Chamber—The Business Council of New York State, Inc.—and has written extensively about small business as a business beat reporter for nine years, I understand the integral part business plays in the success of a community. Communication between government, business and community is critical to creating a vibrant quality of life.

What is your position on offering tax abatements to attract new businesses to Cobb County?

When used appropriately, tax abatements are ultimately a win-win for the community. Incentivizing businesses that bring in high-skilled, high income jobs into the County by offering tax abatements creates a positive ripple effect into the community. Driving in new business reduces unemployment, increases tax revenue to the local economy and spurs growth.

What specific solutions would you offer to solve Cobb County's transportation and traffic issues?

There are a number of potential ways to address traffic and transportation issues in District 1. For example, building fly-over lanes, diverging diamonds, left and right-hand turn lanes and roundabouts can all improve traffic. We also can work together with Georgia DOT to relieve congestion at our major intersections. Any traffic or transit improvements that tax the County must work to improve the overall mobility for all the people of Cobb County.

Do you support the expansion of public safety as the County continues to grow? How should this be done from a budgetary standpoint?

Public safety is the number one priority of county government. As I have gone door-to-door, I have heard about issues related to retention, pay and vehicles. We cannot continue to "kick the can" down the road—treating our public safety as though it was an afterthought. Public safety should always be our first thought and as the County grows, it only makes sense that its public safety department appropriately expand where needed.

What is your view or position regarding Community Improvement Districts (CIDs)?

As a self-taxing entity, CIDs are great for economic development in targeted areas of our community. By promoting economic growth, they can improve the standard of living for the surrounding area and maintain a quality of life desirable in a community.

If elected, what will you do to promote continued positive job growth and economic development opportunities in Cobb County?

This is the same question #1 above.

What elected leader past or present do you admire and why?

I admire Senator Elizabeth Dole: she is a woman of "firsts" in a male-dominated world of politics. She worked for numerous presidential administrations and served as President of the American Red Cross. In addition, she was passionate about working with Mothers' Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and started the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, dedicated to helping caregivers of "wounded warriors." As an elected leader, she offered a balanced approach to governing while working with people on both sides of the aisle, and even today, her contributions to the community are limitless.

Cobb has a history of rising above petty politics and working together to solve problems and getting big things done. What will you do to promote active engagement, with all sectors of the community, to move Cobb forward?

I will bring my extensive experience as a communications expert, a reporter, a substitute teacher and a community advocate to my job as District 1 Commissioner. Our community needs a Commissioner who is responsive to their needs and concerns: someone who will listen, research and analyze problems before suggesting solutions. It is not enough to simply have town hall meetings; I will reach out to HOAs. PTAs, and civic groups to listen to the voice of the community. I will govern with an open mind, but a stalwart sense of fiscally conservative principles that will guide my decisions.

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Forest Shealy (Cobb County Commissioner, District 1)

If elected/re-elected, what will you do to promote continued positive job growth and economic development opportunities in Cobb County?

The most important pro-growth impact is to ensure that Cobb County is a safe community with good infrastructure, To establish these foundational requirements, I will work to make sure Cobb promotes excellent public services including public safety through sound fiscal practices, including reducing non-critical costs but also ensuring secure and reliable income stream to include appropriate millage rate and local sales tax income to secure the level of services desired by the citizens and business community of Cobb County. I hope that reducing non-critical expenditures and the increase in the tax base is enough, but we must avoid using contingency funds or debt for routine county services. Secondly, we need to invest in our infrastructure including transportation to make a regionally sound transportation system to include multiple modes of transportation and reducing the reliance of one-person auto transport and long distance commutes. This not only involves multiple modes of possible transportation, but also strongly encouraging growth in the areas best served by infrastructure and avoiding excessive densities and deviation from the land use plan in areas without adequate infrastructure.

What is your position on offering tax abatements to attract new businesses to Cobb County?

Tax abatements must be used with caution to ensure we do not increase the load of services required while depriving the community of supporting tax income. It may be used to draw strong regional businesses but only after careful consideration. The preference is to draw business through the availability of strongly qualified work-force and a safe and supportive community.

What specific solutions would you offer to solve Cobb County's transportation and traffic issues?

Cobb needs to avoid a limited Transit District and integrate with the regional authority as an entire county—all together to decide how to best integrate as a county with the region. I do support expansion of Transit in Cobb. The current transit paradigm provides too little service to areas of the county where roads are highly impacted by transiting traffic from neighboring counties. Citizens should have some ability to access multiple modes of transportation including improved arterial roads to access I-75 and I-20, transit, and safe bicycle and pedestrian routes, without crowding the current bottlenecks in near western Cobb such as Burnt Hickory Rd., Stilesboro Rd, Powder Springs Rd, and the Whitlock to Dallas Highway transition. I do support investigating rail as an integrating option taking consideration of its potentially high cost but also long term integration aspects especially with our university system, stadium, Town Center area and transfer transit station. However, once potential projects are identified the county as a whole must decide on the plan.

Do you support the expansion of public safety as the County continues to grow? How should this be done from a budgetary standpoint?

The “expansion of public safety” is too broad a concept to address. I do support more secure and adequate funding for all of public safety and a way to distinguish the priority of these first responders and public safety officers in our budget and compensation schemes. They need to be adequately funded and supported and their prioritization recognized in compensation methods, such as incentive pay.

What is your view or position regarding Community Improvement Districts (CIDs)?

I am cautious about special districts but understand there is a need for some focus on certain developments and associated needs. I need to hear differing views on this topic.

If elected, what will you do to promote continued positive job growth and economic development opportunities in Cobb County?

(See No. 1 above)

What elected leader past or present do you admire and why?

Abraham Lincoln; he was elected in a difficult time, recognized the importance of the issues and the methods, and took action that was necessary and most helpful even if not popular. Also, Ronald Reagan who above any personal attribute seemed to be able to draw the best out of his team and community.

Cobb has a history of rising above petty politics and working together to solve problems and getting big things done. What will you do to promote active engagement, with all sectors of the community, to move Cobb forward?

First, I will listen to understand. We have great ideas, great people, and great community. Do not circle the wagons in defense when you need to be sitting down with a neighbor. See and hope for what is best in the other, while remaining committed to overarching transcendent truth and principle. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Pretty good rule.

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Bob Weatherford (Cobb County Commissioner, District 1)

If elected/re-elected, what will you do to promote continued positive job growth and economic development opportunities in Cobb County?

We have seen tremendous success in Cobb from an economic development standpoint. We have been a state and national leader in business growth and recruitment. That is because we have world-class schools, a conservative, pro-business county, strong public safety and good infrastructure. We must continue our pro-business policies and selling our strengths to continue attracting high-quality industry and high-paying jobs while also allowing our current businesses – large and small—to thrive. 

What is your position on offering tax abatements to attract new businesses to Cobb County?

My priority is to protect taxpayers through all decisions. I support strategic tax incentives to attract new business and high-paying jobs, but only if they produce a return of investment for taxpayers through new jobs here in Cobb for our citizens or if they will help keep taxes low for our homeowners.  We have recently passed new economic incentives to encourage business retention developed a concierge service.

What specific solutions would you offer to solve Cobb County's transportation and traffic issues?

I have a record of advancing projects throughout Cobb and District 1 that actually improve traffic flow and mitigate congestion. We must continue to focus road improvements that reduce gridlock and continue to work with GADOT and state leaders to advance projects like the Northwest Corridor project on I-75, Highway 92, Third Army Road and a South Dallas reliever.

Do you support the expansion of public safety as the County continues to grow? How should this be done from a budgetary standpoint?

Absolutely yes. On the Commission, I have been a champion for public safety. As the Chairman of the Public Safety Committee, I have led efforts to support and enhance public safety by passing policies like allowing take home cars and better pay incentives to attract and retain the very best. My commitment to public safety is also why I proposed a penny sales tax that would be fully devoted to funding public safety. In my next term, I will continue to ensure that public safety is the number budget priority because there is nothing more important than the safety of our community and our families.

