Stone Mountain mayoral candidates talk vaccine mandates, high taxes

Candidates left to right: Andrea Redmond, Beverly Jones and Eileen Smith.

Stone Mountain, GA — The three candidates running to replace Patricia Wheeler as mayor of Stone Mountain took part in a forum hosted by the Tucker Observer last month.

They tackled COVID-19 vaccine mandates, city council division, conflicts of interest, the renovation of the train depot, parks improvements, lowering taxes and more at the Sept. 22 event.

The candidates include former City Councilmember Beverly Jones, former City Councilmember Andrea Redmond and realtor Eileen Smith. Write-in candidate Darryl Gresham cannot legally serve in the position even if he gets the most votes.

Here is a video of the forum:

Smith conflict of interest?

Tucker Observer founder and editor Dan Whisenhunt kicked off the forum by asking Smith if voters should be concerned that her husband Ryan is running for Stone Mountain City Council.

Smith pointed out that the mayor only casts votes during council meetings if it’s to break a tie.

“The city council runs the city,” she said. “The mayor does not. The mayor runs the meetings. The mayor does have some other administrative responsibilities, but I’ve never been able to tell Ryan what to do. He makes up his own mind.”

Jones said the possibility of Smith as mayor and her husband on council “might impose some problems down the road.”

Redmond went after the couple.

“I think the Smith couple are known for trouble, so therefore my citizens are telling me that it will just continue, so this is nothing new,” she said.

How to get the city council to work together more efficiently

Jones vowed to make sure the council works together if she’s mayor.

“We have to put the people first and put the personalities on the backburner,” she said.

Smith said councilmembers and citizens have “hijacked” council meetings and gone off topic for too long.

“We need to move on, we need to have a limited amount of discussion for each topic,” she said.

Redmond pointed to her 30-year background teaching elementary and middle school children.

“I know how to get control of the situation and address the issues at hand,” she said.

How to address Stone Mountain’s most divisive issues

Smith said the divisive relationship between the council and the Downtown Development Authority needs to be repaired. There are also budgetary concerns.

“There needs to be additional meetings just with those committees and groups to work out those differences,” she said.

Redmond cited infrastructure as a major issue. She voted in favor of SPLOST funding when she was on council in 2017.

“We need to use our SPLOST funds appropriately, we need to get our construction done in a timely manner, we need to move forward with other projects because we have another SPLOST fund that could possibly be coming in the next year,” she said.

Jones would set up meetings with the council to iron out any problems so that the city can tackle its most divisive issues.

“[Citizens] feel that if we can’t work tougher, how are we going to work for them?” she said. “Stop all the contention about things of low and no merit.”

COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Stone Mountain employees?

Less than one-third of city employees are vaccinated against COVID-19. But all three candidates were against issuing a mandate.

“It comes down to a personal choice,” Redmond said. “But in the future with different variants, it’s going to be a must that we get all of our employees vaccinated.”

Jones said city staff needs more education and encouragement to get the vaccine.

“I think that in time as people learn to trust the system, they will trust the vaccinations,” she said.

Smith agreed with Jones.

“If we educate the people who are not vaccinated, maybe they will understand that it’s safe,” she said.

Should plans for renovating the train depot move forward?

The city council voted to reallocate $233,000 to renovate the city’s historic train depot. Smith supported the move.

“The historic train depot is important to our city,” she said. “It’s one of the many monuments we have, but it could be a wonderful event center if we can finish the renovations there.”

Jones supported the renovation but said the city needs to get more of its funding for the project through grants.

“Therefore it won’t be a burden on the city and the taxpayers,” she said.

Redmond vowed to secure those grants as mayor.

“I am a grant finder,” she said. “As a teacher I was always trying to find grants.”

What improvements are needed for city parks?

The city of Stone Mountain surveyed residents on what improvements they wanted for the city’s four parks earlier this year. Smith said the city should follow their recommendations.

“They wanted playgrounds and walking trails and our parks and rec committee is working towards making that happen,” she said.

Redmond said improvements are needed at all the parks.

“My plan for Medlock Park is to have a natural walking path like we do in several gardens around the area,” she said.

Redmond said that city tourism director Kim Cumbie has a “fantastic” plan for VFW Park.

“I am not afraid to get out there and work and do whatever needs to be done to get these things done for the city,” she added.

Jones said the parks need better equipment, walking trails, bike trails and improved bathroom facilities.

“Those are things that will attract a younger flow of individuals,” she said.

How to lower taxes and diversify Stone Mountain’s revenue streams

Redmond said the budget needs to be cut in order to lower taxes.

“The larger portion of our budget is going to administration and staff, so we really need to look at that and see if there’s some way to cut the budget, keep our citizens safe, keep our city moving forward,” she said.

Jones said she would review the budget and cut unnecessary spending.

“The city is burdened with projects to nowhere,” she said. “What can we live without and still have a thriving city?”

“We cannot afford our taxes to increase at all,” she added.

Some 75% of city income comes from residents, 20% from commercial businesses and 5% from public utilities, according to Smith. She said the city needs more revenue to come from its businesses.

“We need to fill some of the vacant storefronts downtown,” she said. “We need to get other thriving businesses in our city so the balance paid by our city is less and we have more commercial income coming in.”

How to increase Stone Mountain’s revenue in the first year in office

Jones said the city needs more commercial businesses and mixed-use developments.

“When we start to grow, people will come,” she said.

Smith wants to streamline city ordinances to make it easier for new businesses to open. She said that it took a year for the restaurant Cherokee Rose to open downtown because of “red tape.”

“If we can get these businesses opening quicker, that would increase our revenue stream,” Smith said.

Smith added that businesses are hesitant to open in Stone Mountain because of the city’s ordinances.

Redmond would encourage more industrial and medical businesses to open in the city, and she’d use her background with media technology to bring more tech businesses in.

“We’ve got to get the word out there,” she said.

How to clean up trash in the city

Redmond has initiated several cleanup days in Stone Mountain and wants to take part in quarterly cleanup days as mayor. She also said people should be able to get cleanup day supplies from the city instead of having to ask DeKalb County.

“Our city manager wants to make this part of the city so we will have the trash bags for any community that wants to have a workday,” she said.

Jones said that trashcans need to be in the right places throughout the city.

“We have a relatively clean city, but we want to make it even better,” she said.

Smith said there needs to be more community cleanup days.

“They don’t happen often enough to keep the areas clean like they should be,” she said.

More information about voting in the Nov. 2 election: 

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.

All elections coverage can be found at Decaturishvotes.com and Tuckerobservervotes.com.  

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.

An absentee ballot application must be received by Oct. 22.

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)

For the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding early voting times and locations, visit Decaturishvotes.com and Tuckerobservervotes.com or call 404-298-4020.  

The Tucker Observer is a new community news website owned by Decaturish.comWe provide locally sourced news about Tucker, Clarkston and Stone Mountain.

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