by Robin Kemp
It’s Election Day, Tuesday, November 30, 2021, and Forest Park voters are heading to the polls to choose who will lead the city for the next four years.
The runoff is between incumbent Mayor Angelyne Butler and challenger and former Ward 2 Councilman Tommy Smith–who were separated by only five votes in the primary. At stake are billions of dollars in business to and from the Port of Savannah by way of the Gillem Logistics Center, which has poured tens of thousands into Butler’s reelection campaign, as well as redevelopment of the decades-old ghost town that is Forest Park’s Main Street–a sore spot with city residents who have seen elections come and go while surrounding municipalities have revitalized their old downtowns.
Butler has worked for an insurance company (and apparently a real estate agency) and 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.
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. Smith did give an interview subsequently.
About the candidates
The Clayton Crescent does not endorse candidates for political office. City races are nonpartisan.
Angelyne Butler (I)
Butler was the city’s first elected Black mayor (Mayor Pro Tempore Sparkle Adams served as mayor when Corine Deyton retired early for health reasons.) Butler came to Forest Park from Washington State, got a real estate license in 2008, answered a series of dispossessory notices from apartment complexes around the county between 2015 and 2017, then ran for mayor that year. Butler beat then-Mayor David Lockhart after Lockhart got into a widely-publicized standoff with Forest Park Police and later was photographed dancing in a woman’s bra at Rumors, the strip club with which the city had settled a protracted legal battle and which still dispenses holiday turkeys to the community.
In 2018, the city fired former Finance Director Mike Blandenburg over alleged financial irregularities. Last year, City Finance Director Ken Thompson resigned after the interim city manager, Police Chef Nathaniel Clark, alleges in a federal suit that, “Soon after Chief Clark’s report to the DOJ as well as his insistence on a financial audit in part due to Finance Director Ken Thompson’s admissions that SPLOST expenditures were charged to accounts that did not exist, Thompson resigned his employment with the City of Forest Park and took with him what appeared to be an extensive amount of confidential and highly sensitive financial documents belonging to the City. Moreover, on or about November 23, 2020, financial documents were removed from the police department without Chief Clark’s consent.”
Butler’s administration has been plagued by instability at City Hall. Department heads, police and fire chiefs, city managers (Angela Redding, Clark (as acting), Albert Barker, Dr. Marc-Antonie Cooper), and finance directors have come and gone, often as “sole candidates” chosen without public input, sometimes fired only a few months later. An employee survey by Mauldin and Jenkins described a climate of fear, with rank and file employees saying they worry about retaliation.
Butler has tapped several people with ties to former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration for key city jobs: former City of Atlanta Deputy Chief Procurement officer Girard Geeter is now Forest Park’s procurement manager, and former Fulton County elections manager Marcia Ridley, who got into an epic battle with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger over her handling of the November 2020 election in Spalding County, secured a no-bid contract as a consultant for this election with Forest Park, then was referred to the state Attorney General’s office by the State Elections Board and reportedly back-benched for the duration of the current election. (City Clerk S. Diane White is the actual Elections Supervisor.) Both Ridley and Butler worked at the Fulton County Registration and Elections Board during the Reed Administration.
When the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority refused to sign off on Butler’s request to issue bonds for a new police/fire/City Hall complex on Forest Parkway, Butler sent letters to board members, accusing them of “dereliction of duty.” The URA countered that it was not prepared to approve a bond issue without at least seeing some conceptual drawings. Butler then fired the board and reconstituted it, pushing through an even larger $41.1 million bond package. (Both packages also included Starr Park and Main Street improvements.) Butler chairs two of the city’s three development boards (the DDA and the URA), all of which have overlapping members.
Under Butler’s administration, the city has:
- built a 4K video production studio on the second floor of the Hartsfield Community Center to counter what Butler said were lies about the city
- bought three high-end SUVs
- hired a string of PR consultants (Leff and Associates, The Collaborative Group, assorted photographers and videographers, and most recently, separate public information officers/consultants for City Hall and for the Urban Redevelopment Authority)
Butler made several promises that have not materialized: an open checkbook on the city’s website, a revitalized Main Street with an entertainment district, and a major hotel at the old bank drive-through. While the city council and development boards have been working on Main Street, the only significant changes have been the demolition of two small buildings and, as of last week, the old movie theater. The city has been working on a deal to bring a Zaxby’s fast food restaurant to the space next to the fountain, which involves combining several smaller parcels, as well as a row of residences next to the railroad track across from Forest Park Army Navy. Residents of former base housing the city owns next to Gillem question Butler’s response to their concerns about whether toxic sites on the decommissioned military installation are putting their health or that of surrounding neighbors at risk. Butler recently cut the ribbon at a new truck-friendly entrance on Forest Parkway and Rateree Road to the Kroger Distribution facility.
