Smyrna candidate questions:
1. Cobb BoC Chairman Mike Boyce plans to have a 2022 referendum for voters to decide on a partial or full one-cent sales tax for transit and/or transportation. Would you vote to increase Cobb sales taxes to fund transit or transportation projects?
2. Cobb is becoming much more developed. Is there still a need for the county to provide development incentives to attract economic growth?
3. There is widespread concern that ethylene oxide emissions from the Sterigenics plant near Smyrna could be harming people's health. Should the plant be shut down?
Smyrna mayor candidates:
Name: Alex Backry
Education: University of Massachusetts associate’s degree in management and Arizona State University bachelor’s degree in business science
Campaign website: None
Campaign email: None
1. No. They would have to show me that there would be enough people to use it. And where are they going to park in order to get on the transit?
2. No. I look at the city as it is now, we have empty stores that could be filled. Smyrna’s space is pretty well established. I don’t see where more development would help at all.
3. Yes. Because of the risk of air pollution. It’s a health risk.
Name: Ryan Campbell
Occupation: Business owner
Family: Married to Jasmine Campbell
Residence: Smyrna Grove
Education: University of Alabama bachelor’s degree in financial planning and master’s degree in marketing
Campaign website: ryanforsmyrna.com
Campaign email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Yes. The county should make investments that help alleviate congestion by investing in alternative methods of transportation. By expanding transit, we can create a regional transportation system that connects Cobb to the rest of the region. This can also create synergy in the area.
2. No. With the current growth rate of Cobb County, we must ensure that there is a fair playing field for businesses to succeed. Development incentives oftentimes are handouts that do not spur additional economic growth.
3. Yes. Sterigenics is a threat to the health of our community, EtO (ethylene oxide) is very dangerous and there is no acceptable amount. Air and water cannot be negotiable, this is not only an environmental protection issue but is also a human rights issue.
Name: Laura Mireles
Occupation: Entrepreneur, contractor, retail store owner, community volunteer
Family: No spouse, six children
Residence: Ward 5 of Smyrna, near Windy Hill and South Cobb Drive
Education: Georgia State University
Campaign website: www.mireles4mayor.com
Campaign email: email@example.com
1. I have been openly opposed to the current use of the funds from the last SPLOST vote. We voted for these taxes for transportation improvements that will benefit the entire county. Instead, we have a $42 million one-mile long expressway with a tunnel being built through a Smyrna neighborhood. This is money that could have been used on multiple projects throughout Cobb County. I would love to see protected bike lanes, synchronized traffic signals to facilitate the flow of traffic, pedestrian bridges over major roadways or improvements at intersections for safer pedestrian crossings, and of course, expanded mass transit. We vote for SPLOST, in good faith, without any idea of how the funds are to be allocated. I want to see what the money will be used for in advance. We need mass transit in Smyrna.
2. We should always strive to have plenty of jobs in Cobb for Cobb residents. But, I want to do more to support small and mid-sized businesses, rather than simply offer tax breaks to larger corporations, whose operations may displace the workers of locally owned businesses. For example, I am in favor of offering tax credits to companies that offer training programs. I am also in favor of incentives to bring more tech jobs to Cobb. I would like to see tax credits for companies that hire older people, who are frequently shut out of the job market, despite their wealth of knowledge and experience. One major obstacle that is preventing businesses from locating in Cobb is public transportation.
3. Shut them down. Operating a business in Cobb County is a privilege, not a right. With that privilege comes an obligation to conduct your business in a manner that will not negatively impact the environment or the health of the people in the vicinity of your plant. This company has not operated in good faith. I will go further and say that we need to take a closer look at what kind of plants are operating in the industrial parks in Cobb. How many others are emitting toxins? And, this was a real eye opener when it comes to the ineffectiveness of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. I would like to see environmental protection become a priority in Georgia.
