Shelia Edwards is a Democratic Candidate for the Cobb County Board of Commissioners District 4 seat. The position is being vacated by incumbent Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who is running for BOC chair.
The primary election is schedule for June 9.
The Courier recently had a phone conversation with Edwards about her candidacy, and started by asking her to tell a little about her background.
“Well, I think you know that I’m a community advocate,” she said, “That I’ve been working tirelessly in the community for years on issues that impact our quality of life.”
“A lot of people don’t know that I’m a communications professional and the owner of a communications consulting firm that provides consulting services to small and large businesses,” she said. “In addition to that I’m a concessionaire at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, so you can imagine the pain I’m feeling right now, because all of our stores are closed out there.”
“I also have over 25 years of senior leadership experience that I gained from working with key executives and other senior officials in my professional career in the public and private sector,” she said.
“I grew up in South Carolina, I’m one of nine children,” she said. “I’m not the oldest. but everyone looks to me for leadership in the family, and keep in to keep the family peace. So whenever there’s decisions to be made, or family members not getting along, they call on me.”
She said that when she was a child, and she and the other children were playing in the back yard of her grandparents’ house next door, her mother would always call her into the house to help clean, cook or to run errands, and at the time she felt it was unfair.
Just before her mother died, Edwards asked her why she was always the one called into the house.
“‘I was always mad because you would always call me’,” Edwards said she told her mother. “‘Everybody else was out there playing, but you would always call me. I didn’t understand why, and thought you were always picking on me’.”
Her mother told her, “I wasn’t picking on you. I knew if I called you and asked you to do it, you’d do right the first time.”
Edwards said that her political and civic involvement included serving as the Assistant Executive Director for the Charter Review Commission for the City of Atlanta.
She said she also worked on a bond referendum for the City of Atlanta, and was Executive Director of the Atlanta Host Committee for the annual meeting of the National Conference of Black Mayors.
She worked as the first district director for Representative David Scott when he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and served as the Communications Director for the Fulton County DA’s office.
She said that early in her career, after the Challenger space shuttle exploded in 1986, she worked at the Kennedy Space Center, with Lockheed Martin, on updating the documentation required to process and launch the space shuttles.
She said that a federal review found that the documentation for the shuttles was chaotic, and information was passed from shift to shift by word of mouth.
“That was one of my proudest proudest moments being able to be a part of that effort for the country to return to flight with shuttle missions,” she said.
She said her and her husbands’ work with Lockheed Martin was what brought her to Cobb County in the early 1990s.
“We settled in Marietta, and our kids attended Marietta city schools. After the last one graduated from Marietta High School, I built a home in Mableton and moved over here to South Cobb, and I’ve been here ever since,” she said.
Reason for running for District 4 commissioner
When asked why she was running for District 4 commissioner at this time, Edwards cited her role as an advocate in South Cobb.
“Well, I’ve been an advocate for the community … and I’ve been working for years to try to improve South Cobb. I believe I have the experience of being in the trenches working on the issues that really matter to the community and in fighting for our quality of life,” she said. “And I believe these attributes make me the best person to serve as a next commissioner for District 4.”
“I took on a big fight,” said Edwards, “where we were fighting against a waste transfer station that was operating a few hundred feet from our homes and a few hundred feet from the Chattahoochee River, and this company was operating illegally.”
“They were not zoned to take in household waste, but they were bringing it from other municipalities and bringing it to our community and using this spot near the river as a dumping zone to turn around and transfer it to larger trucks that would transfer it over to a landfill,” she said.
“So in 2011, I found at Legacy Cares, which was a grassroots community organization created to oppose expansion of the waste transfer station near our homes”
“I remember the day that I was sitting in a community meeting for our subdivision and one of the young ladies asked if the rest of us had gotten a note from this company saying that they wanted to be rezoned to take in household waste,” she said.
