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Candidates outline plans for Forest Park

Sparkle Adams

Sparkle Adams

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Deverick Williams

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Luke Gawel

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Mike Gippert

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David Lockhart

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Tommy Smith

FOREST PARK — Voters will cast ballots at the recreation center Nov. 5 for mayor and two council seats from a field of 11 candidates.

Three are vying for mayor — Sparkle Adams, Mike Gippert and incumbent David Lockhart. All three responded to the questionnaire.

Three residents qualified in Ward 1 — Kimberly James, Darnell Moorer and incumbent Tommy Smith. Smith was the sole candidate in this race to respond to the questions.

There are five candidates in Ward 2 — Dabouze Antoine, Carl Evans, Luke Gawel, Sheena Lowe and Deverick Williams. Gawel and Williams provided responses.

Early voting is also underway at Forest Park City Hall.

Mayor’s race

Adams has lived in Forest Park for 28 years and served two terms in Ward 1 and as mayor pro tem before resigning to run for mayor in an April special election.

Adams spent 25 years in the military and holds a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in public personnel management and a bachelor’s degree in human resources management.

Gippert has lived in the city for 38 years and this is his first foray into politics. He worked for the city of Forest Park for 23 years, 11 of those as public works director, before retiring in May. He said his employment has given him insight into how municipal government operates.

Lockhart has lived in Forest Park for 37 years. He lost a council race in 2003 before winning the special election in April. He also previously served on the Board of Ethics. As an attorney, Lockhart is a business owner in Forest Park, which gives him insight into the effects of taxation on commerce and how increases in tax rates impedes economic growth.

His law background also helps him translate documents containing legal jargon in a way the rest of the council can understand. Lockhart said working on a division of tax funds with Clayton County and with Morrow and Lake City to establish a tri-cities economic development zone proves that an ability to work with others is of primary importance.

Top issues

Adams: Safety is paramount in my view because residents, business owners and visitors should feel safe in the city. The next priority is an environment of economic development that will attract viable businesses and progressive professionals. Next, we should make sure our citizens are informed on what is happening in their community and government. We must also be dedicated to beautifying our city for the citizens by launching several initiatives to help keep our city clean, continuing to be aggressive in addressing neglected and abandoned houses, and apartments not up to code.

Gippert: Priority No. 1 is to work with the Forest Park/Fort Gillem Implementation Local Redevelopment Authority and Executive Director Fred Bryant to bring as many jobs into our local economy as possible. The more jobs we can insert in to our local economy that will be the catalyst to spur more redevelopment outside the base such as our Main Street Corridor. The more workers you have, the more consumers you have to spend local dollars on local business.

Lockhart: Of all of the functions that government performs, of primary importance is emergency service police and fire protection. After physical safety, economic growth is paramount. The city has suffered a substantial loss of businesses, and many store fronts remain empty, serving as magnets for criminal activity.

Businesses in Forest Park provide a direct benefit to our residents who are able to frequent them rather than traveling outside, and they provide an indirect benefit by enabling the city to perform its other functions.

Ongoing city projects

Adams: If elected, I would review and access the status of the current projects, analyze the situation and come up with practical and sustainable solutions that would move the city forward.

Gippert: The ongoing projects are all viable with the majority hinging on the closing of the Fort Gillem property. Through the use of SPLOST funding, the infrastructure of Main Street will be continued from Ash Street to Jonesboro Road. SPLOST funding will also be used on asphalting upgrades on roads and sidewalks. We have a development plan for the Main Street Corridor in place that I feel is completely viable and ready for implementation.

Our recycling plan needs improvement to increase the recycling efforts for our citizens and business owners. Education is the key to the increased participation. It has been proven nationwide that teaching our children the benefits of recycling spreads to the family as a whole.

Lockhart: I am excited about the redevelopment of Main Street, but I am frustrated by the slow rate of progress and funds wasted by the prior administration. I am hopeful that our residents and businesses will continue to share their ideas and goals so that Forest Park is built by those who live and work here.

The Fort Gillem project has been a roller coaster ride, with reports of a finalized deal more than a year ago, and then reports that environmental issues will halt the project altogether. Part of the problem has been misinformation, but the delays have mainly arisen simply because of the tangled web of bureaucracies involved over which we have had no control.

It has been beneficial to our residents to have such a convenient way to recycle, but it has also cut our trash pick-up in half, and the recycling fees have been so minimal that there has been no reduction of waste fees paid by our residents.

Attracting new businesses

Adams: We should create a friendly environment for business owners with some type of incentives that would not adversely affect the city’s budget.

Gippert: The best way to attract business is to show an increased consumer base which equates to profit margins. Fort Gillem development will help with that issue as well as the city urging residents to “Support your Local Businesses.”

Lockhart: We must reverse the trend of ever-increasing taxes paid by our businesses. We also need to market what Forest Park has to offer and proactively seek investors and developers. We must also work with our existing businesses to develop relationships that encourage them to stay because a stampede of departing businesses cannot be attractive to would-be newcomers.

