JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Ten candidates took to the Northview High School stage Oct.2 to tell voters why they should be elected to the Johns Creek City Council.
Three of the city’s six at-large council seats will be up for election Nov. 5, and all will have contested elections. The event was put on by the Johns Creek Community Association and the Secretary of State Ambassadors from Student Leadership Johns Creek.
With ten candidates on stage, their speaking time was strictly limited. Each candidate delivered an opening and closing statement, answered two questions and had some time to rebut their opponents.
Brian Weaver, a retired police major, leaned on his 30 years of experience with Johns Creek and Fulton County law enforcement. When responding to a question about the opioid epidemic in the North Fulton suburbs, Weaver pointed to his experience with the multi-jurisdiction drug task force.
“Collaboration and co-operation, you’ve got to have that,” he said. “With my experience over the years, I’ve already built those bridges with federal, state and local partnerships, so I know exactly what needs to be done.”
Asked about his approach to zoning, Weaver said he would listen to the city staff and residents to gather all the facts before making a decision. He also said he would look to what worked in other cities to tackle affordable housing.
By the luck of the draw, Dilip Tunki faced two questions related to affordable housing for low-wage workers. Tunki acknowledged that to create affordable housing the city would have to allow development at a higher density.
He said creating affordable housing to boost the workforce, addressing transportation, building parks and supporting the arts would be key to attracting businesses to Johns Creek.
“If elected I would like to focus on the following: bring businesses, bring jobs,” Tunki said. “Focus on the shopping centers that are going down. Revive them. Make them destination places. Also prioritize the office space in Tech Park.”
Royce Reinecke, pushing back against other candidates who were critical of Johns Creek’s reputation and the council, said Johns Creek was already a great place to live.
“Let’s keep a good thing going,” Reinecke said. “We’re known for our schools, we’re known for our public safety, we’re known for our housing and we’re known for our quality of life. We’re a great place. Let’s not put Johns Creek down.”
Reinecke said the city was not facing “end of the world” issues, but simply needed to move forward with parks and traffic projects to deliver on plans that were promised.
Post 4 is the only race with an incumbent, Councilman Chris Coughlin, and while his opponents did not attack him directly, they did not shy away from criticism of the current City Council.
Adam Thomas said the council has had difficulty enacting projects. Kent Altom said council members were putting themselves before the residents and giving the city a bad reputation. Marybeth Cooper said the council is divisive and does not work well together.
Undeterred, Coughlin stood by his record and pointed to accomplishments like a partnership with Waze to promote carpooling, a sustainability study of the new City Hall expected to save the city in maintenance costs and the removal of a concrete island at Medlock Bridge and State Bridge roads to improve traffic flow.
“I do believe I have brought a data-first, science-first perspective to legislative policy, being a scientist by trade,” Coughlin said. “And over the past couple of years, while either being supported unanimously or nearly unanimously, I have brought in millions of extra dollars in revenue every year while actually lowering taxes and improving our level of service.”
On the topic of stormwater infrastructure, Coughlin said the city likely could address needed repairs without raising taxes, pointing out that the council put about $4 million toward stormwater in the 2020 budget even with the 2019 tax cut.
Thomas said he was committed to low taxes, government accountability and responsible growth. He named fixing traffic as a top priority but dodged on a question about whether he would support some kind of bus transit.
“We all know that there is a massive traffic issue,” he said. “We are considered a pass-through community. People are coming from Forsyth County, down through our community to Gwinnett and other places.”
Thomas said he was pro-business but thought the city had a responsibility to restrict certain industries, like vaping.
Altom also had a chance to answer the transit question saying he would not support a bus system until there was a regional plan in place. Instead, he said the city should attract businesses so more people can live near where they work.
Altom also pointed out the city has no money in its budget to directly support arts programs, and he would support city funding for a performing arts venue.
“I’m not a huge art person, but I tell you it’s not about what I want, it’s about what this community needs,” Altom said. “If it’s something the city values, we don’t need to look always to the private and to grants, we need to say our money shows what we support.”
Cooper also voiced support for a performing arts center, saying it should be created through a public-private partnership. Asked about attracting businesses, she said the city needs tax and regulation policies that are business friendly and that she would consider tax incentives to remain competitive with surrounding cities.
“There’s a reason that things happen in other cities,” Cooper said. “We look and say ‘Why does that happen there? Why can’t we have that? Why can’t it happen here?’ It can happen here. We just need people that are willing to make a decision, vote on it and stand behind it.”
Erin Elwood said she was running to satisfy an appetite for community-focused governance. She said she wants to attract young families to move to and stay in Johns Creek by building parks, supporting the arts, improving traffic congestion and creating a city center.
“We have a City Council that in my opinion has been crippled by indecision,” Elwood said. “They’re pretty afraid of upsetting some residents in the city, and they have been against development of any kind. I’m not saying let’s build Avalon up in here, but a city center that would encourage millennials to move here, where they could take their children and enjoy a meal... I don’t understand why that hasn’t happened yet.”
Issure Yang also spoke to building parks, promoting arts and attracting businesses.
“We don’t want overdevelopment without a planned vision,” she said “We already have a lot of that [vision] in our Comp Plan, so I would like us to continue growing on that.”
Yang criticized the current council for a lack of transparency, pointing to the proposed narrowing of lanes of Medlock Bridge Road, which was not revealed to the public until repaving was about to begin.
Judy LeFave said the city needs a master plan that would create a unified vision for zoning, parks and other concerns facing the city.
“I know we’re all afraid of change,” LeFave said. “I think if we look forward and move forward and do forecasting, that’s the best way for us to grow. It’s easier to accept change in those small little steps. We’re still a young city, and I see great vibrancy ahead.”
To attract businesses, she said she would work to revitalize Technology Park, foster partnerships through the Chamber of Commerce and create a business-friendly tax code. She also proposed a business incubator, possibly with a specialization in healthcare.