Name: Derek Norton
Occupation: Director of Governmental Affairs
Family: Wife Laura, daughter Samantha, 4, and son Jack, 2
Residence: Afton Downs Neighborhood, Smyrna
Education: Bachelor of Business Administration in international business from the University of Georgia
Campaign website: www.votenorton.org
Campaign email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. I don’t know. Here’s why — the devil is in the details. I’d have to see the project list before committing one way or the other. I do believe that putting it to the people to decide is the only way to go. If the voters approve this I do favor a sales tax because it brings in money from those traveling through Cobb to help with the cost. All efforts should be made to offer a partial penny proposal rather than a full one cent tax — any proposal should be the most cost effective possible.
2. Yes. The City of Smyrna has had no shortage of new development. I think it’s important that we grow responsibly and make sure we don’t get so dense to where we are choked off by traffic and our schools are even more overcrowded. That said, we have some empty storefronts in the downtown market village and the South Cobb corridor and other parts of the city are ripe with redevelopment opportunities. Incentivizing businesses in an open and transparent process to locate in Smyrna and create jobs is something I will actively support as mayor.
3. Yes. My children, aged 2 and 4, breathe the same air as everyone else in Smyrna and I am laser focused on ensuring there are no health risks to Smyrna citizens. I am proud to have helped lead the way in Smyrna by initiating independent air quality testing, and am pleased that Cobb County and the City of Atlanta joined this effort. We tested when the plant was shut down, so when we test when the plant resumes operations we will have a basis for comparison and know exactly what impact the Sterigenics plant is having on our community. If the results of the tests indicate that the health of Smyrna citizens is in danger in any way I support shutting down the Sterigenics plant.
Name: Steve Rasin
Occupation: Retired Navy commander and airline pilot, real estate business co-owner
Family: Wife Dianne and children Steven, Sean and Shayna
Residence: Grace Meadows Subdivision
Education: Bachelor of Science, U.S. Naval Academy, Airline Transport Pilot rating
Campaign website: www.steverasin.com
Campaign email: email@example.com
1. Yes. I would vote to increase Cobb sales taxes to fund transit or transportation projects. Cobb County traffic is extremely heavy, especially during the morning and afternoon rush hours. Cobb needs to address the problem and provide solutions which can move traffic smoothly and consider mass transit options that will reduce the amount of traffic on our streets and highways.
2. Yes. I believe there is still a need for the county to provide development incentives to attract economic growth, but not in all areas. I believe that the county should determine where economic growth is needed most and offer development incentives in those areas. In other areas of the county where economic development is moving forward, any incentives should be made on a case by case basis only.
3. Ethylene oxide (Eto) has been designated a carcinogen by the EPA. Lymphoma and leukemia are the cancers most frequently reported to be associated with occupational exposure to Eto. Stomach and breast cancers may also be associated with Eto exposure. If the plant can install emissions equipment to reduce Eto emissions to undetectable levels, then there may be advantages to keeping the plant in operation. If Eto emissions cannot be eliminated, then the plant should be shut down.
Council Ward 1 candidate:
Name: Glenn Pickens
Occupation: Project manager and grant operations manager
Family: Wife Emily-Cathryn Pickens
Residence: Argyle Estates
Education: Bachelor's degree, political science, Kennesaw State University
Campaign website: https://electglennpickens.com/
Campaign email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. I would consider supporting a transit referendum if the proposed plan would be effective in reducing congestion throughout Cobb and the metro area. I will not commit to supporting a tax increase without seeing the transit plan.
2. No. I do not believe that Cobb should be using tax dollars to bring development incentives to attract economic growth. Our tax dollars should not be used to subsidize developers or corporations.
3. I do not know. Obviously this is a huge concern for me and other residents in Smyrna. I’m in strong support of Cobb’s latest efforts to make sure they comply with new occupancy requirements. There is a need for sterilized medical equipment so I understand the need to stay open, but Sterigenics should not be allowed to regulate their own emissions. If things continue as it is now, they should be shut down by the county. However, if they paid for an objective third party to continuously monitor the air quality and ensure Sterigenics does not release any ethylene oxide emissions, I think they should be able to operate within strict guidelines.
