by Robin Kemp
Three candidates are running for mayor of Clayton County’s largest city. The Clayton Crescent did not receive a candidate survey response from any of them. Some of the questions addressed transparency, press availability, unmediated Q&A sessions with residents, and hot-button issues like contamination at Fort Gillem and progress on Main Street. Of the three candidates in the nonpartisan race, incumbent Angelyne Butler filled out a partisan candidate survey that appears on the Clayton County Democrats website.
Angelyne Butler works for an insurance company and has served as mayor of Forest Park for the past four years. A native of Washington State, she earned a bachelor in political science from Spelman College, a master of public administration from Troy University, and is ABD in public policy and administration at Walden University. Butler responded to a request for comment on anonymous attack ads aimed at her campaign, but did not return The Clayton Crescent’s candidate survey.
Delores Gunn is a graduate of Atlanta Tech and coordinates patient transportation for Sunrise Detox in Alpharetta and has worked with patient electronic medical records since 2014. During that time, she also has worked in Pittsburgh, PA; New Bern, NC; Indianapolis, IN; Boston, MA; Springfield, IL; Houston, TX; Carbondale, IL, Palm Springs, CA; and Woodbury South, NJ. Gunn neither responded to multiple interview requests nor returned The Clayton Crescent’s candidate survey.
Tommy Smith is a former Ward 1 councilman and owns TnT Auto Performance Center, an auto parts business. He is married to Trudy Smith, who is running for the Ward 1 council seat against incumbent Kimberly James, an ally of Butler who beat Tommy Smith last election. Tommy Smith alleged that James and Butler had supplied alcohol to voters and driven them to the polls. He then filed a case in Clayton County Superior Court against Butler, James, Ward 2 Councilman Dabouze Antoine, and then-Election Supervisor Lois Wright that was tossed out because it had not been served by the sheriff’s office (case 2017CV04501 99). Smith did an interview with The Clayton Crescent but did not return our candidate survey.
City Records (minutes, etc.) on Tommy Smith and Angelyne Butler (none found on Delores Gunn)
Campaign Donations as of Sept. 30 (from state campaign disclosure filings):
Arena World, 780 Main St., Forest Park, GA: $1,000
Empire Pipe and Supply, P.O. Box 101149, Birmingham, AL: $1,000
Alvin Weeks, 3350 Riverwood Pkwy, Atlanta, $1,500
Vicky Baker, 12130 Wexford Mill Ct., Roswell: $500
David Welch, 14915 E. Bluff Rd., Milton: $500
Forrest Robinson, 4451 Gulfshore Blvd., Naples, FL: $1,000
John Jennings, 1631 Richwood Dr. NE, Atlanta: $500
Site Management, 10945 [Illegible] Bridge Rd., Alpharetta: $1,000
Anthony Dollershell, 4219 Rock Point Dr., Kennesaw: $1,000
Kevin Turpin, 3033 Elks Rd., Kennesaw: $1,000
Kelly Delay(?), 74 Columbus Ct., Dallas, GA: $500
John Stroudt, 884 Berkshire Rd., Atlanta: $500
Tyler Jones, 4510 Runnemeade Rd., Atlanta: $500
Cyclone, 1000 Holcomb Woods Pkwy., Roswell: $2,800 (General)
Cyclone, 1000 Holcomb Woods Pkwy., Roswell: $200 (Runoff)
Oasis, 645 Westhollow Ct., Roswell: $2,800 (General)
Oasis, 645 Westhollow Ct., Roswell: $2,200 (runoff)
D. Hudgens, P.O. Box 745, Hochton: $1,000
Catherine Williams, 2700 Paces Ferry Rd. SE, Atlanta: $500
William Brogdon, 5355 Chelsea Wood Dr., Johns Creek: $500
[Rex Figlio?-illegible], 3350 Riverwood Pkwy., Atlanta, $1,000
Collaborative Firm, 1514 E. Cleveland Ave., East Point: $1,000
Brian Davidson, 793 Clifton Rd. NE, Atlanta: $750
[Minerva Gillem ? -illegible], 2292 Anderson Mill Rd., Atlanta: $1,000
Revival Properties, 671 Forest Pkwy., Forest Park: $400
Technique, 944 Astor Ave., Forest Park: $2,700
[illegible] Construction, Clifton St., Atlanta, 30316: $2,700
EGM, 4251 Eastside Dr., Decatur: $500
Joseph Harris, 145 Hidden Falls, Atlanta: $750
