- Arielle Kass The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Six people are vying to fill the Fulton County district 4 commission seat left open in April when Joan Garner died of cancer.
The candidates are: Eddie Lee Brewster, a former East Point councilman; Kathryn Flowers, a Realtor; Natalie Hall, Garner’s former chief of staff; Steven Lee, a member of the Atlanta Public School’s school board; Reese McCranie, the director of policy and communications at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport; and Joshua McNair, a health care sales executive.
Many of the candidates said they are concerned with the ongoing issues with property tax values that have prevented the county from sending tax bills. They also talked about the need to reduce rates of HIV and AIDS, which are among the worst in the country.
That’s a major issue of concern for McCranie, 41, who said he decided to run for office in part because he wanted to offer “a local response to some of the craziness coming out of the Trump administration.” He’s worked on statewide and national Democratic campaigns in the past.
County government, he said, can help backstop inhumane policies coming out of the White House by helping to ensure there are health care opportunities for Fulton residents, including free testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. McCranie said he would also like to see the county increase the accessibility of affordable housing. Its absence “is one of our government’s moral failings,” he said.
He proposed a freeze on property tax increases for low-income seniors and others who are in danger of being displaced by huge increases in property values, McCranie also suggested a low-income rental and ownership stabilization board be created that could help keep people in their homes. He also intends to work toward a cap on the amount of increase residents would see in a year.
“I’m a pragmatist,” McCranie said. “At the end of the day, I believe in consensus, collaboration and finding common ground.”
Flowers, 54, said she entered the race because she “wanted to be a person who offered solutions to the residents of Fulton County.” She said she knows she doesn’t always have the answers herself.
“I’m smart enough to get smart people in a room,” she said.
Flowers said she wants to work with the Atlanta land bank and the city on more inclusionary zoning, and steps that could help keep residents from being displaced because of rising property values. Regarding health care, Flowers said it’s important the Grady Memorial Hospital continues to be a strong asset for the region.
Flowers worked in finance before going into real estate, and said she’s a solution-oriented person who would enter county government with that mindset — that she’s there to seek results.
McNair, 33, and a community activist, said he was also spurred to enter politics because of Trump’s election. He wants to see progress locally, when he said it’s been “obliterated” at the federal level. McNair works in health care, and said he wants Fulton County to focus its health efforts more on preventive measures. He’d also like to work to ensure Grady remains fully funded.
He’s interested in health care and gentrification issues and wants to take a look at existing homestead exemptions to ensure those that have the most ability to pay property taxes are the ones with most of the burden.
McNair said he’s interested in criminal justice reform to ensure that young residents have opportunities. He’d also like to focus the county on quality-of-life issues like libraries and the arts, as well as wrap-around social services for residents.
“The money we’re spending on the jail needs to be reallocated into the communities,” he said.
McNair was involved in the Young Democrats and West End Neighborhood Development, and said he wants to make sure Fulton County no longer operates in silos.
“We’re at a pivotal point,” he said. “It’s an opportune time for Fulton County to show leadership to the rest of the state.”
Lee, 53, has been a member of the school board for four years and works as a management analyst in Atlanta’s government, in addition to his job as executive director of the Unity Network and Counseling Center, which he founded.
Lee said he got into the race because he wanted to have more opportunities to help at-risk youth before they even entered the school system. He’s interested in expanding job-training programs and improving the county’s mental health services. He also wants to help veterans with those same issues.
“Fulton County is all about human services and quality of life,” he said. “We want to make sure we provide access to those who need it most.”
As a member of school board, Lee said he’s particularly aware of the impact county decisions have on other government entities. He’s seeing it now, as the county’s inability to send property tax bills is having a “dire” effect on the county’s school systems. He also said he understands the budget process and how a government functions.
“People want to see some results,” he said. “They want to see you do something to better their lives.”
Hall, 52, said Garner told her before her death to consider running for the seat. She said through her work in Garner’s office, she knows and has relationships with the other county commissioners and would be well-positioned to fill the remainder of the unexpired term, which goes through the end of 2020.
Hall said it’s clear the county needs to overhaul its property tax system — “It’s obvious it’s broken,” she said — and said she knew “immediately” that the decision to freeze property taxes at 2016 levels would create a problem for the government. She wants to exempt seniors from having to pay school taxes and said she would take a look at other exemptions, as well as the assessment process.
She has a strong regard for Grady and said she wants to continue Garner’s work to prevent new HIV infections.
Hall’s husband, Kwanza Hall, is running for mayor of Atlanta. If both are elected, Hall said, it would only be good for local government — the pair have “never had any challenges,” she said.
“We would finally have the city-county partnership that should have always been,” she said. “This is a partnership that already exists.”
Brewster did not return several requests for comment, via email and phone.