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Floyd M. Scott Running for Gwinnett County Sheriff [Podcast]

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Floyd Scott, Election, Gwinnett County Sheriff

Forty plus year veteran Floyd M. Scott shares with host Rico Figliolini why he is running for Gwinnett County Sheriff. Recorded at Atlanta Tech Park, in the City of Peachtree Corners GA

Resources:
Website: FloydScottSheriff2020.com

[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:03:21] – About Floyd
[00:06:02] – 287g Program
[00:11:34] – Police Morale
[00:19:29] – Recruiting
[00:20:38] – Changing the System
[00:27:38] – Seeing the County change
[00:30:50] – Gwinnett County Sheriff Responsibilities
[00:33:43] – Mental Health Departments and Jail numbers
[00:35:41] – Budgets and more changes
[00:38:15] – Officer Integrity
[00:41:54] – Closing

“…My profession is a passion that I love and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. You know, it’s just something that once you get it in your system, it’s something that you just want to, it’s all about servitude. You know, I’m a servant. I’ve been a servant all my life. You know, I went into the military as a servant and now retired as a servant.”

Floyd Scott
Hargray

Podcast Transcript

Rico: [00:00:30] Hi everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. I want to welcome you here tonight. We’re at Atlanta Tech Park where we do all our podcasts from. Atlanta Tech Park is an innovation hub with over 70 companies here. A place that can fit over a hundred companies here. These are startups that are in the city of Peachtree Corners here. Atlanta Tech Park, growing, doing high tech stuff. And this place has event space, has Financial Fridays, Wine Wednesdays, they have a whole bunch of things going on here and seminars. The big April, the event in FinTech that’s going on as well. So check out their website: AtlantaTechPark.com, and you’ll find that more events that are going on here. This place is actually on a road that’s becoming more famous as we go. And it’s Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners. It’s a one and a half mile, 1.7 mile track. That allows a 5G, Sprint 5G enabled and allows autonomous vehicles to be able to run on it in a live laboratory environment, in a place that people are walking, driving. I mean, you, if you’re a company looking to do work in the autonomous vehicle area or on the internet of everything where technology speaks to everything that can be on a street, just think about it. You know, it could be apps, could be cars to talk to other cars, of course, talking to apps, like poles, crossing areas, maybe solar powered roads that can energize an electric car. This is what can be done here. It’s a very unique place, and even though it’s 5G enabled, that means wireless, right? Broadband. The main hub, if you will. The backbone of what brings the internet here is really still fiber and our lead sponsor is Hargray Fiber. They are essentially the backbone of Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners, and they are a company known in Southeast and expanding in Southeast, bringing in solutions both to small businesses and enterprise solutions where they can bring fiber cable to your business and be your IT company in that business situation and bring voice, internet and everything you need in, in a better way than I believe Comcast and some other companies can do. So check them out at HargrayFiber.com and Atlanta Tech Park. Now to introduce my host, my host, my guest today. We’re talking to, let me introduce him here. There you go Floyd Scott. He’s running for Gwinnett County sheriff, and we’re going to have the chance to be able to talk to you. Floyd, thank you for coming.

Floyd: [00:03:10] Thank you for having me here.

Rico: [00:03:11] I appreciate you coming on the show. I want to be able to you know, find out a little bit about you, you know, so tell our audience a little bit about Floyd Scott.

Floyd: [00:03:21] Well, I’ve been in public service for over 40 years. I was, I’m retired military actually. I was military police, and so it was an easy transition for me to actually go into law enforcement here in Gwinnett. I’ve been in Georgia since 1993. I’ve been policing in Gwinnett County for close to 24 years. I was with the Gwinnett County police department. And I just retired from the Munich County Sheriff’s office after 17 years. And the only reason why I retired was so that I could run for the sheriff cause it needs to be changed. Gwinnett County is a very diverse County, we speak over a hundred different languages and some say that we are the most diverse County in the nation. I believe that.

Rico: [00:04:05] Certainly the most diverse County in the state of Georgia. For sure. So, you know, that’s a long 40 year, 40 plus years of service. Didn’t you ever get, didn’t you ever get tired of it?

Floyd: [00:04:16] Well, as my profession is a passion that I love and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. You know, it’s just something that once you get it in your system, it’s something that you just want to, it’s all about servitude. You know, I’m a servant. I’ve been a servant all my life. You know, I went into the military as a servant and now retired as a servant.

Rico: [00:04:36] Do, so do, I guess, you know. So tell us a little bit, since we’re going there, tell us a little bit about your belief system, about you know, your values and how you base your decisions when you work.

Floyd: [00:04:50] Well, I’m a man of faith. I’m a family man. First I have, I’m actually well vested in here in Gwinnett County because I have seven children. And they live here, and I have eight, seven of them live in Gwinnett County. One decided to go to Alpharetta, but I actually have five that are in the household. And I have two that are adults. They live in Gwinnett County. So I’m well vested. And I believe that the people that I love near and dear, I want them to feel safe. So, I also want citizens in Gwinnett County to feel safe as well, you know?

Rico: [00:05:26] So, okay. Do, are any of your kids? Do they say, dad, I want to be, I want to get into law enforcement? Do any of them say that?

Floyd: [00:05:36] Well, I have four beautiful daughters that they look up to me. I think what they do right now is they go to school and they talk to the teachers and they talk to their classmates and they say, my dad is going to be the next sheriff of Gwinnett County and they’d be running around talking, talking to the teachers. It’s funny. I love it, you know.

Rico: [00:05:56] So, why, why are you seeking office? Why do you want to be the Gwinnett County sheriff?

Floyd: [00:06:02] Well, I believe in rebuilding relationships within the community. I believe in rebuilding the trust between the citizens of Gwinnett County and law enforcement, you know, as I’m in that there’s been some injustices that have appeared that are occurring in Gwinnett, and there’s some injustice that are occurring in the County Sheriff’s office. For instance, the 287g program, for instance.

Rico: [00:06:29] So explain that to people that don’t know.

Floyd: [00:06:32] Well, what it is, is a contracted agreement between the sheriff of Gwinnett County and immigration. What it does is anybody that’s an undocumented immigrant that comes here in Gwinnett County and is arrested by any of the local police that are here, including the Sheriff’s office, and they are undocumented and they get arrested, whatever the incident may
be, if it’s just a traffic citation of traffic, driving without a license or no insurance, and they get arrested and they went to Gwinnett County jail, they have a team of workers that are there, that are dedicated to immigration and that they find that they are undocumented. Then they will be handed over to immigration for deportation.

Rico: [00:07:24] Ice, essentially, right?

Floyd: [00:07:25] Ice.

Rico: [00:07:25] Ice, which is what I think many people might know it as.

Floyd: [00:07:29] And the thing of it is, some of these people that are undocumented, they left that country for a better life. Some of them even escaped that country for a better life, and a lot of crimes are going unreported because the undocumented immigrants feel that is, they would rather endure the crime that’s being committed against them instead of reporting it to the police and have the police, I guess, check them out and find out that they are undocumented and then deport them.

Rico: [00:08:11] Have you come across stories like that where people have been deported for really minor offenses and torn away from their families?

Floyd: [00:08:18] Oh yeah. You got some people that I’ll actually leave them at home in the morning, going to work like normal. And they get pulled over by the police for whatever the reason may be and it, and they could be making a wrong turn or making a turn without putting the signal on, or is, it could be a very or varying, different things that could happen. And they pull them over and they don’t have a driver’s license, so.

Rico: [00:08:45] Now 287g is enforced, it’s voluntarily enforced by the County.

Floyd: [00:08:52] Yes, it’s an, like I said, it’s an agreement between the Gwinnett County sheriff and immigration. So if the sheriff decided that he didn’t want it anymore, then it would be gone.

Rico: [00:09:05] And there’s no repercussions?

Floyd: [00:09:07] There’s no, there’s no repercussions whatsoever. So that’s why when I do become the next sheriff of Gwinnett County, that’s one of the first things that I’m going to be doing away with.

Rico: [00:09:16] Do you find that the police officers that are tasked to this? I mean, most people, I guess that they used to seeing police shows and stuff and or reality shows even, and they may be aware that, you know, you get a collar, you have to spend time at the jail processing that collar. For example, the person that you brought in arrested, do you find that a big waste of time for the Sheriff’s department to be doing that?

Floyd: [00:09:43] In most cases I find it to be a waste of time because I don’t think that the 27 week program should even be there because like I was there before, the 287g program was even there. And we had a system in place that we would contact a consulate of whatever nationality that we had put in the jail. And then we notify that consulate. If the consulate wanted them, they would come and get him. And if they didn’t want him, then we would do a background check on him to make sure that they didn’t have any violent crimes or anything like that. If they had a violent history, then yes, we would notify. But if it was a minor crime, like, like for instance, no driver’s license or no insurance, and we wouldn’t still notify that consulate, but if the consulate said, nah, we’re not going to come get him, then we would just release them back into the public cause they were no threat to the public.

Rico: [00:10:35] Right. But they still come to court, I guess later.

Floyd: [00:10:38] They would if they didn’t pay that fine. Usually when they, when they were born to the, to the jail for no driver’s license, they were bought because they couldn’t sign the ticket because they didn’t have, they couldn’t verify the address from where they were. So they would bring them in. So they would pay that fine. If they paid that fine and got released for, you know, for instance, it was no driver’s license and they paid a fine, right. Or no insurance. They paid that fine and they would be released. They didn’t have to have a court date because they already paid the fine. The court date was set up so that they could go before the judge and, right. Hey, what? I was fine. I needed the payment if they paid it.

Rico: [00:11:17] So Floyd M Scott becoming sheriff first day, 287g would be out the door.

Floyd: [00:11:22] 287g would be gone.

Rico: [00:11:24] Gone. Okay. All right. So, yeah. Obviously that’s the single most important issue at this point, it sounds like.

Floyd: [00:11:34] Well, that’s one of the, that’s one of the things that, I’m emphasizing strongly. But I also, the morale within the jail itself, you know, like I said, I was here for 17 years. I left on August 19th, 2019. Six months prior to that, I knew I was going to be running for sheriff, but nobody knew in the Sheriff’s office, so I was going around to all the deputies that worked in the housing units, and I was talking to the deputies that were working the streets and I was asking them if they had a way of changing something to make their jobs easier. What would they do? And they would give me ideas. So I was already, I guess you could say interviewing them to find out what is going to make that the new system around. And that’s what I carried, that’s what I’m carrying with me now.

Rico: [00:12:31] Okay. So what would be the first thing that Floyd M. Scott sheriff would do? The first 90 days? I mean, what would you start with? Give me the top three or four things that you’d want to start accomplishing.

Floyd: [00:12:43] One of the things that I would do immediately in addition to the 27g is I would allow the deputies to wear beards.

Rico: [00:12:52] They can’t wear beards?

Floyd: [00:12:53] They can’t wear beards at this time unless they’re in a specialized unit. Then a specialized unit, but I would allow them to wear beards. I wouldn’t get it. They’d have, I’d have regulations on it. They couldn’t grow it beyond probably an inch or so, but of course that would let them grow up because we have a lot of deputies that have, I guess, trouble shaving. They have razor bumps and it is painful. It’s my whole military career. I had to have a shaved profile.

Rico: [00:13:24] Some people just don’t want to shave. I mean, I just cut this down a little bit, but it’s been like…

Floyd: [00:13:29] As long as it’s neat. As long as it’s neat and it’s trimmed nicely, I don’t have a problem with it.

Rico: [00:13:36] All right, so dress code that, that being part of dress code though, you would address that. What other things would you address?

Floyd: [00:13:43] I know that there is a, you got, deputy ones, the ones that I’m not, that have no desire to be certified deputies to walk around and carry guns or work at the courthouse or anything like that. They love working in the jail. They call it deputy ones, three months. Then you’ve got deputy twos and then you’ve got deputy, master deputies.

Rico: [00:14:06] So deputy ones work in the jail system and don’t carry weapons.

Floyd: [00:14:10] They don’t carry weapons. The only thing would they, the thing of it is you got some of them that’s been there for like 10, 11, 12, 15 years. And then you have a young officer that comes in and they, I guess they’re at that point, other than the pay for performance, that’s the only raise they get is each year where a deputy that goes through the mandate Academy and gets certified. It’s a pay grade increase and also have the opportunity to go and get tests for corporal, test for master deputy, test for sergeant and go up the ranks. Well, the ones that don’t have a desire to go to mandate, they don’t have that option. So I’ve, that’s one of the things that I want to bring. I want to have a rank structure for the DSO that there would be pay parity for, because you got some of these DS ones that have one set of training, right? The deputies that are going to mandate. And they have more knowledge in how to work in the jail then, then, then the young guys that are coming through.

Rico: [00:15:20] Sure. Experience counts for something, right?

Floyd: [00:15:21] Yes.

Rico: [00:15:22] But the DS2s are carrying weapons.

Floyd: [00:15:25] And they carry, they carry weapons once they leave the jail.

Rico: [00:15:28] Right. And are they, I mean, they are, obviously the pay grade is different also because they’re more likely, something will, likely would happen. I mean, the more hazardous duty, if you will.

Floyd: [00:15:39] You got some that any jail that has the capabilities of carrying weapons, but yet they’ll go into the locker room and they’ll change into civilian clothes and you’ll never know that they were deputy two. But all the DS ones they have to dress down where you don’t recognize them because they don’t carry guns and we, they’re forbidden to walk around in their uniforms outside of the jail.

Rico: [00:16:08] Because they don’t carry guns.

Floyd: [00:16:11] They don’t carry guns in. That’s one of the first things that a person would, there’s wanting to do harm. He’s going to seek the person that looks like my law enforcement.

Rico: [00:16:19] Right. So that makes sense to me. All right, so, and what would, is there, what else would you do? That’s the, the next?

Floyd: [00:16:25] Well, I know that, we don’t have our own training facility. We pretty much share a train facility within Gwinnett County police. I would like to. I’d have to talk to the board of commissioners about it. It wouldn’t be something that I could make happen but something that I can bring to their attention. You know, we don’t have our own shooting range. We gotta we have to, rely and share the shooting range of the Gwinnett County police. Where we could, develop our own shooting range. That way we can train our deputies to shoot because they, some of them have problems with shooting and yeah, we’ll tell them to go to these shooting ranges that are, that you have to pay, but we don’t give them the fundamental training that they need sort of before they go to the Academy.

