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 Yterenickia “YT” Bell, who is running for Clarkston City council. The answers have not been edited.
1) Why are you running for this office?
Throughout my career, my passion for servant leadership has continued to grow. I am a community advocate, social worker, and a previous councilmember that’s genuinely passionate about people and improving the quality of their lives. I have over ten years of experience in public policy. From community engagement, to direct service and advocacy for vulnerable populations, I strive to create change with the community and serve as a change agent by cultivating effective policies and initiatives that will have an impact for years to come. After being elected and serving on the Clarkston City council, I know that there is more work to be done and this is where I can have the most impact.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
As a previous Councilwoman, I cultivated a proven record of prioritizing the needs of my constituents. I am a driven leader whose passion for improving Clarkstonians’ lives was realized with the city’s first-ever Multicultural Mental Health Fair, voter registration drive with Disability Link and the establishment of the Clarkston Complete Count Committee, the first 2020 Census (Clarkston Complete Count) committee and task force in Dekalb County. I also developed and worked on the passage of non-discrimination legislation, a moratorium on small box stores (to conserve space for positive economic growth that poors in our community and reduce stores that do not provide nutritious options for our residents), rent relief partnership, and a tiny home ordinance. Moreover, I developed various committees, fostered community partnerships, and sponsored resolutions such as Welcoming America and 100% Clean Energy by 2050 and wrote an MOU between the Clarkston Police Department and a local non-profit, New American Pathway, to provide adequate services and service referrals for individuals in domestic violence situations to help reduce the number of domestic violence cases in our community.
With this prior experience, I have the skills and knowledge to effectively govern, navigate challenges, and power maps for legislative wins to improve the quality of life of Clarkston’s residents. I have been an advocate lobbying at the Capitol for years, have managed progressive organizations around the state of Georgia, and will use my skill set to achieve legislative results on the City Council. Overall, I will lead boldly and unapologetically for the people that I serve.
3) If elected, what are your top two or three priorities?
I will help increase and diversify housing options and establish a non-police responder unit staffed with social workers.
I will support the vision for a more walkable, vibrant downtown center in Clarkston to help bring more patrons to local businesses and drive the city’s economy.
I will proactively respond to the multifaceted health care needs of Clarkston’s uniquely diverse community.
4) In your opinion, what are the most important issues facing Clarkston?
The most important issue facing Clarkston is COVID-19, Housing, and Economic Development. We must have a proactive response to reducing COVID-19 rates in Clarkston due to the lack of vaccinated people. We must also ensure that all residents are afforded an ability to become homeowners, if desired, by having affordable and diversified housing options. We must also ensure that we have economic viability in the city, so that residents can work, play, and live here.
5) What is your current opinion of the Clarkston Police Department and are there any changes you would advocate for if you are elected?
The Clarkston Police Department has assisted the city with significantly reducing crime and worked with the council to reduce arrests and increase diversion options in our community.
Right after being elected to the city council previously, I went on a ride along with officers in the City of Clarkston and learned that there was an influx of domestic violence calls to the police department and we would only provide the victims a pack of paper in English. Well, after that ride along, I developed a MOU between the Clarkston Police Department and a local non-profit, New American Pathway to provide adequate services and service referrals for individuals dealing with domestic. After the development of the partnership, domestic violence calls decreased drastically and advocates were able to help patients in their native language to receive help and community services. I strongly feel that more partnerships like this are necessary to genuinely address our unique challenges in our community.
As a social worker, I will work to ensure that we have a non-police responder unit staffed with social workers to ensure that residents receive the support and intervention that they need that do not warrant police officers, in our case, domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental health related calls to intentionally strengthen our community and provide solutions to everyday problems for residents. Additionally, I will work to ensure that all city staff receive comprehensive training on cultural competency in municipalities to support and meet the needs of our community.
6) What is your opinion of Clarkston’s current city manager?
Given the recent vote by City Council to appoint Shawanna Qawiy as Clarkston’s interim City Manager, I am confident that we can work together in partnership to reach our collective goals. I look forward to working with Ms. Qawiy on a variety of issues.
7) 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 Clarkston?
I first ran for City Council because I saw a lack of diversity in the elected officials who were supposed to represent me and my neighbors. That lack of diversity in elected officials led to a lack of diverse thoughts, ideas, and a lack of empathy, and my community was suffering as a result- I knew I had to work to change that.
Once elected, I advocated and advanced gender and racial justice issues in our diverse community of Clarkston through education, awareness, and events like Clarkston’s First Ever BLM Solidarity March.
If re-elected, I’d like to continue to work with the community and address real time issues like economic development and inequality, access to the ballot, and COVID-19 education, prevention, and vaccination with an racial equity lense. The most important priority is to ensure that every resident of Clarkston feels heard and safe and that we, as elected officials, are promoting community health by reducing the information/education gap and increasing accessibility of that information in different languages and rely on our trusted community leaders to ensure that it’s disseminated.
8) 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?
As a city council member at the onset of the pandemic, I worked with local leaders and health care professionals to host the first COVID-19 walk up and drive up testing in the city. So we were very proactive and I think this needs to continue by ensuring that the Clarkston COVID-19 task force has the most updated information, working with trusted community leaders and it gets translated to meet the needs of our residents and ensure that they have the most updated information about testing, vaccination, and prevention.
9) Affordable housing continues to be a challenge for people moving to the Atlanta area. If elected, what steps would you take to promote affordable housing in Clarkston?