Council Ward 2 candidates:
Name: Andrea Blustein (incumbent)
Age: Not provided
Occupation: Real estate broker
Family: Not provided
Residence: Country Park Drive
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science from Kennesaw State University and juris doctor from John Marshall Law School
Campaign website: Not provided
Campaign email: email@example.com
1. Not answered
2. Not answered
3. Not answered
Name: Austin Wagner
Family: Wife Cynthia, children Vaden and Adelaide
Residence: Avonlea Square Apartments
Education: Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center and a BSBA in economics from Appalachian State University
Campaign website: austinforsmyrna.com
Campaign email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Yes. The metro Atlanta area is practically defined by its traffic, and adding more lanes will only lead to more cars. We need to invest in transit options for Cobb County as it’s the only option that would truly reduce our automobile dependency. A full one-cent sales tax for transit is the best option to fund these investments.
2. Yes. We need to continue to provide incentives for necessary developments that may not be profitable without the incentives. For example, we need to invest in affordable and workforce housing to deal with the increased cost of living. These types of developments would almost never happen without incentives, but they are important for the future development of Smyrna and Cobb County.
3. Yes. The Sterigenics plant should remain shut down until its safety protocols can be upgraded in order to come in line with standards for these types of facilities. Oversight is necessary, and Sterigenics (or any other facility) should not be allowed to go unchecked while potentially creating unhealthy living conditions.
Council Ward 3 candidates:
Name: Maryline Blackburn (incumbent)
Occupation: Professional vocalist
Residence: Huntington Trace
Education: BA from The Evergreen State College
Campaign website: www.votemarylineblackburn.com
Campaign email: email@example.com
1. Yes, we must develop a 21st century transportation vision for our county and city. Given our unique location, Cobb County and Smyrna can become the gateway community for the region if we invest in our transportation and transit infrastructure. But we must also make the right project choices that leverage emerging mobility solutions that position us as the city of choice for smart, clean jobs of the future. Our top priority must be to get Smyrna and Cobb connected to the ATL regional transportation network. Corporations and the jobs they create will continue to migrate near transit hubs. Smyrna, at the nexus of Interstates 285 and 75, SunTrust Park and the Battery is an ideal location for a mixed-use transportation hub. Next up should be an all-of-the-above approach for intra-county solutions including bus, bus rapid transit, and on-demand mobility technologies including subsidized ride-share programs with strong return on investment.
2. Yes. If we invest in our infrastructure as noted above the need for additional incentives will be lessened as Cobb County will be the business destination of choice in the region. In Smyrna and Cobb County, we should use incentives to recruit businesses and developments that support our strategic vision. Too often we adapt our vision to fit a tactical business opportunity. Incentives should be used to encourage local job creation, competitive wages and new developments that allocate a portion of the development to affordable workforce housing. Cobb County and Smyrna need to develop a sustainability plan that includes an economic development component. Enterprise and opportunity zones should be developed to attract ‘green’ businesses of the future to our county by offering tax incentives. Lastly, the county should encourage local entrepreneurship while supporting and utilizing existing small businesses.
3. Yes. As co-founder of Sustainable Smyrna, environmental issues are a top priority. This is a complex and fast-changing problem. I feel strongly that no plant should exist that puts our residents’ health at risk. I was the first member of Smyrna City Council to tour the Sterigenics facility with other state and county leaders, first to demand independent air quality testing, and first to insist that plant operations be suspended until/if deemed safe. I agree with state Sen. Jen Jordan that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division consent order with Sterigenics is illegal and fails to adequately protect our citizens from ethylene oxide. Sterigenics and its leadership have repeatedly proven to be untrustworthy. That said, if the recent air quality testing reveals that Sterigenics is out of compliance and poses a significant risk, the plant should be shut down.