Forest Park’s image

Adams: Forest Park, a diverse community, is a great place to raise a family but also boasts access to the airport and major expressways. We have curbside recycling, no property tax for citizens who live in their homes and access to various city services.

Gippert: Forest Park has a bright future and is poised to be a great southern hub of metro Atlanta. The proximity to the busiest airport in the nation, the State Farmers Market and the interstate highways makes our great city the perfect place to live, work and play. I am most proud of our citizens and businesses that recognize the potential of our future.

Lockhart: Forest Park is a city in transition and is primed to make a resurgence. We are minutes from the world’s busiest airport and major league sports arenas, and we have easy access to the primary interstate routes. I am proud of Forest Park simply because it has always been my home. Forest Park High School has been recently nationally-recognized, we maintain our own emergency, and parks and recreation services, and we have some of the best department directors. Unfortunately, our public image needs an overhaul, and I believe that the work underway will lead us there.

Ward 1

Smith has lived in Forest Park 56 years. He ran unsuccessfully for council in 2009 and took office in April after winning a special election. He said he works in the private sector and previously owned his own business for a period of time. Smith said he is no stranger to hard work and prides himself on honesty and integrity.

Top issues

First and foremost, peace and safety within our community. Retain, expand and attract businesses into our city. Make every effort to clean up our community. Continue to promote and build on the vast diversity our city has to offer. Support student success through a “cradle to career” approach for education. Enhance recreational amenities and natural resources.

Ongoing city projects

We were at a standstill on so many of our projects. Substantial progress is starting — forward thinking and action will be what makes or breaks them. Forest Park was once a vibrant city and there is no reason it could not be again. We can’t afford to go backward.

Attracting new businesses

The bulk of our revenues should be spent in business development within the city. If you have a growing economy, you will ultimately receive larger revenues to invest in ever-expanding community projects for the sustainability of the city as a whole. We should determine what we can do legally to enact tax incentives to get them into our city

Forest Park’s image

As a realist, yes, there has been some discord. In moving forward, you will not make everyone happy. I would continue to act in the best interest of our city and its citizens. When you see good things happening, you would not be able to argue with success. Forest Park has so much to offer in affordable housing and proximity to the airport. We’re extremely accessible to all the major interstates. I would invite them to join in the re-building of a great city.

It has so much potential, it is rich with heritage and the diverse cultures present make it a place I am proud to call home.

Ward 2

Gawel has lived in Forest Park for seven years. This is his first time pursuing public office. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Clayton State University and is in the information technology field as a global project manager. Gawel said he will bring “extensive formal leadership and project management training” to the office.

Williams said he is a lifelong resident and has a vested interest in seeing residents, businesses and neighborhoods thrive. He ran unsuccessfully for council in 2009 and served three years on Forest Park’s Architectural Design Committee before transitioning as vice chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board.

Top issues

Gawel: Transportation and restoring businesses. When C-Tran left in 2010 it took more than the buses, it took people’s way to get to work, doctors and even access to food in some cases. Let’s bring a municipal city bus service to life here in Forest Park.

Williams: My top priority is creating job opportunities for our residents by making Forest Park a more desirable community to operate a business. When people are working, families and communities thrive. I also believe Forest Park would benefit from new leadership.

Ongoing city projects

Gawel: Main Street and Fort Gillem are years behind projected completion deadlines. The city’s plan to develop luxury condos along the Main Street train tracks was ambitious but that plan is simply not working.

Williams: We need to improve the existing roads and create additional access points to the 1,500 acres that comprise Fort Gillem. Developing that land should be a top priority for the city. As a city council member, I would explore opportunities for development that would bring revenue into our city.

Attracting new businesses

Gawel: Here is what business owners tell me. Step 1 – Stop raising their taxes. The millage rate in the city has tripled in the past 10 years to the highest in the county. The millage rate here in Forest Park is nearly twice what it is in Lake City, Lovejoy or Morrow. We also have got to do a better job of marketing the city and its great benefits

Williams: Forest Park should be marketed as a city that can be easily accessed by I-75 and I-285, and we need to promote our proximity to the airport. Forest Park should also be known as a city the operates efficiently, so businesses do not fear getting caught up in red tape.

Forest Park’s image

Gawel: Anytime administrations change, it can cause friction. Eliminating certain city employees that have been serving for a decade or longer without a public reason has caused concern for a lot of people, including me. What I have learned by talking to many of the people involved is that there are always two sides to every story and we sometimes don’t hear both sides.

Williams: I believe that leadership changes will enable our city to move forward. I advocate for more citizen input and transparency in city government. Residents should not feel like outsiders when it comes to having knowledge about what is happening in their own city.

(Editor’s note: All 11 candidates were given the same list of questions to answer to give voters an opportunity to make informed decisions at the polls. Not everyone responded.)