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A Talk with John Chan on education, funding for public safety, medical rights and big tech censorship



John Chan, a candidate for Georgia House Representative of District 97, talks with podcast host Rico Figliolini about state-level control of schools, sex education, police funding, taxes and regulations, and medical rights, and medicare expansion.


John’s Website:  https://johnchan4ga.com

Time stamp (where to find it in the podcast):

[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:01:46] – About John
[00:05:19] – John’s Political Viewpoints
[00:08:53] – Working on Taxes and Regulations
[00:11:26] – Expanded Healthcare and Political Stances
[00:14:28] – Education Issues and Opinions
[00:21:58] – Issues with Crime
[00:26:17] – Big Tech Censorship and Accountability
[00:30:27] – Public Concerns
[00:35:24] – John Asks for Your Vote
[00:38:18] – Closing

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John Chan

“In growing up how I did, kind of disadvantaged, poor, not speaking English, needing to work all the time… What I really realized through it is that the work ethic and the American dream is so alive, but it has to be used. And that’s kind of what’s shaped a lot of my thinking of how I’ve been able to succeed in life being quote-unquote disadvantaged.”

John Chan

Podcast Transcript:

[00:00:30] Rico: Hi everyone, this is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. I appreciate you coming out, joining us on this show, on this episode. My special guest today is John Chan. He’s running for Georgia House Rep District 97. Hey John, thanks for joining us.

[00:00:45] John: Hey, great to see you. Thank you for inviting me.

[00:00:49] Rico: Yes. No, I appreciate you coming out. It’s the election time, so we’re getting quite a few candidates on the podcast, so it’s good to be able to get a good course section of candidates to interview. But before we get into that, I just wanna say thank you to our sponsor, EV Remodeling Inc., And Eli, the owner. Great people, great company. He lives right here in Peachtree Corners, does a great job with the work he does, has a great website. If you’re looking to maybe design and build or remodel, you should go to his website, EVRemodelingInc.com and check out his Houzz account, if you haven’t done that. Most people will use that H-O-U-Z-Z and find out the portfolios of work he’s done. So check him out and let him know you found it on the podcast. So now let’s get to John. John, this is the first time, you haven’t held political office, if I understand correctly, right?

[00:01:39] John: No, not only haven’t I held political office, I’ve never run for political office. I’ve never really thought about it before.

[00:01:46] Rico: Okay. So start us off, tell us a little bit about John Chan. Tell us who you are, where you come from. I know a little bit of your story, but give us a little background about where you’re coming from.

[00:01:57] John: Sure. So, my parents fled China when the Communists took over in 1949. They went to Hong Kong and eventually found their way over here at the United States. And I grew up in Columbus, Ohio. English was a second language for me so, I had to go to summer school to straighten out my speech. And I grew up pretty poor. They came over here not having too much. So I got scholarships and loans and worked and got through school. I went to UCLA. Today, my brother and I own a construction company that does historic restoration work. And we do work all over the country and even some abroad. So we’ve worked on, gosh, I wanna say seven president’s homes, and numerous really, really fantastic old buildings. We’re right now working on the Maryland State Capital, which is our third state capital building. And embassies, and you name it.

[00:02:52] Rico: Wow. I’ve only met, I think one person, that has done any work on that type of stuff. It is like, that’s gotta be the most intensive work doing that renovation, restoration actually of historical places like that.

[00:03:06] John: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.

[00:03:08] Rico: How’d you get into that? I mean, that’s unusual actually.

[00:03:11] John: Yeah, it was a summer job. I would come back from LA and work at a small, little fledgling roofing company in Columbus, Ohio. It was a Slate Roofing company, and we just kind of broadened from there. So into copper roofing, into historic masonry work. And we do a lot of different things now all over the country and even some abroad. We worked on the House of Parliament in Trinidad.

[00:03:35] Rico: Oh, wow. Alright, cool. Great background. I noticed that you were part of the Roofing, National Roofing Association or something like that. I was wondering about that, roofing organization is nonprofit?

