Alcohol sales, 2 races on Forest Park ballot

Forest Park voters will see two contested city council races and an alcohol referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot. City Elections Superintendent Dave Painter said voters will be asked whether they want to allow the City Council the authority to approve packaged alcohol sales on Sundays, after 12:30 p.m.

If voters approve the measure, the council can adopt a resolution or an ordinance allowing the Sunday sales until 11:30 p.m.

While Ward 3 incumbent councilmember, Maudie McCord, has no opposition in her bid for re-election, Ward 4 incumbent, Donald Judson, faces two challengers, Latresa S. Akins, and Lillian Holloway. Ward 5 incumbent, Linda Lord, is challenged by Warren Gerton.

This is Lord's first re-election race. She finished her husband's unexpired term on the council when he died more than four years ago. She successfully ran for her own full term in 2007. Lord, 67, has called Forest Park home for 33 years. She is eager to return to office to continue her service to the community. “We think the city is good and we want to make it better," said Lord. "We've come a long way and we're doing good. There's always room for improvement."

The declining economy has created a plethora of vacant houses in Forest Park. The vacancies yield yards that are no longer being tended to, and sometimes become dumping grounds. They also attract copper thieves.

"We've got to find a way to do something with these vacant houses," said Lord. "When the city goes out and cleans up these properties, we can put a lien on the property for the cost, but the property has to be sold to get that money back. When people are not in those houses, they become targets for copper thieves."

The single largest project coming up in Forest Park will likely be the expected acquisition of Fort Gillem from the U.S. Army. "We have to be prepared for Fort Gillem," said Lord. "In the long run, I think it will be worth it to the city to get it. We're getting to the point where we can develop Fort Gillem, and I can help with that over the next four years, to see it come to fruition."

Lord faces challenger Gerton. Gerton, 45, has lived in Forest Park since 1993. This is his first time seeking public office. "I've been here quite a long time and I thought it was time I got involved in the community," he said.

The married father of four and grandfather of one is a team leader for Estes, working in automotive electronics. He is active in the NAACP and Neighborhood Watch. Gerton was appointed to the Clayton County Zoning Advisory Group in October 2010.

He said his work schedule has kept him from attending any Forest Park City Council meetings. Gerton said the city's No. 1 issue concerns plummeting property values.

"The tax office does property assessments and I think the council should find out what's going on with that," he said.

He attributes the decline to foreclosures, lack of job availability and the Clayton County Board of Education's battles with accreditation. Gerton also thinks more should be done to provide youth programs and letting residents know about the city's business. However, he was reluctant to make specific comments on what changes he might make, if elected.

"I'd need to see what's being done before making any changes," he said. "There may be stuff implemented, but just not being done." Gerton said he had no position on the city's acquisition of Fort Gillem.

In the Ward 4 race, opponents Akins and Holloway are hoping to unseat incumbent Judson. Judson did not respond to a request to participate in this article.

Akins, 28, is a married mother of two seeking elected office for the first time. She said she suffered because of the lousy economy and is trying to rebound.

"I've been in Forest Park all my life," she said. "I just got a new job in the middle of my campaign, so I understand fully the ups and downs of life. I know what it's like to not have a job."

Akins has not attended any City Council meetings. “A person should not have to go to City Council meetings to know what is going on in the city," she said. "I want to be a voice for the people."

If elected, Akins wants to see the city address public transportation, and more jobs.

"We have work right here in Forest Park, but a lot of people go outside the city to get jobs," she said. "People here should have a choice. We've got the Farmers Market here, Clayton State, and there should be public transportation, a bus service."

Akins complains there are not enough youth programs or encouragement of new businesses coming into Forest Park. She also has concerns about decreased property values. "I want to work with officials to raise the property values," she said. "I feel like if we speak up, even if we can't make all the decisions on our own, we need to raise our voices and work with other officials."

Holloway, 50, grew up in Butts County, but spent a lot of time in and around Clayton and Henry. She moved to Forest Park eight years ago. She is married and the mother of three children. Holloway's career path took her into both the stressful high-tech world and the somewhat less-stressful business of horticulture and floral design. However, she set both jobs aside a few years ago to take care of a mother-in-law, who suffers from several medical conditions, including Alzheimer's.

Her challenge for the Ward 4 seat is Holloway's first foray into politics. "I've been active on our street, in our neighborhood, looking out for others, doing the kinds of things a neighbor is supposed to do," she said. "One day, a neighbor came up to me and told me I ought to run in the election coming up."

After discussing it with her husband, Holloway decided to take the plunge. Her husband's work schedule has kept her from attending City Council meetings, but that will change in time for her to attend, if she is elected. Holloway has concerns about a lack of sidewalks, crime and a lack of communication by city workers to Forest Park residents.

"It disturbs me and my neighbors," she said. "We don't know what's going on. We call City Hall about different things, and either no one calls back or we're treated rudely. It's frustrating and it's not something I want to see changed for me, but if I can be a cog in the wheel to make that move, that's all I ask for."

Holloway said, if elected, she wants the same things that any resident would want.

"I want safe streets, good schools, fair taxes and good representation for those taxes," she said. "But you have to also be able to communicate."

Holloway and Akins agree that the council's vote to remove Ward 2 Representative Karen-Brandee Williams should not have been done. Both opined that the voters should have been able to decide whether, or not, Williams continued to serve them, not councilmembers.

As far as the city's possible acquisition of Fort Gillem, Holloway said she doesn't have all the specific information, but in general, considers it a good idea.

"I don't see why the city shouldn't participate in getting Fort Gillem," she said. "I think it would benefit the city. I understand something like that takes time and you have to be careful proceeding on such a project."

Holloway said she's asked city zoning officials about the vacant homes in the city, but is not satisfied with the response. "I've not gotten a straight answer, yet," she said. "I have nothing against renters, but I know it is annoying for a homeowner to walk past yards with grass knee-high, houses with glass busted out and rats running around, and knowing you couldn't get by with that at your own property. I know there is a legal process to taking care of these properties, and it takes time, but I'd like to see the city be more proactive."

Ward 3 Representative Maudie McCord is running unopposed in her first bid for re-election. McCord, 68, is a widow retired from J.C. Penney. She has two sons and two granddaughters. She has mixed feelings about not having competition for her office.

"I just wondered if it was a good sign, or if maybe no one else wants the job," she said. "But I first ran for this office because other residents told me I could be a voice for the people. They had confidence in me and I guess they're satisfied with the job I've been doing."

McCord said she still doesn't know everyone in her ward, but gets out twice a week in an attempt to meet as many as she can. "I ran for office the first time for the senior citizens and the kids," she said. "I know where resources for the seniors are, I help them find out what they need, what's available to them."

McCord also volunteers in the local schools and is organizing a Golden Scholars Award program. She is most proud of being a part of getting an electric, upright wheelchair for a disabled class at Edmonds Elementary School.

"They had a manual one, but said an electric one was too expensive," said McCord. "I asked about using my ward money to buy one. The Forest Park Fire Department helped so much in getting the chair ordered and put together. I just thought it was so neat. Those kids just touched my heart. They try to do everything for themselves, they are not sitting and waiting for someone else to do it for them."

Fierce about education, McCord handed out candy at Halloween to satisfy the sweet tooth, but included books and educational materials to satisfy the mind.

"I wanted them to have something to keep their minds occupied and not too focused on the candy," she said. "I want people to know I am doing my best to do what's best for my ward. I'm here to serve them."