Rico: [00:17:13] Is there a formal training with the Cornell Police Academy?

Floyd: [00:17:17] There is a formal training with the police Academy and then they go through like training scenarios, and they go and shoot, we prove the 40 hour actually scheduled to go to the range or go to the Academy. But then you got some of the ones that have been certified that still have trouble shooting. Yeah, so and the only time that they even go and shoot that weapons
is if they’re slated to go to the range and then that’s got to be whenever they can get it going during the day. It’s usually Monday through Friday doing certain set hours that the police department is open. Well, if we had our own range. You got people that work at night, they got certified instructors that can take them into a range in the jail or in a facility that is right outside the jail and teach them how to shoot when they have that downtime.

Rico: [00:18:12] Let me ask you something. I know the Cornell police sometimes there’s, there’s always problems with hiring. There’s, they’re always short. They’re, they train police. Within two or three years. Those police officers may leave to go to another County. It’s good to know the police department because better pay, maybe better benefits. Maybe better, more out. Let me, I’ll be finding that to be the case also in the Sheriff’s department right now.

Floyd: [00:18:38] Yes. The morale is not as at the level that it should be at the level that I would like for it to be. I know from all the training and leadership classes that I’ve gone through, if you show your people that you care for them and that you care about their wellbeing, they don’t care about the pay. You can give them as much as much money as you want to, and they are still unhappy. If they feel that you don’t care about that, right, then they’re going to leave regardless. They’re going to go somewhere with somebody cares about them.

Rico: [00:19:10] Yeah. So you’re finding that level of morale is really like that.

Floyd: [00:19:15] Yes, I’ve experienced it.

Rico: [00:19:17] Okay. So if, so, your vision and goal for the, for the office and what you want to accomplish is really sounds like, to me it’s really morale based.

Floyd: [00:19:28] Yes.

Rico: [00:19:29] It’s changing the system. So then, so would this also, would you, how would you improve? Do you think we have enough Sheriff’s deputies? Do we, should we improve the recruiting as well?

Floyd: [00:19:40] The recruiting system is good. The repeating, the recruiters that we have in place right now, they’re very, they’re very good at what they do. And, they will continue to, to excel and bring people in. It’s just the retention part of that. And I feel that a majority of that retention has to do with us actually caring for them. The people that don’t, we bring in. Also the leadership. A lot of people forget where they come from. You know, I worked my way through the ranks. I’ve never forgotten where I came from. And I can go and, if I have any problems, I’ll go and ask a deputy one who works in our housing unit or out on the street constantly and knows it inside and out and say, Hey, well how do you do this? How do you do that? I don’t get this big head to the point where I’m the big man, so I don’t need to ask you what, you know how to do this, but that person knows how to do that.

Rico: [00:20:38] Sure. So what did you, have you found anything surprising when you’ve been out in the field like that? Asking deputies those questions, anything surprising that you found? Floyd: [00:20:48] What I’ve found is, first of all, they’re shocked that they mean, you are asking me? Oh wow. I feel they feel, they feel part of the system. You know, they feel, they feel valued. And that’s all I’m trying to do is I’m just trying to bring value. I want you to feel that you are included in the process, you know? And not the, we are up here at the top and we are just gonna rain down. I want to know what you would have to say. So, and that’s what, that’s where a lot of things have been lost in this place, is that once you get into these high ranking positions, you feel that you got to make all the decisions and you don’t want anybody else to make them. And then if the decisions are made from below you, then you might feel that you’re inadequate, but I don’t feel that way.

Rico: [00:21:46] Do you feel some people do feel, some people have been in the system way too long?

Floyd: [00:21:51] Yeah.

Rico: [00:21:51] That sort of sounds like, yeah. Do, do you think the Sheriff’s department or the sheriff, the County sheriff should have either a term limit also?

Floyd: [00:22:01] I think, I think it should be three terms. Three, three elections, and that’s it. I don’t think they should be in there until either they die in office or they are there until they’ve been there 30, 40 years or whatever. I think it should be a three term limit.

Rico: [00:22:21] It’s funny, I was doing some research before this interview of impact county sheriffs across the country and you either die in your, your office essentially, or you hand it down to your son or family member in some counties. It’s, I was reading that and I was like, man, that’s unbelievable. It’s so, junior can take the job of… I can see that in certain counties, you know, maybe not in the cities areas, but where they literally handed that to family members or they die in office because they’ve been there so long. What, what, what’s the vision and goal that you, or i’m sorry, not the vision and goal. What’s the quality and experiences that you feel is the best core candidate for this office?

Floyd: [00:23:05] Well, first of all, it has to be somebody that’s actually worked at the Sheriff’s office that knows the constitutional responsibilities of the sheriff. And have a love and care for the employees that work for the sheriff. You got civilians. We’ve got over, I think it’s the last eight, 800 plus officer’s deputies as well as civilians. You want them to come to, to work and not dread coming to work, but coming to work to be productive because they enjoy being in the environment. What I’ve experienced, and just from being a supervisor and being a manager at the Sheriff’s office, where you got some people that drive up in the parking lot and they’ll sit there and they’ll contemplate. Wow, I’ve got to go in and should I call in sick because the morale
is that bad? Well, I, I want them to feel wanted. I want them to feel welcome and I want them to feel that the production, the work that they do is valued. I want them to feel valued.

Rico: [00:24:17] I can see how if someone is, is angry or is now feeling valued. How’d that would really, be a detriment to the way they work their job as well. If they have anger.

Floyd: [00:24:32] Well, you’re going to have, you’re going to have people that will have, you’re going to have a bad day. They’re going to come in and they want everybody to feel the way they feel. So they’re going to come in with a certain attitude. And they’re going to try to, and the thing of it is you’ve got to have those strong leaders, be it ranked leaders or chosen leaders amongst the peers, because you’ve got peer leaders too, as well as rank leaders that can go going and talk to a person in and say, Hey, what’s going on?

Rico: [00:25:06] Does the county sheriff do like other corporations, do they do, I imagine they do reviews on a regular basis, right?

Floyd: [00:25:13] What they have the annual, they have, if there’s a, a deputy that is in trouble. They got programs that set up that they can seek counseling without anybody knowing. You know, and the responsibility of the supervisors is to see that. And it also is each one of the deputy’s responsibility to see if one of their peers or somebody that they feel is going through something that somebody is made aware of it.

Rico: [00:25:47] You see where I’m going with that question, right? Because I mean, in a normal corporate environment, all right, someone doesn’t do the job, right? Paper falls off. File gets lost, things happen. It’s different in a law enforcement where lives are at stake and some cases even if it’s a little different, right?

Floyd: [00:26:04] Absolutely.

Rico: [00:26:05] You want to weed out some people that you know shouldn’t be maybe that particular job, but you know, they could do that job better. Sounded like saying we’re going to weed out everyone that’s bad, but I’d say let’s put them into the right place, but they might work better.

Floyd: [00:26:18] Yeah. We, we have a system. Well, I believe in the system that if you’re not used to being around people that cause this, law enforcement is a people oriented business for me. You gotta care about the people that you, that you are talking to. Otherwise you, you know. We can put you in a place where you don’t really have to talk to people. You don’t have to have any encounters with people at all. But, that’s one of the things that the supervisors would have to find in, in, and weed them out, and to sit back and sit down and have a conversation with them. I mean, as this a profession that you really want to be in, I mean, considering this is a public service, right?

Rico: [00:27:03] And some of them may be carrying weapons, right? You have to have the right, well, emotional stability and sleep.

Floyd: [00:27:10] You’re absolutely right, because one thing about being in the law enforcement arena, one minute, I tell him all the time, I would tell him all the time, one minute you could be helping an old lady across the street, and the next moment you can be in a fight for your life. So you gotta be really prepared mentally for that.

Rico: [00:27:38] Then you’ve been, you’ve been in this county a long time, 23 or 24 to 24 years. That’s almost as though they’ve been here since 95, so 23 years. The county’s changed a lot. I mean, I mean, you’ve seen it firsthand, obviously even better because you’ve worked in, in the system. What, what, what do you think are the pressing things? What areas of the County and what, what, what do you think needs more attention? They may not be getting that now. I mean, there’s more gang activity. Maybe there’s more crime, I don’t know. And depending on who you talk to, what part of the county you’re, you’re talking about things change.

Floyd: [00:28:19] Well, I know when I was honestly out there on the streets policing Gwinnett County, the areas that were bad, but the demographics have changed. And people have transitioned from those locations. When I first started back in 2001 in with the police department, Norcross was a very, very heavy gang drive by shootings constantly. Cause my first week there I had to deal with three drive by shootings, you know, and people getting killed from gang disjoint, gang size. Well the crime is slowly moving. Well, the 85 corridor. And what we got to do is we just got to, yeah. You just got to focus. You know, when they got the, the crime stats, they got to do the crime stats, the comp stats that they do to, do to an area. And I even have an app on my phone that any crime that committed that I’ll get briefed. Brilliant. So you can know what areas though most crimes are ridden.

Rico: [00:29:30] Not just college, you’re talking about incident reports.

Floyd: [00:29:35] Actual incident reports where we got, okay, well, larceny was committed here, you got the aggravated assault or domestic violence, or you know, even a heavier crime then that and now they actually have apps that you can actually wherever your address is, we can have it within however many mile, 10 mile radius of your home.

Rico: [00:29:59] I have one now. It’s, I forgot what it’s called, this crime mapping. It’ll, every morning I would get something and I’ll say, one crime, one incident or five. It’s just about four. The interesting part is, at least in this area, I don’t, I see less break-ins percent, unless you’re on a main road. Which always tells me that it’s just an easy in and out, but I don’t see a deeper into a community. And I see a lot of just stuff happening in like, parking lots and office, spray cans and stuff like that.

Floyd: [00:30:31] One of the other amazing things that are happening, is they have these tag reader cameras put in neighborhoods that, that can afford to have them in their neighborhoods. And then I guess in some of the, the industrial locations that they have as well.

Rico: [00:30:50] You know, the city of Peachtree Corners is actually putting the license plate identification cameras throughout, at least the main roads that are city owned, if you will. And then anyone that wants it and their homeowner association that can go at it and the city will put it there, as long as they pay for it in their property taxes prorated on all that. You were talking before about constitutional mandate, so just for those that don’t understand, because. County sheriffs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction take care of a variety of things. It’s not always the same in every County. Some of them manage jails as their main priority, some of them, because they do that, then they may be the largest provider of mental health services in the County just because of the nature of the beast. They perform evictions, sometimes running car office, variety of things in different counties. What is the constitutional mandate for the Gwinnett County sheriff? What would, what are you tasked to do? What’s your responsibilities?

Floyd: [00:31:47] Our responsibility is the jail. Maintain security of the jail. The courthouse. Make sure that we have an adequate amount of deputies that command that courtrooms, so that the judges will have security in the courtrooms. We, service the warrants, the civil papers. We are actually in charge of the family violence, the temporary protective orders that are put in place. Whenever it is a family violence order for a temporary protective order, it comes to the Sheriff’s office. We control the family violence orders that come down. And we also, maintain the sex offenders. And there’s, there’s an app out there too. You go to the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s website, you can actually tap into the sex offenders. So you will know who, if there’s a sex offender in your neighborhood or anywhere close proximity to you.

Rico: [00:32:50] Because they have to be registered for a period of time. Floyd: [00:32:51] They have to be registered and monitored. They actually go on. I’ve done it. I’ve actually went out to these, registered sex offenders homes to make sure that they were home. If they’re not home, then we go into front of the judge and we’d say, Hey, this is, this person wasn’t here at the time he was supposed to be here, and then the order, the judge issues an order, we’ll go get them and bring them back in before the judge. The judge is going to say, if you can maintain, you know your probation in your home that you registered for, then you can stay here, not jail.

Rico: [00:33:24] Well thing is there, does that expire at some point? I guess they have to probation or did they say . Floyd: [00:33:30] It all depends on the seriousness of the crime and I’m sure there’s times they can go and get their charges expunged. But it all depends on the severity of the crime.

Rico: [00:33:43] What, with going back to a little bit about what I said about some maturity sections in health, mental health services, I would imagine in the jail system. Have you seen the
growth of that, of people that you know how, or have some mental issues and you have to provide services? Does, the County does do that?

Floyd: [00:34:06] We have a 24 hour mental health, so we have mental health workers that are there 24/7. At one point, I was told that we were like the third largest mental health facility in the state of Georgia. I mean, because we, we have so many mental health, we have a, we have a unit that’s dedicated to mental health. And of course there are other mental health cases that you’d seen any time in the housing unit when the deputies in the housing unit and somebody acting out of character or they just been sentenced to something. Well, they’ve been sentenced to a crime that they’ve committed. Then we usually, it’s an automatic red flag that pops up and we’ll have mental health go on and check them out, make sure that they are okay.

Rico: [00:34:56] How many, how many, how many prisoners are incarcerated in?

Floyd: [00:35:02] There can be right now that could be anywhere from 1,800 to 2,600 at any one given time, but it’s pretty much been on the low end. It’s been around 2000. Rico: [00:35:16] Okay. Is that a trend that we’re seeing, or is that just?

Floyd: [00:35:20] Well I hope it’s, it’s one of those things that it’s going to slowly go on a decline. You know what I mean? If you look at the ratio of people that are in Gwinnett County as opposed to who’s in the jail, that’s a small number.

Rico: [00:35:34] It is surprisingly small, actually. We have almost a million people and surprise. It’s only that’s, yeah.

Floyd: [00:35:40] Yeah.

Rico: [00:35:41] So, it’s interesting to me that the Gwinnett County sheriff is not just a law enforcement person, but you’re as such way ahead of, you’re like the CEO of a company really.

Floyd: [00:35:51] Absolutely.

Rico: [00:35:52] Cause you handle and you take care of the budgets. I mean, you have one big budget and I don’t know where the money comes from, if that… Floyd: [00:36:01] On the board of commissioners we erect from, they pretty much go before the board of commissioners and let them know. From, well, the years before. And you know, here’s a trend, what we’ve used in has been times when we didn’t use all the money and we actually turned it back into the County and let them know we’ve saved this amount of money. We didn’t need it. So we return it back to you.

Rico: [00:36:25] Do you think there’s any major renovation or major work that has to be done? Capital improvements?

