The two remaining candidates for the District 5 seat on the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners discussed various local issues during a “Community Conversation” June 29.
In the June 16 special election to fill the seat vacated by interim DeKalb County CEO Lee May, Mereda Davis Johnson, an attorney and wife of Congressman Hank Johnson, received 27.21 percent of the votes, while George Turner, a District 5 Community Council president and a retired MARTA manager, received 15.94 percent.
After the field of candidates was narrowed from 10, a runoff election was scheduled for Tuesday, July 14.
When the candidates were asked about their three top priorities if elected, Turner categorized his as “live, work, play.”
For “live,” Turner said, “We have homes that are under water, and we have experienced blight in this county. We need to take a look at what it’s going to take to clear up some of the blighted and boarded-up homes in this part of the county.
“When it comes to ‘work’—transportation,” Turner said. “We need to do something about getting transportation down I-20. You get transportation in this area, you can bring industry in here and you can improve economic development.”
Turner said the “play” category refers to Arabia Mountain.
“This area needs to be branded into something that is really, really positive,” Turner said. “We have a tremendous opportunity to brand this area as a recreation destination.”
Johnson said her top priority as commissioner would be to “look into these investigations that are going on.
“We are being investigated forever and investigated by the FBI, the GBI, the ethics office, the district attorney and now we have initiated our own investigation,” Johnson said. “We cannot move forward until this cloud of investigations has passed.”
Johnson also said she “would like to look into the spending [of] DeKalb County.
“I would like to make sure that the commissioners hold the purse strings for the county,” Johnson said. “So I would like to deal with the investigations to attract economic development into this area. This is the most fertile—we sit on a gold mine in the south DeKalb area, in the Fifth District. We have the most undeveloped land in the county.”
The two candidates were asked to describe what type of economic development they believe is needed in south DeKalb and what they would do to attract more business and job opportunities.
Turner said, “You get transportation out here, you can develop that whole Lithonia Industrial Boulevard and that can be a big shot in economic development.”
Turner also said the county needs “smart growth in terms of housing.”
“You can do a lot with bringing in police officers, school teachers, and other public employees to participate in programs to occupy some of these blighted and abandoned houses,” he said. “Once you improve the housing condition, it will improve the attractiveness of the area and all of that has a lot to do with attracting economic development. You’ve got to make the area attractive to economic development. Nobody wants to come to an unattractive area.”
Johnson said she would “work with the chambers and also East Metro DeKalb [community improvement district]–to establish and to attract quality economic development within the area.
“I’d like to see international partnerships with DeKalb County, as well as in DeKalb County schools for our students need to be exposed to different cultures so that they will understand that this is [a] global society,” Johnson said.
“And in 10 to 20 years from now they can expand upon the progress and the resources and the economic development that is brought into this county.”
In his closing statement, Turner said, “I was born and raised in the country, and my parents taught me that if your neighbor has a problem, you helped them.
“You didn’t ask them if they needed help; you saw what needs to be done [and] you go ahead and you do it because it was the right thing to do,” Turner said. “And you didn’t go around with your hand stuck out waiting for a reward, either.
“That’s what I learned and it taught me the value of service,” he said.
“I serve now,” Turner said. “I serve my community because I want to. I hope to be elected to this position, and if I’m not elected I’m still going to serve my community. That’s just a part of my DNA. That’s what I do. That’s what I love doing. I’d appreciate your vote to make this official.”
Johnson’s closing statement began with gratitude for the “vote of confidence” from supporters.
“I would also say again that for those that voted for my opponents I pledge to earn your vote for the July 14 election,” Johnson said.
Johnson ended with a saying from a Washington, D.C., friend: “When women succeed, America succeeds.”
“So when women succeed, DeKalb County succeeds and the Fifth District succeeds,” Johnson said. “Vote for Mereda Davis Johnson on July 14.”
Johnson and Turner are vying for the seat that officially became vacant May 8 when May resigned after nearly two years of being the interim DeKalb County CEO. May stopped representing District 5 in July 2013 when he was appointed interim DeKalb County CEO by Gov. Nathan Deal, following the indictment and suspension of DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis.
The candidates’ forum was sponsored by Greater Lithonia Chamber of Commerce, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., DeKalb Section National Council of Negro Women, East Metro Orchids, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Inc., Zeta Phi Beta, and National Women’s Political Caucus of DeKalb.
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