Atlanta City Council would be Dustin Hillis’ first elected office. He spoke to Saporta Report via email.
Q: What’s your No. 1 concern for your district specifically?
A: The number one overarching concern for District 9, just like the city as a whole, is the level of inequity present. There is an obvious diagonal line that runs from the middle of the district here in Northwest Atlanta to Southeast Atlanta that marks the border between what is really two Atlantas, and that is unacceptable. This can be applied to the issues we face in education, housing, economic and workforce development, crime, and many others.
Q: What could you do as a council member about that?
A: The most important approach I will take in making a more equitable Atlanta is being a collaborator, understanding how each issue we face is influenced by the others. For example, combating the city’s crime is an important priority on my agenda, but that involves a lot more than just focusing on community policing.
We must work with Atlanta Public Schools and our higher education institutions to better the education and opportunities for our children, from early childhood through achieving their careers. About careers, we need to have our city’s economic and workforce development arms work more closely to ensure each are achieving the best for our city, from attracting and staffing large corporations to assisting small businesses.
As our city continues to grow, I will be a strong advocate for policies that strengthen our city and our people. It’s time for Atlanta to rid itself of being the most unequal city in America when it comes to incomes and upward mobility of our poorest residents.
Q: What’s an uncomfortable truth the next Council needs to face?
The most uncomfortable truth the new Council must face is the city’s gross lack of transparency and, as a direct result of that, the city being embroiled in a large bribery scandal. Because we will have at least seven (if not more) new Council members, I am confident we will be able to introduce and pass meaningful legislation that will bring Atlanta from near the bottom on ethics and transparency to the very top.
I will look to establish an easy-to-access online portal where anyone can access and search our city receipts and expenditures, down to the checkbook level – no freedom of information requests or digging through hundreds of boxes needed. Additionally, the city should place all city contracts online for easy review. I will also look to strengthen the city’s ethics and audit offices, along with their respective boards.
Q: What’s something council has gotten right in the last four to eight years?
A: One thing the council has gotten right is its increased funding and focus on code enforcement and addressing blight – although there is still much work and improvement to be accomplished. I was proud to be a part of the process, as I served on the Code Enforcement Commission for two years and worked alongside current District 9 Councilmember Felicia Moore as her Special Projects Director.
In that role, I surveyed every street in every District 9 neighborhood, identifying over 1,000 blighted properties. In the two years I served in that role, I worked with various city departments to comply over 800 of those properties, including over 100 demolitions of dilapidated structures. There is still much work and improvement to be done to better the city’s code enforcement process in order to thoroughly and quickly address the pervasive, crime-attracting blight that still plagues many areas, and I plan on being a leader in that effort.
Q: What’s something council has gotten wrong or failed to do in the last four to eight years?
A: I have been appalled by the council’s overall lack of support for our police and firefighters. Our heroes can come here to get trained, work for a few years, and then leave for significantly higher pay, fairer treatment, and better resources at almost any other metro Atlanta department. This is evidenced by the fact that, while we consistently hear Atlanta has 2,000 “authorized” officers, we only have around 1,700 due to a large recruitment-attrition gap and a much lesser number are actually patrolling our neighborhoods. Our fire departments also continue to be understaffed and many stations are in terrible condition.
One of the first question I always ask when I meet one of our police officers or firefighters is “where do you live?”, and most of the time it’s a suburb or even a city far outside the metro area. They, along with teachers and so many other of our middle-class workers, should be able to live in the city they serve.
Q: Bottom line, overall, why should people vote for you? What’s your pitch to the voters?
A: The people here in District 9 should vote for me due to my strong record of service, commitment, and responsiveness to our people and the issues in our neighborhoods. I am not just someone who came out of the woodwork to run for office because there is an open seat – I have put in the work that I believe someone seeking a council seat should have on their resume. My experience, success, and drive to make Atlanta and our neighborhoods better has earned me the endorsements of current District 9 Councilmember Felicia Moore, the International Brotherhood of Police Officers – Local 623, Atlanta Professional Fire Fighters, and the Professional Association of City Employees.
I live in northwest Atlanta and District 9 because that is where my wife, Lindsey, and I chose to raise our family. We are excitedly awaiting the birth of our first child, a boy, in less than a month! We have been engaged in our neighborhood and have supported our local school (long before we planned to have a baby) in hopes of bettering our neighborhood and city. All Atlantans deserve a clean and safe city to live, work, and play in.
In addition to working as the Special Projects Director for Councilmember Moore, I have served on my Riverside Neighborhood Association board for many years as President, Vice President, and Chair of Public Safety. I have also been very active in my Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU-D) and have been actively engaged in many other neighborhoods and NPUs throughout District 9. Professionally, I am an ICU nurse at Emory, where I also served on the Serious Communicable Disease Unit during the Ebola outbreak. My strong interest in service led me to pursue my Masters of Public Administration, which I graduated with last year. I have a deep compassion for helping people and tackling tough issues, and with my experience and education, I am ready to continue working for District 9 and our city!