District 3, Post 1 Tucker City Council candidates discuss urban camping, zoning

Left to right: Candidates Alexis Weaver and Neal Stubblefield

Tucker, GA — Candidates for District 3, Post 1 Tucker City Council are David Deaton, Neal Stubblefield and Alexis Weaver.

Stubblefield and Weaver met in a virtual forum on Sept. 18, moderated by Decaturish Editor and Publisher Dan Whisenhunt. Deaton was unable to attend. Each candidate delivered an opening and closing statement, along with an answer to questions from staff and readers. Tucker Observer is bringing you the highlights of the forum.

Neal Stubblefield is a retired consulting engineer who has lived in Tucker for 31 years. He was involved in the cityhood effort in 2015, testifying before the Georgia legislature. He serves on the Zoning Board of Appeals and the 2070 Wastewater Master Plan task force. “We need to do what we’ve committed to do through our charter. Those three services that are provided by the charter – parks and rec, planning and zoning, permitting and code enforcement – we need to do that at our very best level,” he said.

Alexis Weaver, 8-year resident of Tucker, is running to represent values of inclusion and diversity. Weaver has two decades of economic and community development experience and volunteers at NETWorks Cooperative Ministry in Tucker. One of my passions is how we can increase citizen engagement … I’m looking forward to getting the chance to hear all these ideas and see how we can shape our community for the next few years.”

Here is the recording of that forum:

Here is our recap of some highlights from the Sept. 18 forum:

Q: This election has brought out many different candidates with a diverse range of perspectives. This year, there are people of color running, members of the LGBTQ community running and single parents running. What does that say to you about the future of Tucker?

“Tucker has a bright future because we’ve got so many folks from so many different walks of life who are engaging in the public process. One of the things that I noted about Tucker is we’ve got a great spirit of volunteerism in this city,” said Stubblefield, noting he counts at least 30 volunteer organizations in Tucker.

Whether you’ve lived here for 30 years or three years, your voice is as equally important, said Weaver.

“We haven’t had a lot of discussion and dialogue because we’ve had uncontested races historically, so I think it’s a really good, healthy time for us as a community to be talking about what types of leadership that we’re looking for, how we can make sure that people feel represented by their city leadership,” she said.

Q: From a reader: Tucker’s comprehensive plan is an opportunity to demonstrate measures and progress towards success and Tucker. What additional measures of success will you add to the plan?

Weaver said evaluating the success of a plan means asking what has been done, how well was it done and if anyone is better off because of the work.

“I’d love to see us do interactive dashboard on the city website… something that lets the community know where are we in terms of not just progress, but how well are we doing it, what can we change, how can we get better,” she said. “Having a continuous improvement process is really important.”

The comprehensive plan is made up of a plan for trails, parks and recreation, transportation and the downtown grid. A revision of Tucker’s comprehensive plan is due in 2026, but Stubblefield said it takes about a year of public input, meetings, draft process and public hearings. A charter review committee is required to look at the city’s charter every three years. Stubblefield served on the committee, and said the process “provides an opportunity for us to reassess what [are] our services and what is our service delivery.”

Q: From a reader: I am a member of the LGBT community. I’m a spouse and a mother of two kids. What you will do to make the city more inclusive and family-focused and foster utilization of our diversity for the good of Tucker?

Stubblefield said he has seen Tucker change tremendously, in size and in the variety of people who have come to live in Tucker over the last 30 years. He hopes people who move to Tucker feel it is a welcoming community.

Stubblefield supports Tucker Open Door’s sticker program that “allows businesses and other organizations to indicate their support for an inclusive community. It goes beyond mere virtue signaling, in my opinion. To me, it says, ‘Hey, we’re all-in as a business, as an organization. You’re welcome. We have a contract, if you will, with our employees and people within our organization, but we also have expectations of [public facing] customers. We have expectations of our clients and suppliers, and that then everybody be treated fairly and equally.’”

“It’s really important that all of our neighbors feel that this is a welcoming place. I’m not sure that they do right now,” said Weaver, who is pushing for an equity assessment. “The lack of action on the non-discrimination ordinance really shows how our leadership and our community is afraid to have that conversation in 2021. I think it’s past time that we make a clear statement that discrimination does not have a place in our community, so we need to start there. We shouldn’t put the onus entirely on the businesses.”

She said the city’s marketing and communications materials should reflect all types of families.

Q: What are your goals in the next four year for these three city services: zoning, code enforcement and parks?

Weaver said with a long-term vision, the city can determine how housing, businesses and density intersect so the direction of the city is not changing constantly.

“We need to make sure that across the lifecycle, we have housing that fits everybody’s needs,” she said. “I hear over and over again from people who’ve lived here about as long as I have … if they tried to move to Tucker today, they wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Code enforcement, historically and systemically, can be used as a tool for oppression and has some racist undertones, said Weaver.

“We want to [review] priorities for code enforcement, so that those things are being done equitably across our community, and that there aren’t populations that are targeted whether unintentionally or not,” she said.

Finally, with parks, Weaver is a proponent of more connectivity between parks.

Stubblefield said there are opportunities to acquire more green space.

“The folks down in District 2, for example, would say they’re underserved. I think we need to actively look for some additional green space for those folks,” he said.

Code enforcement, which needs use more consistency and standardization, is largely a public safety and health issue, he said. Tucker Civic Association’s Lifelong Community committee is organizing volunteers to help residents who have been cited but cannot make repairs due to age or ability, he added.