Name: Travis Lindley
Occupation: Business owner
Family: Not provided
Residence: Concord Lake Lane, Smyrna
Education: University of West Georgia BA in communications
Campaign website: www.lindleyforsmyrna.com
Campaign email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. My No. 1 obligation is to the people of Smyrna. Therefore, my support/opposition will be driven by the specific projects and their impact on Smyrna. Citizens are concerned about the impact of traffic, congestion and transit. Our community urgently needs leadership on this issue, and a comprehensive, forward-thinking transportation plan is needed in order to ensure that our community thrives and is not left behind. However, I remain wary of yet another tax to fund transportation until the citizens of Smyrna and southern Cobb have input on the proposed projects. Smyrna tax dollars must be used to better Smyrna and should not be sent to other areas of the county.
2. Continued economic development that is planned and supported by commonsense controls will drive job growth and help maintain a healthy tax base. Tax incentives can be a productive tool in helping to drive positive economic development, but only if the project itself is beneficial to our community and if the project actually delivers on the agreed upon goals, such as number of jobs to be created. Incentives should be fact driven, not based on assumptions and guesses.
3. For the health and well-being of our citizens, the facility should remain closed. As a native Smyrna resident, I have lived in the shadow of the Sterigenics facility for over 44 years. Like my neighbors, I am deeply troubled by the recent reports. That’s why I attended each and every public forum on this matter, unlike my opponent council member Blackburn. The citizens of Smyrna can count on me to remain an engaged, vigilant advocate for our community, especially on this monumental public health issue.
Council Ward 4 candidate:
Name: Charles Welch (incumbent)
Occupation: Senior client manager at Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, former 35-year president of Stevenson and Palmer Engineering.
Family: Wife of 37 years Catherine Stevenson Welch and children Charles and Nikki
Residence: Austin Drive
Education: Architectural engineering degree from Kennesaw State
Campaign website: None
Campaign email: email@example.com
1. At this time I am unsure. My support would depend upon the planned transit system. Currently Cobb transit costs are roughly $4 per rider. If I see a good plan to provide a transit system that provides connections to the county’s major density hubs I will consider supporting the plan. If the committee puts together a plan trying to cover every inch of Cobb County with transit I will not support the plan. In my opinion, this type of plan is not sustainable due to the low population density throughout the county.
2. On one hand I would say yes because we want certain businesses to come to Cobb County. The downside of that is you cannot pick and choose those businesses that are good and which are bad. In the end, I believe minor concessions can be made to major projects using a selection criteria that provides incentives based upon job creations and other issues that benefit the county.
3. I don’t know. If the plant is exceeding the emission limits established by EPA and the Georgia EPD, the plant should be shut down immediately. This has not been determined at this time and until testing is conducted to prove this, the answer is no. Unfortunately, I believe much of the ethylene oxide in the air is produced by other sources. The city of Smyrna was very proactive in initiating testing of the air quality surrounding the plant. Both Cobb County and the city of Atlanta chose to support those actions. The plant is now closed until further notice and testing has been stopped. Hopefully, we were able to conduct enough testing to obtain a baseline level of the contaminate that can be used for further comparison.
Council Ward 5 candidates:
Name: Suz Kaprich
Family: Husband Mike and children Mason and Madeline
Residence: Bank St SE, Smyrna
Education: Bachelor’s degree in nursing, master’s in health care administration
Campaign Website: www.votesuzkaprich.com
Campaign Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Yes, I would vote for the transit and transportation sales tax. Smyrna is experiencing traffic congestion and I would like to see more mass transit options. Additionally, I would like to see the transit options to be environmentally friendly so we can make a long-term impact on our environment.
2. Yes, I still see opportunity for economic growth and would like to see a balanced approach so all areas benefit from the use of development incentives. In a few years, I would recommend reevaluating the need again.
