Atlanta City Council candidate Q and A: Zelda Jackson
Some comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Zelda Jackson is a resident of Downtown and has worked for elected officials at several levels of government. Atlanta City Council would be her first elected office.
Q: What’s your No. 1 concern for the district?
A: I think my No. 1 concern would be the homeless issue. I pass a homeless person every single day, we have people living on the street since the Peachtree-Pine shelter closed. We need to address the issue, try to put a hold on and break it up. If they have financial issues, we should have options for them to get that help. If they have mental issues, we should have facilities to help them. If they have gambling, drug addictions, it should be set up so there should be, after they have the treatment, get help for reentry back in society. If I’m elected, I would love to have a staff person that would be a go-to person that everyone could talk to, be a known outreach person for the homeless.
Q: That kind of plays into my next question. What would you as a Council member do about this? You talked about a staff person. What are some other ideas?
A: I’d like to have town hall meetings … it could be either a webinar, in person or on the telephone, or we could do a net newsletter, it would let [people] who to reach out to, who talk to within the staff of District 2; the Council member would be present. And at the town hall meetings, you’ll have state representatives, Fulton County Commissioners, Atlanta police and fire … [experts] on the issues, that know what’s happening and have feedback time on that issue.
Q: Tell me an accomplishment you’re proud of, it could be professional, personal, political.
A: One thing that I’m proud of is that I fought the Fulton County property tax increase, I did a personal crusade letting the board know that their assessment fees were too wrong and too high [this year.] Out of my own pocket, I spent money and copied the appeal form and brought it to every neighborhood meeting, with the appeal form, and showing people how to fill it out. I was interviewed about the property tax increase. … I think that was a great accomplishment because they had to rescind it … I think that was wonderful. People are still reaching out to me, people call, I set time aside, talk to them and I let them know how to look at their property taxes, the amount, if they’re still being charged correctly or incorrectly. That was a great achievement. …
Q: What’s an uncomfortable truth that the next council has to face?
A: An uncomfortable truth is how City Hall really works and operates. I think I’m the only person who knows all the ins and outs. You can have a great idea, but you have to go through a maze. I don’t think anybody realizes that. Just because you have a great idea, you want to write legislation, you have to go through committees; you have to get the public involved. My thing to do, if elected, is to invite other Council members to my community meetings when we have a topic, want a law to be passed; and have them have the option of inviting me too. See how it’s important to their districts, to their neighborhoods that they’re trying to get a law written … I think that’s the main line of communication. You’re not going to agree on everything. There’s going to be some hot topics and points but the key is to learn how to mediate. …
… I’ve worked with several administrations and several counties and congressional and state [politicians] and you got to learn how to open up the lines of communications and mediate and have your neighborhood know what you’re working on, what you’re going to do, how you vote and have confidence in it.
Q: In the last four to eight years, what’s something Council has gotten right?
A: … I think the introduction of sustainable communities, green jobs; we need to work on that more so, but we have a whole lot more to go.
Q: In the last four to eight years, what’s something this Council has gotten wrong or failed to do?
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A: Let the Atlanta Braves leave the city of Atlanta. That was the worst thing ever to do. I’m so upset about that to this day. You don’t let your moneymaker leave, your revenue leave. What they got wrong, Underground Atlanta. They got that wrong … the sale of it. I’m from Charleston, South Carolina. That company is not about helping the city, they’re about revenue for themselves.
The next thing they got wrong was not doing anything about the blighted communities in Atlanta, especially on Peachtree Street. I live on Peachtree Street. I see so many buildings and mom and pop restaurants and stores closing; they don’t have any affordable housing. And no way in the world that Old Fourth Ward, [it] was [a] place that looked like a land mine and now the homes are costing $300,000. I mean, who can afford that?
The BeltLine, no affordable housing on the BeltLine. The streetcar, I was on a planning committee for that, it was supposed to go from Downtown to Buckhead. They couldn’t even get it right who’s going to manage it. And what else they did wrong was, they couldn’t come up with a fare price and it doesn’t go where to make money … picking people up from work, taking people home from work. It just needs to move from Atlanta all the way to Buckhead like it was supposed to do. Connectivity is wrong.
Q: Overall, bottom line, why should people vote for you, what’s your pitch to the voters?
A: I want to see Atlanta move forward. I have a love affair for Atlanta. I came here in 1987 to go to school at Morris Brown and I stayed. Because I got the education and I want to see how I can make Atlanta better. And I think we can do that by working together and having the lines of communication open. I have a vast amount of years of experience in government … I bring that and my experience and my love affair for Atlanta and my ideals with my MBA, to bring revenue into Atlanta. So that’s the key thing, keeping Atlanta inclusive, every person in Atlanta included, get rid of the two cities … and bridge the gap. I think I’m that person to do that.