[00:03:45] John: Yeah, so I’ve been a member and served as, different board members or different positions in different associations. Right now, as you can see, I’m in a hotel room because I’m in Saratoga Springs, New York. It’s the National Slate Association’s Annual Conference, and I’m speaking here.

[00:04:05] Rico: Oh wow. Okay. So you’re active in the industry as well. So it’s not just doing the business, it’s actually educating in the business a little bit?

[00:04:12] John: Yes. I do, gosh, I’ve done seminars all over the country about slate roofing, copper roofing, and things like that.

[00:04:20] Rico: You did some of your studies or your schooling at UCLA with economics as a background or degree?

[00:04:27] John: That’s correct, yeah. I went to UCLA and graduated from there with a BA in Economics. That’s kind of like my formal background, yeah.

[00:04:35] Rico: Interesting. Before when you mentioned that English is your second language because I sort of am the same way. I was born here in the States. My parents came from Italy and I had the same issues. Yeah, some of the same issues. The principal called my mother in and said, listen, you’ve gotta speak English team only in, at home because he’s speaking to us in Brooklynese and Italian and we can’t figure out what he’s saying. So, yeah.

[00:04:59] John: Oh, that’s cool. What part of Italy were you from?

[00:05:02] Rico: Well, my parents came from a small village between Rome and Naples.

[00:05:07] John: Okay.

[00:05:07] Rico: A farming community actually. He was a mason, did some masonry work and stuff like that, but ended up not in that business. That was a tough union to break into in the United States, actually.

[00:05:17] John: Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure.

[00:05:19] Rico: Yeah. So, okay, so you haven’t run for office. This is the first office you’re running for. Let’s also give people a little bit of an understanding where that is. I’m gonna bring in this map. So prior to the redistricting that went on, the District 97 actually incorporated Sugar Hill, Suwannee, parts of Johns Creek I guess, Duluth. That’s the left side of that map, and the right side is actually the map that exists as of the new redistricting, which takes in parts of Peachtree Corners, Norcross, Burke Lake, and just a tiny bit of Johns Creek, mostly Duluth. Is that fair, I guess?

[00:05:55] John: Yeah, yeah, exactly. So, yeah, that Johns Creek on that map it’s a little bit off where the name is. So it’s just, probably like, 10 or 12 houses in Johns Creek.

[00:06:05] Rico: Yeah, that’s what I thought. That’s what we talked about before. So to give people a little understanding about where that district is. Let’s bring it back in. And you are running as a Republican, you had no contested primary. I think, correct?

[00:06:19] John: Correct, yeah.

[00:06:20] Rico: Cool. So, and you’re a bit of a conservative. Do you think that comes from your upbringing? , I tend to see that sometimes, depending where people come from when they’re first generation American, they tend to be a little.

[00:06:32] John: Sure, yeah. I would say that comes from my upbringing to a certain degree because I heard a lot about communism and the horrors of it growing up. And in growing up how I did, kind of disadvantaged, poor, not speaking English, needing to work all the time. Basically you know, I got a paper route when I was eight years old because the clothes that we would get were, you know, they were kind of strange. We’d get them shipped over from Hong Kong and they were irregulars. And so I got a paper route and bought my own clothes. And what I really realized through it is that the work ethic and the American dream is so alive, but it has to be used. And that, that’s kind of what’s shaped a lot of my thinking of how I’ve been able to succeed in life being quote-unquote disadvantaged.

[00:07:25] Rico: Yeah. I guess that background does help sort of shape your outlook, your point of view in the world, right?

[00:07:33] John: Absolutely.

[00:07:34] Rico: So even going to UCLA, which is probably a liberal school, if you will, to a degree. How so coming from there, I mean, did you find challenges? Did your beliefs evolve a little bit? Most young people tend to be somewhat liberal, it seems, right?

