Eight candidates are vying for three at-large seats on the five-member Stockbridge City Council. The three top vote-getters, in the Nov. 8 election, will win the seats.
Incumbent councilmemnbers, Kathy Gilbert and Shirley Dabney, are up for re-election. Councilman Fred Evans decided not to seek re-election. Evans’ departure means that at least one new face will be among the leaders in this city of 25,636, with roughly 16,000 eligible voters.
Other candidates for the three seats are: Robin Buschman, Rashida Cloud, Houston Nelson, Charles Reid, Richard Steinberg, and Alphonso Thomas.
Within the last year, Stockbridge residents have experienced a lawsuit between Mayor Lee Stuart and members of the City Council, as well as a forensic audit of the local government’s finances. One councilman, Evans, said he dropped out of the race because of a recent vote by the council that changed the city’s insurance plan for employees. Another candidate, challenger Beverly Edwards, was forced out of the race by election officials on a residency issue.
Many residents have complained about bickering among the city’s leaders.
Kathy Gilbert, 64, has lived in Stockbridge for nearly 14 years. She said she plans to serve all of the residents in her city, and “not just a vocal minority,” and to promote development and redevelopment of Stockbridge’s downtown area.
“I refuse to make grandiose campaign promises that are impossible to keep,” said Gilbert. “I believe that I am one of the best-qualified candidates to serve the city. I am dedicated to making sure it’s the best city that it can be.”
Gilbert, a retired insurance underwriter, touted her experience, education, and volunteer work as strong points in her campaign to make the city the best it can be. She said she wants to collaborate with Henry County officials to make that happen. “If Henry County succeeds, Stockbridge succeeds,” she said. “We need to work in concert with the county to promote quality economic development.”
Shirley Dabney, 57, has lived in Stockbridge for more than 45 years, and works as a customer service representative for a local bank. She is the chairperson of the Stockbridge Building Committee, and serves on the city’s Community Relations and Finance committees.
Dabney supports the recent “sagging pants” ordinances which have been adopted in other cities, as well as efforts to bring Sunday alcohol sales to Stockbridge.
Six political newcomers are on the ballot in Stockbridge.
One is Robin Buschman, who has lived in the city for three years, and owns Empson’s Deli and Cafe. Buschman said she has become increasingly involved in her city, and wants to help Stockbridge grow and improve.
“I want to see the infrastructure brought up to date,” said Buschman, 54. “I feel that is so vital for potential growth. We’ve got to keep up with the growth we have, to be able to have potential growth.”
Buschman said she is proud of her city for surpassing McDonough as the most populous municipality in Henry. Still, she said, Stockbridge’s leaders must be more attuned to the needs of its residents. “The city council has got to start listening to the citizens,” said Buschman. “If communication is good between council members, that will transcend down to the citizens.”
Another newcomer is Rashida Cloud, a technical trainer for a non-profit group, and a native of Birmingham, Ala., who has lived in Stockbridge since 2006. Information about Cloud’s campaign was not directly available from the candidate, Thursday.
Cloud’s campaign web site states that, after moving to Georgia, in 2006, she helped to form One Cause, a collaboration of non-profit, faith-based organizations, and professionals with a desire to serve the indigent population of Henry County. “As a true servant, leader, and community activist, Rashida is an advocate for children, the homeless, the disabled, and the underserved, by helping to ensure a quality education and life is shared by all,” states the web site.
Houston Nelson, 41, also is new, and a two-year resident of Stockbridge. The general manager of Molly Maid in Henry County, Nelson hopes to move Stockbridge forward and make it more attractive in the coming years. “The city currently has no strategic plan,” said Nelson. “I think it’s critical, moving forward, that we have a plan of action for how we want the city to look, how we want the city to feel. I want to give Stockbridge a sense of purpose by way of a strategic plan of action. I think Stockbridge’s greatest singular asset is its location. I’m concerned that we might be losing what makes Stockbridge great, and I want to see if I can help to turn that around.”
Nelson added that he has a “passion” for the Stockbridge community, and wants to foster more participation from local business owners. “I’d like to see the city really get behind a movement to create a Stockbridge Business Alliance,” said Nelson. “We need to first repair the relationship we have with existing businesses.”
The educational arena is also represented by candidates for the Stockbridge City Council. Charles Reid, 50, a teacher at Forest Park High School, is from Elberton, Ga., and has lived in Stockbridge for 12 years. His desire is to use his background as a school administrator and coach to bring unity to Stockbridge. “I just want to bring everybody under one umbrella, and I want everybody to come together as one unit,” said Reid. “I have two little girls, and I want the best for them, just like I want the best for all the other kids and families in the City of Stockbridge.”
Reid added that he is dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs in Stockbridge. “I’m in favor of small businesses,” he said. “I’ll do all I can to work for grants and loans, to help people with small businesses to get started and maintain their businesses.”
Richard Steinberg has lived in Stockbridge for four years. Originally from Silver Spring, Md., the 63-year-old business consultant has been vocal regarding his discontent with the city council. Steinberg hopes to use his experience in business and economic development to improve commerce opportunities in Stockbridge.
“We need business to tell us what they need, instead of Stockbridge telling them how to do their business,” said Steinberg. “Right now, the current business infrastructure is faltering. Our local storeowners are closing their doors, daily. We have a tremendous amount of empty retail storefronts, in strip malls and empty warehouses.
“It’s business that provides our economic base,” Steinberg continued. “If we’re losing business, that means that we’re not going to have the financial base that we used to have. I want to use my business expertise to restore Stockbridge, and turn it from a good city into a great city.”
Candidate Alphonso Thomas wants councilmembers to be more accountable to residents, and is in favor of district elections, as opposed to the at-large system the city currently uses. Thomas, a retired dockworker and lifelong Stockbridge resident, hopes to be a factor in the city’s growth, and help to fill what he sees as a need for leadership.
“I would strongly support voters’ approval before any changes are made to the Stockbridge City Charter,” said Thomas, 62. “I am also in favor of a strong-mayor system of government. As [a] city councilman, my goal will always be to serve the citizens of Stockbridge and to work towards establishing an effective city government, that is financially stable.”