Monique Sheffield is running in the June 9 Democratic primary for the District 4 seat on the Cobb County Board of Commissioners (BOC).
The seat is being vacated by Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who is running for BOC chair.
The Courier recently had a conversation with Sheffield about her candidacy, and began by asking her to tell a little about her background.
“I’ve been a resident of Cobb County now for 20 years. I’ve been a resident of Georgia for well over 25 years,” she said. “But my life journey is a very interesting one.”
“I’m originally from New York City. and at age 10, a fire left my family and I homeless for two years,” she said.
“At that time, my parents were divorced, so we grew up in a single-parent household in public housing,” she said. “My mom was a single parent and I’m the oldest of three.”
“Obviously, I became a surrogate parent to my siblings,” Sheffield said.
“But growing up in that environment, I was just determined not to allow my circumstances to the architect of my future,” she said. “So I went on to college, I earned a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice and it was there that my values were instilled of fairness and equity for all people.”
“Those are the principles that drives who I am and principles that drive my decision making,” Sheffield said.
“Growing up in public housing instilled a certain value system, and there were so many things that I’ve witnessed, it just made me want to fight for fairness, and equity and justice,” she said. “That is what prompted me to get an undergraduate degree in criminal justice.”
“But little did I know at the time, that that discipline was setting me on the path to politics,” she said.
Why Sheffield is running
“There are a few things to unpack with why I’m running for District 4. But the main driver is because I am focused on the future of District 4.”
She said the district includes about 180,000 residents, and that “focused on the future” is her campaign tagline.
“It’s a future that will improve our quality of life, a future that amends our zoning laws, a future that will give a greater control over the type of businesses that move into our communities,” she said. “A future that will ensure sensible economic growth and that will not crowd our school systems and increase traffic without feasible traffic solutions.”
“Another reason I’m running is that I was appointed to the Board of Zoning Appeals in 2017 by Commissioner Cupid, and that appointment was really pivotal in my decision to run for county commissioner,” Sheffield said.
“Serving on the BZA provided me a platform to connect with the residents, business owners and community stakeholders, not just in District 4 but countywide, to review and analyze all sides of an issue as relates to the variance application, and to also make fair and equitable decisions for all parties.”
“So I tell people a lot of times that the Board of Zoning Appeals is the board of forgiveness over permission,” she said. “When we’re asked to make decisions, much like the Board of Commissioners, I’m not just considering the zoning variance application that’s in front of me, but I’m also considering the impact of my decision and how it will affect the people that live in close proximity to the applicant.”
She gave as an example a request by an applicant to store tires in a former Waffle House at the corner of Riverside Parkway and Cityview Drive near Six Flags. The county code states that the work area has to be enclosed, but the applicant wanted to build a metal shed to repair cars and change tires.
She said the questions she asked the applicant were, “What are your hours of operation? How is it going to impact the residents that live just 50 yards away in the apartment complex?”
She said she is not just voting on the application itself, but is also voting on behalf of residents who might not be at the meeting to voice their concerns.
Land use and zoning
The Courier asked Sheffield if she has a particular philosophy that guides her in land use and zoning decisions.
She said her philosophy is based on analyzing the decision, hearing all sides, knowing the zoning laws, and making sure the decisions are equitable.
“A broad range of responsibilities fall within the purview of land use,” she said. “So you have things like zoning, you have the Planning Commission, Economic Development and Code Enforcement.”
“But even in that, … decisions that the Board of Commissioners make relative to zoning are designed first and foremost to protect the public health, or what we call in real estate: police power.”
She said the main document driving land use decisions is that county’s land use map, which outlines acceptable uses for specific locations.
“We have several Neighborhood Retail Commercial (NRC) districts, which allow for auto repair stores,” she said. “And as you know, because you’re on Facebook community pages and NextDoor, it drives the community mad to see all of these tire shops and auto repair.”
“The way our current zoning laws are written, there’s nothing in place to stop those businesses from coming into the neighborhood,” Sheffield said.
“Now, let me let me just be clear, I don’t have an issue with those businesses. I think that it provides a great service for the community,” she said.
“But what I do have an issue with is oversaturation of certain types of businesses in the community.”
Sheffield was asked her position on the reopening of the controversial Sterigenics facility near Atlanta Road on the outskirts 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.
During a period of voluntary shutdown for the testing of new equipment intended to address the emissions safety concerns, the county ordered Sterigenics to stay closed for review of its certificate of occupancy and fire protection standards.
Pressure from the FDA caused the county to allow the facility to reopen on a limited basis, and a federal court expanded that to give Sterigenics the full ability to operate their plant pending a final legal decision.
“As far as Sterigenics is concerned as it relates to the Board of Commissioners … our job is first and foremost ensuring the public safety,” she said.
Sheffield said that would apply not only to Sterigenics, but to neighboring Plant McDonough-Atkinson, a Georgia Power plant that has toxic coal ash stored onsite.
“So as a county commissioner, I would expect the constituents to look at me or to look at their elected officials to provide protection against these types of environmental hazards,” she said.
“In my research, I learned that they sterilize approximately 1 million pieces of medical equipment per day,” said Sheffield.
“But with each day they’re sterilizing this equipment, it emit poisonous gas that causes cancer,” she said. “It’s in close proximity to a residential area which is very close to Mableton. It leaves those residents vulnerable to developing cancer.”
