Stone Mountain council Post 4 candidates talk division, parks upgrades

Post 4 City Council candidates, left to right: Diana Roe Hollis (Incumbent), Gil Freeman and Michael Schaaphok

Stone Mountain, GA — Stone Mountain City Councilmember Diana Roe Hollis faces three opponents in next month’s election for the Post 4 seat. Hollis and two of those opponents — Gil Freeman and Michael Schaaphok — took part in a candidate forum hosted by The Tucker Observer on Sept. 23.

Hollis, Freeman and Schaaphok also answered The Tucker Observer’s candidate Q&As.

We were unable to get in touch with Richard Mailman or find information for him, but he also is running for this seat.

Here is a video of the forum:

How to get the Stone Mountain City Council to work together

Freeman said part of the problem is that council members don’t communicate well outside of the meetings.

“Socialize a little bit more amongst themselves and learn to understand one another so that they can hold conversations in an intellectual manner without bickering and insulting each other,” he said.

But Schaaphok thinks the tension can be a good thing, saying that in the past, the council just passed whatever the administration wanted it to.

“It’s only recently that people on the city council have begun to raise issues that cause arguments and dissension,” he said. “Quashing discussion and quashing dissension is not the way to reach a unilateral decision, it’s a way to look good.”

Hollis said the tension isn’t productive and has led to a “huge backlog.”

“We’re not getting anything done,” she said. “We’re talking about it but we’re not getting anything done.”

She added that having meetings virtually has been a “nightmare” that’s created confusion and led to people talking over others.

What will you get done in your first year in office?

Schaaphok wants to realign the city’s priorities. He criticized the decision to allocate $233,000 to renovate the historic train depot and visitors center. He believes the city should focus on repairing infrastructure.

“This is the wrong time to worry about spending $233,000 in the midst of COVID to put a deck around our visitor’s center,” he said.

Freeman agreed with Schaaphok.

“The blatant misuse of funds has to come to an end so we can improve the quality of life of residents,” he said.

Hollis wants to focus on public safety and public works.

“We need to continue with the SPLOST and the street projects,” she said. “We need to get behind safety.”

Should COVID-19 vaccines be mandated for city employees?

Less than one-third of Stone Mountain employees are vaccinated against COVID-19. But Hollis said that while she would like to see everyone get the vaccine, the city shouldn’t require them to.

“There are personal rights and privacy involved,” she said. “I don’t like the idea of threatening them with their jobs … if they don’t.”

Freeman thinks it should be mandated for all new city employees, and current employees who refuse to should be tested weekly.

“It’s something that can’t be overlooked any longer,” he said.

Schaaphok is in favor of a mandate, saying it’s “shameful” that so few city employees have gotten the vaccine.

“Working for the government requires people that are willing to take on public service,” he said.

Schaaphok added that those who refuse it citing religious or medical exemptions should be tested “rigorously.”

Move forward with the downtown master plan?

The Stone Mountain City Council approved a downtown master plan last October. Freeman said he hasn’t reviewed it thoroughly, but said he does not agree with it.

Schaaphok said that most of the issues cited in a previous master plan never got addressed.

“So I think the master plan will take care of itself and die on the vine,” he said. “I don’t see how things will change with another iteration of the plan, which we spent $150,000 on.”

Hollis doesn’t think the plan properly addresses the city’s needs.

“It’s very pretty pictures,” she said. “It’s a lovely idea. But it’s not practical for Stone Mountain Village.”

Should the train depot renovation continue to be funded?

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.

Schaaphok said stripping $53,000 from the project was “a good start.” He said more should be done to support the city’s schools.

“That should have a higher priority,” he said.

Hollis said the city’s top priority should be public safety.

Freeman is against the train depot renovation.

“I don’t see the point in it,” he said. It’s a money pit as far as I’m concerned. There’s so many other places where that money can go.”

What improvements do the parks need?

Hollis said McCurdy Park is the city’s largest park and gets the least amount of attention.

“It has had nothing done” except new picnic tables, she said.

McCurdy and VFW Park both need updated bathrooms, she added. Hollis cited the $92,000 in SPLOST money spent on improving Leila Mason Park and Medlock Park.

“We need to give every one of the parks the same attention,” she said.

Freeman said the parks need security cameras to improve safety, as well as better landscaping and parking lots. He would also favor more youth programs and sports leagues.

“We need to help [the youth] manage their time and give them programs to participate in,” he said.

Schaaphok said the parks are “abysmal.” He called for paved parking, walking trails and bicycle trails.

How would you increase city revenue?

Freeman said the city needs to spend smarter to increase revenue. He said the city needs a paid parking lot that’s free for residents, so the city can take advantage of the number of visitors to Stone Mountain Park.

Hollis agreed, adding that businesses should be allowed to validate parking for customers in the paid lot.

“It’s a great source of revenue,” she said.

Schaaphok said that making the city more sustainable will attract higher earners and more money to the city.

“Stone Mountain has done nothing towards sustainability,” he said.

How to improve the city’s permitting process

Schaaphok said he’s heard “horror stories” about how slow the city’s permitting process is. He would have DeKalb County — which has more staff dedicated to permitting — take a larger role in the process.

Hollis said the city has promised to streamline its permitting process in the past.

“But it’s not happening,” she said.

Freeman said permitting in the city is a “logistical nightmare” and needs to be simplified.

“We have to get a process in place that is streamlined and efficient and not more burdensome on our businesses than they need to be,” he 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.  

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