Every year, the Reporter asks local leaders to predict the biggest local issues in the next 12 months. In 2020, no one saw a world-changing pandemic on the horizon. In what will hopefully be a safer and calmer 2021, here’s what they see in this year’s political crystal ball.
Mayor Lynn Deutsch
This time last year, I wrote this in the Reporter: “Dunwoody’s opportunities abound and 2020 promises to be an exciting year.” Of course, we all know what happened. And while the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the work we wanted to accomplish, it has not stalled it. I am pleased that the Dunwoody Village Master Plan has been approved, the improvements to Brook Run Park completed, and public works and community development projects continued uninterrupted. We adopted a master arts plan and in 2021, the City Council will appoint the city’s first public art commission. Public safety has remained a priority and our police department continues to deliver excellent customer service.
We will enter 2021 with much uncertainty. The COVID-19 vaccines will be in the initial stages of distributions, and we have no timeline for a return to normalcy. For the most part, my priorities for Dunwoody will remain the same in 2021 as they were in 2020. We will continue to work on improving connectivity, whether it be infrastructure and pedestrian improvements or better internet connectivity. The pandemic has shown that Dunwoody residents are eager to walk or cycle throughout our community and even beyond our borders. Additionally, the need to work and learn remotely has illustrated that the importance of high speed, reliable internet connectivity goes beyond our Perimeter business center.
We have taken possession of the old Austin School property and have demolished the building. In 2021, we will work with our residents to develop a plan for the future use of the property. The new park at Waterford will have tennis courts and a pavilion available by the end of the year. As the necessary restrictions related to COVID-19 are loosened, I look forward to seeing a full range of programming at Brook Run Park and our other parks.
Dunwoody residents have made supporting local businesses a priority. The City Council has allocated millions of dollars of CARES Act funding to do the same. As we navigate the post-COVID reality, it will be important to have a strong economic development plan. Dunwoody is ready to welcome existing businesses back to the Perimeter and to encourage new ones to join us here.
As we begin 2021, I remain optimistic about Dunwoody’s future. l believe that there are many opportunities for Dunwoody to continue to move forward and am looking forward to the new year.
Buckhead Coalition and Buckhead Community Improvement District
Without question, increasing the safety and security of the people who live in, work in and visit Buckhead is the number one priority for the Buckhead Coalition and the Buckhead CID in 2021. We’ll be working very closely with our partners to implement the Buckhead Security Plan and begin to restore public confidence in the safety of our community. While we have some near-term actions outlined, making lasting progress on this issue is going to be a long-term endeavor that will keep us engaged throughout 2021 and possibly even beyond.
In addition to the work on public safety, the Buckhead Coalition will focus on issues of homelessness. The Atlanta region is facing an intractable housing crisis. With the threat of evictions rising at the close of the year, the Coalition will work with government and community leaders to relieve the suffering of our neighbors experiencing homelessness and to preserve the desirability of Buckhead for life and commerce. The Coalition is asking for business and community leaders to remember the plight of the unsheltered homeless this season, and to act with mercy and compassion on behalf of those in need.
The Buckhead CID will continue to improve streets and sidewalks throughout the district and to help beautify and maintain our community’s public spaces. Buckhead is becoming a more walkable, urban community with each passing year and the CID’s work in support of that takes on more importance. We’ll continue to lead programs that make Buckhead a more accessible, livable urban community.
Mayor Rusty Paul
Based on what we know today, job one as we enter the new year is ensuring that we effectively and efficiently deploy the COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they are available. It is a critical step to ameliorate the economic and health impacts of the virus. As COVID lessens, we want to relaunch a full line of concerts and performances at City Springs, with plans to announce the lineup this spring.
In the coming year, we will continue pursuing our goal of securing control of our water system from the city of Atlanta. Renovation will begin on our newly acquired public safety complex, and we will start construction on two new fire stations in the central and northern portions of the city, with projects including training facilities for our first responders.
In 2021, we want to wrap up phase one of the city’s innovative mobility program under TSPLOST. We want to capitalize on our groundbreaking arrangement with Kennesaw State University to pursue joint projects that will keep Sandy Springs on the cutting edge of urban innovation and creativity.
Also among our top goals is to continue our efforts to make every Sandy Springs resident feel valued and included within the community at large. And finally, we stand ready to meet the unknown challenges, keeping the safety and security of our residents the top priority.
Mayor John Ernst
I am looking forward to 2021 to be another year of substantial growth and progress for the City of Brookhaven. Our engaged and dynamic City Council and I will be very busy in the months ahead.
At the top of the list is transit, and I’m looking forward to continuing to address long-term traffic concerns with the I-285 top end transit project. In addition to connecting the existing and future GDOT ventures and implementing transit options such as light rail and bus rapid transit, the top end mayors are also exploring a trail system along both sides of I-285, running east and west.
