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Qualifying underway for municipal races

Carl Evans

Carl Evans

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Luke Gawel

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Mike Gippert

FOREST PARK — Five residents filed to run in Forest Park’s three open races well before noon Monday, the day qualifying began in Clayton County’s municipalities.

Ward 1 Councilman Tommy Smith was the first candidate in Forest Park to pay his filing fee and complete the necessary paperwork, said Elections Superintendent Charity Woods. Smith was elected in March to fill the unexpired four-year term of Sparkle Adams. He is being challenged by Kimberly James, who lost to Smith by about 15 votes during the special election.

James, the mother of four children, also qualified Monday. When she ran for office in March, James said she supports encouraging new businesses to locate in Forest Park, improving public transportation options and emphasizing a positive image of the city.

Longtime community volunteers Carl Evans and Luke Gawel qualified in Ward 2. That seat has been vacant since July 2011 when city council members ousted Karen-Brandee Williams. Evans and two other residents filed a 25-count ethics complaint against Williams, which led to her removal from office and prosecution for theft in Clayton County Superior Court.

The terms of her removal from office keep her from running for elected office in Forest Park for five years.

This is the first run at office for both men, who encountered each other in the city hall parking lot Monday — Evans was leaving after filing and Gawel was heading inside to qualify. Evans is well-known as a volunteer within the city, particularly with Teen Council and on clean-up days.

“I think I relate to the citizens real well and I’ve served the city for several years as a volunteer,” Evans said. “I think I know the needs of the citizens, after all, they approached me and asked me to run for office. I think I can bring common sense to the council.”

Evans rarely misses a council meeting and often takes advantage of the city’s policy on public comments to address the board on issues he believes are important.

“I know I’ve been to more meetings than a lot of other people have,” he said.

Evans has lived in Forest Park for 18 years and works as a pest control technician. He said he is looking forward to knocking on doors in Ward 2.

“I’m going to be getting out there and getting ideas from them,” he said. “My job will be to serve them.”

Gawel said he is an Eagle Scout, and is married with two children who attend Clayton County Public Schools. He graduated from Clayton State University with a Bachelor of Science degree and works in information technology as a project manager.

Gawel also said he is active in his community through volunteerism at Mission Forest Park, clothing drives and city clean sweeps. He said he understands the needs of the people and has the business expertise needed to guide the city toward commercial growth.

Like Evans, Gawel said he is eager to meet his potential constituents, which include Hispanics. Gawel said his conversational Spanish will serve him well in meeting voters. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Forest Park boasts one of the largest Hispanic communities in Clayton County.

“You know, Ward 2 is the city’s only federally mandated minority ward,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting to know the Hispanic population, which is under-served for the most part.”

Adams lost an April runoff bid to David Lockhart but she is expected to qualify for the mayor’s race Thursday.

Retired Forest Park Public Works Director Mike Gippert qualified in the mayor’s race Monday morning. It is his first run for public office.

“I am committed to this community,” he said. “Having lived here for nearly 40 years and working for the citizens and businesses for 23 years, I have a proven record of leadership, experience and values that brings added value for the public.”

Gippert is counting on his years as a city employee to give him the edge to take the mayor’s seat.

“I know how city government works,” he said. “There is no learning curve. Redevelopment and sustainability will be the main focus over the next four years. We need a mayor in place who knows how things work and is not constantly guessing about why things are done the way they are.”

Lockhart and Gippert are embroiled in a civil libel suit involving an anonymous two-page document alleging misconduct by Lockhart. Lockhart sued two women and added Gippert as a defendant after Gippert said he gave the women a copy of the missive that he said had been left on his porch.

Gippert and the women deny writing the document, which was left at houses throughout the city before copies were discovered in a box outside a city council meeting in June.

Gippert has filed two ethics complaints, one against Lockhart and the second against Lockhart and three members of council.

Lockhart qualified to run for mayor Tuesday.

Qualifying is also underway in Jonesboro, Morrow, Riverdale and College Park. Lovejoy has no seats up for election this year and Lake City’s qualifying period for the Nov. 4 election is Sept. 2-4.

Qualifying ends today in Morrow and Riverdale but continues through Friday for the other three cities.

• Jonesboro — Linda Wenz qualified Monday for one of the city’s three at-large spots open this year.

• Morrow — John Anderson, Jeff DeTar and Hang Tran have qualified for the city’s two at-large seats. DeTar lost the last mayor’s race to J.B. Burke by one vote.

• College Park — Joseph Carn qualified to run in Ward 2.

• Riverdale — Incumbent Wanda Wallace and Cynthia Stamp-Jones have qualified.