In an effort to better its community member’s knowledge of government happenings, but to also bring interaction among all residents, Roswell Community Masjid opened its doors to host a forum for the Post 4 candidates.
All candidates were invited to participate in a candidate forum at the mosque on Feb. 24.
Lori Henry, Marie Willsey and Shelley Sears were in attendance. The fourth candidate, Shawn Wright was unable to attend due to being out of town on business.
Candidates were given general information regarding potential discussion points, but were unaware of the specific questions to be asked.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta Policy Director Aisha Yaqoob served as forum moderator.
Yagoob posed a question and each candidate would have two minutes to provide a response.
At opening, candidates were given three minutes to introduce themselves and discuss her priority achievements for the term if elected.
Shelley Sears emphasized the importance of the public’s contributions to city council.
“Pick someone that is going to lead you, but allow you to give huge advice,” said Sears.
“Roswell is at a crossroads. What we need to do is be proactive instead of reactive,” said Candidate Lori Henry in regards to bringing in fitting economic development for the city.
Henry also emphasized the need to “fix the zoning code to avoid high density areas as one of her main objectives.
Marie Willsey mirrored Henry’s sentiment about the city being at a crossroads and a need to look at the changing needs of the city.
“Encourage the city to move forward with strategic economic study to see what is possible and how we can bring together market needs, investors and community vision to attract the right kind of developers,” Willsey said.
In regards to development, all candidates were asked what type of development was appropriate or needed for Roswell.
“We don’t want a plethora of apartments, what we do want it Class A office space,” said Henry, who reiterated the need to redesign our zoning ordinance to offer incentives and for a strong economic development arm.
Willsey also discussed Class A office space, but to be filled by “more of the large corporate businesses,” which she felt would contribute to off-set the tax base for residents. Her goal is to lessen taxes sourced from residents and increase commercial tax.
“We need to take down some of these long existing shopping centers and looking at specialty design,” said Sears.
She also emphasized a need to focus on traffic and congestion, which could be lessened by focusing on choosing where to expand.
“We [Roswell] expand in areas where we are still building. We need to think about what is coming towards us, what is going to happen next.”
Sears emphasized the diversity of people in regards to development and the need to create that in not just one spot, but on the other side of 400.
Diversity was also discussed in regards to being open to difference in people and belief systems.
“I believe it is awesome that we are respecting each other’s belief systems. If we continue to be involved and accepting of our neighbors, that is the most important thing we can do,” Henry.
“Don’t judge, that is a learned thing as we get older, to have different prejudice. I love people, important to have tolerance and love and to share with each other. I’m glad we are here sharing tonight, this is a wonderful experience for everyone,” said Sears.
“For those in charge, it is our responsibility to reach out and include people of other faiths and races,” said Willsey, who suggested a potential inclusion task force to make sure no one is overlooked.
Candidates were also asked to address stances on capital improvement, historic and cultural preservation, tree ordinances and modest housing opportunities in Roswell.
In the realm of capital improvement projects, the three candidates highlighted transportation issues.
Sears referred to Roswell as a destination, a place to visit because of its culture, people, schools and history.
Willsey expressed how the city is presented could source more creative outlets.
Henry discussed contributing to the efforts of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
As a city, Roswell emphasizes its historic homes: Bulloch Hall, Smith Plantation and Barrington Hall as a tourism focus, one of the questions raised was the preservation of another historic home, Mimosa Hall.
“[Mimosa Hall] is a treasure that we can’t get back,” said Henry, who expressed more community involvement in preservation.
Shelley Sears expressed that Mimosa Hall should stay privately owned, but needs to be properly maintained. In her opinion, the family is selling the home because of what was built on the land behind it. “Zoning is there, which is why it is happening,” she said, voicing a need to be more studious in redevelopment choices.
Redevelopment also encompassed an issue in the spotlight recently, removal and preservations of trees.
Candidates were asked for their stance on a tree ordinance.
“Yes, I am in favor of preserving specimen trees and I would encourage developers not to clear out, but design and develop around them,” said Willsey, who mentioned a potential incentive to do so.
“Roswell is known as city of trees,” said Sears, who agreed with needing an ordinance, while emphasizing the need for an arborist’s involvement in issues involving trees.
Lori Henry recalls that she was a member of city council when the tree ordinance was rewritten, expressing that the Unified Development Code is the problem, describing it as “damaging the environmental image."
All three candidates were asked to address their stance on modest housing in Roswell, Sears and Willsey agreed that it was needed, to have a variety of populations reside in Roswell. Henry emphasized that affordable housing currently exists in Roswell, but needs improvements when it comes to safety.
Prior to closing arguments, Willsey, Henry and Sears were asked what steps they would take for residents to better understand city council.
Henry emphasized transparency.
Willsey, collaboration between council and residents to address issues.
Sears focused on truthfulness from council members.
In closing, each candidate was asked to highlight her priorities for her term.
“Protecting our neighborhoods, charm and character of historic district and redevelopment of commercial corridors,” said Henry.
“Protecting neighborhoods. Codes and guidelines being referred to aren’t perfect, when there are opportunities to work together and make amendments are the kinds of things we need to do, keep conversations going and make necessary changes,” said Willsey
“I have wonderful ideas and great connections, I am here to work for you and keep your tax dollars in your pocket, which is what I want to do for myself,” said Sears, who emphasized stronger resident involvement in city council happenings.
Overall, the forum was well attended and ran fluidly and each candidate was given an opportunity to speak. There were no interjections, rebuttals or out-of-turn comments.
The next candidate forum is on Feb. 28 in council chambers at Roswell City Hall where all candidates are scheduled to attend.
Early voting begins on Feb. 27.
Neighbor News Online will continue to provide information on all aspects of the Post 4 election as it becomes available.