Cobb Dems' 9:18 forum

Marietta Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly, bottom right, was one of seven candidates to attend a forum organized by the Cobb County Democratic Committee Saturday.

Several candidates for Marietta City Council and the mayoralty say housing affordability is one of the city’s primary challenges going forward, but will defer to area residents when considering new development.

A candidate forum organized by the Cobb County Democratic Committee featured five seeking a seat on City Council, and two seeking a seat of the Marietta Board of Education.

Every candidate who has qualified for a competitive race for City Council or school board was invited, according to Jacquelyn Bettadapur, committee chairwoman. Several declined due to scheduling conflicts, including incumbent Mayor Steve Tumlin.

The election is Nov. 2.

City elections set in Cobb, 15 candidates unopposed

City CouncilCouncilwoman and mayoral hopeful Michelle Cooper Kelly identified four priorities she would focus on should she unseat Tumlin in November: Transparency, inclusivity, economic development and housing affordability.

Although the city has done well during her eight years on the council, that success, she said, has “not been inclusive of all.” A lack of low-cost housing has meant police officers, nurses, teachers, other essential workers and young professionals cannot afford to live within city limits.

With that in mind, Bettadapur asked the councilwoman how she would weigh developers’ requests to build new housing with the concerns of people who live nearby.

“My past record of governing has always been, when a new development comes about, whether it’s in my ward or another ward, I always ask those developers to work with the community,” she said, “in particular the homeowners association and the neighbors (in) the immediate surrounding (who) perhaps that development is going to impact.”

In response to other questions, Cooper Kelly said she would like to see the city continue its expansion of its sidewalk network and would also try to wean the city off its dependence on Cobb’s special-purpose local option sales tax. Should county voters opt not to renew the tax in a future referendum, it would devastate city finances — a scenario Cooper Kelly wants the city to prepare for, she said Saturday.

In Ward 5, incumbent Reggie Copeland said the biggest challenge was housing affordability. Like Cooper Kelly, he said the merits of any proposed development would be weighed against its impact on the surrounding community.

“I think developers ought to always sit and talk with the constituents that live in that particular area, as they are already tax payers in that area,” he said.

One of his two challengers, Carlyle Kent, said he would “Support the current zoning guidelines and regulations” and would consider exemptions “when they were justifiable.”

Kent, a licensed real estate agent, moved to the city about 18 months ago, he said. But he is a longtime member of Marietta’s Zion Baptist Church, and has lived in Cobb County for more than 27 years.

Should he win in the election, Kent said he would try to improve sidewalks and streets near Marietta Square and convert vacant lots along Lawrence Street into small parks.

The third Ward 5 candidate, Cristina Stallworth, did not participate in Saturday’s forum.

Ward 4 candidate Ted Ferreira, challenging incumbent Andy Morris, also identified housing as a key issue facing the city.

A 20-year Marietta resident, Ferreira is an architectural designer specializing in lighting. Last year he and his wife opened The Third Door, a cocktail bar and music venue near Marietta Square.

A lack of affordable housing means businesses like his have trouble hiring locally, since would-be employees can’t afford to live in the city.

But building new housing is a challenge, especially in the ward he hopes to represent, which has a large stock of historic housing.

“I know it’s a very sensitive topic for a lot of people who live in Ward 4 because they’re very proud of their neighborhood and very proud of the older, historic homes,” he said. “First and foremost, you need to consider community input.”

Andy Morris did not participate in Saturday’s forum.

Board of EducationThe race for Ward 4 is wide-open, with incumbent Allison Gruehn not seeking reelection.

George Darden, a graduate of the 1992 Class of Marietta High School, is vying to replace Gruehn against two other candidates: Jaillene Hunter and Angie Smith. Hunter and Smith did not attend Saturday’s forum.

Darden is a former Atlanta Public Schools social studies teacher and current professor of education at Georgia Gwinnett College. He said Superintendent Grant Rivera has done an admirable job of steering the district during the pandemic.

“I think that the thing that he has done right is communicating so much and so extensively,” Darden said. “I like the lengthy emails, and I appreciate what he has said and his rationale.

“I appreciate the fact that he has listened closely to experts on pandemic-related issues,” Darden added, highlighting the district’s partnership with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Chief among non-COVID issues is infrastructure, he continued.

“Infrastructure sends a message to our students and teachers about how we value them,” he said. “A student or teacher who works in a beautiful setting and a well-lit space with manicured gardens will embody or ingest messages about their worth, and it can profoundly influence their self-concept.”

In Ward 2, P.J. Hardy is challenging incumbent Jason Waters, who did not attend Saturday’s forum.

Hardy is a Marietta native who earned a master’s degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology in building construction.

Talking about heated debates such as masking in schools, Hardy positioned himself as a middle-ground candidate “considering both sides … trying to understand and listen to the concerns and make evidence-based decisions.”

The district under Rivera’s leadership has “done a pretty good job, if not an excellent job, over the past year,” he said.

“Part of how I measure performance is how he makes decisions, and more specifically, how he makes decisions in high levels of risk with lots of uncertainty,” Hardy said. “Because I believe we should reward the decision-making process as much, and in some cases, more so than the outcome of that decision. Because when you draw out the timeline, a grounded, evidence-based decision making framework … will result in long-term success.”

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