UP Advertising, 247 Sumac Tr., Woodstock: $250
Maaz Investment, 713 Forest Pkwy., Forest Park: $1,000
Anis Sherali, 1166 Roxboro Pt., Atlanta : $500
Mohamad Inanullah, 4040 Falls Ridge Dr., Alpharetta: $500
Blue Horizon, 505 Corporate Circle Dr., Stockbridge, $500
Mariela [illegible-Shah], 1555 Calvin Davis Cir., Lawrenceville: $1,000
Alwani Group, 4296 Old Dixie Hwy., Forest Park: $1,000
David Rashmir, 3950 Jonesboro Rd,, Forest Park: $1,000
Bobby Cartwright (no address): $1,500
[Rex Fuqua?-illegible], 3350 Riverwood Pkwy., Atlanta: $1,000
Collaborative Firm, 1514 7 Cleveland Ave.,East Point: $1,000
Sundeep Yadau, 510 Plaza Dr., Atlanta: $1,000
Minerva Gillen, 2292 Henderson Mill Rd., Atlanta: $1,000
Atavon Johnson (no address), $1,000
Hair Accommodation, 1820 Noah’s Ark Rd., Jonesboro: $115 (photo shoot)
Marc Norsworthy & Co. (no address): $375 (photo shoot)
Flamingo (no address): $180 (photo shoot)
Vistaprint (no address): $513 (campaign materials)
Amazon (no address): $650 (campaign materials)
Ethics Commission (no address-Ga. Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission): $125 (late fee)
Marc Norsworthy (no address) : $375 (photo shoot)
Clear Channel (no address): $11,243 (campaign signage)
Billboard Source, 625 Luther Ln., Dallas, TX: $2,535 (campaign signage)
Divine Eye, P.O. Box 98331, Atlanta: $500 (website)
Home Depot (no address): $113 (supplies)
USPS: $25 (postage)
Walmart: $90 (campaign phone and data)
USPS: $25 (postage)
Amazon: $295 (campaign supplies)
ABC Atlanta (?-illegible): $3,628 (printed material)
No name/address given: $80 (hair/campaign shoot)
No name/address given: $75 (makeup/campaign shoot)
Home Depot (no address): $170 (sign stakes)
Publix: $115 (meet and greet)
Jackson Communication, 950 W. Peachtree St. #1811, Atlanta: $2,120 (no explanation)
None reported for Sept. 30 as of press time.
Thomas Smith, 4778 Hendrix Dr., Forest Park: $1,000 (loan from self to campaign)
Zillion Concepts, 3950 Jonesboro Rd., Forest Park: $2,500
City of Forest Park: $691. 2X (qualifying fee)
Best Print & Design, 4187-B Snapfinger Woods Dr., Decatur: $155.6X (yard signs and stands)
CCPS Print Shop, 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro: $11.25 (business cards)
Best Print & Design, 4187-B Snapfinger Woods Dr., Decatur: $36.08 (campaign t-shirts)
Clear Channel Outdoors LLC (illegible), Marietta: Billboard
Campaign Contribution Disclosure Reports were filed for Angelyne Butler and Tommy Smith (Gunn did not file the Sept. 30 CCDR; we have requested the Oct. 25 CCDRs from City Clerk S. Diane White and will post these when available).
The mayor’s race in Forest Park has grown ugly, and plenty is at stake–mainly control of the cash cow that is Gillem Logistics Center, but also Main Street, which has sat moribund for nearly two decades and is a sore spot with local residents waiting for their downtown to look more like Hapeville’s, East Point’s, College Park’s, or Jonesboro’s.
Voters have been treated to anonymous text and e-mail messages depicting Butler as Pinocchio, Butler invoking God and threatening to run over her enemies, Gunn posting a video to social media accusing Butler of ignoring a woman having a medical emergency during a senior citizen’s event, and Smith decrying high turnover and empty slots at the Forest Park Police Department.
Butler has raked in big money from business leaders connected with Gillem, and her reelection looks less like a mayoral race than an audition for future candidacies. Besides raking in donations from several Northside addresses, city contractors, and business concerns on her campaign finance disclosures, Butler choreographed a “State of the City” address for family and friends, featuring TelePrompters, an evening gown, and a buffet afterwards. For the second time, the “State of the City” address discussing government affairs was held at a church. Butler relied on heavily-scripted messaging and did not invite press coverage of the event.