Floyd: [00:36:30] I, well, that’s one of the things that I want to bring. Is at the jail, we need a parking deck. The parking on Wednesdays, they have a court, that administrative court. And the parking lot is bad. They have, we have an overt, we had an extended parking lot that’s way up the Hill around the corner that you have to park at and then walk, you know, walk through the parking lot. And, you know, it’s just, this is tedious. But if we had, The capital improvement would be that I suggested. I’ve already talked to some of that board of commissioners, and this made a suggestion that we would, if you will, build a parking deck for the employees so that they can have it. That way you can free up all that extra parking lot for the citizens.

Rico: [00:37:21] They could have control acts.

Floyd: [00:37:22] The control for the employees and they won’t have to worry about that car is getting bad in the last, because there’s been plenty of times when we’ve had to be run out to them in the parking lot because somebody’s car has been broken into or we find somebody that’s using. We’ve had people try to OD in the parking lot.

Rico: [00:37:43] Tried to OD on purpose?

Floyd: [00:37:45] Yeah, they, we got them with the needle in the arm. And they’re out and we have to give them that Narcan. Yeah. They bring them back.

Rico: [00:37:52] Said that Narcan could be done as many times as you feel like it’s, you get that high and get that Narcan four or five times, six times and just keep going until the last one might not work or this. The sad part about that I mean people are getting used to it. It says, is there any, anything that I’ve missed, Floyd, that you want to share with us?

Floyd: [00:38:15] One of the things that, that’s near and dear to me. I know there, I’ve been doing this business for, like I said, for over 40 years. But I don’t think, I don’t think any handle any law enforcement agency has ever gone and actually apologize to the citizens for some of the wrongs that have been done to them by law enforcement. You know, I feel that if any person or a loved one or a friend that they may know that ever been wronged by the law enforcement or for whatever reason. I wanted to apologize to them. I know we are, we are held by a high standard. I mean, we, we are, we give an oath to uphold the laws of the land. And we were supposed to treat every citizen with dignity and respect. And if anybody was ever treated less than what we are mandated in that we’ve sworn to do. Then I wanted to apologize to them and just ask for their forgiveness for all of law enforcement, because we’re not all bad. No, we’re not all bad. Yes, because a small percentage of us do that. You know, unfortunately we see it in the news and we capture it on video and believe me, that’s one of the things I want, I, I applaud is the fact that we do have the body cams. Because what it does is it eliminates, because when I used to work out on the street, if somebody filed a complaint against you, then you had to prove that right then that it wasn’t true. No matter how much integrity you have, right? You still have to prove it, but that body cam pretty much speaks for you as well.

Rico: [00:40:04] And I think that’s helpful because it seems to me that, you know, if someone’s going to like to be a criminal that’s lying more than an honest another person, let’s say. Cause they want to get out of what, what happened maybe? So that body cam is worn by sheriffs as well, not just police.

Floyd: [00:40:18] It’s worn by the sheriffs. They have, we even got inside of the jail with the rapid response team.

Rico: [00:40:25] Okay, so this way they can prove that whatever they’re doing this course to be doing that.

Floyd: [00:40:30] Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s one of the other things that, I will, revamp is the rapid response team because they got a lot of controversy around them for ELA. So we’re going to, it’s going to be a total retraining, reeducation, because I’ve seen the tactics. I wasn’t always happy with all the tactics, but I will say that once I become the sheriff that, that will be a revamping of the rapid response team. We, it’s definitely needed because we got, scenarios that, where the rapid response team was very needed. When I grew up, we, we, we grabbed a couple of deputies. Hey, let’s go get this person correct. Now they actually train. So we make sure that the training is consistent and that they’re there to help get the person on the control and down. That’s it. After they get him under control and taken away, it needs to be, then they back down. We’ve had some incidents where it’s been in the news where you have a person that’s mentally ill and you’ve got four guys on him and then you punch them in the face. I mean, that doesn’t make sense.

Rico: [00:41:46] No, that doesn’t. It really doesn’t. If they can’t control a person with four people. That’s just doesn’t make sense.

Floyd: [00:41:53] Yeah.

Rico: [00:41:54] We’ve been talking to Floyd M. Scott, the candidate for Gwinnett County sheriff. Where can we find out about you?

Floyd: [00:42:03] Well if you go to FloydScottSheriff2020.com you will find my webpage. I’ll pop right on up and May 19th…

Rico: [00:42:14] May 19th election day. And that’s primary day too.

Floyd: [00:42:18] Primary day, Floyd Scott.

Rico: [00:42:20] So go, go to that. And if you can’t remember that, just Google Floyd Scott for sheriff. And that will come up too, cause that’s what I did. This was a pleasure having you on.

Floyd: [00:42:31] Absolutely. Thank you.

Rico: [00:42:33] And I want to thank everyone for joining us. Want you to remember about HargrayFiber.com our lead sponsor as well as Atlanta tech park here in the city of Peachtree Corners. And don’t forget to get your next issue of Peachtree Corners magazine. It should have hit your mailboxes in the past week or so. And if it hasn’t, let me know cause then I have to get back on the post office. But thank you guys. Appreciate it. Thank you Floyd.

Floyd: [00:42:57] Thank you.

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Elections and Politics

Regina Matthews in Run-Off June 18 for Gwinnett Superior Court Judge

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on

This run-off election decides who will serve on the court.

Magistrate Court Judge Regina Matthews is a candidate for the upcoming June 18th runoff election for Superior Court Judge in Gwinnett County. Regina discusses improving court efficiency by setting deadlines, utilizing magistrates and senior judges, virtual hearings, digitizing processes, and maintaining accurate records. She also discusses challenges like housing insecurity’s impact on crime, accountability courts, and public engagement. The Run-off is Tuesday, June 18th. Host Rico Figliolini.

Resources:
Regina’s Website: 
https://judgematthews.com/

Timestamp:
00:00:00 – Magistrate Judge Regina Matthews on Local Politics
00:01:19 – Importance of Voting in Runoff Elections
00:04:17 – The Varied Responsibilities of Superior Court Judges
00:07:22 – Strategies for Reducing Court Backlogs
00:11:29 – Adapting Court Proceedings to Virtual Platforms
00:14:00 – Addressing Housing Insecurity to Reduce Recidivism
00:17:17 – Housing Scarcity and Mental Health Challenges in the Court System
00:20:19 – Navigating Limited Resources in the Justice System
00:21:59 – Challenges in the Court System: Lack of Resources and Prioritizing Treatment 00:26:32 – Increasing Awareness of Available Services
00:27:51 – Embracing Law Enforcement: Building Community Ties
00:30:20 – Balancing AI Benefits and Risks in the Legal System
00:33:33 – Continuing Accountability Courts and Upholding Judicial Integrity
00:37:09 – Serving with Integrity as a Judge

Podcast Transcript

Transcript:

Rico Figliolini 0:00:01

Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life, a podcast that talks about politics, culture and all things going on in Peachtree Corners or that affects Peachtree Corners. So I have a great guest today, Regina Matthews. Hey, Regina, thanks for being with us.

Regina Matthews 0:00:17

Thank you for having me. I’m delighted to be here, Rico.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:20

Absolutely. It’s very important, important times here. We just had that primary in May, and you and another candidate are in a runoff June 18.

Regina Matthews 0:00:31

That is correct.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:33

Right. So let me introduce you a little better. Regina’s from Chicago, went to school in South Carolina and ended up here in Georgia going to Emory law school. You’ve been, you live in Lowburn, you have two kids. They both play soccer. You have a dog. You’ve been working actually as a Magistrate judge. And you were appointed by eleven Gwinnett County Superior court judges along with the chief magistrate judge appointed you to this position. I think it was 2020.

Regina Matthews 0:01:02

Correct.

Rico Figliolini 0:01:03

And you’ve been serving in that position ever since. So what I’d like you to do is because most people don’t know what a magistrate judge does, maybe you can tell us a little bit about yourself and what that position actually does. Go ahead.

Regina Matthews 0:01:17

Well, yes, and thank you for that introduction. I am happy to be here. And again, thank you for doing this because I’ll just start off by saying, you know, you mentioned our runoff election, and I know that a lot of people don’t show up to vote in runoff elections historically. So hopefully we will change that. Hopefully people will get out and vote. This is an important election. It is the only county wide election on the ballot. So, you know, if you’re anywhere in Gwinnett, you can vote for this particular race.

Rico Figliolini 0:01:52

Not only that, it’s a nonpartisan race. So what happens here June 18 decides the position does not go to November, does not go into a general election. This is it. If you’re not there to vote for this position between two candidates, you’ve lost your chance to do that. So sorry, I just want to put that out.

Regina Matthews 0:02:12

Thank you for that distinction, because that is an important one. And sometimes people also want to know, like, what ballot do I need to choose in order to vote for judge? It’s on every ballot. Nonpartisan, republican, democratic. But you’re right. If you don’t vote in this runoff, you will miss the opportunity to select who will hold this judicial seat for the next four years. But going back to your question, I do service as a magistrate judge currently in Gwinnett, we have part time magistrates and full time magistrates and there is a distinction in my current role. I was appointed so that I could provide judicial assistance primarily for our superior court judges. But we also, as full time judges, do sometimes sit in our state courts, you know, wherever we’re needed. Juvenile court, probate court, recorders court. We’re sort of the judges that kind of get pulled in different directions. But 95% of my time on the bench is in superior court. So the eleven superior court divisions that I sit for, basically what those judges do, they sign what are called judicial assistance orders. So when a judge meets my assistance, they will issue an order giving me the authority to sit in their courtroom and handle, you know, their caseload. So I hear everything that the elected superior court judges hear. I’ve been designated, I think, at this point two hundred times by our superior court judges. And, you know, we hear primarily family law and felony criminal prosecutions. That comprises about 70% of the caseload in our courts. The other 30% are general civil cases. So it could be anything from an appeal from magistrate court, property tax appeals, unemployment benefit appeals, contract disputes, court actions. I mean, the list is long and extensive, so, you know, but that’s basically what I do every day.

Rico Figliolini 0:04:20

So, basically, it’s fair to say that even though you’re not doing the job of a superior court judge, you’re doing work for them. You’ve been exposed to those cases, you’ve done support work for them, essentially.

Regina Matthews 0:04:36

Correct. That is correct. And what I will say is, you know, it’s an interesting and intense vetting process. When our superior court judges choose, you know, who they want to appoint to these positions, because ideally, you know, they want someone, an attorney who has practiced primarily in the areas that the superior court judges here. So, again, that’s primarily family and criminal. So if you have a background as a practicing attorney in those areas, typically you’re going to be better suited, you know, to serve in superior court. You know, that’s vastly what we do.

Rico Figliolini 0:05:17

And there’s eleven superior court judges in Gwinnett county.

Regina Matthews 0:05:22

That is correct.

Rico Figliolini 0:05:23

And do they handle budgets of the court? Now, do the individual superior court judge handles the budget for their section, if you will, or is it done as consolidated between the eleven?

Regina Matthews 0:05:38

So each of the judges has their own budget, but they are similar budgets, if that makes sense. So it’s not like one judge is going to have a different budget than the other judges. I mean, you have the same amount of money allocated. What happens is, you know, the judges will go to the board of commissioners to make their pitch as to what it is, you know, is needed. So if their budgets need to be increased from year to year, it’s sort of a collective bench decision, or pitch, so to speak, as to establishing what the budget should be. But then the judges have control over the money that’s allocated to them individually.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:20

Okay, so then, so judges are not just sitting on a bench. They’re also doing administrative work. They’re also handling budget requirements and the work through of what needs to be done in a court system, if you will.

Regina Matthews 0:06:37

That is correct. Some of it is administrative, and some of it, you know, I think people tend not to think about this part of the job, but a lot of times, what you’re doing is also, you know, finding out how to effectively manage your cases and, you know, the best and most effective way to handle, you know, disposing of cases in a way that’s responsive, responsible, and responsive to the needs of the people, which is having, you know, efficient resolution of their cases. And so a lot of that, honestly just comes from experience knowing what works and what doesn’t work to kind of move cases along.

Rico Figliolini 0:07:16

Right. So, okay, so we segue into that part of case management, if you will. Not just that, but the backlog, that was exasperated because of COVID I mean, there was backlog before, but it got worse because of COVID So, yeah, so this backlog, case management, how do you handle, what are the strategies that you would use to resolve some of these things? I know from experience, it’s one thing, but what, in effect, would you do to make this better?

Regina Matthews 0:07:47

Right. And I will say, I think that people should know that there are some court divisions that operate without a backlog. People find that hard to believe. And we sort of hear, you know, about this backlog, and it sticks with us, there are some divisions that do have a backlog, but some of them operate without one. I will tell you division five, which is the position or the division that I’m running for. Judge Byers, I will say, and I used to work with her as a staff attorney. So, you know, I know very specifically how she does her case management, but she’s been very effective in scheduling cases. And I always say one of the things you can do as a judge is aggressively schedule cases. And what that means is, you know, when you show up to court and you see a courtroom full of people, that means that judge has probably aggressively scheduled that calendar. So there are some judges who may call in one case or two cases. But if those cases, you know, resolve, and they often do when they come to court, the attorneys talk or the parties talk, and they resolve it right then and there. And then if you’ve only called in one or two cases, for example, then you have the rest of the day gone because you’ve only called in those two cases. So, you know, I think aggressive case calendaring, I think using our mediation services and our courts helps move cases along to resolution so that in many cases, those, you know, lawsuits or disputes don’t even reach us to a trial capacity because they’re resolved earlier on in the litigation. Judges can also issue, particularly in civil cases, case management, or case scheduling orders, which dictate to the attorneys or the parties specific deadlines that they have to meet in order, again, to help move the cases along. Because in some instances, you have cases where motions are filed over and over, and it just prolongs the litigation. But if you give strict deadlines and it makes sure people are, you know, held accountable to those deadlines, again, it keeps the cases moving efficiently. The other thing I think that helps is obviously, courts utilizing, you know, full time magistrates and our senior judges to help manage the cases. There are some judges who use us more than others, but I think anytime you have judges, you know, available who, of course, have been appointed because they have the requisite skills and knowledge to help, you know, hear those cases, I think we need to utilize them. And so those are the things I can think of off the top of my head. And also, I will add, using when you can, technology. We learned, obviously, during COVID that utilizing Zoom video conferencing for some types of hearings can make things move more efficiently as well. Obviously, you can’t do everything on Zoom, but there are some types of hearings that can be handled more efficiently that way.

