Mike Russell discusses hope as next City Council President

With a focus on public safety followed by improving city services and infrastructure, Mike Russell hopes to become the next City Council President. Russell is a retired military police officer with over 28 years of law enforcement experience. In his interview with PrideIndex, he shared his experience and position on many issues.

Challengers: Natalyn Archibong, Courtney English, and Doug Shipman.

Website: https://www.mikerussellatlanta.com

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can all be located under mikerussellatl 

What he shared with us:

PrideIndex (PI): Why did you decide to run for this office? 

Mike Russell (MR): As a proud resident of the City of Atlanta, it is disheartening to see our beloved city fall into lawlessness and chaos. Almost everyone in Atlanta has either been the victim of crime or knows someone who has been. I too have been the victim of crime. A number of Atlantans who are also fed up with the dysfunction of our city urged me to run because of my background in the military, law enforcement and my different and fresh approach to addressing the challenges facing our city. These reasons are what have motivated me to run for the Atlanta City Council President.

PI: What makes you qualified to hold this office? 

MR: I am a retired military police officer with over 28 years of law enforcement experience. I have had the privilege of leading large complex organizations and provided law enforcement expertise from the local (small town) to the international level where I led as many as 1200 police officers. I have extensive experience leading police departments and fire departments which none of the other candidates for this office can claim. I have worked as the equivalent of a city operations officer.  In this capacity, I was responsible for coordinating and synchronizing the efforts of the departments responsible for providing city services.  I have developed, proposed and monitored departmental budgets. I have successfully created bridges by negotiating complex issues involving a multitude of people of various racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds with significant international consequence. I was able to successfully bridge and resolve highly complex and emotional, long-standing conflicts.  I served as an instructor for law enforcement and security training (protection of nuclear weapons) over 5 years in both the United States and abroad. I have also mentored hundreds of young men and women, from all backgrounds, all socio-economic groups, and helped them stay on the path to success and accomplish their dreams. At various stages in my career, I was empowered and entrusted with the authority to administer justice in the military legal system. I always did so with a sense of justice tempered by compassion. It is my philosophy thatevery individual deserves equal justice and a second chance to be a productive citizen after justice has been served. As City Council President I will bring these hard earned and relevant experiences and skill sets to bear in leading the council in its role as the legislative body of our city government.

PI: What is your vision as president of the city council? 

MR: As Atlanta City Council President, I will advocate for a better city, not just a bigger or more densely populated city. My vision is to elevate our city to the next level, from sidewalks to security, excellence is the standard. We have to start with getting the basics right. Public safety is the first responsibility of government, and it will be my first priority if I’m elected.

PI: How do you plan to address the issues of the city? 

MR: As Atlanta City Council President, my three priorities will be public safety, improving city services and infrastructure, and third fixing the dysfunctional budgeting and spending process.

As Atlanta City Council President, I will advocate for a better city, not just a bigger or more densely populated city. My vision is to elevate our city to the next level, from sidewalks to security, excellence is the standard. I will focus on planning/building a city of the future that takes into account that technology is rapidly changing how and where people work. The need to relocate to large metropolitan areas for employment is diminishing. Companies are currently working to provide greater opportunities for highly skilled workers to remain in small towns and medium sized cities while earning a great income. In order to attract future residents to Atlanta we must be more innovative in our approach to development and better in city governance.

Safety is the first responsibility of government, and it will be my first priority if I’m elected. We must get crime under control now. I served as the equivalent of a chief of police at military bases around the world. During my 28 years in the US Army I gained extensive knowledge in law enforcement and municipal management. I know what right looks like when it comes to law enforcement and providing city services. I have done it before and I will lead the city council to do it again here in Atlanta. I will use my extensive experience, knowledge and leadership skills to lead the city council in its oversight role to ensure our police and fire departments are properly staffed, equipped and trained. I will advocate for changes in current laws that provide loop holes like those troublesome venues are exploiting. This will shut down locations that have a history of violence, noise and other code violations. I will use my extensive negotiating experience and skills to form strategic partnerships with other governmental and civil agencies to address the root causes of crime.

My experience in dealing with crime has taught me there are three practical elements that must be addressed. First, no individual has the right to harm another. This is a basic human right than must be upheld. If an individual engages in criminal activity there must be meaningful consequences. Once the individual has completed restitution, they must be afforded the opportunity to become a productive, law abiding citizen. There must also be a strategy of prevention. In order to prevent youth from engaging in crime, we must assist at risk families early on. Prevention and intervention should provide a sense of direction and hope to these individuals, both parents and children. We must effectively lift up those amongst us that are hurting and being left behind. While there are no easy answers, failure is not an option. Homelessness, drug addiction, illiteracy and mental illness must all be given proper attention and allocated sufficient resources. As City Council President I will work to form public-private partnerships to address these and other issues. I will advocate for reinforcing success with programs that have a proven record of success in helping individuals become self-sufficient, not simply passing out checks and Section 8 vouchers. The goal is to break the cycle of dependency and assist people in obtaining the skills and education required to secure employment that allows them to escape poverty and join the middleclass.