[00:07:51] John: So growing up, I wouldn’t say I was conservative or liberal. I felt like I needed to just learn things. Because going to school, like I said, early on in childhood, I didn’t know what little league was. I didn’t know really anything about the Bible or Catholicism, which is what many of my friends were. I didn’t know a lot about the American way of life. So I was more in the gear of, well, let’s learn everything. I don’t wanna make too many harsh decisions without understanding things. So that’s why I actually took a very broad spectrum of classes educationally. Everything from biology to linguistics to Japanese tea setting ceremony. I took all these really unusual courses, appreciation of jazz. Because I wanted to learn as much as I could about virtually everything so I could make an informed decision of how things worked.

[00:08:53] Rico: Okay. Fair enough. And that makes sense. Having a broad pallet of experiences makes a lot of sense when you’re trying to shape policy even, right? , So let’s get into some of the issues. To some degree, I’m going off your website, right? Some of the bullet points, because these are your beliefs. These obviously are front and center on your website. So I wanna be able to let people know a little bit about who you are and the way you believe on certain issues. So one of them, for example, let’s take lower taxes and regulations, for example. Very broad. Let’s try to bring that down to the State of Georgia maybe, or maybe even down to the county level. So what does that mean in the state of Georgia when you have a Governor like Kemp already doing some tax cuts to some degree. Giving money to like the state, like the AARP, similar to what the federal government did, the American Registry program he did on a statewide. To some degree he gave back some money. How do you believe lower taxes and regulations would work for an area like the city of Peachtree Corners or Gwinnett County?

[00:09:54] John: Well, first of all, I wanna say that I think Governor Kemp has done an incredible job economically. We’re like number one, eight or nine years in a row for the top state as far as economics. So I think he’s done a great job at that. But on the more local level there’s still a lot of waste. And what I mean by that is, if you look at, say the study that Gwinnett County did. They paid about $300,000 for a study on the mall. And that was basically poured down the drain. Why? Because there’s several different owners of the Gwinnett Mall. Your anchors are owners, so you’ve gotta really go in and talk to the owners and get some kind of an idea or agreement of all the different directions that it could go before you do some kind of a study. So when you pay for a study that costs $300,000 and you don’t consult the owners, well, it’s gonna get shot down immediately. So you’ve got things like that where I feel that government spends money without thinking. They don’t operate it like a business. You know, we grew our business from virtually nothing to 120 employees. And to do that, you’ve gotta be fiscally responsible. And I feel like government really needs to be fiscally responsible, especially on the federal level. But this is more on a local level. But yeah, Governor Kemp overall has done great on that front.

[00:11:26] Rico: Yeah, government is, is a hard thing, right? So if you operate as a business, it’s good in some respects. In some respects though, then some other things happen, right? So, like, for example one of the aspects of helping out citizens, giving like medical coverage, expanded healthcare, let’s say. That’s another big issue that people talk about. That’s a big issue here in Georgia because we don’t have an expanded healthcare, right?

[00:11:51] John: Right.

[00:11:52] Rico: So, and part of that is, I had this discussion with a couple of other candidates, right? Federal government’s going to pay 90% of that, but only for a couple of years. Then the state has to take over that budget after that. Hopefully they have the money then at that point, but how do you feel about that, about expanded healthcare?

[00:12:09] John: I like the idea of expanded healthcare, to a degree. So I think that citizens should receive that, but I don’t feel like any illegal aliens should be paid this money through taxpayer dollars. So again, I think that healthcare is very important and we need to be able to fund some of that, especially because we’ve got a surplus. So I think some of that surplus money needs to be put in to help the citizens of Georgia. But yeah, not people that are here illegally.

[00:12:44] Rico: So you’re okay with expanded healthcare then?

[00:12:48] John: Yes.

[00:12:49] Rico: Okay. Because some Republicans aren’t, for some of that same reasons I explained before.