I have been a strong advocate for zoning reform as a previous City Planner and Council member. I know that zoning impacts the quality of life and services that individuals, especially those historically underrepresented receive. Clarkston is currently undergoing the process of the zoning rewrite, which was a process that was spearheaded by me and my council colleagues.
I support efforts aimed at making housing affordable, because housing stability and economically affordable options are imperative for an individual to be able to provide for their families and for a child to function fully in a school and perform adequately.
If elected, I will start with acknowledging and defining affordability for our community in particular and work to create a diversified housing option plan with mixed use development and innovative strategies, policies, and funding to increase affordable housing options that don’t ostracize residents in clusters based on their income, which looking at our housing placement is very noticeable on our city map.
We also need to work with the Department of Community Affairs and find programs to help assist individuals desiring to become homeowners manage this process and receive subsidies. Additionally, we should work with developers to put money in our Affordable Housing Trust Fund and create an application for residents to apply and receive additional rebates and relief to ensure that we keep residents in our cities and provide nice, affordable housing options.
10) What do you think is Clarkston’s greatest strength?
Clarkston’s greatest strength is its accessibility and walkability around the city. As well as it’s Proximity to services, resources, and jobs in the metro Atlanta. As well as it’s diversity that makes us so unique. We just need to market ourselves better as one of most accessible cities for economic, community development, and housing reasons since we have so many access points and entries into our city.
11) What do you think is Clarkston’s biggest challenge?
COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on residents, businesses, and leaving residents in economically precarious situations. Also, Housing has always been an issue in our city due to lack of space to develop and wanting to ensure that we have housing options that are affordable and sustainable, however COVID-19 has escaborated the need for improved housing and relief for individuals that are facing financial hardship due to COVID-19 that has increased unemployment, jeopardizes housing, health, mental health, and many other areas of resident’s lives.
12) How would you address what you believe to be Clarkston’s biggest challenge? (Above)
We must take an innovative approach to the city’s budget and be fiscally responsible but ensure that programs have funds to meet the continuous needs of the community and that we are working with trusted, community leaders to disseminate information to keep residents safe and healthy. We must also cultivate a COVID-19 prevention plan with phases and steps to reduce the number of cases and increase awareness of options to reduce the spread.
13) What is your opinion of refugee resettlement in Clarkston and if elected would you be in favor of resettling more refugees in the Clarkston area?
Being a refugee resettlement and sanctuary city is what makes us the special, unique city that we are. As a council member, I supported the Welcoming America Resolution and recommendations from the Clarkston Speak report from community leaders and Georgia tech that outlined recommendations on things we need to improve to be more inclusive and welcoming to cultivate a culture of welcoming; Furthermore I advocated for the city to become a Certified Welcoming City and there is still more work to do to ensure that our policies and city functioning is welcoming for our residents.
14) If you are elected, what will you do to support the business community in the city of Clarkston?
To ensure Clarkston continues to uphold a reputation as a welcoming community for families and foreign-born entrepreneurs, we need to foster a connected city by improving community engagement, business development, and efforts to invest in the residents by giving all the communities or community leaders a voice. This effort will contribute to the growth of the city’s economy, increase foreign born entrepreneurs, and make Clarkston a city that residents want to stay, work, and play. If elected, I will work diligently to adopt policies and encourage programming efforts to promote economic development through education and engagement efforts, such as monthly business collaborative meetings, business lunch and learns, and efforts to connect community groups to community resources to help foreign-born entrepreneurs feel supported and welcomed in Clarkston.
We also need to support the businesses with recruiting and hiring through awareness and visibility – we could do this online and through signage in the community, as well as ensuring that nonprofits and other businesses have this information to spread throughout the community.
15) Do you think the city has done enough to promote safety for cyclists and pedestrians and, if not, what changes would you make to make local streets safer?
The city can never do enough to preserve life and ensure safety of our pedestrians and cyclists. However, while on council, we did stop traffic and close Rowland street to cars and it allows pedestrians and cyclists to travel down and connect to the path trail. We could continue to use funds for infrastructure improvements that will increase safety, such as setbacks for bike crossings, like a buffer between motor vehicles and bikes; we could also create waiting areas for cyclists that are in front of traffic and special lights to indicate when it’s safe for bikes to cross.
16) Clarkston recently dissolved its development authority and plans to start a traditional downtown development authority. What should Clarkston’s DDA look like and what issues would you like the DDA to tackle?
The previous Clarkston Development Authority (a revitalization and economic growth/development tool that aligned with the Clarkston 2040 Comprehensive Plan) was dissolved on March 31, 2021. This act will have detrimental repercussions to the development and growth of the city and the action to move forward with the dissolution was negligence and definitely not good governance! However, moving forward, we need a DDA that allows for transparency and helps us recruit businesses to ensure that we have a vibrant downtown that increases community engagement and patrols to come to the city and be immersed in our diversity.
17) 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?
It’s essential that Clarkston promotes the importance of an open, transparent government. Oversight and accountability are essential components to deliver adequate services and address issues in cities. Local government is the form of government closest to the residents, as a result, citizens should be involved to improve transparency and ethical issues. My recommendation to address issues in government would be to propose an ordinance for a citizen’s review or Oversight board, that I previously suggested. The development of a citizen’s review board could address issues of lobbyist gifts, ethical behavior, and transparency and ensure adequate assessment of complaints or accusations.
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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