What is your view or position regarding Community Improvement Districts (CIDs)?

I support our Community Improvement Districts in Cobb. The CIDs do a great job in helping leverage resources for transportation improvements, redevelopment efforts, and economic development initiatives that are continuing to move Cobb forward.

What elected leader past or present do you admire and why?

Ronald Reagan.  He was our greatest president in terms of working across party lines to accomplish strategic goals.

Cobb has a history of rising above petty politics and working together to solve problems and getting big things done. What will you do to promote active engagement, with all sectors of the community, to move Cobb forward?

Cobb does have a history we can be proud of when it comes to getting big things done. I have been proud to work to continue this legacy in my time on the Commission. Moving forward, I will continue to work with my colleagues on the Commission, our business community, citizens, stakeholders and Cobb six cities to get big things done to keep Cobb strong.   When compared to other counties of similar size to Cobb, we have the fewest number of incorporated cities because Cobb provides the quality services the citizens desire.

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Caroline Holko (Cobb County Commissioner, District 3)

If elected/re-elected, what will you do to promote continued positive job growth and economic development opportunities in Cobb County?

Keeping our libraries open will keep jobs in Cobb. Promoting responsible development that is in line with the County’s land use plan will also stimulate not only long term growth but attract business and residents to Cobb County.

What is your position on offering tax abatements to attract new businesses to Cobb County?

Tax abatements certainly have a place as a solution to attract business to areas that might be struggling on their own. I would like to see them used to encourage community based small business rather than large corporate interests. This would not only create jobs, but keep more money in our communities.

What specific solutions would you offer to solve Cobb County's transportation and traffic issues?

In addition to expanding the marketing budget for CobbLinc to improve ridership, HB 930 contains many provisions that will allow us to create ballot referendums and special districts to generate the needed revenue to expand the transit infrastructure in Cobb County. I believe that the people of Cobb are ready to stop sitting in traffic and that a sensible, well managed, mass transit initiative will relieve congestion on our roads. 

Do you support the expansion of public safety as the County continues to grow? How should this be done from a budgetary standpoint?

From a budgetary standpoint, we already have a shortfall that must be addressed. While I support increasing public safety, we will have to increase revenues. The “blight tax” is one vehicle for doing so, as is raising the millage rate for the general fund.

What is your view or position regarding Community Improvement Districts (CIDs)?

Well implemented Community Improvement Districts are a boon to our County. I believe that CIDs create a public/private partnership that benefits all stakeholders.

If elected, what will you do to promote continued positive job growth and economic development opportunities in Cobb County?

I will continue to support existing initiatives, and explore making increased use of the Community Development Block Grant program to support existing community organizations in their efforts to bring jobs and development to Cobb County.

What elected leader past or present do you admire and why?

Franklin D. Roosevelt has been my hero since I was a small child. My Grandfather participated in many of the infrastructure projects funded by the New Deal.  His visionary leadership led us out of the Great Depression and created many of the systems we take for granted today such as Social Security, the SEC, and the FDIC to name some of the most notable.  Under his leadership the entire country benefited from infrastructure improvements and the jobs and development they created.

Cobb has a history of rising above petty politics and working together to solve problems and getting big things done. What will you do to promote active engagement, with all sectors of the community, to move Cobb forward?

I have worked extensively with local groups for issue based advocacy. I believe that my ability to hear and understand other points of view will serve me well in working with the diverse viewpoints that need to be considered in making policy decisions on the county level. Recently, I’ve noticed that many public engagement seminars conflict with the existing Board of Commissioners meeting schedule, and one of my first priorities would be to increase coordination with local groups so that they will have the opportunity outside of the limited venue of the Board of Commissioners meetings to share their input with their Commissioner. Town Halls are also an important community engagement strategy - but having representation at issue specific meetings is important as well.

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Jim Smith (Cobb County Commissioner, District 3)

First, I must address a very important issue and that is budget, the County currently has a deficit of somewhere around $30 million dollars or more and they have spent a majority of their reserve funds. Until this issue is addressed and a sound business plan is established to my satisfaction I will not vote to expend any monies unless it directly affects the health and welfare of our citizens.

If elected/re-elected, what will you do to promote continued positive job growth and economic development opportunities in Cobb County?

We need to encourage small business growth as well as attract major corporations to relocate or open divisions of their company here. To do this we need to have a skilled labor pool, available housing, and amenities that will attract business. We also need to give commuters more options.

What is your position on offering tax abatements to attract new businesses to Cobb County?

Tax abatements are one way to attract new business but we need to be sure that the business conforms to their portion of the agreement as to the number of new positions, buildings and other agreed upon conditions. The County must see a positive return in the way of property and sales tax in a minimal number of years.

What specific solutions would you offer to solve Cobb County's transportation and traffic issues?

We are going to have to have some sort of mass transit, we cannot continue to widen roads as the Right of Way is limited and to acquire additional Right of Way in some cases would require full parcel taking which is very expensive and would dislocate businesses and residents.

Do you support the expansion of public safety as the County continues to grow? How should this be done from a budgetary standpoint?

We have to expand staffing in all departments as the County continues to grow; to do so we have to offer a living wage and benefits. You cannot keep skilled and trained employees if you continue to withhold raises and decrease benefits.

What is your view or position regarding Community Improvement Districts (CIDs)?

CID's have played a role the development of the Cumberland and Town Center Areas. In addition to their volunteer self-taxation they also receive funds from Cobb County and the State. There may need to be limits on CID and RAC expansion in the future.

If elected, what will you do to promote continued positive job growth and economic development opportunities in Cobb County?

See #1.

What elected leader past or present do you admire and why?

Harry S. Truman, the son of a mule trader, a WWI veteran. He was kept in the dark about the atomic bomb during his term as Vice-President but upon becoming President he had to make what I consider one of the largest and most important decisions in history. And that was to drop the atomic bombs which ultimately ended WWII.

Cobb has a history of rising above petty politics and working together to solve problems and getting big things done. What will you do to promote active engagement, with all sectors of the community, to move Cobb forward?

Going back to 2012 it is clear that Cobb County residents are divided on growth and development issues, public transportation and the budget. Cobb County has become too large and diverse to have a one size/one solution fits all approach. It is time to consider redrawing County Commission Districts so that they are smaller and can better represent residents and businesses. Currently, each Commissioner represents @ 172,000 residents. This does not work well for many neighborhoods within the Districts. Smaller Districts might give residents a better sense of place and facilitate more constructive engagement. That could potentially move Cobb past some of its current policy divisions.

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JoAnn Birrell (Cobb County Commissioner, District 3)

If elected/re-elected, what will you do to promote continued positive job growth and economic development opportunities in Cobb County?

In my first year in office in 2011, I initiated Keep it Cobb and How to do Business with Cobb. I also spearheaded the passage of the Local Vendor Presence ordinance which grants bonus points to professional service companies that have an office in Cobb County. The How to do Business with Cobb seminars have had over 500 participants during the years it has been active.  These seminars teach businesses how to become vendors with Cobb County Government & Cobb Schools. Along with thriving businesses and the prudent use of tax and SPLOST dollars, Cobb County continues to be a beacon for business.

I also formed a committee to address the redevelopment opportunities along the Canton Road corridor and in District 3.  By working with the committee and Cobb County staff, we have only two properties in District 3 that are on the Redevelopment list.  I have and continue to support small businesses.  They are the backbone of America.  have supported small businesses from day one and will continue to do so as they are the backbone of America. By buying local the county and our schools thrive as well with tax dollars and SPLOST dollars

What is your position on offering tax abatements to attract new businesses to Cobb County?

The Development Authority of Cobb is the entity that offers tax abatements.  They review these proposals on a case-by-case basis to determine whether or not a company would qualify based on the number of jobs created and other guidelines outlined in the policy.

What specific solutions would you offer to solve Cobb County's transportation and traffic issues? 

Since the passage of HB 930, we are working with the Cobb Delegation and will host several meetings throughout the County to determine what the citizens want and need with regard to transit.

