Rinker Sets Sights on Unseating Archibong: An Interview

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Dustin:  Council Member Natalyn Mosby Archibong has represented Council District 5 since 2001.  In Georgia, it has proven difficult to beat incumbents.  An AJC article from December 2012 sites, “Incumbents defeated challengers in 71 percent of this year’s races [2012]…”  There is that old cliché that says if it isn’t broken then you shouldn’t fix it.  I’m going to assume you’re running for office because you either want the glory of office or you think something is broken.  Why are you running?  Is something broken?  How will you defy the 71%?

Matt:  I made the decision to run for Atlanta City Council after a lot of thought, and after talking to a large number of family members, friends, neighbors and local business owners. Deciding to run for office is no small thing – and it’s a decision I didn’t take lightly.

But I’ve lived in Atlanta for over 10 years, and I know firsthand what a great place it is to live, work and raise a family. I’m proud to call Atlanta my home. But I know we can be doing better. We all know we can be doing better. We see it on the news every night, and we read it in the newspapers every day. There are plenty of things we, as a city, do well – but there are just as many things we could be doing better. And most of them are directly impacted by who we elect to represent our neighborhoods in local office.

Too often long-term incumbent politicians spend money on projects that don’t create new jobs, make our neighborhoods safer, or our schools better. In District Five, which covers part of Downtown and the neighborhoods of East Lake, East Atlanta, Glenwood Park, Kirkwood, Lake Claire, Reynoldstown, and Cabbagetown has seen very little in terms of growth over the past few years.  We have great areas with empty storefronts.  Atlanta has always been the economic engine that drove the rest of Georgia, but if each individual elected official isn’t fighting every single day to bring more good companies with good jobs and good benefits, they we are losing out. We need someone who will make creating jobs and bettering our neighborhoods priority one. And right now we don’t have that.

On a more personal level I’m running against Councilwoman Archibong because she voted against the Atlanta Beltline. Something that was supported by a huge number of families and businesses in our district, and our elected official said “no.”

Natalyn Archibong told our neighbors and local families and businesses that she thought they had no right to vote on Sunday Alcohol sales. Regardless of where you stand on that issue, having your voice on City Council say you shouldn’t have a voice on such an important issue doesn’t sit well with me.

Natalyn Archibong also voted for the new Falcons Stadium after telling constituents the same day that she didn’t have enough information to make a decision.  Voters in District Five have had no choice for the past 12 years.  Now they do.

Dustin:  Did you reach out to Councilwoman when she voted against the Beltline?  If so, what was her response?  And, what will you do to bring “good companies with good jobs and good benefits” into District 5?

Matt:  Ms. Archibong offered the reason that the project didn’t provide enough benefit to District Five.  The plan has the Beltline come through Glenwood Park and through Reynoldstown.  This gives a huge benefit to those two neighborhoods, but also makes easy access for East Atlanta, Cabbagetown and Edgewood.  A short bike ride or jog through those neighborhoods and you are on a trail headed to the Old Fourth Ward or at a festival in Piedmont Park and not sitting in traffic on the Connector.  Interestingly enough, her reason for voting against the Beltline – not providing benefit for the District – didn’t stop her from voting in favor of the new Falcons Stadium, which doesn’t provide any benefit for our District.

To bring quality jobs, we need to fix our continuing issues like transportation.  We have to have alternatives for people to get off the highways and allow for smart development in areas.  Putting incentives for development around MARTA stations, but then also making sure that people can utilize the bus system easily is a priority.  We have to encourage people to bike by adding designated bike lanes, and of course making sure that if someone wants to walk someplace that the sidewalk is actually walkable.  By making sure workers and shoppers can get to a business, it encourages growth and more businesses will do it.

Dustin:  Have you received the endorsement of any legislators from the Georgia General Assembly?  From organizations?  From neighborhood associations?  

Matt:  It’s still early in our race, but we have had serious discussions with multiple groups and individuals and we’ll be announcing some endorsements over the next few weeks.  Since I made my announcement, my main focus has been on meeting and listening to the residents in East Lake, Glenwood Park, Cabbagetown and throughout District Five to hear what issues they have and what they want from their voice on City Council.

Dustin:  Give us an executive overview of your community involvement for the last three years.    

Matt:  I have been actively involved with many organizations over my entire life, but some that I have focused my energy on over the last three years are CHRIS Kids, The Trevor Project, and Lost-n-Found Youth.  I have helped raise money, organized fundraising events, and attended meetings for these groups.  In addition, through my career, I have worked with the Atlanta Apartment Association’s annual canned food drive which benefits the Atlanta Community Food Bank and is one of the largest canned food drives in the nation.  I am also actively involved in ATLAS Bowling League, Go Kickball League, and Hotlanta Softball League.  With HSL, I have served as league Secretary for the past three years helping lead the almost 600 members and actively promoting charities with our fundraising efforts.  I am very proud of HSL and the work that our members do to help make our community a better place for LGBT youth.

