Stone Mountain City Council Post 6 hopefuls talk vaccine mandates, schools

City of Stone Mountain Municipal Building. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Stone Mountain, GA — The three candidates vying to replace Jasmine Little on the Stone Mountain City Council took part in a forum hosted by The Tucker Observer on Sept. 25.

Teresa Crowe, Anthony Hernandez-Wallen and Ryan Smith tackled city council division, parks improvements, mask and vaccine mandates, the city permitting process, revitalizing downtown and more.

Crowe, Hernandez-Wallen and Smith also answered The Tucker Observer’s candidate Q&As. Little is not seeking re-election.

Here is a video of the forum:

Smith conflict of interest?

Tucker Observer founder and editor Dan Whisenhunt started the forum by asking Smith if voters should be concerned that his wife is running for Stone Mountain mayor.

Smith said they each make their own decisions.

“Yes, anybody in a married couple would say there’s some influence,” he said. “And I would say that. But there can’t be any of that in the city.”

Crowe and Hernandez-Wallen declined to comment on the matter.

How to get the city council to work together more efficiently

Smith said he would meet with each councilmember individually to let them know who he is and where he stands.

“The council has arguments that are not needed, and it seems to be that there’s issues that are not important that are brought up in the meetings,” he said. “I would like to do my best to keep that from happening.”

He hopes having new members on the council will bring “new life” to it to do a better job for Stone Mountain residents.

Crowe said the councilmembers need to do a better job of reviewing the agenda and hashing out any issues before the meetings start.

“Maybe it’s something we can vet out before the meetings instead of in a public forum,” she said.

Hernandez-Wallen agreed with Crowe.

“When we come into a council meeting, we should have a united front and not waste people’s time on minutiae,” he said.

Whisenhunt pointed out that legally, no more than two councilmembers can meet to discuss city business before council meetings.

What improvements are need for city parks?

Crowe said that Medlock Park needs a concrete or asphalt driveway and possibly a playground or dog park and that all four parks need scoreboards.

Hernandez-Wallen said the bathrooms need to be upgraded in all four parks. And adding small skate parks “will bring some young people in there.” He also suggested having concerts in Medlock Park.

Smith referenced the city’s parks and rec committee’s survey of residents on what they want done in the parks.

“I want to help that committee get those items that the people have asked for done first,” he said.

Would you support buying Rock Gym from DeKalb to renovate and use as a community center?

Hernandez-Wallen is in favor of this idea and said it could be done “relatively inexpensively.”

Smith said it depends on how much the county asks for the building.

“But we also have a train depot that has started restoration that can also do the same thing,” he said. “I don’t see the need in starting one project until we get another finished.”

Crowe wants to see Rock Gym turned into a community center and the train depot turned into something more profitable for the city.

“There’s a higher and better use of that building that the citizens of this town can enjoy on the weekends,” she said.

Should there be a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees?

All three candidates were against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees.

“That’s a personal decision,” Smith said.

Crowe agreed.

“Even though it’s successful for many people, it may not be for everybody,” she said. “And I would not want to put the city in that position.”

Hernandez-Wallen supported more education to clear up the misinformation about vaccines.

“Our goal is to get everybody in the city employed vaccinated,” he said.

Do you support a mask mandate in city buildings and outdoor events?

Crowe did not support a mask mandate, saying that people wear masks at City Hall and there’s less of a chance of getting infected at outdoor events.

Hernandez-Wallen believes that everyone will eventually wear masks voluntarily.

“People are going to understand that there’s a great benefit to wearing masks and people will come around to it,” he said.

Smith supports the mandate inside city buildings but not at outside events.

Should the city continue funding the historic train depot and visitors center renovation?

The council voted in September to reassign about $53,000 of the $233,000 allocated for renovating the historic train depot. The money will be used to fund anticipated revenue shortfalls due primarily to the reduction of the 2021 millage rate and to fund COVID-19-related expenditures.

Hernandez-Wallen said the city can get a fresh rebrand with that $53,000.

“That would bring future investments coming into the city,” he said. “And I can have it done in 90 days.”

He said a roughly $200,000 investment on the train depot is not warranted.

Smith said the renovation needs to continue.

“That building should be brought back to its original being and make it a proud building in our city,” he said.

Crowe said the train depot has “always been one of the greatest attractions in Stone Mountain.”

She reiterated her view that it should be turned into something profitable like a restaurant.

“To me, it’s not too late to do that,” she said.

How would you lower taxes and diversify revenue streams?

Smith echoed his wife’s comments in the Tucker Observer mayoral forum in noting that 75% of city income comes from residents, 20% from commercial businesses and 5% from public utilities.

“That’s totally off base from what most cities have,” he said.

He said the city needs to bring in more businesses to increase that revenue stream and reduce the tax burden on city residents.

Both Crowe and Hernandez-Wallen want to initiate paid parking in the city.

“It’s a valuable source of income,” Crowe said. “We have many people that come here for Stone Mountain Park and they don’t support the city.”

Hernandez-Wallen said that it could be a $3 parking fee split evenly between the city, the parking attendant and the entity that hosts the parking.

How to work with DeKalb County Schools to improve quality of education?

Crowe praised the city for approving a plan to have a local company’s interns mentor low-income children in the area.

“I haven’t heard anymore about how that program has worked out, but I think it’s something to revisit again,” she said.

Hernandez-Wallen supports rote learning, a memorization technique based on repetition.

“We have people who have learned that same simple text and have gone on to be scientists and leaders around this entire globe,” he said. “We need to go back to that simple, simple way.”

Smith supports existing summer reading and after school programs at two local churches.

How to fix the city’s muddled permitting process?

Hernandez-Wallen wants the permitting process streamlined.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” he said. “It should not take six to eight months to get a building permit.”

Smith said the city manager is meeting with the county to help clear up the lag time in the process.

“I think it’s been a problem in the city for a long time and everybody knows it,” he said. “I think people will be surprised how quickly that’s solved.”

Crowe wants to know more about the process and what the city requires.

“We have lost several businesses to other areas, and I would like to call those other communities and see what their regulations are in getting building permits and see what we can do to improve,” she said.

What’s your vision for developing downtown?

Smith said the city needs to implement the downtown master plan that it paid $150,000 for last year. He added that there’s a grass law between the gazebo and train depot downtown that would be a good spot for a water fountain that kids can play in.

Crowe wants the city to focus more on bringing in service-oriented businesses versus retail.

“I don’t think we should encourage businesses here that are not going to survive,” she said.

She also wants better landscaping done downtown.

Hernandez-Wallen talked about how far a new paint job can go to improving the buildings downtown. He said the streetscape needs to be improved “to generate a sense of coolness, a sense of vibe, a sense of we have arrived” that will attract investment.

What will you do in your first six months in office?

Crowe wants to get a better understanding of the budget in her first months in office.

“I want to zero down on exactly where our money is going,” she said. “That has been a big issue downtown and in the city government that we have a lack of funds. Where is our money going?”

Hernandez-Wallen wants to review the backlog of city projects and see what’s needed immediately, what can wait and what needs to be cut.

“Most of the people I’ve talked to in the city seem to have the illusion that the city is just spending money helter skelter all over the place without regard for budget or finances,” he said.

Smith also wants to tackle the backlog of city projects.

“We have to get everything off that hasn’t been done in the past year and get it completed, or say we’re not going to do it,” he said. “Not have them just sit there.”

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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