Second, we must preserve what is unique and desirable in our city while improving city services and crumbling infrastructure. Green spaces, the tree canopy, and single-family homes are just a few examples of what is desirable in our city, and they must be protected. Our current and proposed zoning laws do not provide adequate protection for our tree canopy or green spaces. This must change or they will be lost forever. Any changes to the current zoning laws should be postponed until after the election in November. Public hearings should be held by the new city council to allow for in person input from residences and advocacy groups.

Third, our city budgeting process is dysfunctional. I have watched numerous times as city council members have voted to spend tax dollars without even reading the bill. As City Council President, I will work to ensure we have rule changes that require every voting member to publicly affirm they have read all funding bills before they can vote. I will work to ensure each department lays out specific, measurable standards of performance and service to justify their requested funding, then hold the chief administrators accountable for meeting those standards. Those standards will be made public so taxpayers clearly know what to expect for their tax dollars.

PI: What similarities and differences do you see between yourself and your opponent(s)?

MR: I believe we all want what is best for our city. However, I am the only candidate that has experience in addressing the number one challenge our city currently faces, that is out of control crime. I am the only candidate that has offered viable, actionable solutions to address the lawlessness in our city. I have successfully provided city services before, none of my opponents have. Having lived and worked in many different countries and cultures I bring a unique perspective to the position. We are striving to become a world class city and I will bring my world view to the table as we discuss and negotiate for the future of Atlanta.   

PI: What should the city of Atlanta do to address the issues of the homeless and the underserved? 

MR: Many politicians like to throw around the word equity but do little to actually ensure it. As City Council President I will fight to change that. There have been promises made and not kept to the legacy residences in areas like Grove Park, Vine City, and Mechanicsville. As we plan the future development of our city, I will fight to have more resources directed to the underserved and underdeveloped areas for the benefit of the current residences and not just for the developers. We must direct funds towards programs with a proven track record of success and not just throw money at programs because they sound good.

To address homelessness is a complicated process. I will advocate that the city look to examples of success which I have experienced in other countries. Inventivize out of the box thinking to assist individuals and families to acquire alternative housing by cooperating with non-governmental agencies and nonprofits.  

PI: Should you win, what do you plan to do to address the needs of your detractors? 

MR: I am not sure who my detractors will be other than the entrenched establishment. I am for full transparency in every aspect of government. I will advocate for establishing an independent contracting process based on merit as well as a functioning civil service system for city employees, so cronyism is removed from the system.  

PI: What is your position regarding funding for affordable housing? 

MR: It is difficult to determine what is meant by the phase “affordable housing” because everyone has a different definition. I ask the question affordable for who and for how long?

When I speak about goals for affordable housing, I am referring to housing that can be rented/purchased by working class people. Living in a government complex or paying government supplemented rent to a landlord in my view should be a temporary solution. The ultimate goal should be to make it possible for people to own their own home, have equity in the economy and build intergenerational wealth. That goal is greatly diminished when your biggest expenditure is building another person’s wealth. 

If we are innovative and zone for purpose-built communities, we can have market-based homes that are affordable for working class residents. This will take careful planning, zoning and detailed management of our available space.

PI: What are your suggestions for building a better relationship between the police and people of color and the LGBTQ+ community? 

MR: When I listen to residents addressing the city council almost without exception those from our predominately black and brown communities are demanding more police in their neighborhoods not fewer. Atlanta is a very accepting city with a long and proud history of tolerance. It is not perfect, but it is nevertheless a welcoming and accepting city. There are not any major issues or conflicts between the LGBTQ+ community and our police.

There are issues of mistrust among some Atlantans, and I will advocate for real community policing to ease the tensions and provide more effective and responsive policing. I have implemented community policing before. It requires every officer to be a part of community policing not just a select few. It will also require more officers and additional equipment but the return on investment is well worth the money.    

PI: How should the city address funding for HIV/AIDS treatment and education? 

MR: Currently we have several million dollars in unspent funding for HIV/AIDS issues. I believe that is due in part because the LGBTQ+ community is integrated into the city and members are viewed as “normal” members of society. The biggest challenge that has been brought to my attention is with closeted individuals and those with mental illness and drug addiction problems. To address this we have to refocus our efforts on reaching those segments of our population and give them refuge, treatment and care in a very deliberate and specialized manner.

To see the out LGBTQ candidates running for office in the November 2, 2021 election in Atlanta click on the names below. Check back for updates.

Antonio BrownLarry CarterJason Hudgins, Brandon Cory GoldbergLiliana BakhtiariJereme Sharpe, Kelly-Jeanne Lee, Devin Barrington-WardKeisha Waites, and Mike Russell.