Edwards said she hadn’t gotten a note, because her house was further away from the waste transfer facility than the legally required distance to receive the zoning notice from the county.
“So, they didn’t inform everybody who lived in the community, they only informed a small group of people. So I asked the young lady at that time to give me a copy of that letter, which said that the Board of Commissioners were going to vote on it that Monday,” Edwards said.
She said that she and Robin Meyer of the Mableton Improvement Coalition were the only residents of the community who showed up at the zoning hearing on the waste transfer station, and that the company requested that the application be withdrawn from the agenda so that they could speak with residents in the community.
“After that meeting, I decided that I was going to go door to door in my community and make them aware of what was going on,” she said. “I simply did it.”
She said she began knocking on doors in the Legacy community, then in Providence just west of Legacy, and finally in the communities along Oakdale Road.
She contacted her state representatives and Congressman Scott’s office. She also contacted the Chattahoochee River Keepers and the Pilot’s Association for nearby Charlie Brown airport because, she said, flocks of birds are attracted to household waste, and that interferes with aviation.
After filing open records requests, and communicating with the county and with the state Environmental Protection Division, Legacy Cares found that the waste transfer facility was not in compliance with their permit, and the BOC voted to deny their permit to accept household waste.
“We were very proud of that moment because that was community coming together,” she said.
“I decided to run because our community needs a strong advocate in that position,” she said. “I think there is one thing that you know personally about me, because you see me in action at the Board of Commissioners meetings — I’m always here advocating and talking on the issues that impact South Cobb.”
“I have gained the appreciation of the Board of Commissioners. They all know me and respect me and they know that whenever I’m coming before them and raising issues about the community, it’s something that has value or has a real impact on what’s going on in South Cobb,” she said. “I’m not there to waste anybody’s time or to speak about stuff that doesn’t matter.
The Courier asked Edwards her position on the controversial Sterigenics facility near Atlanta Road on the edge of Smyrna.
The Sterigenics plant became a focus of community concern in Smyrna and surrounding areas after an article jointly published by Georgia Health News and WebMD reported that three census tracts, two in the Smyrna area and one in Covington, had unacceptable levels of cancer risk by EPA standards, due to elevated amounts of ethylene oxide in the air.
“I don’t fault those people for standing up for their quality of life. That is very important,” she said. “(There) was a time when this part of Cobb represented the edge of town.”
She said South Cobb is no longer the edge of town, but is the entry to Atlanta.
“So a lot of those uses have to reconfigure or they’ll have to do something else,” she said.
“But then you have a lot of companies that secretly started doing negative things because they didn’t think anybody was paying attention,” she said.
Edwards said that the community was not made aware of what Sterigenics was doing, and that no one would have built a community around the facility if it had been known they were using chemicals that would cause cancer.
Land use and zoning
Land use and zoning issues occupy a lot of the time and attention of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners.
The Courier asked Edwards how she would approach zoning issues.
She said she would begin by doing a review of the Atlanta Regional Commission plan and Cobb County’s land use map.
“(The) land use map … is supposed to come into play to determine which direction and how South Cobb develops,” she said. “But you know, there have also been some Livable Community studies in our area that we must factor into the discussion.”
Edwards said that Austell, Six Flags and Hollowell Parkway/Veterans Memorial Highway had Livable Community studies, and that she had immersed herself in the Hollowell Parkway/Veterans Memorial Highway study because of of the fight against the waste transfer station.
“The LCI study talks about getting away from some of these noxious usages, and how (the corridor) was becoming more residential, how the area was looking for for better development,” said Edwards.
“And so, I want to be able to create an environment for growth, development, redevelopment and to figure out what the consideration for that should be using the county’s comprehensive plan and land use map,” she said.
She said she had requested that the county develop a plan for the old K-Mart property at the intersection of Mableton Parkway and Veterans Memorial Highway before the K-Mart closed.
“Something that I’ve been looking at is Tiny Homes. I want to explore that for veterans, seniors and homeless people on the rebound,” she said.