Speaking of trails, design should be completed on Phase II of the Peachtree Creek Greenway, paving the way for right of way acquisition and then development in 2022, which will extend Brookhaven’s Miracle Mile all the way to the city limits of Atlanta.
Other 2021 milestones will include the grand opening of our new public safety building and wrapping up most of the parks bond projects approved by the voters in 2018. Also, two major intersection improvements are about to get underway: the roundabout at Windsor Parkway and Osborne Road and finally straightening out the intersection of Ashford-Dunwoody and Peachtree roads.
In fall of 2021, our City Centre Master Plans will be completed, which will guide future developments in the area around the Brookhaven MARTA Station for years to come
Finally, in 2021, I want to assist in getting the COVID vaccine to as many locations as possible so we can put an end to this long, global nightmare and get back to living life the way we used to. Brookhaven will celebrate with a party unlike no other, once COVID is eradicated and it is safe to do so.
Atlanta City Council
Integrity and performance are the foundations upon which I build my priorities for 2021. If citizens don’t believe in their government or if it doesn’t provide the services they deserve and expect, little else matters.
Safety remains my highest priority. I am excited about the recently announced Buckhead Security Plan, which I call “Buckhead Blue.” It’s a collaborative effort of the city, its police, business and citizens groups, and the Atlanta Police Foundation to build a coordinated and comprehensive safety plan for Buckhead.
While its focus will be Buckhead’s commercial corridors, the plan will also protect our neighborhoods. It will include a dedicated supplemental force of off-duty police officers, more security cameras and license-plate readers, increased code enforcement of clubs and restaurants, and a campaign to reduce auto thefts and break-ins. I am proud to have played a role in creating this plan.
I will also work with my Council colleagues on two important initiatives:
We must implement competitive and fair impact fees on development that adds demand on city services. It’s been a quarter-century since we raised the fees that are used for transportation infrastructure, public safety and parks.
We also must pass a comprehensive tree ordinance to better preserve our tree canopy and simplify the requirements. The one we have is not strong enough and is outdated. I’m committed to preserving Atlanta’s precious tree canopy and keeping Atlanta’s moniker of a “city in the forest.”
State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick
I am looking forward to getting back to work on policy issues under the Gold Dome, although our operations will be impacted by the ongoing COVID pandemic. One of the big issues we will face is the economic impact of the COVID virus on our state revenue and budget. We have less revenue to work with and more needs, especially in healthcare, including mental health.
Our budget challenges will have an effect on state and local issues. Balancing important priorities will take a lot of time.
Because of my background as a physician, I work a lot on healthcare and insurance issues. I have a bill being drafted to address patient safety concerns about sedation in the outpatient setting, and another to put some guidelines in place on sober housing facilities for people in recovery. I have other bills related to insurance reform of networks and prior authorization requirements, both of which can have a big impact on patient access to care.
I work a lot on veterans issues and am excited that we will soon have a transition center in the metro area to assist people coming out of military service into the private sector. I am also working to update our laws on autonomous vehicles to accommodate new technologies.
Although we are starting to get vaccines, we are months away from a significant improvement in our COVID cases, so I encourage everyone to continue to follow public health guidelines to protect each other.
State Rep. Matthew Wilson
I’m glad to be able to return to the people’s business in 2021, especially as the COVID vaccination rollout begins, making it possible to truly reopen our schools and economy with science at the helm. We have a lot to do in the legislature, including jump-starting our business climate, but most especially ensuring that Georgians who have fallen on hard times during this crisis are not only taken care of today, but have the same and even greater opportunities to succeed in the days to come.
I’m also thankful to say that, thanks to the voters of DeKalb County, 2021 will bring us a fully reconstituted DeKalb Board of Ethics. But even as we have had success addressing local issues, what we don’t need to be doing is continuing to rehash the results of the 2020 election. I will strongly oppose any attempt to add more barriers to democratic participation in our elections based on conspiracy theories.
State Rep. Josh McLaurin
We are not out of the woods yet with the pandemic. With Congress failing to act, state and local governments must do everything we can to provide relief to residents. Now that we know state revenues for FY2021 will be higher than originally projected, I’m hopeful that we can increase our commitment as a state to ensuring basic necessities are met.
One of the worst problems we face is continued housing insecurity. Although housing security is always critical to the stability of our local community and economy, the pandemic adds a layer of urgency because of the public health consequences associated with displacement of people. In the upcoming term, I hope to address affordable housing issues in my district in any way I can.
Amid the pandemic, we are also dealing with an artificial controversy surrounding one of our most fundamental rights: the right to vote. Although there is no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud, the majority party has signaled it is going to restrict or even eliminate no-excuse absentee voting this upcoming session. The move appears to be one of the majority’s very top priorities coming into session. But this would be a huge mistake. No-excuse absentee voting has been used widely by Republican and Democratic voters. There are multiple security features protecting the integrity of this method, including signature verification, hand marking, sealed envelopes, secured drop boxes and ballot tracking. I will do everything I can to fight against efforts to restrict access to voting.