[00:12:54] John: I am conservative and I am running as a Republican. But in many respects, I’m a little bit more down the middle in that, the whole reason why I’m running is that I feel that a lot of fingers get pointed from the right to the left and the left to the right, and nothing really gets done. And what I mean by that is that look at society today. We’ve got men in women’s sports, we’ve got inflation spiraling out of control, the crime is creeping up here, and you get a lot of finger pointing. And that’s kind of where I feel like my background is really beneficial. I’ve been able to work with a lot of people from all different parts, of all different walks of life, I should say. And basically get them to look at a goal and get that goal attained. And I feel like a lot of politicians are more interested in pointing the finger than getting the job done. And that’s where I was saying, I think the business background is really helpful because it’s been done and achieved in the physical real world. So yeah, it’s like I may not agree with all the Republican ideas, but I am pretty much conservative, yes.

[00:14:14] Rico: So less of an idealogue right wing, more of a practical middle of the road, then. Sounds like to me.

[00:14:21] John: Yeah, you could say that. I’m more of a practical type of person, like what’s going to work?

[00:14:28] Rico: Alright. Thinking about that and talking about control and such, one of the issues is education and bringing control of education back to the state level, is what you’re pointing out. Whereas, I would imagine a Republican would want to keep as local as possible, like down to a county level even. And obviously Gwinnett County is one of the largest school systems, if not the largest in the state. So how would that affect then if you brought, if there was a department, if the state had control of education, like that?

[00:15:00] John: Yeah, I think we want to bring a lot of things back from the federal level. I prefer things to be more controlled locally. And as far as education, I’m 100% behind school choice. I think that the money should follow the child. Because what happens is, let’s say you’ve got a poorly performing school and they just keep on getting money. Well, they have no incentive to do any better. Whereas if the money follows the child, the child can go to whatever school, and then the schools that are performing will receive more of the money, and it just works out that way. Because you’re going to have schools like right now, where they’re underperforming and nobody cares.

[00:15:47] Rico: Interesting on that one, John, because I understand that, and I personally don’t have a problem with that. I think I agree with you to some extent on that. My problem is, is the amount of money that gets back. Because most private schools cost a bit of money. Even on the very low end, we might be still talking 10,000 a year. And that’s a very low end actually, because private schools, the median is probably closer to 16,000 a year. Or 12,000 somewhere around there. So how much you know, government money can be given back to let the individual actually practice their choice?

[00:16:23] John: Well, it would be however much they’re spending on kids, whether it be 7,000, 10,000, whatever. Let’s say it’s 10,000 and you’re sending your child to a private school that costs 16. Well, you’re going to have to make up the difference. You can’t just, that school’s a business.

[00:16:40] Rico: Okay and what about then the loss of that budget money to the local schools like Gwinnett County School, for example?

[00:16:47] John: Well, they lost it because they weren’t performing. And they’re going to have to do something to figure out how to perform, to maintain and keep their kids. And that’s the thing, when a business is shrinking, you’ve gotta be able to look at it and go okay, what is the remedy? Is it the economics? Is it our teaching? What’s happening here? And in any business, when you see the downturns, you’ve gotta be able to look at it and fix it. So when you have that loss of money, as the school district, you’d have to say, okay. Well this school, this particular, I don’t know, junior high school is having difficulties, but not our senior high school. So what’s happening here in the junior high school? And then you fix it.

[00:17:35] Rico: Okay. What about well, one of the bigger subjects has been training high schoolers. Either given them, creating an apprenticeship program, or giving vocational classes to high schoolers that may not want to go to college, may not be able to go to college, may prefer doing a vocational like HVAC or something along that line. Do you think the state should help with some of that? With funding of some of that or?

[00:18:02] John: 100%. Yeah, 100%. There’s a big lack of qualified people in your blue collar trades. And if they were able to learn things like wood or sheet metal or HVAC just a little bit as they grow up and have these apprenticeships, I think it would help society so much. Because as you can see, there’s a lack of qualified blue collar workers. That’s really needed.

[00:18:33] Rico: Yeah, for sure. And I see like sometimes, like even one of my kids had asked me, they said if I do this subject, I’m only going to max out maybe this amount of money, but if I become an HVAC person, I could be making a hundred grand a year, maybe. And that’s, that is that dilemma, right? Do you go spend a hundred thousand on your education and then not make the money?

