By Ed Brock
Redeveloping Main Street and other parts of the city, reducing crime and the timing of public comment at council meetings are the main issues for the candidates for Forest Park City Council.
Council seats for Ward 1 and Ward 2 will be on the block at Tuesday's election.
Ward 1 incumbent Henry H. Estes, who has held the seat for more than two decades, is facing challenges from Crazy Horse Saloon Manager David Rashmir and U.S. Postal Inspection Service and second-time candidate Sparkle Adams.
In Ward 2, Councilwoman Debbie Youmans is facing her first challenge since taking the seat in 2001. History lecturer Frank Brandon III is the man who wants to take her place.
All of the candidates but Estes joined the candidates for Forest Park mayor at a forum Thursday night where they laid out their reasons for running. Estes did the same in a later phone interview.
Estes, 82, cites a list of things he's been doing for the city during his 23 years on the council.
They include the redevelopment of Army Garrison Fort Gillem in the city that is expected to be closed, expanding the Atlanta State Farmer's Market and improving Main Street.
He has the experience and the knowledge to complete those projects.
“I've got more connections to the federal government, the state government and the county government than anybody else on that council,” Estes said.
Redeveloping Main Street was a topic at the forum as well. Estes says the council is already taking steps to improve the street.
“We're going to widen it and beautify it,” Estes said.
He defended the council's decision to contract with Waste Management to provide garbage pickup in the city.
“The people I run into say the city is much cleaner now,” Estes said. “I think it's a lot better.”
Estes supports a plan to use noise mitigation money from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to form a rotating fund for the renovation of empty houses in the city. The city's Mayor Chuck Hall said the city hopes to take a portion of $80 million still available from the airport to buy empty houses, renovate them, resell them and then use the proceeds to buy more houses.
Estes said a lot of the houses on the north side of the city fell into disrepair after the airport dispensed a previous round of noise mitigation about 10 years ago.
“What happened is when the airport came in and gave all this money to people on the north side, those people took the money and took off,” Estes said. “They took the money and ran.”
Empty houses were a big issue for Adams, 50, who ran for city council in 2001 under her maiden name Kornegay.
“Why are a lot of our citizens leaving Forest Park? That concerns me,” Adams said. “Abandoned houses set up a breeding ground for crime.”
Adams said she wants to clean up the neighborhoods and make them safe. She wants to encourage more community involvement in fighting crimes and gangs.
“When you talk about graffiti and robbery, the best defense is your neighbors,” Adams said. “If people know the community is watching, that the community is involved and the community is not going to take it, they won't bring it.”
She touts her military experience and time spent as a community activist as reasons for the people to elect her. Adams also wants the city to educate small business owners on how to succeed, and she wants diversity in the city government.
“None of the leaders of departments (in the city) look like me, but they're making decisions on my behalf,” said Adams, who is black.
Rashmir, the 52-year-old manager of the city's only adult entertainment club, said he has a simple reason for running for city council. He's tired of coming to council meetings and feeling embarrassed by what goes on there.
“There's no leadership,” Rashmir said. “I make decisions. For better or for worse I make decisions. Vote for me and you will see something happen.”
Rashmir stressed decision making again when talking about lowering crime in the city. The problem is not the city's police and fire departments that he said are top rate.
“The problem is us, the decision makers,” Rashmir said. “They're not making a decision and sticking to it.”
On the topic of helping small businesses, Rashmir said the city has code enforcement ordinances that are obtrusive to small businesses and the city focuses too much on drawing in big business.
“Somebody should be out there embracing small businesses,” Rashmir said.
During the forum Rashmir responded to a question about the idea of putting public comment periods at the end of the council meetings, after the council has already voted on an issue.
“It's silly and stupid to have the comment period at the end,” Rashmir said. “The first thing I would do is change it.”
Adams also said that the people should be asked if they have a question before the council votes.
When a member of the audience at the candidates' forum asked 47-year-old Youmans what she had brought to the table during her time on the council, Youmans answered that she had brought a conscience.
“There has to be accountability,” Youmans said. “When I got there I saw none.”
Youmans said she's also been known as a troublemaker.
“But if that means standing up for what's right, I'm a troublemaker. If that means living with my integrity, I'm a troublemaker. If that means holding the council accountable, I'm a trouble maker,” Youmans said. “I think our founding fathers may have been called troublemakers, too.”
Youmans said she wants to see healthy economic growth in the city and wants to improve conditions on Main Street.
“Main Street is the heart of the city and it looks like the heart (of Forest Park) is not doing good,” Youmans said. “Our leaders need to walk the walk.”
Some of the town's business owners feel like they're being harassed, Youmans said.
“We need to work together and treat people with respect,” Youmans said.
Youmans said the young people in town need to be given something to do as a way to fight crime, which she said is rising in the city.
She wants more diversity on the city government whereas now the same people seem to end up on all the steering committees for city projects.
“We need to include everybody,” Youmans said.
Brandon, 58, said he had three main objectives for the city if he is elected. Along with standard issues like redeveloping Main Street and Fort Gillem, Brandon said he wants to help the city government work together better.
“Our city council does not utilize effective communication, we all know that,” Brandon said.
As an educator, Brandon said he wants to establish more programs for young people in the city, especially those considered as “at-risk” youth who are most likely to turn to crime if not helped.
For example, he wants to set up more youth chess clubs.
“Young people at risk really seem to like chess,” Brandon said.
He also wants to see more internships with the city for young people who are graduating from high school.
If a young person is good with computers, set them up with a computer company in the city, Brandon said. If they like to argue, put them in with a law firm.
Over all, education is most important, he said.
“Young people are our future,” Brandon said.