‘It’s right on time’: Clarkston becomes majority women-led city after elections

Top row, left to right: YT Bell, Jamie Carroll, Awet Eyasu and Susan Hood. Bottom row, left to right: Laura Hopkins, Debra Johnson and Beverly Burks.
Caption
Top row, left to right: YT Bell, Jamie Carroll, Awet Eyasu and Susan Hood. Bottom row, left to right: Laura Hopkins, Debra Johnson and Beverly Burks.

Credit: City of Clarkston / Courtesy of Candidates

One of DeKalb County’s oldest cities now has women in nearly every position of power.

Clarkston voters recently reelected the city’s first Black female mayor, who ran unopposed, alongside two women to the City Council, making the council majority-female. They join women who serve as the city’s police chief and interim city manager.

“The dynamics of our city have totally changed,” Mayor Beverly Burks told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It gives a different perspective.”

More than half of Clarkston residents are female, Burks said. She added that a woman-led City Council will lead to more nuanced policies surrounding maternity leave, women’s health and domestic violence.

All council races in Clarkston are at-large and the elections are not head-to-head, meaning voters throughout the city choose multiple candidates from a comprehensive list.

The top three vote-getters were Susan Hood, a retired director of parks and greenspace for DeKalb County, incumbent Councilman Jamie Carroll and former Councilmember Yterenickia “YT” Bell. Two male incumbents, Ahmed Hassan and Mark Perkins, did not run for reelection.

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“It helps us to have a different framework,” Burks said of the number of women in office in Clarkston. “Diversity is so important when you create policies.”

Among the few

Bell, a social worker who left council last year to unsuccessfully run against Burks for mayor in a special election, said Clarkston voters are ahead of the game by favoring female candidates. Four other DeKalb cities — Decatur, Lithonia, Pine Lake and Stone Mountain — have women serving as mayor and majority of council.

“It’s right on time and what’s needed across the country,” Bell said.

Carroll, a lawyer who is now one of two men to hold elected office in the city, agreed.

“I think it’s good that we have a high percentage of women in council because it’s been monopolized by men for a long period of Clarkston’s existence,” he said.

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Hood, the only first-time elected official joining Clarkston’s ranks, said it’s interesting the city is now controlled by women, but she said it’s more important that the city has good leadership regardless of gender.

“I don’t know what changes that might bring,” she said. “But the main thing is that we have good leadership in all of those positions, whether it be young or old, men or women.”

Top issue facing Clarkston

All three councilmembers-elect said the city’s dwindling housing stock is the largest issue facing Clarkston. City staff is undergoing a zoning rewrite, which they all cited as a top priority for increasing housing options in the small city.

“We don’t have a lot of land left in the city, so we’ll have to expand out or up,” Bell said.

Hood, who is on a committee working on the zoning code rewrite, said Clarkston is already the most densely developed city in Georgia with 8,000 people per square mile. She said the city needs a variety of housing types. Clarkston recently received regional recognition for a tiny home community project that provided cheaper-than-usual housing stock.

Clarkston is well-known as a welcoming place for immigrants and refugees in metro Atlanta, and that’s remained the case recently. Hundreds of Afghan refugees are being accepted into the Atlanta area, and many are being placed in Clarkston. However, Carroll said the city’s lack of housing stock is affecting them in the same way as residents.

“We’re seeing an influx of Afghan immigrants coming in from the Biden administration’s new policy, and a lot of them are just having to stay in motels temporarily,” he said. “There’s no apartments available.”

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