Editor’s note: Decaturish and the Tucker Observer have published an Elections Guide, a 76-page e-edition featuring Q&As with nearly every candidate running in our communities. To see it, click here. This special e-edition features candidates running for public office in Decatur, Avondale Estates, Atlanta City Council District 5, Clarkston Tucker and Stone Mountain. There is a PDF version of this, which you can see by clicking here, but due to the format of this e-edition, we strongly encourage you to use the e-reader version.
The Tucker Observer provided each candidate in our local races with a series of questions about local issues. Here are the answers of candidate Thomas Walker, who is running for District 2, Post 1 on the Tucker City Council. The answers have not been edited.
1) Why are you running for this office?
I am running for City Council because I have a deep emotional and economic investment in the City of Tucker. I have lived in Tucker 24 years. This is much longer than any place I have ever lived. I am only the third owner of my house and have lived in it the second longest. In just a few years, I will have lived in my home longer than any previous owner. When I moved into my house, the yard was basically a blank canvas. The sticks and plants I planted over the years have grown into beautiful mature Redbud, Dogwood, and Bradford Pear trees, and Gardenia, Azalea and Forsythia bushes. In 2020, through hard work and a little bit of good fortune, I was able to pay off my home’s mortgage six years early. But, my investment in Tucker is more expansive than my home. In 2005-2006, I served on a Tucker Civic Association looking at ways to improve Tucker. My area of study for the committee was cityhood. I co-authored the white paper on cityhood which apparently Tucker2014/Tucker2015 used when organizing. Thereafter, I was in the thick of the fight for cityhood. During the 2014 legislative session, I spoke before Georgia House Committee Meetings on behalf of the Tucker2014 Map which was competing for territory with two other cityhood movements. In 2015, I again was at the Capital speaking before House Committee Meetings, lobbying State Senators, emailing and calling State Senators and attending Senate Committee Meetings. I even reached out to classmates of mine, such as powerful State Senator David Shaffer, on behalf of Tucker. Moreover, for two years from 2014-2015, I had a Tucker2014 yard sign in my yard. In 2016, I spent a considerable amount of time running for City Council in our first elections and spent my own money on the campaign because I refused taking donations. Finally, when my mom, my only family, passed away in 2019, I laid her to rest at Floral Hills Memory Gardens in Tucker just five minutes from my home. For better or for worse, I am not leaving Tucker. Since I plan to live the rest of my life in Tucker, I want to make sure I do everything to make it better.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
Our City Council is our city legislature. Our council members are our city’s law makers. To be effective as a council member, you need to know and understand the U.S. Constitution, the Georgia Constitution, and the City Charter. It is also important to know what Federal and State Laws pre-empt what our city can do. Having practiced government law and employment litigation for the past 29 years, I am best qualified to be an effective city councilman. For the first six months of this year, I negotiated with Broward County, Florida to get them to amend their Non-Emergency Transportation Services ordinance so it would come into line with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Other attorneys had failed where I succeeded. I have also represented homeowners fighting eminent domain seizure of their home and inadequate valuation of their property under eminent domain. I have assisted property owners fighting reassessment of their property. I have worked on zoning issues for businesses. And, I have defended small businesses in state sales and use tax cases. In addition, having lived in Tucker for 24 years, I know what is important to my neighbors. And, having been a litigator for 29 years, I know how to be an effective advocate for them. My education, training, work experience, life experience and ability to work long hard hours makes me the best qualified to represent our neighbors.
3) If elected, what are your top two or three priorities?
First, I want to hold DeKalb County accountable under our intergovernmental agreements with the county which we use for our services such as roads and drainage, police, fire, garbage collection and sewers. Second, I want to work to find ways to keep our main residential thoroughfares – Idlewood Road, Brockett Road, Cooledge Road, and Montreal Road safe and pleasant to live along. Finally, I want to find ways to keep our property taxes low. Even a small increase in property taxes may mean the difference to seniors and the disabled living on fixed incomes or families living paycheck to paycheck staying in their homes or having to sell them and rent.
4) In your opinion, what are the most important issues facing the city of Tucker?
The most important issues facing Tucker are the ones I discussed in question three.
5) What is your opinion of Tucker’s current mayor and who will you be voting for in the mayoral election?
Frank Auman has done a fine job establishing our City. I do not think it would appropriate to comment on who will receive my vote because endorsing another candidate may impact my ability to work with another. It is imperative to those I wish to represent that I maintain a good relationship with whoever wins.
However, with that said, I think Tucker is blest with two strong candidates for mayor. Robin Biro has demonstrated great leadership skills serving our country and placing his life on the line in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army Ranger. Mr. Biro also brings fresh ideas to Tucker. Frank Auman has offered steady leadership throughout his five and a half years as Mayor. And, he brings the security of being a known quantity. I would look forward to working with either of them.
6) What is your opinion of Tucker’s current city manager?
Tami Hanlin has proved herself a capable leader and effective manager.
7) What is your current opinion of the DeKalb County Police Department and are there any changes you would advocate for if you are elected?