If a workable plan and solution results, there will be a referendum for the people to decide in November 2019.

Do you support the expansion of public safety as the County continues to grow? How should this be done from a budgetary standpoint?

Public Safety is our Number 1 priority. I believe it should have a separate millage similar to the fire fund and not compete for monies within the general fund.

The separate millage would not be a tax increase.  It would be a designated funding source for public safety. Our public safety in Cobb should never have to compete with other government functions because it is our top responsibility.

What is your view or position regarding Community Improvement Districts (CIDs)?

I strongly support the CIDs and I am very involved with the Town Center CID.  I have worked with the Town Center CID since 2011.

I appreciate the businesses within the CIDs that self-tax.  Their contributions contribute greatly to our county infrastructure, landscape and community as a whole.

If elected, what will you do to promote continued positive job growth and economic development opportunities in Cobb County?

I will continue to promote Keep it in Cobb and the How to do Business programs to support small businesses and job growth. I will also continue to encourage businesses to invest in Redevelopment Projects in my District.  In 2012, there were 17 sites on the District 3 Redevelopment list.  Now, there are two.

What elected leader past or present do you admire and why?

I admire Ronald Reagan because of his courage to stand up for America, his strong conservative values and his integrity and character throughout his life.  He was a principled leader guided by his convictions.

Cobb has a history of rising above petty politics and working together to solve problems and getting big things done. What will you do to promote active engagement, with all sectors of the community, to move Cobb forward?

It is important that we don’t expect the constituents to come to us each time; I go to them.  It is important to me to have contact with District 3 constituents in their neighborhoods about the issues that affect them.  As an elected official representing District 3 and Cobb County, I believe that all constituents have a voice in what we say or do no matter what race, creed, party affiliation, gender etc. 

Although we may not always agree, I listen.  I want to ensure I hear and understand the concerns prior to deciding. 

I attend as many events in my district as possible. I also engage the community through announcements at public meetings, a weekly newsletter and, of course, meeting with constituents.

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Tom Cheek (Cobb County Commissioner, District 3)

Did not submit answers to the questionnaire.

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Cobb County School Board


Jaha Howard (Cobb County School Board, Post 2)

What are your qualifications for School Board and what business experience do you have?

As a small business owner who runs a pediatric dentistry in Vinings, I am familiar with all of the aspects of running a successful business - from budgeting and payroll to marketing and staff management, in addition to providing high-quality service to my patients. With respect to qualifications for School Board, my job involves interacting with thousands of people through the practice, many of whom are parents of children in local public schools. Those conversations are invaluable and provide insight into what parents are most hopeful or concerned about when it comes to their child’s education. I have also spent the last several years working to organize parents and families in the community through the Wave of Excellence group - a network of nearly 4,000 parents dedicated to strengthening our local public schools.

Do you favor a balanced calendar versus a traditional calendar? Why?

I do not personally have a strong opinion on the school calendar. I plan to gather as much information as possible from parents, teachers and the district in order to make an informed decision that best represents this area.

What is your position on E-SPLOST for funding capital projects in the school district?

I am highly supportive of E-SPLOST projects because that type of funding puts less of a burden on property owners in the county, and information about specific projects is publicly available, which helps to increase accountability and transparency.

What is your position on charter schools and career academies?

I support charter schools and career academies as part of a broader education ecosystem, provided we are being mindful of past mistakes around gender, ethnicity and income bias. In addition, we should ensure they are not using funds designated for public schools.

What suggestions would you make to incorporate workforce development into the school district?

Truly exploring career academies to create a magnet-style focus on developing a 21st century workforce.

What measures would you implement or support to improve upon the County’s 83.6% graduation rate?

I would focus on the areas of concentrated poverty and high transiency, which are the biggest factors in graduation rates. This will rely on increased communication between city, county and community leaders. A dedicated, whole-of-community approach to supporting and partnering with schools that suffer from especially low graduation rates can make significant progress in this area.

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Angelia Pressley (Cobb County School Board, Post 2)

Did not submit answers to the questionnaire.

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Cynthia Parr (Cobb County School Board, Post 4)

What are your qualifications for School Board and what business experience do you have?

I have lived in Post 4 for the past 18 years and both of my sons were educated in the Cobb County School District. While my boys were in school, I was able to go on hiatus from my profession and immerse myself in their educational experience. In order to ensure that both of my sons received the best education possible, I found I needed to familiarize myself with the CCSD policies and procedures as well as State and Federal Laws. It was then that I decided to run for a seat on the board after my boys graduated.

My background is somewhat varied. I have two Bachelor’s Degrees and the first is in journalism which led me to work in radio and television advertising for 8 years before going to seminary and becoming an ordained Presbyterian minister. Parallel to that, I opened a shelter for victims of domestic violence which required grant writing and fundraising as well as creating a Policy and Procedure Manual in accord with state laws. When my husband was transferred to Marietta and after my sons were settled in school, I made use of my second Bachelor’s, which is in education, by taking the GACE and becoming certified. Working as a long-term substitute enabled me to see the school system from the inside out. So, I have the perspective of both a teacher and a parent.

Do you favor a balanced calendar versus a traditional calendar? Why?

Growing up in Pittsburgh, a traditional calendar meant starting school after Labor Day and ending right before Memorial Day. When I moved to Western NY, traditional meant starting in September and ending in June. Given the fact that this is area is inhabited by many transplants, we are bound to have differing paradigms and therefore, differing opinions. Cobb faces several dilemmas when structuring the calendar. Most importantly, the goal is to finish the first semester before the end of the calendar year, which is one of the reasons we start early. Then, the factoring in of breaks is needed. Teachers tell me that students need periodic short breaks, but when they are given long breaks, they forget so much that the teachers essentially need to start over. In districts that have tried year-round school with 2 weeks off per quarter, businesses balked because all of their employees with school-aged children wanted to take vacation during the October break, which was impossible to accommodate. So, as we contemplate the calendar, we need to take all things into consideration. Most importantly, if we say we are going to try a particular calendar for two school years, we need to stick with that decision regardless of who rolls off or on the board.

What is your position on E-SPLOST for funding capital projects in the school district?

Having previously lived in two states that do not have anything like SPLOST, I am strongly in favor of it here as I have seen its value. In states without SPLOST, schools become run down with little to no recourse. By using SPLOST funds, schools receive much needed renovations and so, I am advocate of the program.

What is your position on charter schools and career academies?

Fortunately, there is oversight regarding Charter Schools as we know that some are better than others. We need to carefully weigh the quality of each Charter School against the resources available within the district, recognizing that some students will do better in a smaller setting. Career Academies not only provide training and skills relevant to today’s work force, they also prepare students for the school-to-work transition, which is extremely important.

What suggestions would you make to incorporate workforce development into the school district?

I come from two states that do not have county-wide school districts, but instead have townships, and so, it was surprising to me to see the variation of opportunities available within the CCSD high schools. I have subbed in schools with hair salons and auto shops and I have subbed in schools that are strictly college prep. It’s heartening to see our schools cater to the needs of their students as I myself have one son in college and one in the workforce. So, speaking from experience, I do think we need to do more to prepare students for the transition from school to the work-a-day world.

What measures would you implement or support to improve upon the County’s 83.6% graduation rate?

The fact that graduation rates fluctuate from school to school indicates that identifying at-risk students early on is a must. Our counselors need to develop plans for individual students and our teachers and administrators need to do their part to implement the plans. In addition, partnerships need to be developed between the schools, the students, and their parents. My slogan is Pro-Student, Pro-Teacher, Pro-Parent, Pro-District because I believe all four entities working in sync is the key to success.

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David Chastain (Cobb County School Board, Post 4)

What are your qualifications for School Board and what business experience do you have?

I have served the people of Cobb County on the Cobb School Board since January 2015. In this time, with the help of experienced colleagues on the Board and in the District, I have gained knowledge, insight, and experience in evaluating district policy. In the process of reviewing budgets, studying potential impact of state legislative policy, and working with fellow board members I have been through an immersion course on school district management. My votes are underscored by what is in the best interest of our students and employees to provide the safest school system with all the resources possible to so every student can find his or her path to success. 