Rico Figliolini 0:10:51

So let’s stick to the technology for a little bit, because that was a big deal during COVID took a little while to digitize the process, if you will. And now that you have it, you’re right, I can see certain cases itself in court, need to be in court. You need to be able to eye the participants of this. But certain promotions and other things that are administrative motions and stuff can all be done by Zoom, right? Or digital services of a sort.

Regina Matthews 0:11:21

Yeah, I agree. I think when you have, for instance, we hear a lot of motions, particularly in civil cases, where it’s just the attorneys coming to court to argue some issue in the law, and they just want to make a record, you know, to the courts and to argue their position on whatever that legal issue is. And so we’re not hearing evidence. You know, we’re not listening to witnesses. And so those types of hearings, I think, easily could be handled by Zoom or some sort of video conferencing technology. But as you said, other cases, you know, where we are hearing live testimony from witnesses, and we’re receiving a lot of evidence, you know, in the form of documentary evidence, then clearly those are instances in where we need to be.

Rico Figliolini 0:12:08

In person in court, not to get into the weeds. But I just thought about this. When you’re using Zoom like that on these types of things, will it transcribe as well? I mean, do you keep copies like that, even if it’s in a digital form?

Regina Matthews 0:12:25

So what we typically do, and in civil cases, you don’t have to have the case reported, but most oftentimes, the attorneys or the parties want that service. So we have our court reporters available on Zoom as well, so that they can make a record just like they would be able to if they were in court.

Rico Figliolini 0:12:43

Okay.

Regina Matthews 0:12:44

And additionally, you know, lawyers that are really savvy, they’re really, you know, I guess during COVID they became more savvy in how to introduce documents through Zoom, you know, how to share, use the screen sharing function, or how to attach documents as part of the Zoom video conferencing features. So, you know, we’ve worked around it, and I think, again, there are ways we can make it continue to work in order to make sure that our litigants are receiving effective and efficient resolution of their cases, because the last thing we want is for people to wait years unnecessarily to resolve a case.

Rico Figliolini 0:13:27

And I would think it’s easier this way, too, because you’re digitizing everything. You’re keeping files that way. I mean, automatically, I would think. And, in fact, probably within a year’s time, the transcription part can even be done through voice to text versus just having a transcriber there. There’s so much out there. I mean, you all have to, I guess, figure that out all the time. Keeps going. All right, so a couple of the other issues that’s near and dear to you, I think, that, you know, spoken of, obviously, through not just you, but other candidates and stuff. So one of them is housing and security. You mentioned that as a significant issue in Gwinnett county. So how do you propose the court system can address this issue effectively?

Regina Matthews 0:14:14

Yeah, and that’s a tough question. It’s one I struggle with and think about all the time, because I think the issue of housing insecurity sort of leads to other issues that we see in our courts, obviously, you know, people don’t have a safe place to live. It’s going to affect our crime rates. It’s going to affect recidivism. It’s going to affect people just being able to function in our community. So I think it comes down to resources, and that’s really one of the unfortunate practical realities for our courts, is a lot of times we want to, of course, help people. Courts are rehabilitative and to some extent. But when we have individuals who simply don’t have a place to go, for instance, I’m going to step aside a moment and talk about our accountability courts. So we have three in superior court, veterans court, mental health court, and drug courts. And all of those courts, obviously, operate for the purpose of establishing rehabilitative services and treatment services for individuals so that they don’t keep committing crimes, so that they don’t re offend, and so that they can be productive members of society. Those courts can only operate to their full extent if we have the appropriate resources in the communities available. We are limited, and that’s just the reality. So, for instance, when we have individuals who successfully complete one of those treatment programs, and there have been many, I can go on and on about the efficacy of those programs. But what I find is that they sometimes come back not because they’re not taking their medications or they’re not seeing their treatment providers, but it’s because they don’t have housing. So we send them through treatment. They do everything they need to do, but either because of their past or just because of the cost of living, they find themselves back in the courts because they’re on the street. So I don’t know what the solution is, other than really having our communities help us advocate to our legislators, to our commissioners to give us more funding so that we can try to establish appropriate housing in Gwinnett county. There are some places that work with our program that will provide transitional support in housing for people that are in our accountability courts, but it’s only temporary. So once they meet that threshold of time, then they’re sort of left to their own supports and connections to try to find affordable housing. And I know affordable housing is an issue everywhere. It’s not just in Gwinnett county, but for sure, yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:17:11

I mean, there’s not enough. Everyone wants to go to the higher price tag. Land is becoming scarce, even in Gwinnett county, apparently in certain places. So they want to put as much as they can and still charge as much as they can. So sticking with this, too, because mental health and veterans court as well. Right. Both. Those also are issues that go hand in hand, almost actually, with housing insecurity. Right. And what you’re looking at is support from nonprofits that are helping and doing stuff with federal monies and donations, corporate donations. But it’s a tough track. Right. So how do you, yeah. How do you feel that, you know, with mental health, what is it, 500 prisoners or so in the Gwinnett prison system that probably shouldn’t be there? Many of them they probably should be. They should be treated, obviously. How do you, how does the court system, how can the court system help with that?

Regina Matthews 0:18:14

So again, it’s tough because of, honestly, the truth of the matter is we have limited capacity. And, you know, if you look at places where we send people, for instance, for inpatient treatment, we’re talking about Lakeview, they have about 124 beds. Summit Ridge, they have a little under 100 beds. Peachford, which is all the way out in Atlanta, they have about 250 beds or so. We have way more people that need to be to get inpatient treatment than there are beds. So a lot of times what happens is people sit and wait. So for those people that we know need treatment, and we’re not just going to send them back out in the community without it. We keep them in jail and we try to arrange, there are some treatments that the jail medical staff can assist with while they’re waiting for beds. But a lot of times, honestly, we’re just having people wait for open beds because so many of them, I would say 70% or so, need some type of inpatient treatment. Now, our mental health accountability courts help a lot of people that are sort of not as much of a need of services, if that makes sense. I mean, they’re all in need of services, but to a different degree, because there are outpatient services that our treatment providers offer for those individuals where they can still, you know, live on the outside and work and do those things. But, you know, for those, the vast majority of people who need more intensive help, again, it’s just a matter of having the limited bed space.

Rico Figliolini 0:19:55

Well, not only that, it’s security, too. Right? Secured bed space, because there’s still, they’re still serving time, but they should be serving time in a place that at least will help them get better.

Regina Matthews 0:20:07

That is correct. That is correct. So, and, you know, I don’t know what the answer is. I know, you know, people never want to hear that we’re supposed to have all the answers. But, you know, I sit in court every day and I struggle with that. You know, you want to help people, you know, how important it is for them to get the help they need and to every extent possible, you know, I do that, you know, but when there’s, you know, only a limited number of bed space and the hospitals are saying, we can’t take this person right now, then we just have to do the best we can do. And that is, again, engaging with our medical staff at the jail and with our treatment providers who can come into the jail and offer services while those individuals wait. But, you know, otherwise we’re relying on, you know, what we have.

Rico Figliolini 0:20:58

Right, right. It’s a struggle, I imagine, because it’s almost like the sports industry here in Gwinnett county, right. We can only get certain amount of sporting events that the hotel system can support. Right. And then we have to turn away events because maybe there’s not enough space during that time. Same thing with jails. Right? To a degree, if you want to make that comparison, it’s like, I’m sure that you all have to figure out, well, you know, we have. We hit capacity. You know, where can, you know, can we, you know, put more prisoners into the system when you fix the capacity? You know, and I don’t know if we’ve actually hit that capacity yet or. Not hit the capacity for. To have occupancy in a system like this. You know, do we have enough?

Regina Matthews 0:21:44

I think we have. I mean, I can tell you as someone who not only sits in our superior courts, but who also presides in the absence of the judges who preside over our accountability courts. You know, I sit in those courts as well, and I’m very intimately familiar with how those treatment courts operate. And I can tell you that we are at capacity and we want to take in more people, but the practical reality is we don’t have the resources. And that is the. It’s really, it’s sad for me. It’s one of the most heart wrenching things as a judge to know that someone again needs help and they either have to wait in order to get it or we just have to come up with another solution.

Rico Figliolini 0:22:34

So going to that, I mean, obviously there’s so many challenges. This is one of them or several of them that we’ve just discussed. Are there other challenges you see in the court system that you would like to attend to?

Regina Matthews 0:22:49

I think those, honestly are the biggest challenges. Those are the ones that I’m confronted with every day. People who need assistance and treatment for trauma or substance use disorder or they need housing resources. Again, I don’t really notice a backlog that a lot of people refer to, because I think if you talk to lawyers who practice in other areas outside of Gwinnett, they will tell you Gwinnett handles cases way more efficiently than some of the other jurisdictions. So I think we do a good job of utilizing the resources we have by way of, you know, full time magistrates and our senior judges. I think we do things well. We use our, you know, alternative dispute resolution resources to a great extent. I think that helps us in that regard. So I think overall, we do things well in Gwinnett, in our courts. But again, I do think, you know, we have to prioritize with our money, you know, having more resources available for, you know, people struggling with substance use disorder or mental illness or a combination of both. We have a lot of people who are dual diagnosis. Right. So they have substance use disorder and mental illness, and a lot of times are housing insecure. So they obviously need a lot more resources, and that all falls struggle.

Rico Figliolini 0:24:20

Yeah. How do you see the role of the judiciary system when it comes to educating the public about the legal system? Their rights is all that falls hand in hand with what we just discussed, I think because sometimes the legal system can take the easy way out because it must, because there’s no other way to do. To do it at this point. Right. So what do you think the role is of the judicial system here as far as education, educating the public?

Regina Matthews 0:24:48

I think it’s important. You know, as a judge, I want people in our community to feel like they are knowledgeable about our courts. They sort of know where to go when they need to file a particular type of case. I think we as a judiciary, can do a better job of putting information out there that is available to the public. We have taken a lot of strides in Gwinnett in our courts. I will tell you that there are, particularly for magistrate court, our chief magistrate, Christina Bloom, she keeps brochures in the magistrate court office that is available to people, anyone who walks in. They can get a pamphlet on landlord tenant issues, you know, in those cases and how they’re handled and sort of the issues that come up in those cases, small claims, you know, basically step by step. I don’t want to say instructions because we can’t give legal advice, but we do give people resources. Like, this is where you can go. Our courts also operate a family law clinic. So for individuals who may want to represent themselves or maybe they. They don’t have the money to hire an attorney and maybe they don’t qualify for legal aid, they’re sort of stuck in the middle. There are resources available because of the goodwill of some of our attorneys who volunteer their time to do clinics to help people sort of navigate those processes. So we have information there. I think we can do a better job about making sure people know that the information is out there so that they can utilize it.

Rico Figliolini 0:26:25

That’s interesting. I didn’t know about that.

Regina Matthews 0:26:28

A lot of people don’t.

Rico Figliolini 0:26:29

Yeah, yeah. No, that sounds like another good podcast, actually.

Regina Matthews 0:26:33

So great idea. As a great idea, I wish more people knew about those types of services, and it’s just a matter of figuring out how do we get that message out to people.

Rico Figliolini 0:26:44

Yeah, it’s not easy. And then to get people to listen, actually, too, because they may not need it at that moment. Until they need it, right.

Regina Matthews 0:26:53

Until they need it. Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:26:54

Yeah.

Regina Matthews 0:26:54

The other thing I tell people, too, you know, I think people are generally afraid of courts or maybe they’re just apprehensive when it comes to, you know, courts. And so I tell people, don’t always think about it in a negative way. I encourage people to come out and observe court proceedings, you know, when you can. I know most people have full time jobs, so that may not be feasible all the time, but, you know, courts are open forums, so if you want to come and observe a divorce trial or, you know, a criminal trial or whatever type of trial, you know, come to court, observe, see how, you know, things go. And I think that might help prepare people, too, better for, you know, you know, the times that they have to come to court and face that same situation.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:41

It’s funny, I think people think of court system like the IRS. Just stay away and don’t go near it.

Regina Matthews 0:27:47

That’s right. People don’t want to come anywhere close if they don’t have to. I get that. I get that.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:52

Although I got to say, the Gwinnett county police do a great job when they do ride alongs. That, depending on how you do that program, even some of the local small town like Suwannee, I think, in Duluth do similar type of things where you can go with the police and see their normal day, if you will.

Regina Matthews 0:28:08

I love those programs, too, because, you know, our law enforcement, I also think that they sort of get that reputation of, you know, like, we don’t want to deal with law enforcement unless we need them. Right. Like, we stay away, you know, and I think we have to embrace, you know, our law enforcement officers as, you know, our friends. You know, they’re here to help us. They want to protect us and keep us safe. So I’m so glad, you know, so many of our police chiefs have taken the initiative to really be present in the community, you know, for reasons outside of, you know, crime, safety and prevention. But just so that people know, you know, they’re friendly, they’re neighborly, they want to, you know, you know, help us, but also be, make sure that we know that they’re part of the community to help and not just to get the bad guys, for sure.

Rico Figliolini 0:28:59

Right, right. Yeah, true. And a lot of them do a good job that way. We talked about technology before, but I like talking a little bit more specific about artificial intelligence, AI, and what that means in a court system or in preparing court documents or in having to worry about evidence that may be submitted that could have been tainted by AI. So what, you know, what do you think are the potential benefits and drawbacks of using AI in the court system?

Regina Matthews 0:29:35

Yeah, admittedly, you know, it’s a discussion we’re having to have more often. Even some of our continuing judicial education classes are starting to talk about this issue. And candidly, it scares me a bit because I’m just trying to imagine a court system whereby human intelligence is replaced by artificial intelligence. I mean, just the thought of it is a little alarming. I do think that there are ways in which AI can be beneficial. You know, for instance, when you’re an attorney or a judge, you know, or a law clerk who’s working for a judge, and you want to find information about a specific case or a legal topic, you know, doing research could be, AI could be great because it could make you more efficient and getting the answers you need. But I will say, as a caveat, there has to be a human, I think, sort of checking that. So even if you use it for research purposes, it is still artificial intelligence. So I would like to think that we would still need some human to basically double check to make sure of the accuracy of whatever information you’re getting. So I think there could be some benefits for efficiency when it comes to operating in a courtroom setting, though I’m more afraid of AI than I am of welcoming of it, because I foresee issues where we’re presented with evidence, for example, and we have to test the credibility or veracity of that evidence. And again, there’s just no substitute, I don’t think, for human intelligence as opposed to AI. And I think about the floodgates opening up with even court filings and us getting backlogged because of AI and something other than human filing court documents and how that could just really cause a backlog.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:34

You’re worried about more filings happening because it can be generated faster through AI.

