Clarkston candidates debate issues, personalities

General555

Eight Clarkston City Council candidates made their voices, platforms and opinions on city government public on Oct. 17 as part of a municipal election forum at the Clarkston Community Center.

Moderated by WABE reporter Elle Yu, the forum consisted of three panels that also included the candidates for mayor.

City council candidates present on Oct. 17 included Ahmed Hassan, Chris Busing, Yterenickia “YT” Bell, Jamie Carroll, Dean Moore, Andrea Cervone, Warren Hadlock and Grant Hassan Salaam. Candidates Jennifer Schliestett and Laura Hopkins did not attend because of scheduling conflicts.

All but Cervone and Hadlock participated in a six-person forum, as the pair are vying for a seat vacated by Beverly Burks. The pair squared off in a separate discussion because the race is considered part of a separate special election.

The group—of which three will be elected—discussed such topics as public safety, economic development, affordable housing, transportation and local seniors.

Hassan, the first immigrant elected to Clarkston City Council, credited the Clarkston Police Department with doing a satisfactory job but called for an increase in public participation for better public safety. He also suggested Clarkston expand its borders for better economic opportunities; seek grant funds similar to Clarkston’s Livable Centers Initiative and develop a Clarkston senior living center.

Carroll, a council member since February 2017, called for an increase in available resources for police, the creation of a citizen’s review board and more youth activities to increase public safety. He said helping existing businesses and encouraging development will help the city grow economically and wants to continue seeking funds for streetscape projects; and allowing “in-law suites” at single-family residences to increase housing options for senior citizens.

Salaam, a youth services specialist, suggested more young people see the negative results of being involved with crime to increase public safety. He is in favor of teaching young people early how to invest in the city for better economic development; wants to encourage participation to have a united Clarkston transportation vision; and foster community support for seniors.

Bell, a mental health and nonprofit professional, suggested providing sensitivity training to officers to help them better understand mental health issues and the implementation of volunteer patrol for public safety. Bell would like to incentivize residents through entrepreneurial programs and promote tax-credited enterprise zones for development; implement a bike share program to better transportation; and develop more senior-focused programs.

Moore, a current council member, said public safety “starts at home” and called for more neighborhood watch attitudes. He suggested the city increase property values to foster economic growth; seek funds for infrastructure improvements; and said he is in favor of aging in place as well as developing a senior community.

Busing, a Clarkston resident since 2000, said he supports the idea of a community patrol similar to those found in Dunwoody and Avondale Estates for public safety and suggested the city purchase “key” pieces of land and tweak zoning ordinances to foster economic development. Busing also supports allowing multi-family senior housing.

The panel was asked how they intend to work in concert with the mayor in making Clarkston a better city.

Salaam, Bell and Hassan said it’s important to work together as a team and arrive at compromises despite differences in opinions. Busing acknowledged a growing number of personality conflicts in Clarkston government and called for more personal awareness to complete municipal tasks.

Carroll suggested elected officials do not indulge in “personal drama.”

“That’s not what [citizens] hire us for, that’s not what we’re elected for. We’re here for the business of the city and that’s what I’ll focus on—policy and working for the people,” Carroll said. “I know I can work with the mayor because I’ve done it.”

Moore answered the question by stating, in his 30 years as a construction professional and all the people he has worked with, he has never met anyone similar to current mayor Ted Terry.

“I’ve never met anyone like [him], so supremely focused on himself that he can’t work with city council,” Moore said. “Hopefully, we get a new mayor and we can move on.”
Cervone and Hadlock had similar ideas for council, but conflict arose when discussing personalities.

Both candidates said they support developing affordable housing, attracting an anchor business to the city, investing in local entrepreneurs, developing a youth recreation program, acting as an advocate for residents and educating citizens on law enforcement as well as immigration.

Cervone credited her time spent as a marketing professional and change-maker in qualifying her for office. Hadlock, a former councilman for eight years, cited his passion for the city and vision for the future.

Differences arose when the candidates were asked how they would work with fellow council members or the mayor, whom they may disagree with.

“I’ve worked at the state capital across party lines,” Cervone said. “I know how to work with people I don’t always agree with. At the end of the day, I don’t care about personality differences. I care about getting things done.”

Hadlock disparaged Cervone’s candidacy because of her personal relationship with the mayor as part of his opening statement. His comments continued when answering the question.

“[Terry] wants to put his own candidate slate out there and get them elected to go along with him and rule by a divided council. One of those people is his domestic partner, my opponent, Ms. Cervone,” Hadlock said. “I don’t see how Ms. Cervone could possibly be a neutral, unbiased individual on this council. It’s almost laughable to me. I think the reason she’s running is because she wants to be one of his proxies.”

Cervone called Hadlock’s remarks ironic.

“I hope everyone sees the irony of a man telling a woman that the man she’s with is somehow going to dictate her opinions,” Cervone said. “I think if we were living in the 1950s or the Mad Men era that may be a concern. It’s the 21st century and I am nothing if not my own woman.”

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