The DeKalb County Police Department let down a very close friend of mine who filed a police report concerning a sexual assault. They did a short investigation and closed it claiming they could do no more even though she provided them with a picture of the assailant and his employer. I also rarely see patrols in Tucker. The woman who lost her life when a driver swerved onto the sidewalk on Brockett Road may be alive today if there had been a greater police presence patrolling the streets of Tucker. I would advocate for more man hours being spent patrolling in Tucker. I would also lobby the DKPD to do more for those making accusations of sexual assault. My friend who was assualted was fearful and distrusted the police and I encouraged her to turn to them explaining that the police were there to help. Since they did not, her negative expectations have only been reinforced.
8) Tucker residents, all involved in boards or committees in city government, drafted a non-discrimination ordinance. Many of the cities surrounding Tucker have an NDO, yet Tucker City Council has not brought it for a discussion. What is your position on the non-discrimination ordinance?
My opinion is based on my 29 years as an attorney and my experience challenging laws and executive orders. I support a Non-Discrimination Ordinance for several reasons. First, it protects everyone. It protects from discrimination based on age, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, and sexual orientation. Second, while Federal protections exist with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehab Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and the Fair Housing Act, and protections exist in Georgia with the Fair Employment Practices Act (prohibits employment practices that discriminate on the basis of physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of a person’s major life activities), major gaps still exist where people do not have protection. The ADEA only covers employers with 20 or more employees. And, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the ADEA does not provide protection to prospective employees applying for work because they are not “employees” under the ADEA. The ADEA only protects employees. Other circuits have reached the opposite conclusion and have held the ADEA does protect job applicants from discrimination. Unfortunately, those of us living in Georgia have to live with the 11th Circuit’s interpretation. In addition, the ADA, Title VII, and the Georgia Fair Employment Practices Act only apply to employers with 15 or more employees. Employees working for smaller employers have no protection. Finally, I support an NDO because every fair minded person opposes discrimination and an NDO is a way for Tucker to express that our community is welcoming and fair minded.
However, the NDO submitted to the City of Tucker has a lot of problems. It fails due to Federal pre-emption because it includes non-citizens as a protected class when it is a Federal crime to hire non-citizens who are not authorized to work in the US. It also fails because it does not have procedural due process as required by the US and Georgia constitutions. Specifically, it does not state whether hearings before the hearing officer will be conducted under the Georgia Civil Practice Act or the Georgia Administrative Procedure Act. It does not specify if hearings will be conducted using the Georgia Rules of Evidence or the less formal rules of evidence used in the Administrative Procedure Act. Rules of evidence ensure that evidence and testimony are relevant, trustworthy and have probative value. It also fails to state what qualifications hearing officers will have (i.e., attorney, attorney with particular training in ADR, a lay person who has training in conducting administrative hearings or any person regardless of experience and training). And, it does not specify how the City will select hearing officers. Will it be left up to the City Manager? Appointment by the Mayor? Vote by the City Council? It also does not state if the hearing office has subpoena power (which we may need to amend the City Charter to accomplish). I would also like an NDO that requires employers provide a corrective action plan to ensure that they correct the problem. The NDO’s goal should be to prevent discrimination rather than punish and collect fines (although fines are appropriate to repeat offenders). Finally, an NDO should offer safeguards for employers from false accusations.
Fortunately, the problems I have outlined are correctable. Having practiced employment litigation for 29 years, I know what we need to do to correct the problems to make the NDO enforceable and fair and I am motivated to have the City Council move forward with a proper NDO.
9) Racial justice and diversity have been points of conversation over the last year. What will you do to promote racial justice and diversity in the city of Tucker?
All levels of government must take care when creating plans for racial justice and diversity to ensure they comply with Constitutional requirements of equal protection. Tucker needs to ensure it drafts its request for proposals (RFPs) for contractors to provide services so the RFPs attract offers from minority owned companies. Fair and unbiased decision making on RFPs will help in promoting diversity and justice. Events celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday, Black History Month and Juneteenth would also go a long way to promoting diversity.
10) What do you think of the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and what steps do you think the city should take to help reduce the spread of the virus?
Tucker did a good job with distributing relief funds to citizens and businesses. A mask mandate would have been unenforceable because Governor Kemp’s emergency executive order pre-empted cities and counties from issuing mandates. Mayor Bottoms’ executive order mandating masks resulted in the City of Atlanta being sued in Fulton County Superior Court.
11) Residents frequently complain about roads and drainage. As of now, the majority of the responsibility lies with DeKalb. How would you work with the county to improve these services? Should Tucker start the process of taking over roads and drainage?
Demand an accounting to see how DeKalb County spends the money Tucker taxpayers send to it under out intergovernmental agreement. If the County refuses, filing a demand for an Order for an equitable accounting in DeKalb County Superior Court would be appropriate. Because DeKalb County has left roads in disrepair using metal plates to “fix” them and leaves drainage in a dangerous condition, we need to take the issue of taking over Roads and Storm Drainage to a referendum of Tucker voters. Our charter only allows the city to add services that have been approved by the voters.