Regina Matthews 0:31:39

That is correct. That is correct.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:42

I mean, certainly AI has issues, and I don’t, you know, as fast as it’s moving right now, who knows? In a year or two, probably less than two years, I bet based on what’s been going on in the last two years, we’re going to end up being able to. If you have someone that doesn’t speak the language, that can be translated through the system, Google does that right now. The Google Translate, right. And voice, you can have real time fact checking occurring where you can look at, you know, place it to chat, GPT 7.05.0 when it comes out, where you could check those facts. So there are certainly good side to it, but as fast as that’s moving, the bad side can move just as fast.

Regina Matthews 0:32:29

I can say, yeah, I agree, it’s troublesome. And because I guess we’re not sort of there yet, it’s hard to really appreciate how. How much of an effect it will have on our courts, whether a good, you know, good or bad, because, like you said, it’s happening so quickly, it’s almost hard to grasp. But, yeah, it’s gonna be here, if it’s not already, we’re gonna have to confront it. And. And it does give me some, some. I don’t know, I’m concerned a little bit.

Rico Figliolini 0:32:59

Well, it’s good that you all are getting education on it, right? Continuing education, if you will. So that’s a good part, that it’s being proactive, at least.

Regina Matthews 0:33:07

Yep.

Rico Figliolini 0:33:08

If you were to win the Gwinnett County Superior Court judgeship, what do you think, in brief, would be your long term vision for it?

Regina Matthews 0:33:17

So I will say, first of all, I’m the only candidate in the race who has unequivocally indicated that I will, without question, continue the accountability courts that Judge Byers started. And particularly those accountability courts are veterans treatment court and mental health accountability court. She is the only judge currently sitting on the bench who operates those treatment court programs. So once she resigns her seat at the end of this year, those programs could effectively go away. And so I have made an unequivocal promise to continue on with those programs. Honestly, I can’t imagine our courts not having them. So that is the first thing I will continue her legacy. You know, she started those courts. I think we just celebrated the 11th year, and so I want that to be, you know, a long term program, both of those to be long term programs that Gwinnett can be proud of forever. So I promise that I foresee a court whereby litigants feel that Judge Matthews is fair. She’s even handed, she’s even tempered. She may not always issue a ruling that I agree with, but I will trust that Judge Matthews has followed the law, you know, above all else, and that she treated me with dignity and with respect. You know, I was a practicing lawyer for a long time, and I remember appearing in front of judges who, I don’t know, seem like they would make sport of humiliating litigants or humiliating attorneys. I’m sure. I mean, you probably have seen or at least heard of those types of judges, and it was just troubling to me. And I, you know, said a long time ago, if I ever became a judge, you know, I will never be that type of judge where, you know, someone comes in and they have, you know, an issue that’s important enough to them to either file a case or be involved in whatever the litigation is. But, you know, people deserve to be treated with dignity, no matter what. And I include, you know, people who are charged of criminal offenses. You know, obviously, we don’t condone criminal behavior. I don’t like it. But those people deserve to be treated with dignity at the very least. And so that’s what people will get from me, judge, again, that’s going to be fair. Who’s going to operate independently, who is not going to be swayed, you know, politically. Who’s really just going to follow the laws, as I’m bound to do, the constitution of the state of Georgia, the constitution of the United States, and the laws passed by our legislators.

Rico Figliolini 0:36:03

Okay, well, thank you for sharing that vision. We’ve come pretty much to the end of our talk. But what I’d like you to do is give us, in short, two minutes, maybe ask for the vote, essentially tell everyone why they should be voting for you and ask for that vote.

Regina Matthews 0:36:23

Thank you, Rico. And, you know, I have to tell you lawyers, you probably know this. Lawyers and judges are not good with time limits. So I hope I can do the two minutes. If I started to go over, just stop me, because we’re not good at keeping time out. Yeah, put your hand up or something. But again, thank you for this opportunity. I take being a judge as something that is meaningful. It is difficult work. You know, the decisions that I make, that we make as judges every day, you know, we realize that they impact people in very significant ways. And so what I can tell the voters is that’s not something I will ever take for granted. You should vote for me not only because I have a deep concern and care for the people of this county, not only because I currently serve the county, but also because you need a judge and you deserve a judge who has the experience to do the job and to do it on day one. As I talked about earlier, I currently sit in superior court every day. At this point in my judicial career, I’ve made decisions, probably I want to say hundreds, but it may be even close to thousands of cases. This point I’ve done so diligently. I’m a judge that operates with the utmost integrity, and you don’t have to just take my word for it. I’ve been tried, vetted and tested, so to speak. The eleven superior court judges that you elected and the chief magistrate judge you elected in Gwinnett county have already vetted my qualifications. They wouldn’t designate me to sit for them over 200 times if they didn’t believe that I was suitable to do the job of a superior court judge. And that is what I do every day. I make a commitment to the voters that I will continue to have deep respect for the rule of law, I will always follow and adhere to the rule of law, that I will operate with integrity, and that I will do everything to make sure the court processes run efficiently. Thank you again, and I hope to have your vote. You overwhelmingly supported me in the primary election. I hope I can get you back out to vote for the runoff. You can find more information on my website at judgematthews.com, I’m also on social media Regina Matthews for superior court or judge Regina Matthews. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Instagram. I’m pretty much all the social media platforms. But again, I just hope the voters can remember that, you know, you need and deserve someone who has the experience doing the job. And I’m ready on day one.

Rico Figliolini 0:38:59

Great. By the time people hear this, early voting, I think will have ended. So June 18, Tuesday is the day.

Regina Matthews 0:39:06

Tuesday, June 19. That day you have to go to your assigned voter precinct for early voting. Obviously it’s different, but on June 18, you have to go to your designated polling place, seven to seven.

Rico Figliolini 0:39:22

Thanks for that. So thank you, Regina Matthews. Appreciate you being on with me. Hang in there for a minute, but thank you. Everyone else. If you have questions, certainly put it into the comments. Whether you’re listening to this on Facebook or YouTube, or you have comments that you want to send directly to Regina Matthews, just go to her website, judgematthews.com, and you’ll be able to do that. So thanks again. Appreciate you being with us.

Regina Matthews 0:39:48

Thank you, Rico.

Continue Reading

Elections and Politics

Tuwanda Rush Williams in Run-Off June 18 for Gwinnett Superior Court Judge

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This non-partisan run-off election decides who will serve in the seat

The Tuesday, June 18th run-off election for Gwinnett Superior Court Judge is almost here. In my interview with candidate Tuwanda Rush Williams, you will find out why she is running, her plans for mental health issues in the inmate population, why transparency and responsibility are important to her, and how she will rebuild trust in the judicial system. Tuwanda discusses the role of technology in modernizing the court system, the need for more lawyers to provide indigent defense services, and the importance of judges being visible and engaging with the public to build trust in the courts’ fairness and impartiality. With your host Rico Figliolini.

Resources:
Tuwanda’s Website: https://www.tuwanda4judge.com/

Timestamp:
00:00:00 – Tuwanda Rush Williams Runs for Gwinnett Superior Court Judge
00:01:15 – From New York to Georgia
00:03:54 – Improving Mental Health Care in Jail
00:07:50 – Addressing Mental Health in the Justice System
00:11:21 – Improving Court System Efficiency, Addressing Indigent Defense, and Leveraging Technology
00:15:53 – Balancing Technology in the Courtroom
00:18:06 – Concerns About AI in the Courts: Lack of Empathy and Transparency
00:22:15 – Ensuring Impartiality in Judicial Decisions
00:25:38 – Canine Incident Leads to Lawsuit
00:29:55 – Employing More Senior Judges to Clear Backlog
00:32:13 – Qualifications Beyond Being a Judge
00:35:29 – Tuwanda Rush Williams’ Campaign Resources and Endorsements

Podcast Transcript

Rico Figliolini 0:00:01

Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life, and we have an election coming up. It’s actually a runoff June 18, and I have one of the candidates for one of those runoffs, which is the candidate for Superior Court Judge here in Gwinnett County. Tuwanda Rush Williams. Hey, Tuwanda, how are you?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:00:20

Hello, Rico. How are you?

Rico Figliolini 0:00:22

Good, good. Appreciate you spending the time this afternoon coming out to speak to us and answer questions and talk about your candidacy. So appreciate you doing that. Absolutely.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:00:35

Thank you for the opportunity.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:37

No, for sure. And I think our readers and followers enjoy this type of thing. We just did one for the school board race, district three, and I got good responses on that. They enjoyed that, learning a bit more about candidates that are running. So why don’t you. Why don’t we start off Tuwanda with you telling us a little bit about yourself and tell us why or what motivated you to want to run for Gwinnett Superior Court Judge.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:01:05

Absolutely. Thank you. So, my name is Tuwanda Rush Williams, and I have been a resident of Gwinnett county for about 24 years now. Quite a while, I guess. 2000 is when we moved here, beginning of 2000. And I’m originally from Rochester, New York, but I have been in Georgia for the last 32 years, so I consider myself a Georgia peach at this point. But I am married and I have. My husband is doctor Anthony Williams. He is a retired Gwinnett county public school systems assistant principal, and he is also an army veteran. And we have two adult children, one who is in pharmacy school at UNC Chapel Hill, and the other is a youth college and young adult minister and an information technology specialist at Cox Enterprises. And so I’ve been practicing law for 31 years, a long time, most of that time here in Gwinnett county working for Gwinnett county government, and for the past year working at the law firm of Thompson, O’Brien, Kapler and the Sudie in Peachtree Corners. So why am I seeking this position? Simply because of what I observed in my 18 years working for Gwinnett county government, I rose to the position of second command. So I was deputy county attorney in the county attorney’s office, and I represented all 5300 employees, which included the district attorney, the clerk of court, the solicitor general, the sheriff, the tax commissioner, and the judges on all six courts. So I spent a lot of time at the Gwinnett county jail, and what I saw were the large number of persons with diagnosed mental illness sitting in the Gwinnett county jail. When I left the county in May, of last year in order to run for judge, and I had to leave my job because it was a conflict of interest to run for judge when I defended the judges when they were sued. When I left the county, there were 500 people with mental illness, diagnosed mental illness sitting in the jail. They tend to be socially isolated. They require around the clock observation. They are a higher suicide risk, and they require a lot of manpower resources. Because of that, there were another 2200 inmates in the regular population who were pretty much on their own, neglected. They were getting showers one day a week. It was very difficult for them to meet with their lawyers to prepare for their cases to go to trial. They also did not have much recreation time simply because there was not enough staffing to manage the 2200 regular inmates and simultaneously take care of the 500 inmates with mental illness of some type. So one of the reasons why I decided to run is because I don’t want to see people with diagnosed mental illnesses sitting in the jail awaiting trial. They don’t get better sitting in the jail. They need to have alternative custody arrangements. They need to be able to be in a mental health facility, or they need to be at home with counseling services, therapy services, medication stabilization, and a case manager while they are awaiting trial. And what I see in the county right now is that we have accountability courts, but they need to be expanded, and judges need to put a request in their budget to expand those courts so that we have a place to put people who have been charged with a crime but are not good candidates for being locked up in our jail. So I would like to see judges not send people to jail that have mental illness, but also send them to places like a viewpoint health, which is inadequate for staffing purposes. Right now they only have 16 beds. So we need to actually advocate in our court system for more money to take care of those with diagnosed mental illnesses as opposed to sitting in the jail.

Rico Figliolini 0:05:42

So for most people that don’t understand, they might think Gwinnett Superior Court judge is just a sitting judge listening to cases, felony cases, family law, divorce, child custody. But it is more as well an administrative role, deciding budgets and personnel. Right?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:06:01

That is exactly true. Superior court judges have a budget just like any other county department or state department, and they actually, they will go down to the Capitol and advocate for various issues as well that impact the court system. And one thing you said, Rico, that I want to follow up on. Most people think of superior court as criminal felony cases and family law cases are heard there. But did you know that there are a large variety of matters that are also heard in superior court that I handle over the last 19 years as a government lawyer, such as your property tax appeals, condemnation cases, inverse condemnation cases, elections lawsuits, civil rights lawsuits, contract disputes, all kinds of declaratory judgment actions, stormwater issues, things that people don’t really think about that are heard in superior court. And you would only have experience in those areas if you have been a local government lawyer, such as myself.

Rico Figliolini 0:07:11

You’ve been doing this for 31 years. Practicing here in Georgia.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:07:17

Yes, practicing in Georgia. 31 years. I practiced most of my career in Gwinnett county. So the last 19 years I worked here in Gwinnett, 18 years in the county attorney’s office, rising and promoted to second in command, and for the past year, working at Thompson O’Brien law firm, where we represent the city of Norcross, Bryan county and some other municipalities, doing a variety of work.

Rico Figliolini 0:07:47

So, getting back to a little bit about that budget, about the mental health issues, which is a challenge, a rising challenge. Obviously, like you said, mental health issues, putting people into prison doesn’t make them any better. They don’t have the programs there. But in everything, everything costs money. Someone says to me, oh, can we just do this? Well, everything costs money, and you’re just adding to the bill. So that’s one thing that costs money. Then you have other things that cost money, whether you don’t have enough staff to be able to do the things you need to do and all that. So, understanding you want to lobby for money, understanding that you have a finite budget right now, what would be the first thing you do when you, if you were to win, to attend to those mental health issues? What is one of the first things that you would do in there? Knowing that you have a finite budget, you know, you don’t have anything more coming at that moment.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:08:49

So the first thing that I would do as a judge is I would look for opportunities to sentence those with a diagnosed mental illness to arrangements that are not in our jail custody. So if they were a candidate to be able to be at home with counseling services and case manager, that’s where I would send them while they were awaiting trial, as opposed to putting them in our jail, because that would be the first thing I would do, is I would look for opportunities to send people who’ve been accused of crimes to their home environment, as opposed to putting them in the jail, which is a place where they’re just not going to get better and there’s just not enough resources. But then after I looked at who would be a good candidate for being home because everyone can’t be home with a diagnosed mental illness. Right. Then I would look for opportunities to advocate for the budget for a superior court to be expanded such that we can maybe take monies from some other area. Right. We have a mental health court. We have a veterans court. We also have a drug court. But the mental health court is where we have the greatest financial need simply because of the number of individuals who are coming through the court system with a diagnosed mental illness. So I would look at those other two courts to see if we could reallocate funds from those courts to the mental health court so that we could expand the budget to take care of those people. Viewpoint. Health will take individuals who do not have insurance or who are underinsured, who have a diagnosed mental health condition. The problem is that they only have 16 operable beds, which is just not enough, which shows you that they need to be expanded. They need to have larger facilities, more beds, more staffing. So we’ve got to figure out a way to cut the budget in some other areas in the county and add that money to mental health services.