“Zoning densification … is needed so that we can continue to enjoy what I think is still some of the best real estate opportunities in the county,” said Stubblefield. When we decided to downsize, the type of house that we gravitate to is often the one that first time homebuyers are going to – a ranch-style house – so we need to convince some developers to build a different product.”

Q: What is your position on implementing a non-discrimination ordinance in the city of Tucker?

Stubblefield said during his campaign he has reached out to the proponents of the NDO, who have all served on appointed city boards. He supports non-discrimination laws, not necessarily an ordnance in Tucker.

“The proposed ordinance required the city employee staff to field complaints, make determinations, impose fines and I just don’t think the proposed ordinance is currently drafted in the best interest of the city of Tucker or its residents,” he said. “I’d be willing to consider [an NDO] that doesn’t duplicate existing federal and state laws, preserves these logical exemptions and doesn’t create an unnecessary burden on the city of Tucker or its taxpayers or imposes liability on the city.”

“I support non-discrimination laws generally in the desire to eliminate unlawful discrimination, but the proponents of the proposed ordinance, they have a laudable goal however I don’t think they understand the scope of the existing laws are in place that prohibit discrimination, the breadth of the ordinance that has been proposed, or the unintended consequences that would have if it’s adopted,” he added.

Weaver calls herself “an enthusiastic supporter of the NDO.”

“What is really unfortunate is that we had a group of very smart, passionate, citizens put this together, based on what is standard practice in surrounding cities, and ask the City Council to discuss it, and it sat on a shelf for two years,” she said, adding protections start at a local level.

“When it comes down to it, this the ordinance is around protecting LGBTQ families and individuals. And that’s something that isn’t necessarily covered by federal and state laws as comprehensively as it should be,” she said. “The ordinance sets out a really straightforward process for how to handle concerns that citizens may have. I don’t think that it’s an undue burden, but I also would like to just have that discussion.”

“It’s also the goal to not to wait until discrimination happens, right? We want to make sure that we are being proactive, and saying that we do not accept discrimination in this community,” she said, referring to hate crime bill proposed in Georgia after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga.

Q: Do you think Tucker should have its own police department? If so, how will the city pay for it?

Both candidates said Tucker does not need its own police department at this time.

“We have a great relationship with the Tucker precinct of DeKalb County PD here in Tucker, and I think they do an excellent job. We can do even more to advocate for our residents’ concerns and for our business owners’ concerns with that department,” said Weaver.

Stubblefield said staff retention has been an issue in Tucker, and all over the country. He is a proponent of using American Rescue Plan funds to reward police officers with retention bonuses. He also said using technology at residences and businesses and connected neighborhood watches will “help police immensely.”

Traffic speed monitoring with mobile digital signs will provide the city with data on how to better deploy law enforcement, he said. Still, the city would still have to get services from DeKalb County like SWAT units, helicopters, drug intervention.

Q: What is your opinion of Tucker’s current urban camping ordinance? If you were elected, what is your plan to address the problem of homelessness in the city of Tucker?

Stubblefield said he talked to Melvia Richards, a Tucker resident and Housing Program Director in DeKalb County for the last 15 years, about additional shelter resources.

“The question is always where do you put something like that? Where do you put it in such a way that it’s not obvious that’s what it is? And also, how does that get managed? I think back to that opportunity at these intersections like at Lawrenceville Highway at I-285 and Mountain Industrial Boulevard and US-78 as opportunities to look at something like that,” he suggested.

“We need to look at opportunities for redevelopment. What if we could take some of these extended stay motels and hotels and develop those facilities either for housing for homeless and transient population?” he said. “I think there’s real opportunities there.”

The city needs to continue to encourage and collaborate with NETWorks, an organization granted from the city $1.2 million of American Rescue Plan funds to help residents with rent relief, said Stubblefield.

“The reason I’m running for City Council is because I started paying attention when the city chose to pass the urban camping ordinance, even though over 50 residents showed up at a city council meeting to say they didn’t agree with it,” said Weaver. “As someone who has worked in the nonprofit space specifically around poverty alleviation for decades, I think that it was a misguided decision that put the cart before the horse, if you will. The ordinance does three things. It says that the police have to issue a verbal warning, then a written warning with offer of services and if the person chooses to stay on public property, then they will be jailed.”

Weaver said there is no strong data on how many homeless people reside in Tucker. The response by local leaders and experts was rushed by City Council in her opinion.

“If the city isn’t willing, or able to because of the charter, to provide direct social services, the city can function in a leadership role to convene social services,” said Weaver, who helped Waco Chamber of Commerce create a robust task force. “There are not enough social services. To me, it’s plain lip service to say that you have to offer social services to someone who is homeless before you can arrest them. It was actually stated in that City Council meeting that we just don’t want them here.”

In her housing development strategy, Weaver addresses what kinds of zoning could help provide permanent, supportive housing.

“As it stands, you’re going to have a ‘not in my backyard’ problem. We need to make sure that we’re getting ahead of that, to make sure that there’s a place for everybody,” she said.

All Tucker Observer elections coverage can be found at Tuckerobservervotes.com 

The election will be Nov. 2. Early voting will begin on Oct. 12. The voter registration deadline for the upcoming city elections is Oct. 4. To register to vote, click here.

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— Visit the Georgia Secretary of State website: www.sos.ga.gov.

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— On Sept. 14 from 3-6 p.m. at Kensington Marta Station, 3505 Kensington Road, Decatur 30032.

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