Decatur forum combines commission and school board candidates

Posted by Dena Mellick October 25, 2015


A forum at the Church of Decatur Heights, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015. (Left to Right) Tumperi, Ridley, Johnson, Drake, Goebel, White, DeSimone. Photo by Dena Mellick

A forum at the Church of Decatur Heights on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015. (Left to Right) Tumperi, Ridley, Johnson, Drake, Goebel, White, DeSimone. Photo by Dena Mellick

By Dena Mellick, Associate editor

Four city of Decatur commission candidates and three Decatur school board candidates took the stage Sunday afternoon at the last candidate forum of the season before elections on Tuesday, November 3.

The Decatur Heights Neighborhood Association hosted Commissioner Scott Drake and challenger Eric Tumperi (District 1 Post B), James Johnson (District 2 Post B), John Ridley (At Large), and CSD candidates Board Chair Garrett Goebel (District 1 Post B) and Thomas DeSimone and Tasha White (District 2 Post B). The event took place in the sanctuary of The Church at Decatur Heights.

Organizers explained that at large commission candidate Tony Powers was away on a business trip, while Brian Smith, Candidate for District 2 Post B, had a prior campaign event. Commission candidate Valencia Breedlove did not respond to the invitation to the forum, according to organizers.

Bill Banks, Decaturish contributor and AJC reporter, moderated the debate, asking candidates the recently popular questions about annexation and greenspace, but also asking them more unusual questions such their 10-year vision for Decatur and their views on additional festivals and events to bring to the city.

All of the candidates were asked about the sometimes-contentious relationship between the school board and the commission. Banks asked candidates for suggestions to improve the working relationship between the two as a CSD new superintendent comes in.

Drake said historically there had been some challenges, but he didn’t feel the relationship was difficult currently. “The best thing we can do is meet more often and meet when there is not a hot topic going on,” Drake said.

“I’m not very interested in looking backward at bad history,” CSD Board Chair Goebel said. “In my time on the board, the relationship between the city and schools has been improving steadily. …We’ve been having joint meetings, and we need to have more of those.”

At large candidate Ridley said he was encouraged by the quality of the school board, but said CSD isn’t in the land planning business or zoning business – those are city responsibilities. “My issue is there really is a lot the city can do and hasn’t done that needs to be addressed,” Ridley said.

When asked about challenges incoming superintendent David Dude will face, Board of Education candidates DeSimone and White were both supportive of Dude’s hiring.

“One of the challenges he is going to encounter is the unique structure of working in a charter system school where each of the individual schools within that district have their own school leadership teams,” DeSimone said. “Additionally, the expansion, and I’m crossing my fingers the GO bond does pass. Just navigating that project is going to be a substantial investment of time and effort.”

“Growth is going to be his no. 1 problem that he’s going to have to deal with when he starts on Nov. 1,” White said. “So if the bond does pass, there will be a lot of oversight in making sure that the plans are executed in the way that they’ve been presented to the community. And if the bond does not pass, everyone is going to have to roll their sleeves up and sit down and come up with alternatives so that we can address the growth issue.”

Banks’ last question had to do with Decatur being a city of festivals. He cited commission candidate Johnson’s mention in a previous forum that he wanted people to get off the plane and head to Decatur as a destination. Banks asked the candidates what was the next best idea for Decatur.

“I think a lot of people like to drink and get out and have fun and shake hands and talk to neighbors,” Johnson said. “Anything that gets people outside and drinking is good. More of that.”

Tumperi said his vision included Decatur becoming a downtown walkable mall like that in Charlottesville, Virginia. He suggested closing some streets and creating more parking decks around the city. “Right now, I don’t come to downtown Decatur sometimes, because I don’t know where to park,” he said. “It’s become a big problem, and it’s hitting the retailers, so we have to solve that problem.”

Commissioner Drake cited the recent Oakhurst Porchfest and called for more neighborhood-driven events, while DeSimone said he liked the idea of parades and all-day community events, having lived in New Orleans.

Ridley suggested reserving the United Methodist’s Children’s Home for greenspace and creating a world-class music facility on the land.

White suggested a local artists’ market like one she’s visited in Charleston, South Carolina, while Goebel proposed listening to citizens for great ideas to create community as the city grows.

The forum was unlike previous forums in which candidates listened to citizens’ concerns or moderators presented audience questions in addition to their own. Banks presented all of the questions and directed them to either the commission candidates, the school board candidates, or all seven on stage. Candidates received two minutes to answer. Each gave an introduction and a closing speech.

Advance voting is in progress and continues through Friday, October 30 at the Memorial Drive Complex.

If you prefer to vote on Nov. 3, you can get your polling location and sample ballot by visiting the Georgia Secretary of State’s My Voter page.

About Dena Mellick

Dena Mellick is the Associate Editor of

View all posts by Dena Mellick

  • Robert Butera

    A candidate who lives in Decatur and somehow “doesn’t know where to park” when going downtown has lost my vote. It’s not hard, and even during festivals the numerous parking decks do not fill up. In any dense urban downtown you should not expect a parking space a 15 second walk from your destination.

    I suspect he really meant “doesn’t know where to park for free” — but he didn’t. And if he meant that, it is a whole different issue.

    But there is no parking shortage. There IS a shortage of parking signage (I give directions to people all the time), but I expect residents to know better.

  • Andrew

    I was originally intrigued by candidate Tumperi’s talk of a small town vision but when he breaks it down into specifics it sounds more like Decatur’s suburban-envy of the 60s and 70s that, incidentally, failed spectacularly. Giving over land to unnecessary parking while sequestering those on foot to a closed off space is how you make a shopping mall, not a traditional American downtown.

    If we want to emulate Charlottesville’s downtown mall, which does perform well, we’ll need to also make plans for a 20,000 student university within walking distance as well as a half million history tourists dropping by each year. Don’t believe I’ve heard any specifics on how we’re going to do that.

  • Walter Winn

    Unless and until the CSD solves problems with budget overruns, attendance estimates and makes better decisions for locating new schools (Callaway Property for an example) there will be at least two NO votes on the $75M Referendum. You know, we have a problem between the City Commission and the CSD in that the Commission has been the main driver and has been complicit in the school attendance uptick by approving all of the Multi-Unit Housing Developments. This is bringing more people with children into Decatur for the purpose of getting their children in Decatur Schools. This is driving up our Ad Valorem Taxes year after year and is causing senior citizens to have some very serious concerns about where this is headed in the future. Were the candidates asked for their thinking on this very major issue and if so, when we could expect some relief.

    • JC

      Growth in school enrollment is being driven by tear-down/rebuilds or single-home expansion projects. The data on apartment impacts on school has been made available time and time again. It’s simply not the problem as very few kids are moving into those units. Shall we call for a moratorium on single-family tear downs? It would do a lot more good on slowing enrollment than anything else.

  • JACity

    I don’t live in District 1, but if I did Tumperi would not get my vote. Decatur does not need to build any parking decks. Commissioners should focus on connecting our neighborhoods with downtown, the Oakhurst Village, our schools, and existing parks through better pedestrian access and protected bike lanes. A lot of residents want to walk and bike with their families or as individuals to many places in our city, but can’t because Decatur is not as pedestrian and bike friendly as our city officials make it seem. We need leadership that understands how to make cities function better. Suggesting that we build more parking decks is such backward thinking that I can’t believe how someone running for City Commission could even suggest it.

  • Rob

    I wish Ms. White would talk more about what she is going to do to help our schools instead of creating an artist market. I’m stumped at how she is qualified for the school board.

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