State Rep. Mike Wilensky
Moving into the 2021 legislative session, we must focus on issues that will impact our community and Georgia for years to come. We now must fight harder than ever to ensure all Georgians have access to voting. Our democracy only thrives when all eligible voters have access to the ballot.
Also, every 10 years there is redistricting in our state due to the new Census. This process is where gerrymandering occurs. This redistricting will not only change the House district lines, but also for the state Senate and Congress. One thing I am sure of: our state is better when we have competitive races between parties and not races won in the primaries where many times we see extreme candidates elected.
We must also focus on helping our communities and small businesses that are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses have been forced to close their doors and we must do what we can to keep our local establishments in business. Last, but definitely not least, we must make sure our public schools are properly funded and we must make sure that children can return to school safely. The social dynamics and lessons learned by being in person are extremely important. We must focus on that so our children grow up healthy, are able to form good relationships, and are well-rounded.
DeKalb County Commission
2021 will be a challenge to all governments as we start seeing the longer-term impact of the pandemic on our economy and the public we serve. Locally, commercial tax assessments are vulnerable to appeal as property owners demonstrate that empty buildings are worth less than leased ones. Our public utilities will see higher delinquency rates due to strapped ratepayers. Public safety and social service demands will grow just as revenues erode. But it is darkest before the dawn, and I’m hopeful that governments at all levels will work to restore our commitment to the public interest and confirm the promise of our republic.
I hope to continue to expand and improve greenspace, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and manage the growth in DeKalb that can change our communities for better or worse. Diverse and affordable housing and economic opportunities must be cultivated to ensure there’s a place for everyone in DeKalb, and we must continue to prioritize efficiency, transparency and accountability in government.
State Rep. Betsy Holland
The COVID-19 crisis will impact everything we do in the 2021 Session. Our top priorities need to be strengthening our healthcare systems, protecting the health of Georgians, administering the vaccine, and forging a path to economic recovery. That path to economic recovery must include making improvements at the Georgia Department of Labor so that Georgians aren’t left waiting for small business and unemployment relief. The legislature also faces the challenge of finding new streams of revenue to restore funding to the state budget without creating an undue burden on Georgians. In fact, in Fulton County, I imagine we’ll continue talking about how to keep property taxes down for homeowners, especially for our seniors. But that means we have to explore options like reducing corporate tax credits or raising the tobacco tax to get our budget back up to optimum levels.
After the COVID-19 recovery, the next hottest topic for the legislature this year will be reapportionment. With the results of the 2020 Census coming in, the state will need to redraw lines for state House and Senate seats as well as the U.S. Congressional districts. This has a huge impact on citizens for the next 10 years. Georgians deserve fair, intuitive district lines, not districts drawn with partisan gerrymandering.
Fulton County Commission
In 2021, Fulton County government, which has responsibility for public health, will continue to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our citizens and businesses. That will be the number one issue facing our neighborhoods, state, country and world.
I will continue to work with the Buckhead Coalition, the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods and others, to do what we can to curb crime that makes citizens feel so unsafe.
But my own personal crusade will remain property tax relief and fairness for homeowners in Fulton County, as it has since I took office. As the pandemic may cause the tax base to fall and as costs of government rise, there will be pressure to raise tax rates, imposing more burdens on homeowners.
I have pushed for meaningful homestead exemption reform, hoping that the Atlanta Public Schools will someday embrace the so-called floating homestead exemption, which limits the amount of increase in taxable value as fair market value increases, joining the county, the cities of Sandy Springs and Atlanta, and Fulton County’s school system, all of which have embraced this crucial tool allowing people to remain in their homes despite large increases in values. I will continue to urge development authorities to do tax abatement deals only for those developments that are truly important to our economic vitality and which truly would not occur without the abatements. And I will continue to shine light on the burden that tax allocation districts (TADs) impose on our taxpayers, as one-sixth of Atlanta’s tax base is inside TADs.
Chairman, Fulton County Commission
As I set my personal goals for Fulton County for 2021, I must take a moment to reflect on what Fulton County, the country and the world have endured in 2020.
Who would have imagined we would be faced with a pandemic and its underlying effects? The coronavirus has caused a myriad of public health and economic consequences: loss of lives, loss of jobs, lockdowns, school and business closures, virtual learning, quarantines, social distancing, mask-wearing and other unforeseen challenges.
Although the coronavirus halted some of my initiatives, I will rededicate my efforts to continue with the expansion of the Charlie Brown Airport, the building of a first-class animal control facility, and work to create a viable transportation plan for Roosevelt Highway and the South Fulton Parkway. I will also work to complete our Library Facility Master Plan and reopen senior centers and other government offices and facilities. I will also continue my efforts toward justice reform by working with the new sheriff and district attorney.
And lastly, I will continue my efforts to develop a first-class medical facility in South Fulton.
Fulton County is a big deal and I am prepared to face any and all challenges in the year 2021 and lead by example.