Rico Figliolini 0:11:08

Let me ask you something. Not that we can solve the issues here, but the jail system is run by the sheriff. Correct? The budget and all that.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:11:16

It is. It is.

Rico Figliolini 0:11:17

So. And you’re moving with the thought is there’s 500 prisoners that have mental health issues. Obviously not all of them. Some of them are violent criminals that are going to have to sit there. There’s no other place to put them, most likely. Right. So if you’re moving 100 of them out of there, though, maybe. Does it make sense then to look at the jail system and say, okay, they’re spending a certain amount of money per prisoner doing that? I know this is not the norm, looking at budgets from different departments, but shifting money from within a department. Is that a county commission responsibility?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:11:57

It is a county commission responsibility, but the commissioners have to receive a budget from the various county courts and departments in order to set a budget for them. So you are correct. The budget, the overall budget is approved by the board of commissioners, but they have to receive a budget request from the court system as well as from the sheriff so that they can make the right decisions. So you’re correct.

Rico Figliolini 0:12:25

So when you know some of it’s okay. So aside from the mental health issues, which is a big issue, obviously there’s other issues within the system. Covid brought that to light to a degree. Right. And different things were done. Things were done differently a bit because of not being able to meet in person. Some of it’s successful. Some of it, I think, is still continuing. Some of it isn’t. Do you think that technology, the role of technology in modernizing the court system makes sense? You talked before about how individuals can’t meet their lawyers. Well, you know, is that an in person visit, or is that a lawyer that can meet them on a Zoom call? I mean, is there areas that you’d like to see changed, or, you know, within the court system that can be helpful?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:13:18

Yes, there are a couple of things that I’d like to see improve. One thing that we definitely need to improve is the number of lawyers that are appointed as indigent defense attorneys, because we have a large number of persons accused of crimes who cannot afford a lawyer. And so in Gwinnett county, we utilize private lawyers to represent those individuals, and they receive an hourly wage. That program is governed by an indigent defense governing committee, and I served on it for seven years before I left the county. And one thing that I’d like us to do to improve upon that system is to recruit more lawyers who are willing to defend persons who cannot afford a lawyer. What’s happening right now is the courts are backlogged with their criminal cases because there’s just not enough lawyers available to appoint to represent someone accused of a crime. And one thing we need to do is to increase the hourly rate of private lawyers who are able and willing to represent indigent persons. So I’d like to see the county improve the hourly rate for those individuals. Another thing I’d like to see is what you alluded to is greater use of technology. During COVID a lot of the hearings were held by Zoom, and that was great. When you just have a lawyer on either side of a case who has the ability to present information over Zoom, it doesn’t work for trials because you have to have a jury.

Rico Figliolini 0:15:09

And so that probably works best when you have the individual in person, actually.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:15:16

That is correct. And you’ve got to be able to determine that person’s demeanor and everything else. Right. But certainly we can continue to use technology for a routine motion, for example, you know, a motion to exclude evidence that certainly can be heard using virtual capability. So I’d like to see us continue to use technology for what I consider hearings and very short matters, and maybe even expand upon it, because it worked really well during COVID But much of the use of technology for virtual hearings has disappeared in the last couple of years. The judges, most of the judges, tend to have those hearings in person.

Rico Figliolini 0:16:06

Again, I think from one of the lawyers. I heard also, technology wise, that things are digitized, all the files that are digitized, so it’s easier to look them up. But the other problem with that is, of course, a lawyer can’t go back and check the cartons of files, let’s say, of things that maybe weren’t scanned, because not everything is scanned, unfortunately. It seems so. There’s a two edged sword right there, I think. Right? Yeah. You got to make sure everything scanned or you’re going to. And you’re going to have to still hold the physical evidence for later, right?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:16:50

Yes. Yes, absolutely. That is an issue.

Rico Figliolini 0:16:54

Okay. Do you feel, have you seen as a, as a lawyer, and do you foresee AI being an issue, whether it’s deep fakes or it’s documents being presented that are false documents, for example, do you see AI being an issue, or how would you attend to that technology in the run of the courts?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:17:18

That is a very good question. I have mixed feelings about AI. I think that it would be beneficial to use artificial intelligence for basic research purposes. So if the lawyer or the judge wants to know the statute of limitations for a particular civil case, then AI would be great, because you just simply ask, what is the statute of limitations? You get to answer, it’s easy. What I think is bad about AI for purposes of the courts is that AI is digitized, which means it has no feelings, it has no emotions. Right. So you cannot use AI to determine a person’s individual circumstances or background, particularly when you are making decisions based on family needs, custody arrangements, visitation arrangements, or when you are dealing with someone who has been accused of a crime. Because AI doesn’t have compassion, AI doesn’t have empathy. So I would never want to see a quote unquote robo judge. I think you have to have human beings making decisions and weighing the credibility of witnesses. But I do think that AI could actually speed up the handling of cases from the perspective of staff attorneys who conduct research for judges as well as for the lawyers themselves who represent clients.

Rico Figliolini 0:19:07

Dealing with public trust and transparency. Some are maybe true, maybe not true, maybe just myths, maybe just legends, maybe just people think this is the way the system is and it’s not fair. The reality could be a little different. So how would you handle or improve public trust in the judicial system? Because that always seems to be a negative thing there. But how would you try to improve that?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:19:38

Well, one of the things that I talk about on the campaign trail is the lack of visibility of our judges. And what I mean by that is most people don’t know who the judges are. Most people have no idea what types of matters are heard in each court. So one of the things that I would do to try to improve public trust is to require the judges to be more visible in the community and maybe have something like a. Just coffee with a judge once a month, where you put the judges on rotation so that the public members can come in and ask questions about the process. You know, how do I go about filing a lawsuit? What types of cases are heard in your court? For instance, you may have the probate court chief judge one month, and then you may have the state court chief judge another month, and then the superior court chief judge another month, and then the magistrate court and the recorder’s court and juvenile court. Just because if people don’t feel like they have access to the court system, they are less likely to trust the court system. They’re less likely to see it as fair. But when they are able to interact up close and personal with the judges, then they can ask the questions that they need to ask to feel more confident that the system is fair. So that’s one thing that I would do. Obviously, judges take an oath to be fair and to be impartial at all times. And, of course, they must use good judgment. They’re required to have continuing education, just like a lawyer. So there are things that are mandated by the code of judicial conduct of Georgia that judges are required to do to make sure that they maintain fairness and so that the public can trust that the decisions they make are legally sound and fair, but that’s not seen by the public. So I think we have to have our judges more visible in the community.

Rico Figliolini 0:21:57

Sounds good. To ensure impartiality and fairness in the judicial decisions. I know that, for example, there’s a family that I know that’s trying to get custody of the children of their daughter’s kids who passed away. And, you know, I know that the court system likes to make sure they prove they keep the kids with the immediate family, but sometimes that’s not always doable for a lot of different reasons. Maybe the individual person is not a good steward or caretaker for those kids. How do you, you know, you’re dealing with lawyers presenting cases versus the individuals per se, but how do you deal with that? How do you deal with that impartiality or the empathy that you should have in a case like that because you’re a judge?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:22:53

Well, again, you are relying on the lawyers for each party right to present evidence, and the standard is the best interest of the child. And because that is the legal standard. Depending upon the age of the children, the judge might hear from the children themselves. Right? And of course, if they are age 14, they can choose which, where they want to be, who has custody of them. If they are age twelve, the judge can take that into consideration as well. The judge can literally ask, you know, do you want to be with your paternal grandparents or do you want to be with your biological father? Tell me why. Tell me what your life experience has been to this point. And those hearings are held in camera, which means that the public is not allowed to come in and hear that minor share his or her story with the judge. But that’s one way that you would get at impartiality, which is actually considering what the child or the children want. But remember, you’re relying on the lawyers who represent these parties, who have also taken an oath to present all of the evidence that is uncovered, whether it’s for or against their client. And that goes directly to impartiality in the decision of the judge.

Rico Figliolini 0:24:28

With all the cases that you’ve tried, legal issues that you’ve handled, has there been any significant case or situation that has impacted you in a good way or bad?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:24:43

Well, for many, many years, I tried a lot of civil rights lawsuits, and I tried them in federal court, some in superior court. There’s one case that I tried involving an individual who sued Gwinnett county, as well as several Gwinnett county police officers for excessive force. And it involved an individual had allegedly stolen a television from an apartment complex. Our police was summoned to the scene, and our canine unit came. And in this particular case, the gentleman dropped the television that he was carrying, and he ran. And then he jumped down into a ravine. And our police officer sent the canine to retrieve the gentleman, and he was significantly, he has permanent disfigurement as a result of that. I won the case. I was able to show. Well, the interesting thing is the gentleman sued not just Gwinnett county and the officers, but the gentleman sued the canine, which was the strangest thing. I never had a case where somebody sued the dog, but in this case, he sued, which is insane. I was able to win the case, ultimately. At first, I lost the case trial level, because the judge determined that the use of force was. But I appealed the case to the US District Court of Appeals, and I won the case because I was able to show that the use of force was reasonable because this guy, you know, tried to escape. But the case gave me. I felt like I should have lost it only because I don’t believe that our officers follow proper protocol, because you cannot send the canine in to attack someone until you’ve given the suspect fair warning. And I don’t think that that was.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:18

How long ago was that the case?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:27:21

It was several years ago. I want to say it was in probably 2017, but that was the one case where I felt like we should not have won it. Between you and I, and this guy is now permanently disfigured. But other than that I feel very good about the decisions that were made, and I won 95% of the cases that I ever tried.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:48

And there’s a lot of cases out there. A lot of backlog of cases, apparently.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:27:54

Yes.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:55

And I know you touched upon it a little bit, but it is a lot of cases out there. Is there any suggestions what you do to clear that backlog?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:28:05

Yes. So, of course, the backlog existed even before COVID but it was exacerbated by COVID, as we know. And that was largely because the courts actually had to shut down for a period of time because it was not out for the presence of the litigants. They had to put up plexiglass in the jury boxes. They had to put up plexiglass in front of the podium where the lawyer or the litigant speaks, and in front of the judge’s bench as well. And after that, the county was running about four years behind on the criminal cases and probably three years behind on the civil cases. And criminal cases legally have to be tried. One of the things that definitely needs to be done more of is greater use of senior judges. We use magistrate judges to handle cases. In fact, my opponent is a magistrate judge, and she handles a lot of family law cases and criminal law cases. She’s not utilized for a lot of the areas that I do, like your property tax appeals and condemnations and stormwater cases and, you know, those kinds of suits, because her background was criminal law and family law. But we need to also employ greater use of senior judges. We use some senior judges, but in order to clear the backlog, we need to use more. These are individuals who have retired from the bench, but they will come back and handle cases for a very hefty hourly rate. Some will say they get paid more as senior judges than they did when they were full time.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:06

Is that what you want to do, though?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:30:08

I’m sorry?

Rico Figliolini 0:30:09

Is that what you want to do, though? I mean, that’s just add to more exasperated. More to the budget, I guess.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:30:16

Well, I think you’ve got to clear the backlog and so even though it does add more to the budget, they already have the experience to handle those cases because they were judges until they retired. So they can resolve them a lot quicker because they’ve seen the issues before. So I think you want to use more senior judges. They are already using magistrate judges in superior court. They’re not fully using them in state as they can. But superior court does use part time and full time magistrate judges to clear the backlog. And my honest opinion is that Gwinnett county needs more superior court judge seats. We have eleven full time superior court judges and Fulton county has 17. And yet we are the second largest county in the state.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:13

Why is that? A lot more crime?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:31:16

You got to have somebody to advocate for it. You got to have your elected state representatives and your senators to say, we need more full time superior court judges. And we are asking the state. It takes someone to advocate for it. Just 11th position in 2021.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:44

Long time ago and things just got more busier. County is growing. Have we touched, is there anything we haven’t touched upon that you’d like to mention?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:31:56

I just wanted to share my background and experience as opposed to my opponents, because what I found during the runoff was that somehow people think my opponent is the incumbent because she is a magistrate judge. And, you know, I want the voters to know she’s not the incumbent. There is no incumbent in this race. This is an open, nonpartisan seat, which means that our names appear on any ballot that you pull. Because candidates for judge must run nonpartisan, because they should. Because the judge’s responsibility is to follow the law of the state and the law of the land and not interpose his or her opinion or prejudge a case. So my position is an open position, which means there is no incumbent. We are seeking to replace a judge who is retiring at the end of the year. And I also wanted to state that when you are looking for someone to elect to the bench, I think you need to take into account more factors than just this person is already a judge. You need to consider diversity of experience. I know 25 years of the law very well because I was a government lawyer for most of my career. My opponent doesn’t have that background as a lawyer. And there’s a difference between practicing law, being a zealous advocate for someone, and being a judge who considers the weight of the evidence, the facts and the law. You also want someone who has ties to the community. And I have served Gwinnett county for the last 24 years that I’ve been here. I have served on a lot of nonprofits. I’ve performed hundreds of hours of community service, and so I am woven into the fabric of Gwinnett County. I know Gwinnett County. I know its citizens. Im a leadership Gwinnett grad. I’ve worked on several learning day committees on Gwinnett giving girls, nonprofit, hope nonprofit. I’ve been on family promise of Gwinnett. I’ve done a lot. Very active in the Gwinnett county alumni chapter of Delta Sig Pothatus rorty incorporated. So I’m committed. I have a longstanding history of service to the county, in addition to having been in the county attorney’s office for 18 years until I had to resign in order to run. I would hope the voters would consider all of that. And just saying, well, you know, this person’s already a judge. She’s not a superior court judge. Never has been, never been elected. Neither have I. So we’re equal in that regard.

