Six candidates competing in the runoffs for Brookhaven mayor and City Council answered questions from potential voters about police, parks and zoning during a candidate forum at Oglethorpe University.
The forum, hosted by Reporter Newspapers, was attended by about 100 Brookhaven residents.
On Dec. 4, voters will head back to the polls to choose a mayor and three council members. On Nov. 6, just one council member was elected outright — Jim Eyre, who will represent District 2.
The event was dominated by questions from audience members, who asked about public safety, the LCI overlay zoning district in the Peachtree Road corridor, and public-private partnerships among other topics. Candidates in the runoff election say they have a lot of valuable skills and experiences to bring to a new city.
Joe Gebbia, who faces Karen Lord in District 4, said his background in the corporate business world will make him an astute manager of the city’s budget. “What I bring to this is a very structured decision making process,” Gebbia said.
District 3 candidate Kevin Quirk, who faces Bates Mattison in the runoff, said as that an attorney, he has experience with contracts, ordinances and other legal documents the new city will encounter. “Attorneys do a lot of things that transfer well to a council position,” Quirk said.
Neither Mattison nor Lord took part in the forum.
In the District 1 race, Rebecca Chase Williams faces Kevin Fitzpatrick.
Williams said her experience as a journalist and small business owner prepare her to represent District 1 on the council. “As a reporter, one of the best things I’ve done is listen to all sides and make sure you have all the facts,” Williams said. “I’m pretty methodical and have pretty high standards.”
Fitzpatrick said he brings experience as an attorney and a member of Oglethorpe University’s Board of Trustees, which is responsible for managing the school’s budget. “It’s not been a light responsibility. We have a very active board,” Fitzpatrick said. “It requires discipline to say no to a lot of really good ideas.”
Mayoral candidate Sandy Murray said she has started a small business and overseen its growth from two to 40 employees. “My experience as a small business owner should help us get our city started up,” Murray said.
J. Max Davis, also running for mayor, said in addition to being a lawyer, he brings a unique perspective from his work with the Brookhaven cityhood movement. “I’ve been meeting with mayors, police chiefs, city managers, finance directors … from all the surrounding cities to see what it takes,” Davis said. “We can take a lot of lessons these cities have learned and use them here and improve upon them.”
A major topic of discussion during the election has been the new city’s police force. Many voted to incorporate the city of Brookhaven because they wanted a higher level of police service, though there has been disagreement over what number of police officers will be needed to keep the city safe.
Davis said he favors starting the city with a lean police force and an active code enforcement department to support crime reduction efforts.
“It’s much easier to hire officers as you need them than to overhire and have to scale back,” Davis said.
Murray said once the city hires a police chief, officials can have a better idea of how the department should look.
“We’re going to define exactly what kind of officers we want to hire,” Murray said.
Fitzpatrick said he favors a community-based policing model that will put more patrol cars in neighborhoods.
“What we need is the man or woman who is going to start that culture in our department,” Fitzpatrick said.
Willliams said neighboring cities such as Sandy Springs and Dunwoody have been able to attract very good, experienced officers from other departments.
“We’re going to be able to set the bar very high,” Williams said. “We can look forward to an extraordinary police department.”
Gebbia said it will be important for the city to assemble its department as quickly as possible. Until Brookhaven has its own force, it likely will contract with DeKalb County for police services, which will be costly.
“We’re looking at probably mid-year before this comes together realistically,” Gebbia said.
Quirk said Brookhaven’s demographics present some unique needs. Candidates at the forum said that about 30 percent of Brookhaven’s population is Hispanic, so the city will need to hire officers who speak Spanish.
“We’re going to have to have a bilingual component,” Quirk said.