My business experience includes seventeen years in wholesale distribution in the southeast and mid-western United States and then twenty-one years in Logistics and Supply Chain with a local defense contractor as an analyst supporting government government contracts in the aeronautics industry.

Do you favor a balanced calendar versus a traditional calendar? Why?

I support the balanced calendar because it injects rest periods in the school year. This works well for our students and teachers. With ever higher expectations of success comes increased amounts of stress.

What is your position on E-SPLOST for funding capital projects in the school district?

E-SPLOST has become necessary as it has funded all kinds of capital improvements since it was introduced in Cobb back in the late 1990’s. Without this funding mechanism, and considering all the residential growth in Cobb, our school property tax would probably already be maxed out with accompanying bond indebtedness.

What is your position on charter schools and career academies?

I have been an advocate for charter schools since 2006. I am an advocate for career academies. However, I am also an advocate for local management of the local school system that reflects the will of the voters and taxpayers. Our state legislature has chosen a new course for managing our traditional public schools and for the future of public charter schools as it relates to state funding and management. How it will all work remains to be seen.

What suggestions would you make to incorporate workforce development into the school district?

Cobb County is doing this now with programs that allow for WBL Students to internship in both paid and non-paid positions. Last year Cobb had over 700 students dually enrolled with local accredited colleges and universities earning high school diplomas and credentials or certificates towards technical career opportunities. Local businesses looking to benefit from the district’s pool of talent should focus on promoting the opportunities available in their respective industries to motivate our students to consider all kinds of career possibilities.

What measures would you implement or support to improve upon the County’s 83.6% graduation rate?

Cobb’s graduation rate is higher than 83.6%. Our district has a transiency rate over 20%. That means a fifth of our student population turns every year. If the statistics are limited to those students entering ninth grade and staying through to graduation, then our graduation rate pushes up closer to 90%. Maybe someone should review how we calculate the rate?

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Charisse Davis (Cobb County School Board, Post 6)

What are your qualifications for School Board and what business experience do you have?

I am an experienced educator and mother of two boys in Cobb County Schools. I started my teaching career working with kindergarteners and helping them to develop a love for learning. After obtaining a Master of Library and Information Science, I became a library media specialist and taught students in grades K through 6.

During my 15-year career in public education, I received school librarianship and leadership awards and I recently obtained my specialist in education degree. I currently serve the public as a youth services librarian in the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System. I am an avid school volunteer, serving on the local school council and leadership boards of the PTA and parent foundation.

Throughout my career, I have had opportunities to work with business partners to plan youth programming, modernize library facilities, and bring educational resources to students. Additionally, I have experience serving on an RFP Committee to support purchasing decisions for a school district of over 90,000 students.

Do you favor a balanced calendar versus a traditional calendar? Why?

I support the balanced calendar; families and teachers are able to take advantage of breaks throughout the year to rest, travel, visit family, tour colleges, and participate in camps. The balanced calendar still affords students a 10-week summer break.

What is your position on E-SPLOST for funding capital projects in the school district?

E-SPLOST is a necessary component of generating revenue for expenses not related to salary and curriculum. With an aged infrastructure, CCSD needs E-SPLOST to bring its schools up-to-date. Teaching and learning are negatively impacted when school buildings are not safe and secure.

What is your position on charter schools and career academies?

Charter schools exist to provide another option for families as to where to send their children to school. However, I believe that if we fully support our public schools, they can be not only a viable option but the best option.

Career academies have the potential to expose students to career paths they may not have otherwise known about and to prepare them for jobs that exist now and into the future.

What suggestions would you make to incorporate workforce development into the school district?

The Cobb Workforce Partnership has identified 14 key performance indicators for helping bridge the gap between what skills industries need from potential employees and what potential employees are able to successfully do. This partnership, which involves CCSD, has one aspect that I think is very important to that effort: providing opportunities for students to complete externships. Externships or internships give students valuable experience in understanding the expectations of the workplace, skills practice, and networking opportunities.

What measures would you implement or support to improve upon the County’s 83.6% graduation rate?

While Cobb’s graduation rate is above the state average, there are schools in the county whose graduation rates are below 70%; we have work to do. Prioritizing early learning can yield greater outcomes for students later, including graduating from high school. Additionally, high school students need support from counselors, community members, and career education to navigate their options for post-high school plans. If students identify a larger goal around college and/or career plans, they can work towards graduating knowing that they are one step closer to that goal.

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Scott Sweeney (Cobb County School Board, Post 6)

What are your qualifications for School Board and what business experience do you have?

I am the two-term Republican, incumbent candidate for Cobb County Board of Education Post 6. After working in private business as a senior manager, business developer and business owner, I began my first term as the Post 6 representative in 2011 and my second term in 2015. I served as the Board’s Chair, Vice-Chair, Budget Liaison, Strategic Planning Committee Member, Facilities and Technology Committee Liaison, E-SPLOST Board/Community Representative, and as the Board of Education’s delegate to the Georgia School Board Association Annual Conference. I’m a PTA member and have worked closely with its leadership during each year I’ve served on the board. My wife, Sandy, has also been very involved in leadership/committee roles with PTA throughout our sons’ enrollment in Sope Creek Elementary School, Dickerson Middle School, and Walton High School.

I served as the President of the Georgia Education Coalition comprised of various school district representatives across Georgia representing nearly 40% of Georgia's total K-12 public education enrollment. I served as a 6th Congressional District appointee to the National School Board Association Federal Relations Network, a Georgia School Board Association Strategic Planning Committee member, and a Georgia School Board Association Government Operations Council member. I’ve held or participated in numerous townhall meetings, education panel discussions, and have been a featured speaker with Rotary, Kiwanis, East Cobb Business Association, realtor groups, and homeowner associations.

I earned my Bachelors degree in Economics from UCLA. A twenty-two year east Cobb resident, I am the Senior Business Adviser for InPrime Legal and also serve as CFO for my family’s consulting business. I served as Sr. Dir. of Brewery Retail & Real Estate for the Pabst Brewing Co. and have provided advisory services on over $900 million in total capital commitments for commercial real estate properties having an aggregate value over $3 billion. I served as Business Development Officer for Talonvest Capital, Vice President with Buchanan Storage Capital, and as Assistant Vice President with Fidelity National Financial, working with their National Title Services group and where I also launched the firm’s §1031 qualified intermediary services in the southeastern United States. As a partner and senior manager, I’ve developed and operated nationally recognized restaurants in CA, OR, NV, GA, CO, and WI. I’m a member of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce Government Relations Committee and I regularly attend local and statewide business association meetings. I served as a board or committee member on national, state and local non-profit organizations. I’m a frequent speaker at industry and education events, and an author of articles for industry publications and education within the Cobb community. My community involvement includes membership with the Republican National Committee, Georgia GOP, Cobb County GOP, Cobb County Republican Women’s Club (Associate) and membership with Mt. Bethel UMC. Since 2011, I’ve served on the Walton High School Governance Council. I support local youth sports through involvement with the Walton Raider Junior Lacrosse program and as a past assistant coach with East Side Baseball.

Do you favor a balanced calendar versus a traditional calendar? Why?

I favor a traditional calendar. Many have stated that a balanced calendar will improve student’s academic performance. As relayed during public meetings by the Cobb County School District superintendent, there is no academic or economic benefit to a balanced calendar. Here are a few reasons why I favor a traditional calendar;

  • Best opportunity for students to maximize summer earning potential 
  • Less frequent start/stop cycles for students 
  • Recognition that tourism is the largest revenue business within Cobb County combined with challenges employers have meeting their hiring objectives
  • No utility cost benefit
  • Limitations of pigeon-holing vacations into specific weeks under a balanced calendar compared to flexibility over full summer 
  • Allows Scout participation in August Jamborees, and extended opportunities for teacher professional development  
  • Attendance; some mistakenly claim that one calendar improves student attendance while the following illustration shows otherwise. Traditional and balanced calendars are represented. Note the trend similarities. 