Some critics of the Butler Administration accuse her of taking credit for projects already in the planning pipeline. However, Butler has secured that massive bond package to finance city improvements. Critics also point to high police turnover at the department and some former city officials (Christine Terrell, Chris Matson, and former Police Chief Dwayne Hobbs) have filed federal discrimination suits, accusing Butler of systematically replacing white employees with Black employees. Butler’s supporters point to allegations of questionable practices at FPPD (check cashing, ammunition sales, and tailing Councilmembers Dabouze Antoine and Latresa Akins-Wells, who sued the city and reportedly settled out of court) and say that the city’s police force should look like the citizens of Forest Park. 2020 U.S. Census data on Forest Park’s racial makeup note that ethnicity, like Hispanic or Latino, crosses categories of race. Black residents account for 45.7% of the population; whites, 31.4%; Hispanics and Latinos, 27.1%; Asians 6.7%; “white alone, not Hispanic or Latino,” 17.3%; and people of two or more races, 4%.
Butler took on the task of recovering three historic Black cemeteries that had fallen into disrepair, as well as a fourth cemetery. She also acted quickly to impose COVID-19 precautions at the beginning of the pandemic.
Butler’s campaign is heavily financed by tenants and management of the Gillem Logistics Center, several of whose executives have offices on Atlanta’s wealthy Northside and who don’t live in Forest Park. They have footed the bill for several billboards around the city of 20,000. Her campaign literature says she has brought “over 3,000 jobs” to the city, and that another “1,500 jobs [are] projected to come with an average salary of $55,000.” (State campaign finance records show the campaign has a post office box in Fairburn and list Butler’s address as a post office box in Forest Park. Butler’s address on candidate qualifying papers indicate she lives in a house in Ward 2 owned by Technique Concrete, a major tenant at Gillem.)
We filed an Open Records Request asking how many of those jobs employ Forest Park residents and asked for evidence to back up the numbers. The city sent this response:
“Per the City Clerk Department there are no records for this request. However, the only material I have regarding employment in Forest Park is the attached industry spotlight report we received from the Atlanta Regional Commission in early 2021. We do not have or ask for information about the residential status of people who work in Forest Park. We also occasionally use QuickFacts from the U.S. Census Bureau as a source for population, employment, and wage information.”
Call Angelyne Butler at (678) 925-7177.
Smith, a former city councilman and auto parts businessman, has run for mayor before. In 2013, he beat Kimberly James for the Ward 1 City Council seat. Smith, along with Councilwoman Latresa Akins, then-Mayor David Lockhart, and former Councilwoman Maudie McCord, was the target of a failed recall effort a few months later. Smith was around when Gillem Logistics Center was in its early stages and was among city leaders who accepted a 2013 award (from the City of Lovejoy) for successful Local Option Sales Tax/Service Delivery Strategy negotiations.
Smith has won the support of former State Rep. Valencia Stovall and former Butler backer and community activist Lawanda Folami, who have been campaigning with him and wife Trudy Smith (who sits on the city’s Development Authority) outside the early voting location, posting to Facebook, and riding through the city with a bullhorn to get out the vote for Smith. Both have been highly critical of the Butler administration and say the election “is not about race.”
Smith’s campaign budget is a fraction of Butler’s, with a single billboard by a liquor store on Main Street, and more recently featuring his RV and several large campaign banners. Early on Election Day, Folami sent The Clayton Crescent a photo of apop-up tent she said Butler had placed directly in front of one of Smith’s banners between City Hall and the rec center polling site.
Smith is no stranger to Forest Park politics, having beaten current Ward 1 Councilmember Kimberly James in 2013 and gone head-to-head with Antoine and Akins-Wells over the years.
In 2014, after Lockhart vetoed a City Council vote to fire then-City Manager Frank Brandon, Smith, along with Lockhart and McCord, did not show up for a special called meeting for a vote to sue Lockhart (himself an attorney, who pointed out the city attorney could. not sue his own client). That move prevented a vote because McCord had to act as mayor pro tem, leaving Antoine and Akins-Wells without a quorum.
In 2015, Smith and former Councilwoman Linda Lord voted against a motion by Councilman Dabouze Antoine and Akins-Wells to appoint Lois Wright as both superintendent and vice-superintendent of elections. Akins-Wells alleged that a Black voter who had an absentee ballot request in was turned away from the polls, while a white voter was not. (This was two months after Wright, then chair of the Urban Development Authority, resigned from the city Ethics Board after saying she did not know she could only serve on one board at a time.) Wright was appointed to run city elections until this year, when the State Elections Board referred her to the Attorney General’s office for alleged illegal campaigning on behalf of a freeport sales tax exemption on goods shipped to and from a “fulfillment center” (like Amazon) at Gillem Logistics Center or other places in the city. Wright chairs the Development Authority, which is tasked with bringing new businesses into the city.
In 2017, Smith lost to James. He filed suit in Clayton County Superior Court, accusing her and Butler of allegedly trading alcohol for votes, as well as claiming they allegedly had engaged in election fraud. James called the claims “outrageous.” The case was thrown out on a technicality because Smith had not used the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office to serve the papers.
Smith said he wants greater transparency and less waste at City Hall.
Call Tommy Smith at (404) 366-0776.
If you see questionable election or campaign activity, you can report it to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Voter Fraud Hotline at (877) 725-9797. You also can report it online at https://sos.ga.gov/cgi-bin/EMailStopVoterFraud.asp. A state investigator may respond to your report.