“My whole issue with that is: on the one hand you’re sterilizing the equipment because you’re trying to improve the health of others, but it’s coming at the detriment of people that are exposed to this gas,” she said.
She said she’d consider allowing Sterigenics to use the facility as a storage warehouse for medical supplies only, but that the sterilization would have to occur in an off-site location that did not put local residents at risk.
The Courier asked Sheffield her thoughts on public safety in Cobb County.
“As I mentioned, public safety is the number one priority of the Board of Commissioners,” she said.
She said a lot of times we think of zoning as the top priority, but that the top priority of the BOC is actually public safety.
“So we’re talking about fire, we’re talking about police, we’re talking about 911,” she said. “But the other part to that, which a lot of people don’t think about, is animal control: vicious animals … stray animals … That also falls under the purview of public safety.”
“And I don’t think that there’s one person in the county who will disagree with the Board of Commissioners’ vote for the step and grade compensation for our public safety personnel.”
Sheffield said that in 2018 she went through Cobb County’s Citizens Public Safety Academy. a 12-week program where Cobb residents learn about the various public safety departments in the county, and that gave her an understanding of the importance of retaining officers and firefighters who are trained here.
“We need to be able to retain that talent in our communities. And the Department of Housing and Urban Development has a program that’s called Good Neighbor Next Door, she said. “And basically the way that works is, if you are police, firefighter, school teacher, healthcare professional, etc, you will receive a discount on a home that you purchase within an area that you work,” she said.
“And part of the reason for that program, and why I’m a proponent of the program, is because it encourages the people to be in the community to strengthen and develop those relationships, particularly as it relates to police in the community.”
“It strengthens the relationship between the safety personnel and the residents of the district,” she said. “That’s something I would definitely like to explore more as a commissioner, the options that we have available so we can continue to retain the talent that we train.”
The Courier asked Sheffield if she had any thoughts on the affordability of housing within the county and District 4.
Sheffield said that a factor driving the rise in housing cost is a nationwide increase in the cost of building materials.
“Builders and developers need to increase the prices of their homes. So starter homes are becoming more expensive now. rents are becoming more expensive,” she said.
“But I think that one of the strategies in handling affordable housing may not have anything to do with housing at all, but it may have more to do with transportation, because people need to be able to have access to better employment opportunities,” said Sheffield.
She said another strategy for housing affordability she would like to explore is adaptive reuse, where older buildings in need of renovation are converted to livable units.
Sheffield mentioned that some buildings along Veterans Memorial Highway might be good candidates for adaptive reuse.
“Now, that’s just a small piece of the pie,” she said. “I don’t know how many buildings there are around the district that would satisfy the need of the number of people that are in need of affordable housing, but it’s going to have to be done not just on a county level or state level, but on a federal level, because as I mentioned, it’s not a Cobb County issue. It’s a nationwide issue.”
Asked if there are any other hot button issues she would like to comment on, Sheffield spoke on transportation.
“The Cobb County Comprehensive Transportation Plan, or the CTP has been completed, and I believe it’s going to be adopted by the Board of Commissioners in 2021,” she said. “The CTP identifies long term and short term transportation priorities within the community, like increasing the number of sidewalks.”
She mentioned that a sidewalk project on Mableton Parkway between Factory Shoals Road and the new Discovery Park at the River Line will begin this year, with a sidewalk on one side of the road and a two-lane multiuse path on the other.
“But the other thing with transportation is House Bill 930 that was passed in 2018,” she said. “That bill created the Atlanta region Transportation Link or the ATL authority, which will bring together 13 counties.”
“It’s a governing structure that will coordinate the funding and planning for 13 counties including Cobb County to increase access to transportation over those 13 Metropolitan counties,” she said.
“And for me transportation is critical,” she said. “Transportation is is critical because it drives economic competitiveness. It also provides residents access to employment and educational opportunity, to additional health care options and increases the quality of life.”
She said that she supports a capital improvement plan line item for transportation in the county’s budget, in addition to the current Special Project Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).
Sheffield mentioned a few other issues she would take on if elected commissioner.
She said she had received complaints about trash along Riverside Parkway and Mableton Parkway, and said she thinks that increasing the number of trash receptacles along the roads with heavy foot traffic might help alleviate the problem.
She also said a topic of concern is the large number of dollar stores in the area. She favors rewriting the zoning codes to give residents more control over the number of dollar stores in the area so that oversaturation of those businesses don’t occur.
She further wants to have codes tightened so that businesses are held accountable for the appearance of their business, including trash on the property.
Closing remarks on why voters should support her
The Courier asked Sheffield to deliver a pitch to District 4 voters on why they should cast their ballots for her.
“My journey from being homeless and growing up in public housing in a single-parent household has been a humbling experience and one that has prepared me to lead with with passion, fairness and equity,” Sheffield said. “And also my values of fairness and equity shape my decisions and my decision-making process.”
“Serving on the Board of Zoning Appeals has allowed me to exercise those principles when I cast votes,” she said.
“As I mentioned earlier, it’s not just casting votes for the zoning appeal applicant, but it’s all the parties that I’m casting a vote for that might be impacted by my decisions,” she said.
“And if I have the privilege to serve as the next county commissioner for District 4, those values and principles will be my guide as I focus on our future.”
For more information on Monique Sheffield, visit her campaign website at https://www.electsheffield.com/