What is your position on E-SPLOST for funding capital projects in the school district?

I favor E-SPLOST funding for capital projects in the school district. E-SPLOST makes sense. I prefer this “pay-as-you-go” model for funding capital projects to bond financing coupled with the associated interest expense. As board chair, I led the board planning and timing process for E-SPLOST IV culminating in the successful passage of the E-SPLOST IV referendum at the board level and subsequent passage by Cobb County voters.

E-SPLOST funding removes the capital expenditure burden from the school district operating budget while shifting some of the revenue generation to those residing outside of Cobb County. This allows for more of our local property tax digest to be used in those areas that directly impact each classroom. 

What is your position on charter schools and career academies?

I’ve supported charter schools such as Walton High School where I serve on their Governance Council and Sedalia Park Elementary School. Each of these are conversion charter schools where I was very involved during their charter renewal process. I supported the charter school renewal at Kennesaw Charter School. I’ve also supported our Superintendent’s recommendation to not renew certain charter schools due to matters concerning academics, school governance, lack of facility, and/or inadequate funding. I believe that each charter school applicant or charter renewal must be closely evaluated.

Charter schools are public schools to be held accountable for academic and financial performance as agreed within their contract and as approved by Georgia’s State Board of Education. If a charter school doesn’t fulfill its academic and financial promises, it is subject to review, including a rejection of a charter school renewal application.

I supported the inclusion of a Career Academy within the E-SPLOST. I firmly believe we need to prepare students for entry into the workforce and that many students may not choose a college path. Career academy programs can prepare students for the work force and prepare them for college. Beyond facility and curriculum pathways, the most important element to consider is collaboration with the business community and higher-ed to determine the best career paths to provide. We must also build in flexibility allowing us to quickly adapt to workplace demand changes.

What suggestions would you make to incorporate workforce development into the school district?

  • Develop “flexible” career academies in concert with our local institutions of higher-ed. By flexible, I mean adaptable to the frequently changing work place. 
  • Allow more opportunities for “hands-on” learning activities – the act of doing actual work as opposed to simply reading/hearing about work 
  • Blend career coursework with traditional coursework so students will fully benefit when applying to any higher-ed institution

What measures would you implement or support to improve upon the County’s 83.6% graduation rate?

The last time I completed this questionnaire the County’s graduation rate was noted as 76%. We’ve improved to 83.6% and continue to head in a positive direction.

  • I will continue to support the district’s early learning initiatives proven to improve literacy. Building stronger reading and writing foundation skills by the 3rd grade will greatly improve the likelihood that students will continue with their education rather than dropping out of school.
  • Continue to fight for increased funding thus allowing us to reduce class sizes by improving teacher/student ratios
  • Ensure we have the right resources available for students and teachers
  • Our drop-out rate is too high. I will continue to work to improve on the good job we are already doing regarding:
    • Counseling – making students aware of opportunities and assistance with achieving their goals
    • Safe environment – for many students, school is the safest environment they will experience on any given day
    • Volunteers – improve opportunities for mentoring

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Kennesaw City Council


Kemela Carlson (Kennesaw City Council, Post 2)

What is your overall vision for the City of Kennesaw?

Thriving city of growing business with a small town feel of connectedness and family activities

What are the three biggest challenges facing the city of Kennesaw and how will you address them? What are the three biggest opportunities?

Challenges –
Accessibility – the road infrastructure is not keeping up with the growth. I would like to look at better public transportation as a means of commute to the city.

Cooperation – working with our neighboring cities to make an overall improvement for our area which includes Kennesaw. I would work with neighboring cities to make improvements of our roads and parks connecting us all.

Growth rate –Kennesaw is growing very rapidly and to keep up with the demand more townhomes and apartments are being built. I would like to analyze the needs of the transient residents (renters) vs. permanent residents (homeowners) to make sure we are growing in a way that benefits both residents rather than one over the other.

Opportunities –
We have a growing University nearby and people will come to live and know Kennesaw as a result.

Kennesaw’s location is within 25 miles of downtown Atlanta and residents can find great opportunities for work.

Improved Parks and trails which continue to keep the City of Kennesaw involved with its residents.

What is your philosophy on Land Use and Zoning within the city limits?

While there is a need to update Land Use and Zoning, the existing homeowner’s rights should come first.

Ensuring safety for its citizens and businesses is a key to success for any community. Do you have any specific plans related to the safety and security of Kennesaw’s citizens and businesses?

I don’t have any specific plans other than to work closely with the Kennesaw Police Department to meet their needs so they can meet the needs of the community.

What changes or improvements to City services would you see as the highest priority to improve the overall quality of life for its citizens?

I would allow Kennesaw residents to visit the Southern Museum and Gilbert Gardens free of charge upon showing proof of residency, however to make up the revenue I would designate more parking within a reasonable distance from downtown and charge to park. This would likely increase overall revenue allowing residents to enjoy a day downtown exploring the businesses and museums. Expanding the downtown green area will help to draw people in, and connection to Adams park will bring in the folks spending the day at the ball field.

What will you do to ensure the City of Kennesaw is/remains business friendly?

I would provide incentives for new small business possibly through grants or tax deduction in the first year of operation for small business only.

What is your perspective on the best ways to collaborate with other levels of government to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for our area?

Collaboration usually begins with relationships. I would develop relationships with our neighboring communities to understand their needs and look for commonalities we can work together on.

What innovative projects would you like to bring to your City that would enhance life for its citizens?

I would love a frisbee park, a community pool, and permanent area for live entertainment downtown as well as better public transportation and parking.

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Tracey Viars (Kennesaw City Council, Post 2)

What is your overall vision for the City of Kennesaw?

I think we already live in a wonderful city but there’s always room for improvement. Kennesaw has been my home for 21 years. During my 6 years on the Kennesaw Downtown Development Authority (the last 3 as chair), my vision was (and is) building a vibrant community through economic development efforts to add businesses and services that would allow our residents to be able to get what they need close to home and to keep money spent within our community by supporting local business owners. When those business owners, in turn, spend their money within our community, the benefits are exponential. I believe we should focus our efforts on having a more balanced tax digest (by adding more commercial business and therefore more revenue) to help keep property taxes in check for residents while maintaining an excellent level of services. I was also involved in creating and managing events and opportunities for residents from all walks of life and from every corner of our city to come downtown and gather together for unique experiences (Dinner at the Depot, Kennesaw Farmer’s Market, Kennesaw Beer & Wine Festival, Friday Night Fright Movie Series). I want Kennesaw to be a safe and friendly place to live with opportunities for all and a place where residents and visitors alike can enjoy themselves. We need to ensure that all citizens, no matter where they live within city limits, feel like they are being listened to and represented fairly and that all neighborhoods have an equal opportunity to share in city resources and be engaged. In conclusion, I want us to continue to be and build on being a thriving city where we can live, work and play together now and in the future…in peace.

What are the three biggest challenges facing the city of Kennesaw and how will you address them? What are the three biggest opportunities?

Challenges:
Traffic/Parking is certainly always an issue in any growing city and Kennesaw is no exception. When I was serving on the Downtown Development Authority, we worked to ensure that city parking areas were well-marked and we sought parking agreements with surrounding business owners in the off-hours to expand capacity. Public/private partnerships like the parking deck and street parking that came in when Revival on Main was built are examples of being proactive with the planning of parking solutions. There are road projects coming that will be coordinated with the county (and so not always on the immediate schedule and/or sometimes awaiting SPLOST fund availability) but the efficiencies of lining these projects up with other agencies are crucial in terms of money savings and keeping inconvenience to residents and commuters to a minimum. Sidewalks, bike paths and encouraging walkable residential and business opportunities throughout the city helps too. The opening of the roundabout at Dallas and Watts eliminated the need for an awkward and somewhat blind stopping point to allow for a continuous flow of traffic in that area. Being mindful and proactive of traffic and parking issues when planning for development is important. But at the end of the day, if you have a city worth visiting, realistically you’re going to have some traffic and parking related issues to solve.