[00:18:55] John: Yeah, right. There’s a lot of vocations, sheet metal, HVAC, being an electrician, a plumber. There’s a lot of those types of vocations that you can make a really great living at. And I think that it should be helped in the school system so that students can choose those vocations.

[00:19:15] Rico: Do you think, John, that there should be a public private partnership with certain industries to be able to promote that within the school systems?

[00:19:24] John: 100%. You know, if you look at a lot of your European countries, for instance, like Germany. For roofing, for instance, you’ve got this coexistence of the schools and businesses where they sponsor the kids and they can get a lot of this education for free. Or they even get paid learning it and doing it. So I think that if you could get businesses to buy in and actually help fund that, that would also relieve the schools to a certain degree.

[00:19:58] Rico: Cool. Totally agree with you there. Some of the other things that you pointed out, for example, and it probably all ties in, right? Sex education in the schools, gender equality, or gender identification. What is your core beliefs on that, John? How do you feel about that aspect?

[00:20:15] John: Well, I feel like the school should pretty much zero in on reading, writing, and arithmetic. And a hundred percent against all the gender reassignments and things like that. Because when you’re a kid, one minute you want to be a fireman, the next minute you want to be an astronaut, the next minute you want to be a writer, the next minute you want to be a basketball player. And when you get kids, they’re full of imagination and I think that kids should look and see all the different things such as like I said, HVAC, plumbing, whatever, or Japanese tea setting ceremony. But they should experience a lot of different things. But when I see things about like gender reassignment surgery, that’s shocking to me. It’s like now you’re stuck for an entire lifetime and that’s just horrible. So that’s my viewpoint on it.

[00:21:16] Rico: So within the education system though, and we’re not maybe talking about elementary school and middle school, because those are challenging years, although some people would want to take it down to that grade level. But even high school to be able to provide I guess safe areas, the ability to be identified the way you want to be identified. Do you think that’s reasonable within a school system? We’re not talking about necessarily, education versus acceptance or tolerance or something along those lines.

[00:21:47] John: Yeah. No, I don’t. I believe you’re born a male or a female, and there’s two sexes. I don’t believe in however many sexes that people come up with.

[00:21:58] Rico: Okay. Alright, fair enough. We talked about crime before, god knows here in the city of Peachtree Corners, we had a really bad shooting at a local QT station. Although, there’s been some violence even at some long stay hotels and such within the area. But the shooting at the QT was nerveracking for many people because it was a young man, 29 years old, had gone to Norcross High School. And it was simply a carjacking that went bad, it seemed. Three people decided that they wanted to take this pumped up car and the kid didn’t wanna let it go, and he died for that reason, likely. So these three were finally arrested, but they were arrested because they were followed through using technology. License plate camera readers, all the video cameras along the escape route, if you will. They finally were able to build that case. Do you think that the state should be able to help some of these cities get online to have like these crime centers in the cloud? Where do you think the state should be in creating a high tech environment for more effective crime prosecution? And being able to make public areas safety for our citizens safety.

[00:23:12] John: I think they should to a certain degree. I’m against government, big government, watching you all the time. But this is where it was very helpful. I think in curbing crime, you’ve got a much better opportunity to do that by having fully funded police. Police being very visible. If police are very visible you more than likely not have that crime. Whereas this, you’re catching them after the fact. If police are always around and they’re interacting with the citizens, they’re at the festivals and people feel comfortable with the police, the criminals are less comfortable and there’s gonna be less crime. But if you just have the cameras and everything, well now you’re kind of catching everybody after the fact. So that’s kind of how I feel about that.

[00:24:07] Rico: Well, some of it, like for example, fusūs is a company here in the city of Peachtree Corners. Actually they’re based here, but they’re a national company. Their systems have been signed onto cities like ours, like the city of Atlanta, other cities. Even across quite a few counties in California. Where they’re intredicting the crime, they’re actually being used while the crime is happening almost. That’s the idea, to be able to chase down the criminal almost in that live moment to be able to get them. It’s almost, it’s impossible unless you do like minority report, right? Like that movie?