3. I agree with the shutting down of Sterigenics. People's safety comes first.
Name: James ‘JD’ Smith
Occupation: Owner of Neighbors Feed & Seed Supply Co
Family: Not disclosed
Residence: Westfield Trace, Smyrna
Education: Campbell High School, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Georgia Public Safety Training Center, Cobb County Public Safety Training Center
Campaign website: jdforsmyrna.org
Campaign email: email@example.com
1. No, I will vote against this tax raise. Traffic is clearly an issue in Cobb. But stating the problem in such a generic manner, “traffic and transit” without offering solutions and explanations to how the additional revenue would be used to alleviate the problem is disingenuous. Additionally, before seeking to raise taxes, current government spending should be audited. With a tax base as large as Cobb County, there is undoubtedly tax dollars being spent inefficiently.
2. Yes, there should continue to be incentives given to companies and organizations that will increase economic development in Cobb County. It is vital that Cobb continues to be a leader in the metro Atlanta area job market. Larger corporations that make Cobb their home will inherently bring up smaller support and service companies around them. That being said, these incentives should not be at the expense of the residential taxpayer.
3. Yes, this plant should be shut down and relocated to a less densely populated area of the state. And while this organization was operating within the laws set forth by the EPA, our state and local representatives have the responsibility to use the power of government to monitor the emissions of companies that use chemicals and gases that pose a health risk to the citizens of Georgia.
Name: Susan Wilkinson (incumbent)
Age: Not supplied
Occupation: Smyrna City Council representative for Ward 5 since 2011
Family: Husband Doward Wilkinson, two daughters attending Georgia Tech
Residence: 33-year Smyrna resident in the historical neighborhood of Cheney Woods
Education: BFA from the University of Georgia
Campaign website: www.susanforsmyrna5.com
Campaign email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. As an eight-year member of the Smyrna City Council and the current chairperson for the transportation committee, I’m well aware of how important transportation is to the citizens of Ward 5 and Smyrna. The Smyrna City Council recently approved the award of a transit feasibility study, which is in the beginning data collection stages and will conclude in May of 2020. The results of this study will be provided to both the ATL and Cobb County. The county will be able to use the data and information gathered from this study as well as information provided by other municipalities and the county’s own data to determine a project list for this tax. Presently, Cobb County hasn’t presented a list of recommended projects for this tax. Until a project list is defined and reviewed, I believe it would be premature to say yes or no.
2. Yes, as a two-term council member for the city of Smyrna and a resident of Ward 5 for 33 years, I believe there continues to be a need for the county to provide development incentives to attract economic growth, especially in the unincorporated area surrounding Ward 5 of the city of Smyrna. As a member of the Milford/Oxford stakeholders group spearheaded by Commissioner Lisa Cupid, we are working to create synergy for improved economic growth in this valuable corridor with its proximity to Kennesaw State, Georgia Tech, Chattahoochee Tech and access to the greater Atlanta area. For me, providing development incentives to attract economic growth would depend on each project based on its own economic merit.
3. The plant is currently shut down and yes, I agree with the Cobb County Board of Commissioners' decision to keep the Sterigenics plant closed. It makes sense to force the company to upgrade its safety protocols in line with the International Building Code standards for a high hazard facility while it is already shut down for the emissions systems upgrades. My council member colleagues and myself voted unanimously to approve funding for independent air quality testing. Cobb County and the city of Atlanta joined the city of Smyrna in funding and commissioning GHD, one of the nation’s leading experts in this field. It is concerning to learn that the building occupancy for Sterigenics was only recently changed from storage to industrial high hazard.
Council Ward 6 candidates:
Name: Tim Gould (incumbent)
Occupation: Small business owner
Family: Wife Judy and children Abbie, 15, and Jack, 13
Residence: Olde Vinings Mill
Education: Master’s degree in business administration, mechanical engineering
Campaign website: https://www.facebook.com/VoteTimGould/
Campaign email: email@example.com
1. Yes. Improving transportation systems in and around Smyrna is critical to the long-term health of our city. As Smyrna’s population continues to grow, we need to provide roads and means of transit that minimizes the time we all spend in our cars. Our quality of life is directly impacted by the continued growth of vehicular congestion. Smyrna needs to lead with creative and innovative ideas improvising alternate modes of getting around town including pedestrian and bike safety, efficient traffic control, speed calming for our local streets, etc. Smyrna will also be ready to tie into future public transit systems and capitalize on our great proximity to interstates and downtown Atlanta.