More Streamlined Processes to ensure a good experience when working with the city has been a challenge at times. I want people to walk away from dealings with our city departments and be able to go out and say it was a great experience every time. Making sure steps to get things accomplished are clear and easy to follow. Not having too many layers of processes to get things done is important. Better use of technology like having business license renewal online for convenience and making sure our building standards align with Cobb County Fire Marshall standards to ease in that process are a few examples.

Citizen Engagement/Communication are areas that the city is currently working on and areas where I’d like to see improvements continue. How people get information differs even generationally. I’d like to see that we take advantage of all forms of media and methods to ensure citizens feel included and encouraged to get engaged while having easy access to the information they seek. I participated and was proud of the work we did in connecting with the citizens with the Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) study when we were updating our Masterplan a couple of years ago. The re-establishment of the town hall meetings will give citizens another venue to connect with city staff and departments and to let their needs and wants be heard. Accessibility of council members in the community also works as a great communication mode between citizens and the city. As for me, I live and work in city limits day in and day out and have always prided myself on accessibility and approachability in the various roles I’ve played within the city.

Opportunities:
Where to begin! The opportunities seem endless!

Being recognized as a great place to do business is an opportunity that we should seize upon. We’ve got better access to 75 than many cities within Cobb County. We’ve got an international airport to service area companies that have those kind of transportation needs. Because we have Kennesaw State University in our backyard, we have a very educated workforce that businesses are always seeking and opportunities for higher level employment. KSU also provides lots of resources in so many areas and there are lots of opportunities for great partnerships that have gone largely untapped.

Targeted Redevelopment in areas around the city will also bring great opportunities. Redevelopment in the Cherokee Street Corridor, downtown and on Cobb Parkway will bring in new business, elevate property values for homeowners, improve the look and vibe of the gateways into our city and generally help us prosper in an even greater way. I want us to feel like the warm and welcoming city that we are.

Increase in Tourism/Visitors will offer great opportunities for us. We have the museum, the Smith-Gilbert Gardens, Swift-Cantrell Park, the Grand Prix 5k Series, 2 breweries and a real working distillery, many great eateries, and a very active Parks and Recreation department that puts on many great events. Increasing tourism increases revenue, helps our businesses thrive and elevates the lifestyle and entertainment options close to home for our citizens.

What is your philosophy on Land Use and Zoning within the city limits?

I participated in the form-based code meetings when we were updating the codes for the Cherokee Street Corridor. I think we are on the right track. Those changes will help the aesthetics of the area and simplify the process for builders and developers as well as local property owners to be better informed. I think we have some great opportunities in Kennesaw to build the city that we can be proud to live in now and that residents 25 years from now can thrive in. While we’re not quite a “blank slate” I do think we have room on our canvas to work with. This gives us a great opportunity to be deliberate in assessing the needs and desires of the community to identify opportunities that create enjoyment and economic stability. I think it’s beyond possible to work within the highest and best use theory, while also retaining high standards for design and quality. I appreciate new construction and historical properties as well…a blend of new and old.

Ensuring safety for its citizens and businesses is a key to success for any community. Do you have any specific plans related to the safety and security of Kennesaw’s citizens and businesses?

The Kennesaw Police Department does a tremendous job keeping our citizens and our community safe. My stance would be to continue to support their efforts as a city, making sure they have the resources and training that they need to function at the superior level that they do. Any changes to safety that I would make would be related to adding sidewalks for safe pedestrian traffic in areas where they don’t exist and looking into some of the older neighborhood’s needs for better lighting. Revitalization in some areas across the city could promote neighborhood pride and engagement and therefore reduce any potential for crime in those areas and elevate enjoyment for those property owners. Citizen engagement is one of the best methods for retaining a safe and enjoyable community and any efforts we make towards that will pay off.  

What changes or improvements to City services would you see as the highest priority to improve the overall quality of life for its citizens?

Safety is always and will continue to be a top priority. Making sure we are getting the best services and in the most cost-efficient way is our responsibility to our citizens. Transportation improvements via road improvement, sidewalks, bike paths and such will also improve quality of life.

What will you do to ensure the City of Kennesaw is/remains business friendly?

I would like to see that our processes for doing business in or with the city be as streamlined and easy to understand as possible. I’d like to see us take advantage of technology when possible for efficiency.

What is your perspective on the best ways to collaborate with other levels of government to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for our area?

Good relationships foster good collaboration. Anytime we can work with the county or state to bring about efficiencies in resources including time and money I would recommend we do so. I think it’s also important for council members, city staff and volunteers on various city boards and authorities to study what other cities are doing, make connections outside of the community, attend ARC and other agency events, communicate with peers in like positions in other cities and stay abreast with what’s happening on a county, state and regional level.

What innovative projects would you like to bring to your City that would enhance life for its citizens?

Whether by public or private effort or a combination, I’d love to see us have an active live music venue. I would love to see us offer more opportunities for our senior citizens in the community. Other than that, the revitalization of targeted areas as mentioned before will certainly enhance life for our citizens. I’d like to see us go into some of the older neighborhoods that need attention and spread the love there as well. To continue to enhance our downtown and gateways with a good signage, planters, public art and such would also improve the look and feel of downtown. To retain a high level of respect and retain our small town charm while growing into one of the best cities in Cobb County and the state is on my list of thing to do!

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Smyrna City Council


Alexander Backry (Smyrna City Council, Ward 6)

Did not submit answers to the questionnaire.

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Shaun Black (Smyrna City Council, Ward 6)

What is your overall vision for the City of Smyrna?

To me, I see Smyrna becoming not only the place people want to live, but also a destination where they want to shop and dine as well.  We can achieve this through smart growth – where every project is vetted from every angle – in order to maintain the character of the City. 

What are the three biggest challenges facing the city of Smyrna and how will you address them? What are the three biggest opportunities?

I see the biggest challenges as growing at the right pace, improving our local public schools, and promoting our City as the best place to live.

Those same challenges are opportunities as well – for example if we can band together to continue to improve our schools, it enhances the perception of the City as a place to where people want to move, rather than a place people question because of what they have heard school-wise.

What is your philosophy on Land Use and Zoning within the city limits?

I think every project needs to be looked at from many angles, and that includes more citizen engagement.  The City belongs to the citizens, not the Council.  I wouldn’t go as far as having referendums on every zoning question, but there has to be some balance whereby citizen concerns are addressed.

Ensuring safety for its citizens and businesses is a key to success for any community. Do you have any specific plans related to the safety and security of Smyrna’s citizens and businesses?

I think the biggest thing we can do for our first responders is ensure they have the training and equipment they need to do their jobs.  If that means an overhaul of the budget, then it needs to happen and we need to take a hard look at where our priorities are and whether anything needs to shift.

What changes or improvements to City services would you see as the highest priority to improve the overall quality of life for its citizens?

Smyrna has some of the best City services around and before any changes I would make sure what we currently have is what the citizens want.  Again, citizen input is key to the success of our City and we need to make sure what’s being provided is what people want.  Personally, I would love to see more emphasis on walking trails to connect communities. 

What will you do to ensure the City of Smyrna is/remains business friendly?

Part of being business friendly is being a place where a business can be successful.  That all begins with engaging citizens on what kinds of businesses they want and would visit.  The City can he a big help in this area by leading engagement efforts to make sure we are attracting the right kinds of businesses.

What is your perspective on the best ways to collaborate with other levels of government to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for our area?

I think it comes down not only to other levels of government, but also peers at the same level.  We need to understand what other cities are doing and analyze whether Smyrna is competitive in those areas, and if not, figure out what needs to change.

What innovative projects would you like to bring to your City that would enhance life for its citizens?