“There’s this thing about zoning and land use: it’s a very tough area. And you’re not going to please everyone on any decision that you make,” Edwards said. “But you have to make the best decision for the community. You’ve got to factor all the other variables into the equation. And you have to come out with a good decision that is going to help move the community forward.”
“I think the thing that is a problem for me is that when I think about our community, anything about economic development, the only thing that has taken place in our community is Family Dollars, and we don’t want any more of those,” she said. “That is not the economic development that we desire.”
“I want to engage developers and … the word ‘developers’ is a word that we need to get back to, and not just builders,” she said. “We don’t want people to just come in and build in our community. We want people to come in and develop our community, and that development is going to include a number of different things that would make a community work.”
She said she would support a land bank authority, and would discourage the creation of more auto-related businesses along Veterans Memorial Highway.
She said local businesses like restaurants that can be enjoyed by residents of the community should be encouraged.
“I think we need a renewed commitment to transportation accessibility, to help connect residents in our community to the things that are most important, such as work, home, grocery stores, church, medical services and other things,” said Edwards. “We have to look at best practices to determine how to incentivize residents to utilize mass transit and ride share options.”
“But I think that we need a regional approach to transportation in our community. It is a shame that we don’t have a train service in our community.”
She said she was driving north on 400 recently and saw the Marta train go by that was headed to Alpharetta, and thought about how the leaders there had advocated for the train.
“And then I look at where MARTA stops at Hamilton E. Holmes, and I have to wonder why train service doesn’t come into Cobb County? Why doesn’t it run all the way to Birmingham?”
She said residents in South Cobb should be able to get to destinations like Kennesaw State University and Town Center without using cars.
“I’m a big proponent of public safety. I supported the Board of Commissioners when they gave the police their raise,” Edwards said. “I think every person in Cobb County is concerned about public safety in one form or another, including the police, firefighters, other public safety officials.”
“And we need effective community policing,” she said.
“I’m committed to ensuring that we keep the police officers that we train in our community … creating better wages and benefits by incentivizing them with others other things, looking at best practices, and trying to figure out how to keep the force intact.”
She said we shouldn’t have the dollars that go into training officers benefit other communities because the officers leave for surrounding departments.
“So, it should be an obligation on our part, to provide members of public safety with continuous training, better equipment, (and) increased staffing levels that will aid them in being successful in our communities,” she said.
She said she also favors the development of affordable housing options so that police officers and other public service employees can afford to live in the areas they service.
Edwards has long been publicly critical of the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority, and particularly what she sees as the slow pace with the redevelopment of the 50-acre Magnolia Crossing property, where a blighted apartment complex was torn down.
“It makes no sense for 50 acres of prime real estate to go undeveloped for as many years as it has gone undeveloped in our community,” she said. “Once I’m elected as a commissioner, that will be an important focus for me.”
The Courier asked Edwards if she had any concluding remarks she’d like to address to voters in District 4.
“I’m willing to work with all the commissioners and other elected leaders of South Cobb to move the needle on the issues that impact our community,” she said. “And I think that the important thing that I learned when I was being educated as a young child was how to count to three.”
“It will take three votes to get anything done in our community,” she said.
“I’m a relationship builder, and will build relationships with the Board of Commissioners to get the support and votes my community needs,” Edwards said. “The other commissioners know me and respect me, because I’ve been before them numerous times to advocate on issues related to South Cobb.’
“I’d be good at solving the problems of our community,” she said, referring to the three-vote majority on the five-member Board of Commissioners.
“I’ve been an active voice of South Cobb on local matters impacting our community and our quality of life,” said Edwards. “I want to continue the work that I’ve been performing as the next commissioner for District 4. I can be that person that gives community a real voice and true advocacy on these issues that impact us now and in the future.”
For more information on the Shelia Edwards campaign visit her website at http://electshelia.com/