Dustin:  Transportation, water, and education were three hot topics of 2012 for the City of Atlanta because all need improvement.  What role do you see the City Council playing to make sure there is improvement regarding these topics?  If elected, how do you see yourself in the quest to improve these for the City?

Matt:  This is a great example of our long-term incumbent politicians spending their time in committee meetings dealing with smaller issues, and ignoring the bigger issues. With the exception of the sewer repair and expansion in Atlanta over the last half of this decade, our in-town neighborhoods and businesses have largely been making due with infrastructure systems that were designed and implemented five decades ago. Of course we’re having issues now because we are a city of more than 3 million who come in and out of the city each day. But because these issues have been ignored for decades, it’s going to take years to fix them.

But here’s the good news. By electing a voice for our neighborhoods and local businesses who will fight every day to bring more good jobs, make our neighborhoods safer and our schools better, we can actually start to turn these issues around. It starts with having someone willing to address the problem, acknowledge it, and roll up their sleeves and help.

We need to encourage businesses and jobs to be created in local areas and around established transportation zones to help reduce some of our transportation headaches.  By offering incentives for business to locate around our existing MARTA stations and alternative transportation methods, we can encourage people to get off the highways and onto mass transit.  I am excited to see people utilizing the Beltline to get around and as we expand that network, we can expand options for transportation.

The Watershed Department still has a long way to go in order to be an efficient and well run department.  While some of the uproar has simmered, every day we continue to hear stories about unreal bills coming to residents.  There is a drastically slow response to repairs to water meters when they are identified as faulty.  I have heard from residents and businesses who tell me that the city has identified their meter as being faulty – either reading too high or too low – and yet months go by and the city does nothing to repair it.  We need a full and comprehensive audit of the Watershed Department and a serious, thoughtful plan on how to correct the issues that have been occurring for too long.

The Atlanta Public Schools are in crisis right now.  The cheating scandal put a dark cloud over our city and while the City Council has little say over it, I do feel that we must monitor the school system and support changes that will help the system rebound.  This year we have some new faces running to represent the school board districts that cover my city council district.  I have met or spoken with the candidates and the candidates I have spoken with are smart and insightful people.  I think with the selection of the new Superintendent and new voices on the School Board, the system will rebound.  My mom has been a teacher for 25 years so I know how important and thankless the job our teachers do every day.  I also know the value of a productive school board and school system.  I throw my full support behind our school teachers – they are underpaid and overworked, but are there because they know the value they are providing to our children.

Dustin:  MARTA is vital to the city of Atlanta.  Currently, there legislation in the Georgia Senate that would privatize MARTA.  What are your thoughts on the privatization of MARTA in regard to the city of Atlanta and specifically Council District 5?   (**Please note this question was presented while the GA General Assembly was in session.**) 

Matt:  Changes have to occur at MARTA in order for it to sustain itself but privatizing the agency is not the end-all-be-all answer.  The effort failed this year, but I suspect it will be back again.  MARTA needs to reorganize and try and streamline where it can, but they also be need free to utilize revenue in whatever manners the MARTA Board sees fit.  I think that on a local level, we need to work with MARTA in regards to zoning to help encourage growth of the system by both rail and bus.

Dustin:  Council Member Archibong sponsored legislation directing the City’s Chief Financial Officer to provide greater transparency in matters regarding the City’s financial standing.  This is definitely an accomplishment.  Do you feel enough work has been done in regard to transparency with the City’s financial records?    Do you have any plans to further the transparency movement?

Matt:  Transparency with our city government has been a long complained about issue – and the minor attempts to provide greater transparency has done little to help the average citizen navigate their way in getting information.  I do not feel that enough work has been done to make sure that citizens can easily find information – whether it be on financial standing or issues before City Council.  Council member Archibong’s own website hasn’t been updated for over four years – which be a great starting place for a citizen to get information.  I also feel annual audits need to be published of all City Council members expenditures as well as other departments within the City government.  As our world relies more and more on having information as close as a click of a mouse, our City needs to provide easy to read, easy to navigate information and resources to its citizens.

Matt:  As our next member of the Atlanta City Council, I will work hard to provide multiple avenues of information for every constituent, and believe that transparency is something you do every day – not just one bill that is passed. It means showing up to meetings, doing your homework, actually soliciting the opinions of families and businesses in District 5, not dodging difficult questions the day of an important vote, and understanding that the District 5 seat belongs to all of us – not one politician.

Dustin:  Recently, the City of Atlanta Parks Department changed its rule for festivals so that if a festival does not rent all facilities within the park area for their event then COA Parks has the authority to rent to any group to set up another event at the same time as long as they obtain a park rental permit.  Personally, this seems like the City is bullying people so it can make more money.  What are your thoughts on the change?     

Matt:  I am not specifically aware of the full policy regarding this change in Park policies, and the honest answer is I would need more detail. Having said that, festivals are a major source of economic development and a tourism magnet for Atlanta so we need to make the process as easy as possible while preserving and maintaining our parks. They bring in millions of dollars each year, and as our next member of the Atlanta City Council I would do whatever I could to support the festivals and our parks system.

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