2. Yes. We continue improving the economic environment in Smyrna, allowing an attractive environment for existing businesses to thrive and new businesses to grow in our city. Incentives are just one tool that can be used to attract new businesses to increase expanding our tool box. Incentives are a tool that can be used when necessary to beat out a competing city or area around metro Atlanta.
3. The plant is currently shut down during the installation of an upgraded emission control system and necessary safety improvements to the facility. If the company cannot satisfy EPD emissions standards and Cobb County safety system requirements, then the plant needs to stay closed. I am on the oversight committee, which is tasked with sharing results of the current ethylene oxide air sampling testing being performed by the city of Smyrna, Cobb County and others. The city quickly committed to independent air sampling to determine if our air is safe. The first tests do not show EtO levels of concern. Final testing will be completed if and when the plant is back in full operation. It is so important to keep our residents informed about current levels of ethylene oxide in our air.
Council Ward 7 candidates:
Name: David Monroe
Occupation: Real estate broker and hotel operator
Family: Wife Sharon Monroe and children Sabra Andersson and Wes Clackum
Residence: Ridge Oak Run, Vinings Estates
Education: BBA from Georgia Southern University and an MBA from Georgia State University
Campaign website: https://www.monroeforsmyrnaga.org/
Campaign email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Smyrna City Council has just begun their own transportation study which will be completed in 2020. Once the findings are presented, I will evaluate the projects that will have the most impact on Smyrna and discuss with city and county leaders as to how they can be funded. With the facts from study, we can better make these decisions.
2. Cobb County and its cities have a lot to offer new businesses, with a terrific quality of life, excellent schools, many parks and attractions and strong public safety. All of these help attract good companies, but the incentives the county currently offers help our economic team compete with other cities in metro Atlanta and in the Southeast. These incentives should be an investment in our community that yield jobs, higher wages and a better quality of life.
3. If it is determined that the Sterigenics plant is emitting dangerous chemicals in the air, then yes, they should be shut down. All of Smyrna’s citizens should expect leaders to protect them from any company that threatens their clean air, clean water and a healthy environment. Although the Sterigenics plant is located outside of the Smyrna city limits, I strongly support the current City Council’s decision to assist with funding the emission testing of the facility.
Name: Lewis Wheaton
Occupation: Professor at Georgia Tech
Family: Wife Teri and sons Lewis Jr. and Joshua
Residence: Clay Brooke Dr, Woodland Brooke
Education: PhD in neuroscience and cognitive science from the University of Maryland and a BS in biology from Radford University
Campaign website: www.votewheaton.com
Campaign email: email@example.com
1. I don't know. There has been encouraging success of SPLOST funding to our community for several years. At the same time, there have been some concerns from residents in Smyrna related to the equity of distribution of previous SPLOST funding throughout the county. As well, there are planned SPLOST referendums proposed in 2020 and 2021. Continuing the focus on taxing our citizens requires a clear direction of what transit or transportation projects means, particularly for Smyrna.
2. Yes. The Atlanta area is a competitive marketplace for attracting business. While Cobb, and particularly Smyrna, are well developed and situated to be leaders in economic development, it remains critical to ensure that we can incentivize new and innovative high quality community partners into Smyrna.
3. Yes. I am fully supportive of the county's regulatory role in the interests of public safety to indefinitely suspend operations at the plant. This facility must remain closed until they can demonstrate interest in compliance with county code and rebuild the trust violated over the years. The recent air quality testing results during this plant closure are encouraging, but there is still much more to learn. Evaluating the air quality impact if the plant fully resumes operations on a temporary basis is critical and essential to gauge environmental impact. This allows the community and elected officials to have firm data to make the strongest decisions for the community moving forward. This will demonstrate Smyrna’s resolve at ensuring all community partners are utilizing best practices in keeping our community safe.