Rico Figliolini 0:34:50

Okay. I think pretty much you’ve given the speech where you’re asking for the vote, so that’s pretty good. So that’s good. That’s what you should be. Because if you don’t ask for it, you don’t get it. Where can people find out more information about Tuwanda Rush Williams? What website? Where can they find you?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:35:12

Absolutely. My website is tuwanda4judge.com. So it’s spelled like my name. Tuwanda, the number four, judge.com. and there’s all kinds of information on there about me and tons of endorsement. Charlotte Nash is someone who has endorsed me. Many people know who she is as well as the former district attorney Danny Porter. You can find my entire bio, all the places that I’ve worked, all the other reasons why I’m running beyond my concern for the people who are sitting in the jail with mental illness. We need to reduce crime and recidivism. We need to offer better support for survivors of human trafficking in Gwinnett. Huge problem. So I hope they’ll check me out there.

Rico Figliolini 0:36:02

Cool. Well, Tuwanda, I appreciate you being on the show with us and answering questions and talking about the issues that you want to let everyone remind everyone. Again, June 18 is the runoff date. There is early voting, depending when you’re listening to this, and I’ll have that in the show notes as well. The opponent is Regina Matthews. So there’s only two of them. So go listen to the podcast, be out there, Google their names. You should be able to find out more information. Again, Tuwanda, stay there with us for a minute. Everyone else thank you again. Yeah, no, for sure. And thank you again, everyone, for listening. There’ll be more information as well at livinginpeachtreecorners.com or southwestgwinnettmagazine.com. so check that out. Follow us on social media and appreciate you being with us. Thank you.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:36:54

Thank you.

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Education

Steve Gasper, in the Run-Off for Gwinnett County School Board, District 3

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Gwinnett School Board Run-Off Election is June 18, 2024

Steve Gasper is a candidate for the Gwinnett County School Board runoff election on June 18th. As a parent with children in the Gwinnett County public school system, Gasper wants to maintain high-quality education while addressing policy changes. Steve highlights the importance of transparency, the challenges posed by technology, and the need to support and listen to teachers to improve morale and keep experienced educators in the classroom. With host Rico Figliolini

Resources: Steve’s Website: https://www.votestevegasper.com/

Timestamp:

00:00:00 – Steve Gasper: Candidate for Gwinnett County School Board
00:01:48 – Raising a Family, Serving the Community
00:03:53 – Qualities of an Effective School Board Candidate
00:08:44 – Balancing Discipline and Accountability in Schools
00:12:52 – Technology’s Impact on School Discipline and Safety
00:14:24 – The Impact of COVID-19 on Student Learning and Behavior
00:17:20 – Embracing AI in Education: Challenges and Opportunities
00:20:25 – Balancing Digital Learning and In-Person Education
00:23:10 – Improving Teacher Recruitment and Retention in Schools
00:26:39 – Balancing Parental Involvement and Inclusive Education
00:30:15 – Navigating Book Selection for Classrooms
00:33:56 – Collaborative Leadership for Gwinnett County Schools

Podcast Transcript

Rico Figliolini 0:00:01

Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliollini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. I want to say thank you for joining us. This is a special podcast with one of the candidates running in the runoff for Gwinnett county school board, Steve Gasper. Hey, Steve, thanks for being with us.

Steve Gasper 0:00:16

Hey, Rico, how are you doing? Thank you for having me. This is a great pleasure.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:20

Yeah, no, no. It’s always good, love talking to candidates, hear their opinions, and just have a conversation about what they believe in and where they’re going. So this is a good thing. This is for school board district three, and the runoff is June 18. There’s some early voting going on, but I think that stops at a certain point. I forget when, but I’ll have that in the show notes, and you can share that with us at the end of the podcast. In the meantime, what I want to do is I want to be able to share that Steve and his wife Kelly live in Suwannee. They’ve been here in Suwannee since 2009, actually. They have twin kids that attend middle school, I think 8th grade, 8th graders.

Steve Gasper 0:01:00

Just graduated.

Rico Figliolini 0:01:01

Yep, just graduated. Cool. They’re going heading into high school. Good. They are freshmen, and Suwannee is great. Has some great schools up there as well. Of course, it varies in Gwinnett County a little bit, but in Gwinnett county is the largest county in the state and probably the largest school system because of that. So we’re going to have a lot to talk about. In the meantime, the first thing I’d like you to do, Steve, is just share with us a little bit who you are, why you’re running, and just give us a little background of that, a little taste of who you are.

Steve Gasper 0:01:34

Yeah. Happy to Rico. Thank you. So, of course, I’m Steve Gasper. I’m originally from deep in the valley of southern California. My whole family still lives out there. Attended the University of Southern California. I got a degree, bachelor of science in business administration, minor in marketing and management. And I have two beautiful. Now going now 9th grade twins, boy girl twins, super smart, super talented. My wife and I have been married for a long time, and we have two dogs and two cats at home. So we have a full house, if you could only imagine. Came to Gwinnett county, and I really came here for these, for our great schools. And the reason why I’m running for school board is I want to continue the great work that I’ve been doing over the last four years of being so involved in the school system. And I know we’ll probably touch on some of that later, but that’s really the main reason, is to just keep the good work going and really keep our schools great.

Rico Figliolini 0:02:34

So Gwinnett county has, over the last two to four years, has changed. The board makeup has changed a bit, bringing a little bit more diversity to the board, a little bit different perspective also from different people. Things have changed with regard to disciplinary in the schools as well. And, you know, and, you know, my kids have been through the school system, public school system as well, all three of them, from elementary, middle school, and high school. Even a stem, stem school at Paul Duke here in PC.

Steve Gasper 0:03:09

Absolutely.

Rico Figliolini 0:03:11

Yeah. It’s just a phenomenal school. Norcross high school, also great. My kids went through the other two, went through the IB program there, made them better students. It was a harder course to go through a lot of writing, but I think things have changed since then, even simple things like cursive writing. It’s not taught anymore.

Steve Gasper 0:03:34

Right, right.

Rico Figliolini 0:03:35

Sorry. I don’t even know how people can give you a signature if they can’t do cursive, but that’s besides the point.

Steve Gasper 0:03:42

Signing a check. Right, Rico?

Rico Figliolini 0:03:44

Can’t do that. Can’t do that, apparently, without the cursive. Right, right. So, but, so because the board has changed, because the policies have changed, what do you think makes for a good board candidate? You know, running for this? A tough job. It’s part time, doesn’t pay well. So what’s. Who’s the right person for this job?

Steve Gasper 0:04:05

Yeah. No, you hit it right on the head, Rico. It is a. It is a tough job. It is. It is one of these jobs that you are on the ground floor of everything going on in Gwinnett county. I look at our schools as one. As one of. One of the main pillars of any. Any community. With. With great schools come great business opportunity, come great growth in the community. You know, comes housing, great house, great home values. People want to move into the community, and so it really is a true. A true pillar of our community, and we have to. We have to hire board members that. That really touch on many different experiences in life. And I like to look at my experience of being a former classroom teacher to being a small business owner, and all the way up to the last 23 plus years in the corporate space, mentoring, hiring, training, coaching people from all walks of life, and then to kind of top all that off, just being heavily involved in the community over the last four years with regards to our schools, speaking at school board meetings, participating in district committees, from the superintendent transition committee, to the discipline action committee, to the Instructional Resources Review committee to speaking at school board meetings on behalf of parents and some teachers who are afraid to speak up and in fear of retaliation. So bringing all that together, I think, I’d like to think I checked the most boxes in terms of bringing a diverse idea of qualifications to this position and to the seat. And, you know, having all of that helps because we are. This is. The school is essentially a business. It is a. Our 183,000 students, 22 or so thousand staff, teachers, and those that support, those that teach. You really have to understand how not only education and what the needs of our teachers are, but also what the needs of the business as a whole, in the school system as a whole, is $3.2 billion budget, and we have to be able to manage it effectively.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:17

It’s interesting the way you said that before, earlier, you said about hiring, you hire your board members in a way that is the case.

Steve Gasper 0:06:24

Right.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:25

Because people have. You’re going through an interview process. The grueling campaign is really an interview process. It is. Right. And if you get pulled up for a second interview, which is what this runoff is, if we can make that comparison, then there’s more. More questions that come at you.

Steve Gasper 0:06:43

Absolutely.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:44

You talked about the big budgets. Should it be treated as a business? It certainly needs to be treated with responsibility. You have to be good steward of the money. You have to know where it’s going. That’s right. And some people say there’s not enough transparency in the school board that they don’t share. Not only. I mean, the budgets they may share, but also the statistics of what’s going on, the turnover rate of all that. Do you feel the same way about that, about transparency in this?

Steve Gasper 0:07:16

I do. And I think a lot of that comes from just the involvement that I have had in the schools over the last four years, from meeting with the former superintendent to the current superintendent to other senior district leadership. And, you know, looking at the data that has been presented to us as community members, as you know me, I’m a parent, an outsider for the time being, and not privy to any additional information that the school board members might be privy to behind the scenes and looking. Transparency is hugely important. It’s one of my platform pieces on my campaign is transparency and fiscal accountability. And like you said, this is almost an interview process. I’m being hired for a job, and the voters are gonna select the best candidate for this position based on what we stand for and the voters in it, that in return, we have to give them the pleasure of what is going on in our schools. We have to be transparent with where the money’s being spent, how it’s being spent, and we also have to provide the data to the community that they can work with and not feel that data is missing or these numbers are being cushioned or protected. And if that’s, that’s what we need to do better at. And that’s. That’s my, that’s my commitment.

Rico Figliolini 0:08:37

When it comes to discipline challenges over the past few years, right. If it’s an incident, but it’s not reported to the outside, it’s not considered in the data that’s released from the school, apparently. Well, at least that’s what I understand. Unless you see it on next door somewhere. There’s always questions of people saying, did you hear about the fight that happened at the school? Or things going on? My son works in technology park, for example, and he’ll see four or five kids just hanging out in the woods behind their office, which is literally next door to Norcross high school. So he’ll see kids out there like that know they’re not doing anything bad, per se, but they’re not in school, obviously. And then there’s disciplinary stuff. So I know it’s changed over the past couple of years, but what do you see necessary? What are steps that are necessary in your mind that relates to that, that the board’s not doing, that they should be doing?

Steve Gasper 0:09:38

Yeah, we. I go back to a couple years ago, summer of 2021, when the superintendent and the board had rolled out this new restorative justice discipline process. And we quickly, not only as parents, but as teachers and even some board members and community, realize that this was not the right time to roll this out. There was an effective training. It essentially took away the disciplinary tasks at the school level and put them up at a cluster. But I like to call, like, a regional perspective, which I think that’s not effective because the principals, the teachers, and the local administrators at each individual school know their schools the best. They know their students the best, they know their teachers the best. That needs to remain at the schools. And so for me, it’s important to have a good, structured discipline policy, but there also needs to be room for teachable moments. And our k through twelve kids, they’re constantly learning. They look to adults for affirmation, for support. And if we’re just disciplined kids, sending them away, sending them in suspension, and at least not letting them understand what it is they’ve done wrong, then we’re not succeeding as a school system. So I do believe in consequences for actions. Just like if you and I walked out on the street and I got in a fight or I punched somebody, I would be arrested for assault. That students should understand that actions have consequences, and we need to do better at helping our students understand what they did wrong, but also holding them accountable for their actions and not being repeat offenders. And for me, a great example is South Gwinnett High School. I look at the new principal that came into South Gwinnett a couple years back, and. And year over year, discipline referrals are down over 75%. And that is data that I presented at the last school board meeting. When I spoke to the school board and the superintendent, and you know how they’re doing that. They. The super. The principal was kind of no nonsense. He came on and said, hey, if you’re going to. If you’re going to break our rules, we’re going to hold you accountable, and it’s going on your record. And they have put teachers and administrators in the hallways in between classes and periods. That way, there’s more eyes and ears as to what’s going on. So it’s leading me to believe that it’s. The students are going to be less inclined to get into any sort of mischief, whether it’s in a bathroom or in an unobserved hallway or corner. That’s what we need to really improve upon. I know the school board is looking to reintroduce this program, and. And I know they’ve gone through a long and extensive training process, and I. It’s my hope that this is an effective program, and. And I’m going to make sure that it is, personally.

Rico Figliolini 0:12:42

All right, sounds good. You know, with that comes challenges. Obviously, technology can be part of that challenge, right? Phones in the hands of kids, social media, to some extent. You know, everyone wants to be a content producer, so that. Just videoing, whatever happens. And, you know, if Joe Smith decides to be disruptive in a classroom, there’s a video right there. It’s going to be posted later, maybe. Do you see that technology, you know, in some schools, in some. In some countries, and in some places, phones are not allowed in the school, or they are locked or they are put in place. That’s not, like, in their hands in the class, right? I mean, do you see things like that happening? I mean, I think was the state of Georgia. You have to be 16 and older to be able to be on social media. I think Kemp cited that into law, if I remember correctly, although that’s easy to say, but that’s difficult to implement. It’s impossible to implement, actually. But how do you say technology with regard to discipline, with regard to these types of challenges? Done. Both public safety, the money that’s going to each school for public safety, there was also another grant from Governor Kemp to. It was 45,000 to every school in the state. So. Yeah. So talk about technology, safety, discipline. Give me something.

Steve Gasper 0:14:09

Yeah. And to your. To your point, Rico, just over the past several years, and really, a lot of this has come out of post Covid, and you have to take a step back and kind of think about maybe why this is coming into play. And our kids were truly traumatized during COVID We went from in person learning to complete lockdown. Schools were all digital. Kids were at home trying to learn on this new, unfamiliar platform or way of learning. I saw my kids personally struggle from digital learning. But on a different note, you know, not knowing what the home life situation is for our other kids, it’s. They could. They. They may not be from the nuclear family home. They could be from. From broken households. And. And, you know, I’m certainly sensitive to that. And I saw it when I was. When I was a teacher and had a deal with students that that came from broken households or single parent homes or a non parent home, a grandma, grandpa, and uncle taken care of, or.

Rico Figliolini 0:15:09

Even two parent homes where they’re working hourly jobs. Yes. Home when the kids get home. Right.

Steve Gasper 0:15:15

Yeah, that’s a perfect example as well. And that’s where my wife, too. My wife and I both worked. Even through Covid, our companies found ways for us to work. And so it was hard to just be present with our kids, helping them do digital learning. And we knew that we needed to give them an option for in person instruction. But kind of back to your original question. It’s technology is great and powerful, but it’s also has created a platform for students to videotape discipline. Incidences in the schools, fights, kids setting fires in the bathrooms, kids talking back to teachers, yelling at teachers. And that, to me, poses more of a dangerous situation than we really need to have involved in our schools. And so I believe that it’s good that my kids, I know through junior high they couldn’t take their phones out of their backpacks. They had the few times during the day where they can check their messages, but they couldn’t use their phones. And they had computers. They have chromebooks that they can access technology through. But I think that we need to at least give our kids an opportunity to learn in the classroom. And there’s different. There’s other times of the day for social media, for interacting with their friends, for being online, quote unquote. But really the main focus is getting a quality education, being present in the classroom, helping our teachers teach all of our kids equally and not be a distraction. And these are things that are important to me.