[00:24:41] John: Right.

[00:24:42] Rico: Where you like get them before they do the crime. That unfortunately it doesn’t.

[00:24:46] John: A precog.

[00:24:47] Rico: Yes. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen. So you either get them while it’s happening or you get them post happening, but you don’t want get them like three weeks later if you could get them a day or two later. Because the same criminal is gonna do more crime during that time, right?

[00:25:01] John: Exactly. Yeah.

[00:25:03] Rico: So and the fact that, for example, I don’t know what the exact numbers are, but most police departments have budget for more cops, for more police on the beat. But they cannot fill the position with qualified people. It’s like everything else. There’s just not enough people wanting to be police officers. What do you do there?

[00:25:23] John: Well, I think you have to make it more enticing in many different ways. One is respect. I mean, we have to be able to say we respect and we back our police officers and we don’t have anything like the defund the police going on. So I think a lot of it has to do with respect and also with training. If the police officers feel like they’re very well trained and they’re also out on the beat in the community where the people really respect and admire them. I think you’re gonna have a whole different idea with the police. It’s hard to fill right now because it’s a little bit controversial. There’s the whole defund the police, there’s all the eyes on the police. I think that you have to make it more appealing for people. That’s one way. Pay is another way, but there’s a lot of different ways to make something more appealing.

[00:26:17] Rico: Okay. When we come to big tech. I know that part of your fight is against censorship. I don’t know how that would apply to, what do you mean by the censorship part of big tech? Do you mean like how the way Google and Facebook presents news or works with political viewpoints?

[00:26:37] John: Well yeah. I think it happens in many different venues whether they be political or any other way. But the ideas that they wanna shift and shape how you think. And I don’t think that that should be allowed. I don’t think that they should ban a certain type of expression or one side of a political campaign or anything like that. I think that things should be open and free.

[00:27:04] Rico: Do you think Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and his statement that he would let Trump back on Twitter, do you think that’s a good thing?

[00:27:14] John: Yeah, actually I do. I think that every person, unless they’re in some kind of criminal activity ought to be able to have free speech. I don’t see why he would be spent censored.

[00:27:26] Rico: Okay. Alright, fair enough. Because, I mean, we do believe in free speech, right? We are America.

[00:27:32] John: Absolutely.

[00:27:33] Rico: This is a republic, although most people think of it as a democracy, but we are republic.

[00:27:38] John: Republic, yeah.

[00:27:38] Rico: Right. So we want to make sure that people can put their viewpoint out. You might not believe in them, right? But that’s okay.

[00:27:46] John: So if I’m on Twitter and I don’t like Donald Trump, I block him. If I’m on Twitter and I don’t like President Biden, I block him. So, I mean, that’s how I think it should be. Not that Twitter should block somebody.

[00:28:02] Rico: Yeah. I think that gets a little complicated, right? Because they’re like a publishing tool, although they’re not the publisher of the news, they’re just the feed for it, the pipe for it. But when you throw in algorithms and the algorithm decides what you’re going to see as an individual whether it’s conservative, liberal, mean spirited, or whatever. Then is it Google that should be looked at and because maybe the algorithm is censoring what I’m gonna say. Right, I guess. Yeah, it’s a bit of that. That it gets complicated there, I think.

[00:28:38] John: It does.

[00:28:39] Rico: If we were all smart enough, we’d figure it out, I guess. So accountability. I guess that gets into the accountability and the false reporting and the misreporting and the misinformation and the disinformation and all that, right?

[00:28:52] John: Absolutely.

[00:28:53] Rico: So all that, I mean that happens within this. I mean, I could be on TikTok for 30 minutes and I’ll see things. I’ll be like, wait, I know that’s not, that’s just being put out there. There’s no explanation. And who knows if that was shot three years ago, that riot. And it looks like it’s just happening. So we should let that, I mean that’s part of free expression, I guess.