Butler has won many fans for her efforts to upgrade the city, some of which were in the pipeline long before she took office (like Gillem), and some of which were her own innovations (like reclaiming historic cemeteries). She also has alienated some voters in the city who say they feel she has “sold out” on issues like addressing contamination at the former Fort Gillem and on bringing stability to city government, particularly City Hall and the Police Department.
An anonymous political attacker began sending out text messages with links to anti-Butler literature around October 22. It depicted Butler as Pinocchio in front of a doctored photo showing City Hall in flames and captioned “Liar, Liar…Pants on Fire.” A second ad, from the same number, showed Butler posing next to a grave and proclaiming “Angelyne is Burying Forest Park.”
The Clayton Crescent asked Butler to respond to both attack ads. She wrote, “There are so many attack ads that I cannot keep up with them but this is what I have to say: There is not anyone in this City or on this planet powerful enough to hinder, interrupt, interfere or stop what God has planned for me. No lies, no slander, no attacks will alter my steps. Attacking me, is NOT a platform. Attacking me is NOT a vision. Attacking me is not how you lead. However, how your run your race is a good indication of how you will lead.
“The devil steals, kill and destroy. So you can steal my campaign materials. You can attempt to kill my character and the contributions made under this Administration over the past four years and you can even attempt to destroy my reputation but rest assured, you look sad and pathetic. You run on lies and deceit you will lead with lies and deceit and FOREST PARK deserves better!
“Since my first race, I had a vision for Forest Park and I have executed said vision even with all the opposition, all the Facebook rants etc, I have always maintained the integrity of Forest Park. My vision for Forest Park has not changed. PROGRESS is my vision and PROGRESS is our destiny. That is why I am running for re-election. The moral compass and future of Forest Park is on the line.”
Other alliances have formed: in Republican Tommy Smith’s camp, with community activist Lawanda Folami and former State Rep. Valencia Stovall, and in Delores Gunn’s camp, whose most vocal cheerleader is Ward 4 Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells. Both Stovall and Wells have had their run-ins with Butler, and both are trying to peel voters away from Butler.
Angelyne Butler (incumbent)
Butler, Forest Park’s first Black mayor, has the backing of business interests at Gillem Logistics Center, and has placed several billboards around the city’s major intersections as well as the usual campaign signs. She lives in Ward Two in a house owned by Technique Concrete, but did not respond when The Clayton Crescent asked whether she thought that might pose the appearance of a conflict of interest. The company’s owner, Bobby Freeman, Jr., had qualified for the Ward Two council race but dropped out September 9. Technique Concrete has been one of three major campaign contributors connected with Gillem Logistics Center.
One of Butler’s campaign planks was to institute an “open checkbook” on the city’s website, where any citizen might be able to look at the city’s spending. That never materialized. Butler also promised a four-star hotel for Main Street. Economic Development Director Bruce Abraham has driven most of the effort to bring viable businesses to Main Street. While progress is slow, some improvements are visible: the strip-mall incubator across from the old movie theater has been updated, two old one-story brick structures on Main Street have been demolished, and at least one decaying sign has been replaced. The movie theater, which is neither historically nor architecturally significant and which poses a public danger due to its structural damage, has been slated for demolition.
Problems with relocating utilities underground, as well as two cemeteries’ proximity to Main Street itself, reportedly are slowing efforts to revitalize the area. However, a row of new condos is slated to go up on the open green space between Forest Park Army Navy and Norfolk Southern’s right-of-way. A Zaxby’s fast-food restaurant is supposed to go on several combined properties that make up the grassy area between the fountain and a long-abandoned building that used to display a mural.
Butler also took up the cause of preserving three historic African-American cemeteries that no longer had clear ownership and brought them, along with under the city’s care.
Under her administration, the city has had four people serving as permanent or interim city managers, three fire chiefs, four interim or permanent police chiefs, and at least two heads of Planning, Building, and Zoning. Butler dissolved the Urban Redevelopment Authority board when it refused to approve a bond issue without first seeing the plans for a new municipal complex, which is slated for construction on a site that was donated specifically to the Fire Department and which critics say is too small to house fire, police, and City Hall. Butler later pushed through a larger bond issue.