Rico Figliolini 0:16:51

Staying with technology a little bit. High school level or STEM? Stem level. Lots of schools. I know there’s a elementary school here locally that wants to start. They’re doing the three year process to become a STEM elementary school, for example. The technology is important, right. AI as, even with chat GPT 4.0, which isn’t, I mean, I use it still not obviously where people saying it is, but you can still do certain things on it and it will continue to grow and change over the next year. These kids are going to be using it in college because at some point, even colleges have to accept that AI will be used in the school system, in the classrooms for a variety of things. How are you looking at that? How. It’s a challenge for private and public schools. Right? How are you looking at that? Where’s your viewpoint on that? Where would you like to see that go?

Steve Gasper 0:17:45

Yeah. For me, my belief is, obviously it’s here to stay. It’s inevitable. We know that AI is something that we as adults see on a daily basis, and our kids are being exposed to it through, through social media, and we have to embrace it. That’s, that’s really, that’s really it. We can’t, we can’t not live without it. We can’t not deal or, you know, operate without it. We know, you know, students, like you said, are using, you know, chat GPT. And, and we also know that, that teachers are, are also, you know, following up and using their own chat software to, to at least make sure their students understand what it is they’re doing and not just getting something written just because they want to turn it in for a grade. But I think that, and we’re seeing that happening, too. And our kids are very, very smart. Our students are extremely computer literate. My kids are a lot smarter on technology than a lot of my family members are, including some instances with me, too. But it’s important to embrace that this is our future. This is what they need to have to function.

Rico Figliolini 0:18:59

Does the school, and I don’t know this, but does the school system have a task force that’s dealing with this to be forward thinking about policy, how high school kids may be using it on paper or how the school system itself, how teachers can use it in a way because it’s being implemented through different companies, different industries. So is there an active development of looking at how things can work in this? Is that something that you think is worth funding? Because money has to come from somewhere.

Steve Gasper 0:19:34

I guess it does have to come from somewhere. No. And I know there is. They are actively researching this. They’re actively finding ways that this can be beneficial to our schools. We have a really good IT department. In fact, the school board just approved about 21 and a half million dollars in funding for the IT services for this coming school year. And so a lot of money is being given to that area. And I think, you know, we need to really focus on how we can use it in a beneficial way. Part of the IT team right now is trying to figure out how we can keep our kids off of malicious and salacious websites while in the school buildings or, you know, even on the school chromebooks. How do we figure out how to keep kids from. From watching the NCAA final four basketball tournament in the middle of the classroom, or gambling or playing poker or blackjack? You know, these are things that we need to resolve these issues. And. And I do know for a fact that the IT team is, is implementing some. Some changes in the upcoming school year that’s going to help help offset some of that, as well as bring AI into the end of the mix.

Rico Figliolini 0:20:48

Do you think digital learning days are. My kids went through, my youngest actually went through digital learning on Fridays. So four days in one day, remote, he was fine with it. He one of the few kids, I guess, that could do it and met deadlines and stuff. When they first implemented, it wasn’t that way. They had to keep sending out emails every Sunday night to make sure kids did their work and stuff.

Steve Gasper 0:21:15

Right.

Rico Figliolini 0:21:16

But it also, in a world where half the people or more are working, hybrid or remote, it almost makes sense to allow that sort of flexibility in there. Maybe. But do you see that as something that should be done across the school system and not just at certain schools? I don’t even know if it’s done at all schools, but, yeah.

Steve Gasper 0:21:38

So the GCPS calendar does implement digital learning days across the entire system. So all schools do participate in digital learning days. And I think there are reasons why they do it. A lot of them are teacher days. Just like you said, students can find some time, study on their own to learn on their own. And it’s not a whole lot of them that are on the calendar. But to your point, we are a society where I was in a hybrid work environment for a couple of years out of COVID And I know a lot of organizations are just now getting back to requiring employees to be back in office. So I think it’s a very delicate balance that we have to, that we have to walk with our, with our students, with, with especially the younger students, the elementary grades.

Rico Figliolini 0:22:37

Sure.

Steve Gasper 0:22:37

Because those are the ones that, that if it’s, if it’s not in person with a teacher and, and they don’t have someone at home to help direct them, like you said, it’s, it may not get done that day, and then they come into school the following day and they’re, they’re slightly behind. And what is that? What does that turn into?

Rico Figliolini 0:22:56

Right. And I totally agree with you. I think elementary school needs to be handled differently anyway, in some ways. Less on the testing and more on actually bringing up young people to understand the world and to be able to take responsibility and things. But that’s the way I feel about it. Invest more time in those five years and you will have a better student coming into middle school and then high school.

Steve Gasper 0:23:20

That’s correct. Yep.

Rico Figliolini 0:23:21

But you do need teachers. So that’s the other thing. Right? Teacher recruitment, retention, morale over the last several years has been a little low. Burnout rate. Teachers work in the public school system, all of a sudden decide, I’m done with that, I’m going to the private school system because it’s more money. It’s a little different. So how does the county, how can the county compete to recruit and then to retain those teachers? What are your thoughts on that?

Steve Gasper 0:23:52

Yeah, I mean, just, just as a whole, Rico, for me, teacher recruitment, retention and morale is, is a top priority for me. Being a former educator, being a former teacher, having spoken to a lot of teachers over the last many, many, many years, I could just tell that it’s down. And GCPS really has to do a better job of supporting our teachers and listening to them. That is the one thing that we’re struggling at is we’re not listening to those folks that are on the ground floor every day in the classroom, talking with parents, talking with, with administrators. They have wonderful ideas and we have to listen to these ideas and we have to see how we can implement them into our school day. And that is what’s going to help us retain good teachers. It’s going to help us recruit quality teachers, and it’s going to help improve morale. And that is we are not doing a good job. And I think, and a big part of it is the discipline issues. Teachers don’t feel like they’re being listened to. They don’t feel they have the proper control and the limits of control in their own individual classrooms. And when we’re not supporting that, teachers are. They’re not going to stick around. And I don’t blame them. Why would you? I mean, the last number I saw, latest data is over 30% of our current teacher base has zero to one year experience only. And we used to. In years past, we used to attract three, four, 5000 applicants to GCPS, recruiting, teacher recruitment, career days. And over the past couple of years, we were only getting 500, maybe 1000, maybe 1500. I know this year our teacher contracts are up, the signing of contracts are up, and that’s good. And we saw some recent pay raises, both from the governor and GCPS has offered pay increases to Gwinnett county public school teachers. But we still have to do better. I know Atlanta public schools has increased their pay for teachers, which I think a starting teacher coming in is over $60,000. The last calculator that I saw. And so. And of course, they exponentially give them more as they have different levels of degrees and certificates. But this is one thing. The teachers are the lifeblood of our school system. Without them, GCPs would cease to exist.

Rico Figliolini 0:26:24

I think part of the teacher problem or morale problem maybe also is part of something else that we all want, right? Parental involvement. We want parental involvement, but that’s a two edged sword, right? So you get parents that want to come in to discuss, well, my kid, why is he being disciplined and he shouldn’t be disciplined or my child, why is he looking. Why are they making him read this book? I don’t want him to read this book. It’s not to my beliefs or anything. The school system is broad. Right. Culture is broad. We’re broadening not only the culture of our students. I forget how many different nationalities are represented in this county, how many languages.

Steve Gasper 0:27:14

Yeah, there are about 98 different. I think students hail from about 98 different countries. Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:21

So quite a bit of that going on. English as second language, different genders, people identifying in different genders as well, LGBT, you, society, we have to have good places for everyone. Right. Diverse communities to be equal.

Steve Gasper 0:27:37

Right.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:40

But when you get parents coming in sometimes on that other side of that sort, if you will, that says, I don’t want that here. Well, I don’t want my kids being exposed to certain culture or certain things that go on LGBTQ or stuff. How do you attend to that and make sure that everyone is, you know, treated equally and that the school system works for everyone.

Steve Gasper 0:28:05

Yeah. And that is, that is our, that is our job as a school system is to. Is to be welcoming to every single person that walks through the front door. And, you know, another piece of my platform was safe and inclusive schools. And, and, you know, regardless of your, your, your background, your, your beliefs, your, your, you know, how you identify, we need to. We need to accept all people. That that’s just, that’s just stand up story. There’s. There should be no question about it. I am. I am certainly in full support of that. And I know GCPS, you know, does, does a good job when it comes to certain things that students or parents that are involved feel that. That their student shouldn’t learn. Specifically when it comes to certain aspects of the sex education program, depending that grade level, parents have the opportunity to opt their kids out for whatever reasons that they have. And I think that’s acceptable. But we, society right now has really come to a point where this is all on the forefront and it’s in the news and the media is talking about it. You know, we need to stop making it as scary as it is, because it really isn’t. At the end of the day, it’s not. It’s. We’re all, we’re all individuals. Regardless of who you are, how you identify, we’re all individuals. God put us on this earth to love, to love everyone equally. And I’m a church going man and I truly believe that.

Rico Figliolini 0:29:38

Good. Yeah, because there are certain people out there that, you know, it’s good that the system lets you opt out of certain things because this way you can, you can continue on with the way you want to be, but everyone else can also learn the way they would like to learn.

Steve Gasper 0:29:54

Absolutely.

Rico Figliolini 0:29:55

And it becomes difficult. I know my wife at one point, I think there was a book selection committee. I think every so often they do this in the school, but she was part of that committee and she had to read certain books to see if that would be suitable for the classroom. Right. But it’s interesting how other people may look at it and say, you know, I didn’t read that book. I read the synopsis or something. No, I don’t think it’s appropriate. And so the. I don’t know. Sometimes when there’s certainly an age level. Right. There should be an age level. What’s appropriate, maybe. But I think the school system has to, you should be able to pull out a book, especially if you’re in a high school and even middle school to a degree. Right. Be able to pull out a book and say it’s not censored or it’s not. Yes, it’s open to be able to be used because kids need to know that they’re going to go into a higher level education ignorant of things. Doesn’t make sense to me.

Steve Gasper 0:30:56

Yeah, no, I fully agree. People talk about, well, these books don’t belong in our schools. These books don’t belong in our libraries. I don’t believe in banning speech. I don’t believe in banning books, but I do believe that they should be put in age appropriate sections for our kids. There’s no reason why elementary kids should be accessing books that are age appropriate for high school kids and even junior high kids. There’s no reason we need to at least have some protections in place for our kids. But outright removing books and eliminating them, I don’t agree with that because it infers on you your right to free speech.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:41

I think we do that in a variety of places. Right. You go to a movie, it’s PG 13 or R rated or whatever, G rated. So I mean, we do that in society in a few different ways, which is somewhat reasonable. Right. So. And not all of us follow those rules, but they’re guide, their guide rails is what they are. Right.

Steve Gasper 0:31:59

Right.

Rico Figliolini 0:32:00

My kid may be mature enough to do a PG 13 when he was ten because of the nature of that movie, let’s say. But maybe someone else’s kid is not mature enough to do that. You know, it just depends on the student, I guess.

Steve Gasper 0:32:13

That’s right.

Rico Figliolini 0:32:15

Have we left out anything? I mean, there’s tons to go. We could have went through standardized testing or other things like that. Is there anything particular that you’d like to hit on that we haven’t touched on? Steve?

Steve Gasper 0:32:30

No, I think, I think you, I think you did a pretty, a pretty far reaching interview and had some, had some phenomenal questions and, you know, hard pressing on hard pressing issues that are important to our parents, to our community, to our schools. And, you know, I think it was a great opportunity for me to talk through my responses and let people know where I’m coming from and, and know that I’m going to do the best that I can if I’m lucky enough to get elected.

Rico Figliolini 0:33:00

Sounds good. So then what I ask of you right now is to give the audience a one or two minute, call it an elevator speech, if you will, ask for the vote, tell them why they should vote for you, where they can find that information and anything else you want to say about the mechanism of voting on June 18 or before. So go ahead.

Steve Gasper 0:33:21

Yeah, no, excellent. Thank you. Thank you, Rico. So again, I think selecting the right person for this job, you have to look at all aspects of background and experience. And for me, being a former classroom teacher to a current small business owner, to 23 plus years in the corporate space, developing business acumen, being an involved community member for the last four years at all levels of the schools and interacting with hundreds and hundreds of people, and as well as, you know, being out. Being out and just talking to people, I think is truly important when you’re considering who to vote for in this race. It is. This is a highly critical election. And, you know, we need someone in there that’s going to be strong and be able to collaborate with other school board members. Because, again, this is not all about me. This is the. This is we. I’m just one of five on that, on that, on the school board. And, you know, part of. Part of, you know, part of getting to a point in time is collaborating with your fellow school board members. And I’ve worked with other school board members trying to build bridges. In the event that I do get elected, I know I’m going to have to work and negotiate with them as well. So. And it is our job to manage the employment of the superintendent. And if he is not doing his job, you have to be strong enough to. To stand up and say, you are not doing these things as what was written out, and we have to address it. So again, I’m Steve Gasper. June 18 is our runoff election day. Early voting does start this weekend, on Saturday at four early voting locations, and the other six early voting locations open Monday next week and go through the 15th. I am asking for your vote to continue the great work that I’ve been doing in Gwinnett county over the past four years to bring fresh ideas to the school board and to be that person that can work in a collaborative space amongst the other four school board members while holding the superintendent accountable and having an open mind to the rest of the community, including our teachers and those that support those that teach. My website is votestevegasper.com. If you’d like to learn more right from there, you can. You can send me a message, and I’d love your vote if when you get to the ballot box on June 18.

Rico Figliolini 0:35:51

Thank you for sharing that. Everyone else, Steve, hang in there with me for a second. But everyone else, thank you for being with us. Feel free to share this. You’ll find this video podcast on, on YouTube, our Facebook pages, Twitter, and it’ll be posted in other places. The audio podcast will be on Spotify, Apple, wherever you get that as well. So thank you for being with us. Appreciate it.

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