12) Parks and Rec is working to turn Fitzgerald Field into an arena that will attract sports tournaments and outdoor events. How will this go over in Tucker? Does the city have enough infrastructure, like sidewalks, to support a sports complex?
Turning Fitzgerald Field into an arena will bring events to Tucker which will give our residents live entertainment options we currently lack. It will also bring people to Tucker who will want to spend money here in our restaurants and similar establishments.
13) The city of Tucker largely is staffed by contractors, people who do not directly work for the city. Do you support the current method of staffing the city’s government or would you want to change to a more traditional system where employees work directly for the city?
As long as the contractors are providing good services at good value for the taxpayers, Tucker should continue with this model. However, all services should come up for bids on a more regular basis. Tucker should follow the Federal model with a one year contract followed by four option years and a new RFP being issued in year five, or earlier if the City determines that exercising an option year is not in our citizens’ best interests.
14) Do you support continuing to stream Tucker’s meetings online? Why or why not?
Absolutely! Streaming meetings online is an important way all of our citizens can see what is going on in their city and participate. Moreover, past meetings should be available on Youtube.
15) What can be done to improve pedestrian safety on Tucker’s roads?
We need to create a comprehensive plan to have sidewalks along every street and road in the city. We need to decrease speeds on our major residential throughfares using traffic calming measures and reduced speed limits. And, we need more police patrols to encourage safer driving by those coming into Tucker.
16) What do you think is Tucker’s greatest strength?
Citizens who want to volunteer their services and improve the city.
17) What do you think is Tucker’s biggest challenge?
Inflation may prove to be Tucker’s biggest challenge. Even if the millage rates remain the same, taxes will increase due to rising assessments. This will cause further problems for homeowners due to increased cost for fuel and food from inflation. Moreover, it will get costlier for the City and County to provide the same level of services due to inflation.
18) How would you address what you believe to be Tucker’s biggest challenge?
Being ever vigilant to keep our city efficient in the services it provides and advocating to add services when we can provide them for less than DeKalb County at an equal or better level.
19) If you are elected, what will you do to support the business community in the city of Tucker?
Keep the process to obtain needed licenses efficient. Allow pourers permits to be transportable. Waive business license taxes for startups during their first years when they may be struggling to become viable.
20) If you are elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner? How would you work to promote ethics and transparency in government?
If elected, I promise to conduct myself in an ethical and transparent manner. As an attorney, I already must comply with a strict and detailed ethical code or lose my license to practice law. And, attorneys have a duty to communicate with their clients. Moreover, I also comply with professionalism requirements which is a higher standard than ethics. Indeed, I am so passionate about professionalism, I have led a break-out session almost every year since 1997 to first year law students at the University of Georgia School of Law during orientation to teach them about professionalism.
More information about voting in the Nov. 2 election:
Election Day is Nov. 2. Early voting will begin on Oct. 12 and will end on Oct. 29. The voter registration deadline is Oct. 4. To register to vote, click here.
To see a list of important dates in the 2021 election year, click here.
Voters in DeKalb County are eligible to apply for an absentee ballot as of Aug. 16.
To apply for an absentee ballot:
— Visit the Georgia Secretary of State website.
— Complete the absentee ballot application using the state’s official paper form. Use black or blue ink only.
Applications can be mailed to the county elections office at this address: DeKalb County Election office, 4380 Memorial Drive, Decatur, GA 30032-1239.
Applications can also be submitted by fax, 404-298-4038, or email, [email protected]
Voters may send an absentee ballot request for multiple people who live in the same household in the same envelope or email.
If an absentee ballot is not mailed to you, call DeKalb Elections office, 404-298-4020. You may still vote in person, either early or on Election Day.
In accordance with SB202, a new voting bill signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in March, a copy of a voter’s ID is required to apply for an absentee ballot. A Georgia driver’s license, Georgia state ID, Georgia voter card, U.S. Passport, U.S. military ID, employee ID issued by any branch of the federal or state government, tribal ID, or a document verifying a voter’s name and address – including a paycheck, utility bill, or bank statement – are accepted forms of ID.
Early voting begins Oct. 12 and ends Oct. 29. The hours for early voting are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There will also be weekend early voting on Oct. 16, 17, 23 and 24. Call your elections office for hours.
Beginning Oct. 12, you can participate in early voting at the following locations:
– Bessie Branham Recreation Center (2051 Delano Drive NE, Atlanta, GA 30317)
– Lynwood Recreation Center (3360 Osborne Road NE, Brookhaven, GA 30319)
– Berean Christian Church – Family Life Center (2197 Young Road, Stone Mountain, GA 30088)
– DeKalb Voter Registration & Elections Office (4380 Memorial Drive, Suite 300, Decatur, GA 30032)
– Tucker-Reid H. Cofer Library (5234 LaVista Road, Tucker, GA 30084)
– Stonecrest Library (3123 Klondike Road, Stonecrest, GA 30038)
– County Line-Ellenwood Library (4331 River Road, Ellenwood, GA 30294)
– Dunwoody Library (5339 Chamblee Dunwoody Road., Dunwoody, GA 30338)
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