Butler installed a 4K video production studio in the Leonard Hartsfield Community Center, ostensibly to market the city. Other city officials said they were not allowed to use the facility. The city has hired at least four media relations or communications groups during the past four years: Leff and Associates,The Collaborative Group,
During Butler’s COVID-19 emergency declaration, the city shut down public access to council meetings and did not provide the public with a viable streaming option. When The Clayton Crescent showed up to bring that coverage to the public (under Gov. Brian Kemp’s declaration that journalists are front-line workers), the city first ejected refused reporter Robin Kemp at Butler’s direct order, then refused her entry on two subsequent occasions. After protracted legal negotiations with the University of Georgia Law First Amendment Clinic, the city agreed to install a professional audiovisual system, run by a professional audiovisual contractor, so that the public might be able to watch its elected officials at work.
The city commissioned an internal study, which found that city employees expressed fear of retaliation if they stepped on the wrong toes at City Hall.
After allegations of racism within the Forest Park Police Department, Butler hired Nathaniel Clark, who has made it a practice to avoid press scrutiny and who, through firings, resignations, or retirements, removed most of the force’s experienced officers. FPPD already was short-staffed. Hiring efforts have centered on African-American recruitment but have added a large number of rookies to the force, which remains at about half-strength. Controversies within the department included accusations that former Police Chief L. Dwayne Hobbs allowed racial profiling, that Councilmembers Latresa Akins-Wells and Dabouze Antoine were tailed and their homes surveilled for an extended period of time, the temporary cancellation of the monthly Neighborhood Watch meeting, and most recently, the handling of K-9 Officer Yoeri’s medical retirement. The city settled with Hobbs, who had filed a federal discrimination suit, and with Akins-Wells and Antoine separately at the county level (the councilmembers had sued Hobbs and the officers who allegedly staked them out, which would fall under the cops’ employer–and potentially the city’s insurance policy), according to court records. Neither Akins-Wells nor Antoine have commented on their settlements. At least two other former senior police officers, Chris Matson and Antonio Fletcher, also filed cases against the city. More than two dozen FPPD officers have left under the Butler administration.
Butler has exercised her veto several times during her administration, including “un-recusing” herself when the City Council voted against firing former Fire Chief Don Horton after allegations that he had sexually harassed both the mayor and Human Resources Director Shalonda Brown. Butler also vetoed a 3-2 vote by the council to take legal action against the mayor for the Horton veto.
The administration has repeatedly had to fill top administrative posts, and has done so by keeping the candidates close to the vest, then announcing a “sole finalist,” who in some cases is sent packing a few months later. Besides former Fire Chief Horton, former City Manager Alfred Barker was dismissed after pointing out that the city had no central tracking system for purchasing and questioning the need for COVID-19 sanitation services that were being shopped around by political operative Kevin Thomas.
Prior to running for mayor, Butler worked in the Fulton County Elections Office with Marcia Ridley, the Spalding County Elections Manager whom the State Election Board referred to the Attorney General for alleged mishandling of elections supplies and whose company, Intact Consulting, Forest Park hired as a consultant to this municipal election. At the time, Intact Consulting was not a registered business with the Secretary of State (it had registered a name reservation on May 13). Forest Park City Clerk S. Diane White is in charge of the election itself.
Gunn, who has said that her campaign is based on transparency, has not responded to multiple requests over the past few weeks for an interview before Election Day. Less than 24 hours before the election, Gunn sent this e-mail from an account titled “Mayor Delores Gunn”:
Gunn has been endorsed by Ward 4 Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells. According to Gunn’s campaign website, “a group of elected and former officials along with a hand full of Forest Park residents” met on August 11 to vet five potential candidates to unseat Butler and chose Gunn. According to the website, Butler’s “un-recusal” to force the former fire chief’s removal and another veto of the council’s decision to hire outside counsel drove “Forest Park leadership and citizens to sit down with civic organizations and others leadership [sic] around the county to help draft a candidate who understands consensus building.” Notably, none of the people involved in the vetting process, nor the other potential candidates, are named in Gunn’s campaign literature. The website also features anonymous-source “news”-like text, clearly written by the campaign and still containing language from an apparent template prompt: “You’ll be posting loads of engaging content, so be sure to keep your blog organized with Categories that also allow visitors to explore more of what interests them.“ One URL ending in “christina-flores-on-the-evening-show” is similar to a URL for a demo site at https://www.wattsforwestminster.com/post/christina-flores-on-the-evening-show.