As the only candidate whose children attend our local public schools, I can say first hand that they are the cornerstones of our community.  Even if you don’t have children in the schools, great schools enhance life for everybody because they attract families to the City which in turn brings new energy and economic opportunity.  While the school board controls what happens inside the schools, there are certainly things the City can do to keep the areas around them looking great and showing the pride the City has in them.

I would also like to see the City explore new recreation opportunities to connect neighborhoods.  We live in a City made up of many neighborhoods, some of which are mere feet apart from each other, but don’t connect.  Walking trails on City property between neighborhoods would make a big improvement, and could even help with traffic as people could walk to visit nearby friends rather than drive all over town just to get to the next neighborhood over.

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Tim Gould (Smyrna City Council, Ward 6)

What is your overall vision for the City of Smyrna?

Smyrna will lead in civic innovation, remaining a community where people want to live, raise families, run businesses and support their neighbors.

What are the three biggest challenges facing the city of Smyrna and how will you address them? What are the three biggest opportunities?

Our challenges as a city also represent our greatest opportunities. 

Supporting Our Schools: We need to raise the profile of our outstanding schools in Smyrna.  We have dedicated, talented teachers, leaders and staff. Our parents are motivated and engaged.  We have a positive story to tell and need to spread the word. Strong Smyrna schools strengthen our entire community.

Smart Growth: The City Council needs deeper community involvement in areas related to growth, helping keep Smyrna a desirable place to live. We must know the impact on our existing neighborhoods when considering growth related activities. 

Safety & Security: The City Council and Smyrna Police need to increase support of our community based groups, neighborhood watches, HOA’s, etc. These neighborhood based groups are key in helping maintain our neighborhood safety, the wellbeing of our neighbors and reducing incidents of crime.

What is your philosophy on Land Use and Zoning within the city limits?  

Keeping Smyrna a livable city must be a key priority in any zoning and land use decision.  The Vision Plan is an effective guide to long term sustained growth but continued community input will help keep Smyrna a desirable place to live.

Do you have any specific plans related to the safety and security of Smyrna’s citizens and businesses?   

Increase the number of neighborhood watch groups, support Smyrna Police initiatives around crime prevention and advocate for organizations such as Smyrna Public Safety Foundation.

What changes or improvements to City services would you see as the highest priority to improve the overall quality of life for its citizens?  

Issues that affect the livability of Smyrna are top priority. The City Council needs to continue advocating for organizations that impact schools and sustained growth such as Smyrna Education Foundation, Keep Smyrna Beautiful, Wave of Excellence, and others. We need to encourage community engagement and residents taking on civic leadership roles.

What will you do to ensure the City of Smyrna is/remains business friendly?  

In my mind, the number one issue for local businesses is keeping Smyrna livable.  We want residents to plant roots, become part of our community and support our businesses.

What is your perspective on the best ways to collaborate with other levels of government to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for our area?    

Our residents expect their elected leaders to work together and support the residents of Smyrna and Cobb County. A great way to build relationships is working together for a common goal, which I believe is helping improve the lives of our residents and creating a sustainable City of Smyrna and Cobb County.   

What innovative projects would you like to bring to your City that would enhance life for its citizens? 

As a fast growing city, one of our challenges is engaging residents to become active in community groups and filling leadership roles. The typical websites, city Facebook pages, Tweets are helpful but we need to tap into the existing networks of our HOA’s, neighborhood groups and civic organizations to reach more residents. Our neighbors will support our city if we make it easy to show up, help out, and become part of our greater community. 

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Idelia Moore (Smyrna City Council, Ward 6)

What is your overall vision for the City of Smyrna?

My overall vision of Smyrna is that it will be a city with a well-defined identity that is considered safe, attractive to and highly livable for young adults, families and older citizens. I would like Smyrna to be seen as an inviting respite in the midst of Atlanta’s sprawling metropolitan area. I want it to be a city that has a close and mutually beneficial relationship to the surrounding cities and county while retaining its uniqueness and character. I want it to be known as a city that stimulates investment because it has strong, innovative city officials and leaders who cultivate new ideas, who implement change well and who regularly reassess the city’s vision and plans so that they are always current. I want city officials who are 1) welcoming to a diverse citizenry, 2) seen as helpful to small businesses and startups, 3) who produce creative solutions for city administration and services issues and 4) who are good stewards of taxpayer money while ensuring consistent, high quality services to its residents.

What are the three biggest challenges facing the city of Smyrna and how will you address them?

Growth: Smyrna’s growth needs to be intelligently, carefully and sensitively managed if the goal is to retain the aspects of Smyrna that drew and still draw people to want to live here. I believe it is critical that Smyrna have a well-defined city identity and a realistic vision plan that is fully adhered to by city government and used to inform their decisions. The question on many residents’ minds is: “Will Smyrna remain a desirable and affordable leafy suburb or will it become a concrete covered, densely populated, congested intersection on a map of urban sprawl?” I support the concept of smart growth and will introduce and support efforts to implement smart growth initiatives for Smyrna.

Our Identity: What do we want for Smyrna and what do we want its reputation to be? Smyrna’s identity is in transition. Back in the 1980s Smyrna was called a “redneck town on the edge of Atlanta”. The redevelopment of Smyrna’s city center has gone a long way to change that perception, but the fact remains we have not created a new strong identity for Smyrna. Creating a city identity that encapsulates what we want our city to be and to be seen as will be a goal of mine. Bringing all stakeholders--community, government, businesses--together to build an identity and a vision plan to support that identity will be a goal of mine.

The Future: Our city needs to appropriately--and most importantly within the city vision--address issues caused by current and projected population numbers, traffic levels, housing density, infrastructure demands and facilities’ improvements in a way that also anticipates the issues the city may face in the future. Our community’s future will be affected by a changing US economy, workforce requirements, transportation modes, consumer shopping practices and the ever-present pace of technological advancements. As a city council member, I will support forward-thinking, innovative plans to secure our future and keep Smyrna a vibrant, modern city.

What are the three biggest opportunities?

The three biggest opportunities are? Location, location, location

Location Development: Smyrna can take maximum advantage of its location, the attention it’s receiving and the changes that are happening around the periphery of Smyrna to improve but not diminish the quality of life for citizens by using its advantages to attract new businesses and tourism, increase recreation and leisure opportunities for residents and visitors and to enhance or improve other programs that benefit Smyrna’s reputation as a desirable suburb.

Location Demographic: Smyrna can take advantage of the changing demographic of those moving into the city. According to statistics these new residents have a higher than average level of education and income. We have an opportunity to engage these citizens in an ongoing dialogue with the city that can result in a broader perspective of ideas and create a sense in new residents that they are welcomed, appreciated and vested in our community. These efforts require leadership that not only talks inclusiveness and diversity but also practices it. It requires a rethinking of how new residents first encounter city government and services and then use that as a means of building a lasting connection to that resident.

Location Natural Surroundings: Because of Smyrna’s geographical location it has opportunities for developing and/or improving our residents’ and visitors’ access to outdoor recreational pursuits. The nearby Silver Comet, the Beltline and the Chattahoochee River offer opportunities for Smyrna to be seen as a hub or access point for enjoying the outdoors and natural surroundings. Sitting on a point between urban and rural landscapes makes Smyrna ideal and future opportunities to make use of this positioning are plentiful.

What is your philosophy on Land Use and Zoning within the city limits?

My philosophy on Land Use and Zoning, as well as development in general is one based on the concepts and principles of Smart Growth.

Ensuring safety for its citizens and businesses is a key to success for any community. Do you have any specific plans related to the safety and security of Smyrna’s citizens and businesses?

Safety of citizens and businesses are challenged by a myriad of safety issues which our entire society confronts daily. But our municipality can focus on increasing residents’ and visitors’ sense of physical safety and a sense that the city will assist them in protecting their property against theft and natural disasters. We rely on law enforcement and our fire department and first responders to protect us against such events, but are we giving them all the tools, training and staff they need to do the job we expect of them? I will work to ensure our law enforcement teams, fire department and first responders have access to the training, the programs and tools they need to give our citizens the levels of protection they deserve.
But safety is a collaborative effort. We residents are also responsible for our safety, whether it’s through adhering to our laws, creating neighborhood watch groups, reporting suspicious activity, installing anti-theft equipment in our houses and cars and teaching our children to practice safety at home and at school. I will support existing city outreach programs that help citizens protect themselves and their property.

