Brookhaven’s District 1 city council race is likely headed for a runoff. Five candidates are on the ballot in the new city’s northernmost district that runs from Interstate 285 south to Windsor Parkway.
The Murphey Candler Homeowners’ Association hosted a forum for the race and four candidates appeared.
With more than 100 residents in attendance at the Cross and Crown Lutheran Church and moderated by WSB’s Mark Winne, the debate produced no fireworks, but gave concerned voters an opportunity to see and hear from the candidates.
The candidates - Alan Cole, a retired businessman, Kevin Fitzpatrick, a labor lawyer, Kevin Meaders, a financial adviser, and Rebecca Chase Williams, a retired journalist - answered eight pre-determined questions from the homeowners association. In addition, they responded to a few questions submitted by voters in the audience, and the debate was concluded with a 30-minute informal mingle session among the candidates and the residents.
“I don’t think it could have gone any better,” said Murphey Candler Homeowners’ Association president Lisa Thule. “I think Mark Winne did a terrific job, and I was pleased with the turnout.”
“I think the candidates had a really good opportunity to answer a lot of questions, and I had never talked to three of the four so I was very happy to be up close and get a feel for them.”
Although the candidates respectfully listened and asserted their arguments on topics ranging from Murphey Candler Park to working with the government of DeKalb County, it was evident the most important issues to those in attendance were public safety and the role of government.
All the candidates recognized the importance of establishing a new city and the culture of a new city, especially the hiring of the first police chief. Despite there being numerous references to the Carl Vinson Institute report, all the candidates acknowledged there will be budget constraints, which will determine how many police officers can ultimately be hired.
There is a debate as to whether the city will need 53 police officers as the Vinson report suggests or somewhere closer to 70 officers, which is closer to the national standard of two police officers for every thousand residents.
As to the city budget, all the candidates described themselves as fiscal conservatives who would strive to keep taxes low and spend wisely. There was little disagreement between the candidates about the need to work with the government of DeKalb County and that most operations would be contracted to third-party vendors. All the candidates also agreed, if elected, the job of city council member was going to be a very time consuming venture.
The clearest disagreement of the night was when the candidates were asked if they supported the Ten Commandments being displayed in city hall. Cole said he would refer the matter to the legal department, and the other three candidates opposed it being displayed on government property.
“The debate was very informative for me because it helped me delineate the candidates’ visions, strategies, and experience,” said undecided voter Leslie Marwitz, who has lived in the Murphey Candler neighborhood for decades.