Many people’s encounter with local government starts with a rude awakening.
My first encounter with the county was with a land use matter.
What my husband and I thought were flagged markings to install a trail in a forest behind our house, were actually markings to indicate where new condominiums would be built.
Each night we frustratingly watched men in hard hats bulldoze, burn, and destroy our scenic view. They also never built the trail the developer included in marketing materials!
My husband and I eventually complained to the developer’s new onsite agent who strangely replaced the agent who sold us our home. She told us that only 15 feet of buffer near a stream was ever protected. The rest of the area was not.
From then on I committed myself to becoming more knowledgeable about community matters. I began taking Tuesday mornings off work to go to county meetings. I joined my HOA and community taskforce. I accepted a position at a coalition that helped set policy to support Metro Atlanta businesses. Desiring to learn about what took place under the Gold Dome, I took on a second job at the Governor's office. There I interned for an advisory commission of business and civic leaders across the state. I later became a policy analyst in Planning and Budget.
The unique exposure I gained at work made me more effective in my community. When the county proposed the 2005 SPLOST, I arranged for county and chamber leaders to educate residents about the referendum. When I became an economic development chair with the area taskforce, I had an accomplished business leader to walk through how residents championed development in another county. When an investor tried to build an extended stay hotel in the area I led three neighborhoods in successful opposition. When other issues came up that impacted my community I found myself increasingly able to respond.
A nonprofit housing developer came across my work in the community and brought me into their project management team. While there I helped develop two large multifamily properties working with builders, lenders, attorneys, property managers, and subcontractors. Things came full circle as I finally gained opportunity to learn about the "other side" of development.
Still wanting to sharpen my skillset, I attended school part-time at night to obtain a joint degree in law and public administration. At school, I became an administrator of an Urban Fellows program, a mediator of landlord-tenant disputes at Fulton County Magistrate, and a volunteer with a public interest legal organization.
Today I am extremely grateful for every opportunity I have had to become a better community advocate.
And while people tell me it takes a lot of nerve to go from engineering to politics, I know it takes more nerve to see doors open to serve and not go through it.
As we struggle with issues that plague our part of the county, let us not forget that this may be our door of opportunity.
And while our past may not be all that it should have been, our experiences have prepared us to not only expect more, but to create something better than what we would have achieved without our adversity.