[00:29:14] John: Yep.

[00:29:14] Rico: Right?

[00:29:15] John: Yeah, it sure is. And it’s part of you know you’ve gotta be able to look at something and go, is that correct? Or is it not? And it should be the person’s own viewpoint, whether they want to act on it or not act on it.

[00:29:31] Rico: So, critical thinking should be part of every student, every person, right? Should have some sort of critical thinking?

[00:29:38] John: Yep. Absolutely.

[00:29:40] Rico: Alright, cool. Yeah, that’s one of the things my kids learned through the IB program, the International Baccalaureate was critical thinking. How to come, because that, if you’re familiar with the IB program.

[00:29:52] John: I listened to the principal of Norcross talk about that because I was over at 45 South speaking, as was he, so yeah.

[00:30:02] Rico: Oh, okay. Okay. So you got to know a little bit about that.

[00:30:05] John: Yeah, a little bit. Yeah. It was, it was very enlightening.

[00:30:08] Rico: Yeah, it’s a worldview actually. It’s looking at education and topics with a worldview to some degree. A more global look at these issues and these topics. Math and world history can have some things that tie them together, right? They shouldn’t be just separated out as siloed subjects.

[00:30:26] John: Exactly.

[00:30:27] Rico: So where have you been actually, where have you been speaking lately? And and what do you find out there, when you’re speaking at like 45 South? That must have been the Norcross community meeting, I guess?

[00:30:37] John: Yeah.

[00:30:37] Rico: They do that. What is it that you are finding people are interested in? What type of questions are you getting at those meetings?

[00:30:45] John: The main things are pretty similar. It’s what you see out there in society. They’re worried about their pocket books. They’re worried that bacon’s gone up from $4 to $9. They’re worried about their gas, they’re worried about their property taxes. They’re worried about what’s going to happen next. And so that’s one thing. Crime has been another. A lot of people are asking about you know, you talked about the murder at the QT. Well, that’s really close to home for a lot of us. I’ve gotten gas there many times. There’s another murder just a couple days ago in Lawrenceville, which is out of the district but pretty close. And I don’t know if you go shop at that Sprouts there, but you see all the, all the donuts. You know. People are just taking over the street right there.

[00:31:33] Rico: Right.

[00:31:34] John: Yeah, there’s all kinds of these kinds of issues. And then obviously education. People want to know what’s your idea on how you fix this? You know, Georgia’s ranked 38th out of 50 states. And yet we’re already paying our teachers 18th. So I think there’s a lot of things that are on people’s minds that are similar. And I’ve gone over most of how I think about those three problems. And I think it’s vital that we attack those things and get them on the right track. Because right now, and this is really why I’m running. I have an ad going that I’m not a politician. Well, I’m not. I’ve never thought about running for office. I just see what I see. I see inflation spiraling out of control. I see men in women’s sports. I see you know, the crime. Atlanta’s actually got a higher crime rate per capita than Chicago, and it’s creeping up this way. I mean, there’s, there’s all kinds of crime issues that we have right now in Gwinnett County. So these are a lot of the questions that are being asked. And I think that instead of pointing the finger from one side to another, I think that we have to have real life solutions. I think that I’ve been able to prove that I can create real life solutions and in working with a lot of different types of people and getting them all on the same page. So instead of pointing the finger, I think we need people that will work together and get a product.

[00:33:10] Rico: Cool. Okay, fair enough. Do you want to share, are there any topics that we haven’t discussed that you’d like to share your viewpoints on?

[00:33:18] John: There’s one, and maybe this is controversial. I don’t know. When I first threw my hat in there, I didn’t know who I was running against. So it was JT Wu and Ruwa and we’ve been kind of going around. And then I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and start telling me about Ruwa And now I’ve got it on one of my push cards. They said, hey you know, she’s been the communications director for CAIR, C-A-I-R. It’s the Council for American Islamic Relations. And they’re like, do you know what that is? I said, I’ve heard of it. And they’re like, well they’ve been labeled as a terrorist organization by the UAE, United Arab Emirates. They’re supported by Hamas and Hezbollah, what are your thoughts on that? I said, well it’s pretty shocking. I said, let me see. And it does say that she was employed by CAIR or is employed by CAIR. And I don’t know what to think about that. That’s very shocking to me.