Last weekend, Gunn held a candidate meet-and-greet event in Rosetown, which also was attended by Akins-Wells’ mother and Development Authority Chairwoman and former Elections Supervisor Lois Wright. Wright, who in 2013 was on the city’s Ethics Board (which no longer functionally exists, allgedly due to lack of participation by appointed members), served on the URA, DDA, and as elections superintendent simultaneously, when city code only allowed a person to serve on one appointed board at a time. (Forest Park’s current appointed boards, the Development Authority, Downtown Development Authority, and Urban Redevelopment Authority, have interlocking members; Butler had accused former Mayor David Lockhart of “stacking the boards.”) More recently, Wright has been referred to the state Attorney General’s office “for various alleged violations of absentee ballot processing” and “for allegedly distributing campaign materials at a polling place [urging voters to back a freeport exemption for new businesses at Gillem] during a November 2019 local election.” (Akins-Wells also was referred to the Attorney General’s office “for allegedly campaigning too close to a polling place.”)
Gunn has been highly critical of Butler, publishing a cell phone video in which she accused the mayor of not showing concern for a woman who fell ill during a senior citizen’s event. The Clayton Crescent has been unable to corroborate the claim as of press time.
Smith, a former city councilman, has formed an alliance with community organizer Lawanda Folami and has the support of former State Rep. Valencia Stovall. Smith beat current Ward 1 Councilwoman Kimberly James for that seat in 2013, says the city is not making proper use of its resources and accuses the Butler administration of “dividing” the city. He said he wants to put “an advisory council together of all the ethnic groups in Forest Park and put the voice back to the citizens as much as possible, and that way everyone will have an equal say at the table.” (Smith later ran in 2017 against longtime State Sen. Valencia Seay and lost.) He told Stovall that former City Manager Angela Redding, who was let go when Butler came into office, had been managing Phases Two and Three of Main Street, and that he wants to see retail development at Gillem Logistics Center, but that he doesn’t know how much space is still available there. (The city recently sold the FTG-01 dump site on the northwest side and is in the process of selling other parcels near Amazon’s new warehouse to Blue Star Studios.)
Smith’s wife, Trudy, is a member of the current Development Authority, along with several former members of the URA Butler had dissolved. She works for the Clayton County Public Schools procurement office and is running for City Council against incumbent Ward 1 Councilwoman Kimberly James. Smith also serves as second vice-chairman of the Clayton County Georgia Republican Party (CCGARP), in which the couple has been active for years.
Tommy Smith told The Clayton Crescent that he thinks most voters are concerned about the police department’s chronic understaffing. “The people of Forest Park need to have safety first. That’s my first priority, is to make sure you have police and fire, because when you call 911, you don’t wanna know if they’re going to get there, you want them there right now. Most times you call 911, you need them immediately. You don’t need them 15 minutes, 20 minutes down the road, and that’s my issue. I think the response time is still pretty good. Still, if we keep going with the police department in the way it’s going, it could be an issue.”
Asked why Forest Park’s Main Street doesn’t look like College Park’s, East Point’s, or Hapeville’s, Smith said, “You know something, that’s a very good question and I can’t answer it, other than what I see is, we tore down all our old buildings. And if you go up to Hapeville, they’ve kind of re-faced all the buildings. And I’ve been in some of them. They’ve used a lot of things in there that were neat. They used an old door with the windows for a divider. And it looked real nice. That’s the only thing I can come up with. They haven’t tore anything down, they have re-faced them and reused them. And a business, me being a business owner, I know that I can’t go buy that property and erect a building for a business because it’s just not financially stable to.”
Past mayoral races in Forest Park have been decided by a small number of voters. In 2017, Butler beat incumbent David Lockhart by 376 votes, which represented 30 percent of ballots cast. However, Forest Park has a population of 19,962, according to the 2020 Census. Based on county figures for the November 3, 2020 Presidential election, Forest Park has about 15,902 registered voters. In other words, fewer than 10 percent of Forest Park voters tend to turn out for municipal races. That’s similar to other municipalities, which, like runoffs, see only a fraction of voter engagement as compared to big-name Presidential elections. However, local candidates have a more direct impact on voters’ immediate circumstances–things like zoning, the kinds of jobs and businesses that come to a city, and policies that are of interest to locals. That means very small numbers of voters have a disproportionately large impact on who gets elected. The more voters that turn out, the more representative a government is of the people who elect its officers.
The polls will be open on Tuesday at the Elaine Corley Recreation Center, 803 Forest Parkway, from 7 a.m to 7 p.m. If no one candidate wins outright, a runoff will take place November 30. To check your voter registration status, visit https://www.mvp.sos.ga.gov/MVP/mvp.do.
The Clayton Crescent is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit news organization. We do NOT endorse candidates or positions other than press freedom issues. Information here is presented in the interest of helping voters research candidates before casting their votes as they see fit.