Moreover supporting public safety may also mean increasing fines for offenses that endanger the public. I would like to see Smyrna have related fines that are high enough to serve as a deterrent to crime. For example, I would support increasing fines for speeding in school zones and for not stopping for school buses.

What changes or improvements to City services would you see as the highest priority to improve the overall quality of life for its citizens?

I believe Smyrna city services on the whole are good but could be improved by increasing responsiveness and shortening response time to citizens who contact the city. I think the city could do a better job of contacting neighborhoods when routine maintenance services are scheduled, especially those which might affect services such as water or impede the flow of traffic.

I would like to see recycling services broaden to include more items and to have more frequent recycling programs for shredding, electronics, etc.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the loss of the curbside service for leaves collection which Smyrna discontinued a few years ago. That is the most often mentioned city service that residents miss.

What will you do to ensure the City of Smyrna is/remains business friendly?

I will promote Smyrna’s vibrancy and business friendly culture so that we attract medium to small businesses. “Buy local” should be the catchphrase for Smyrna. Incorporating smart growth concepts for repurposing existing buildings rather than building new is also an attractive alternative for small business owners. Many of the services of big box and chain stores/restaurants that Smyrna residents regularly use are already established and a short distance away. I’d like to see more small to medium size businesses whose quality or specialty would not only benefit our residents but draw people from outside Smyrna into the city center.

What is your perspective on the best ways to collaborate with other levels of government to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for our area?

I think Smyrna already has a good relationship with and the avenues for collaborating with other cities in Cobb, Cobb County government and the state to address issues of sustainability and prosperity. When the various levels of government all agree to a long term vision for the state and county it sets the groundwork for realizing the greatest opportunity to tackle mutually beneficial projects. I believe Smyrna’s importance and stake in the conversation with state and county leaders is gaining strength. Smyrna’s predicted growth is well known so it’s natural that we should have a bigger role than we’ve had in the past when the state and county are deciding on the future of this area. I’d like to see Smyrna become a model of sustainability and prosperity which the county and state can reference for other communities.

What innovative projects would you like to bring to your City that would enhance life for its citizens?

The following are a few things I would like to see for Smyrna which I think would enhance life for its citizens.

An arts/performing art facility is desperately needed in Smyrna. The arts--both the fine and performance--have no dedicated facility in which they can be exhibited or experienced nor performed and appreciated by our community. Without an arts facility a serious commitment to the arts cannot be demonstrated by the City. We have a community with an interest in the fine and performing arts. The City has so far relied solely on volunteers or volunteer organizations and outdoor venues to respond to the call from residents for arts and arts related programs. I would like to see the City of Smyrna commit to investigating avenues for providing “the bricks and mortar” necessary to host fine and performing arts events and commit to offering our citizens an opportunity to experience a higher level of art exhibits and quality theater, music and dance performances. As a preliminary to having a City of Smyrna facility I would like to see Smyrna explore a relationship to Campbell High School’s new Performing Arts Center in hopes that their new center might serve Smyrna residents as a shared performing arts facility. Other Cobb County cities share their own high school performing arts centers. I’d hope the City might follow suit.

I’d like to see Smyrna make more use of neighborhood Facebook groups and apps such as Nextdoor and SeeClickFix, to create a communications network with every neighborhood in Smyrna. This network could be used by the city for alerts or warnings, city services schedules, input and feedback from residents on crime or suspicious activities as well as allow members of these groups to report needed repairs and give feedback on issues specific to their neighborhoods.

I would also like the City of Smyrna to incorporate more sustainability and resilience initiatives into their vision plans and to commit to being proactive in preserving and protecting our environment and by creating programs that would guide the city when our resiliency might be threatened or tested.

There are literally hundreds of innovative projects cities around the country have used to enhance life for its citizens. Many of them would work well for Smyrna and I plan to encourage the city to explore incorporating these innovative, fun and mostly easy projects into some of our community events.

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Brant Suddath (Smyrna City Council, Ward 6)

What is your overall vision for the City of Smyrna?

I am running to ensure that the decisions we make on growth, redevelopment, and transit support not only the individuals in Smyrna, but also maintain and build upon the strong sense of community that our city prides itself on. We have a vision for the future and I will work to ensure that the decisions we make support business growth while balancing the interest of family and community growth.

What are the three biggest challenges facing the city of Smyrna and how will you address them? What are the three biggest opportunities?

Equipping and Training Those That Affect Our Community - I will work with our school and community leaders - both private and public – to build on their strengths and see that they are recognized for their successes.  Likewise, it will be my priority to know that our fire and police officials have what they need to do their best job and keep our citizens safe.

Ensure Accessible and Affordable to Public Facilities - This is where we all work, play, and send our children to school.  We all appreciate the value of quality athletic programs, parks, libraries and recreational facilities.  I will be your voice to keep these vital parts of our community accessible and affordable.

Accountability and Transparency – Fellow citizens are telling me that they want dialogue that is more open from their representatives on their concerns and priorities.  Communicating through e-mail, newsletters, phone, video blogs and in-person conversations will not only strengthen our community, but guarantee the accountability and transparency of myself and other city officials.

What is your philosophy on Land Use and Zoning within the city limits?

I believe that the City’s zoning code should be regularly reviewed and updated to remain consistent with the City’s Comprehensive land use plan and the changing needs of the community.

Ensuring safety for its citizens and businesses is a key to success for any community. Do you have any specific plans related to the safety and security of Smyrna’s citizens and businesses?

It will be my priority to know that our fire and police officials have what they need to do their best job and keep our citizens and businesses safe.

What changes or improvements to City services would you see as the highest priority to improve the overall quality of life for its citizens?

While the City already provides impressive services and amenities to our citizens, there are always opportunities for growth and improvement. Those I would list as priority include:

  • Improved sustainability support with curb side pickup for recycling glass and curb side pick-up of leaves that have been raked or blown to the curb
  • Unpaved bike and walking trails and additional sidewalks in our neighborhoods
  • Additional programs and activities such as new/fresh community special events, adult fitness and wellness programs, and before and after school programs

What will you do to ensure the City of Smyrna is/remains business friendly?

With success and progress comes challenge…..and in the coming years the decisions that we make on topics such as redevelopment, business growth and transportation will have a direct impact on our ability to continue building a strong sense of community. I am running to provide a pro-business and pro-family voice for every citizen of Smyrna.

Also as I talk with small business owners in Smyrna, they tell me that opening a business in Smyrna should be easier than it is today. I think we have an opportunity at the city level to make our processes more transparent and predictable for business owners. I will ensure that we make this priority and that we hold ourselves accountable to that end.

What is your perspective on the best ways to collaborate with other levels of government to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for our area?

Since we are significantly impacted by the work happening throughout Cobb County, our Council needs to be in direct contact with Cobb County representatives, Cobb Board of Education, the Cobb Chamber, and Cobb Travel and Tourism, on a regular basis to ensure Smyrna's needs are known and met.

High on the list is our collaboration and connection with the Cobb County Board of Education. We need to be regularly communicating with our Board of Education representative to ensure Smyrna's voice is heard. Challenges such as qualified substitute teachers pools and ensuring that the schools fields/grounds, exterior signage and parking lots are properly maintained for that improved curb appeal are a must.

What innovative projects would you like to bring to your City that would enhance life for its citizens?

I’m hearing from fellow citizens that they want recreation options such as bike paths that can serve riders and commuters, additionally folks want indoor swimming pool and splash pads for kids we need to explore these enhancements.

Also I’d like to see more collaboration between Campbell HS and local businesses to create a “Smyrna Intern Program” for our students, folks tell me that they think this would be a good enhancements to our community.

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