DeKalb CEO candidates present vision for county

Candidates and panelists on stage after the DeKalb County CEO forum

Credit: Dan Klepal

Credit: Dan Klepal

Candidates and panelists on stage after the DeKalb County CEO forum

The three candidates for DeKalb County chief executive discussed issues ranging from public safety to infrastructure to economic development on Thursday night at a forum in Stonecrest.

Steve Bradshaw, Lorraine Cochran-Johnson and Larry Johnson spoke to a crowd of more than 150 people in a studio at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. The “DeKalb Matters” forum was sponsored by the church, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV.

The candidates are vying to replace term-limited Michael Thurmond. And since no Republicans filed to run for the office, it will go to the winner of the Democratic primary on May 21.

In his opening statement at Thursday’s forum, Johnson emphasized the importance of improving the county’s customer service. He also listed priorities including health and housing, violence prevention and ensuring that police in DeKalb are well-equipped and get the best training. He added that he would create an office of violence prevention.

“We also want to focus on transit,” Johnson said. “I don’t know about you but trying to go through I-20 today, it was a lot of work to get here.”

Cochran-Johnson focused on her record as a county commissioner, noting that she brought legislation to impose a moratorium on dollar store development. She also said that as chair of the commission’s public works and infrastructure committee, she saved taxpayers more than $92 million through mandatory audits of all contracts of $3 million or more.

“I have been about the business of the people of DeKalb County,” she said. “I stand before you as the author of the video surveillance system legislation ordinance that requires mandatory video surveillance at all gas and service stations as well as your high-risk businesses.”

Bradshaw, the District 4 commissioner, said he has delivered on many things for his constituents, including a food pantry that feeds 300 people every other week and a new community senior center.

“Since I‘ve made the decision to run for CEO, the citizens of my district have come to me repeatedly to say: ‘Steve, we’re behind you 100%, but we’re sad that you’ll be leaving us as our District 4 commissioner. We’ve gotten used to what good customer constituent service looks like.’”

One of the questions panelists asked was how they would address the trend of cityhood in metro Atlanta.

“The key to eliminating cityhood is good local government,” said Cochran-Johnson, adding that the county should take a more corporate approach to serving residents.

Johnson said: “You first have to go to the source of the discontent. My job as CEO is to get down in the streets and connect with residents who are having problems with service delivery. I would be one of those CEOs who would get out there and say: ‘How can we fix it.’”

“If you’re waiting and trying to dodge a pothole like you’re playing ‘Frogger,’ that’s not good,” Johnson added.

Bradshaw said he would fight any cityhood movement. “We have 12 cities in DeKalb County,” he said. “I think that’s sufficient.” He said the General Assembly should put a moratorium on all annexations for three years.

“Right now, I describe it as the wild, wild West, where everyone just grabs what they think they’re entitled to and it’s unfair to the citizens of unincorporated DeKalb County,” Bradshaw said.

Other policy proposals mentioned Thursday night were Bradshaw’s support for bringing code enforcement duties “back under law enforcement.”

Johnson said he has helped change property maintenance codes to fit the present day, but he also cautioned that “code enforcement was used as a weapon for gentrification.”

Cochran-Johnson said she would seek greater transparency and make sure public documents are completely accessible online. She also said she would have an economic development officer and an incubator for entrepreneurs to spur economic development.

Bradshaw said he would overhaul the county’s purchasing, contracting and permitting processes “so people in the business community know that doing business with DeKalb County is both easy and on the up and up.”

Thursday night’s forum was moderated by Mike Jordan, a senior editor for the AJC leading its Black culture coverage. The panelists were Sara Gregory, the AJC’s reporter covering DeKalb County; Sophia Choi, an anchor for WSB-TV; and Maria Boynton, an anchor for V-103.