[00:34:13] Rico: Now the UAE, but not the United States has that organization on a list. Is what you’re saying.

[00:34:20] John: That’s correct. But also if you look at, I haven’t delved into it too much, but there’s also an article where basically the FBI says the same thing. Because they’re doing that investigation on the whole UAE tie-in. So, I don’t know. I would just say, I think the citizens should probably look into it themselves. And that’s.

[00:34:41] Rico: Yeah, I mean that should definitely be, not for anything, but that should definitely be fact checked. Because, and I don’t have the facilities to do that here. But anyone with critical thinking in mind should be able to fact check that and for their own sake. Because listen. Other countries like the UAE can do that. Let’s say they can declare an organization as a terrorist organization, but if it’s not on the United States watch list or such. I’m not saying that that’s wrong or anything, but every country has their own agenda and what they try, what they’re going to be calling what. And we’ve seen that with the Saudis and other countries. So I would put anyone that’s listening to this aspect of it that they should check on that themselves.

[00:35:22] John: A hundred percent. Yeah.

[00:35:24] Rico: Okay. Alright, cool. So John, so what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna turn this over to you. I’m going to ask you to ask for the vote. Tell people why this show vote for you, and where they can find out more information.

[00:35:36] John: Okay. So I feel like I’m a very strong candidate for this because I’ve worked with so many different people of all different walks of life. Different cultures, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different ethnicities. And I’ve been able to get all of these people to work together to attain great things, great accomplishments, great goals. And I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. I’ve had a company for quite some time. And we grew the company from zero to 120 plus employees. And in doing that, it’s like you meet all kinds of different people and you get to really see how different people are and how they think and work with them and make a better company or make a better product. Or in this case, make a better district 97, make a better Georgia. And basically include everybody you know? That’s one of the things I love about what I do. I travel quite extensively and I love meeting people from all over the place. And yeah, you go down to, like I said, the bayou in Louisiana and somebody’s wading waste deep in alligator infested water and they think nothing of it. And just to meet somebody like that and understand their mentality behind it is very interesting. So I love all these different people that I’ve met and how I can get them to attain a great goal. And that’s what I bring to this seat. Basically being able to work with a lot of people and not being a politician of always pointing to the other side and saying they’re bad for some reason. But that you include everybody and get everybody working. Be fiscally responsible, because I feel that sometimes government isn’t that way. But as a business owner, you’ve got to understand fiscal responsibility and make sure that money is spent correctly. So yeah, I want to make sure that I do everything I can to handle the inflation, the crime so that people feel safe and secure in their homes and when they go out. And that we help fix the education system. So if you go to www.JohnChan4.Ga.com, you can go in there and sign up as a volunteer. You can go in there and donate. We could definitely use some donations right now and gosh, I would love to have your vote come November 8th.

[00:38:18] Rico: Cool. John, I appreciate your time today doing this podcast with me. Hang in there with me for a second while I just sign off. But everyone, thanks for listening in. Share this with your friends. If you’re listening to this as an audio podcast on Spotify or Apple, please leave a review. That’s how more people can find out about our podcast. If you’re looking at this on Facebook or YouTube feel free to share it among your friends. To find out a little bit more us, Peachtree Corners Life, about Peachtree Corners Magazine. This is the latest issue, just came out, hitting the post office this week. By the time you watch this, you should have it in hand. If not, let me know. You can find out more about our podcast at LivinginPeachtreeCorners.com as well. Also, thank you again to Eli and EV Remodeling, Inc. for being our sponsor of these podcasts and for being an advertiser and supporter of our journalism here in Peachtree Corners. John, thank you again. I appreciate you coming out.

[00:39:17] John: Thanks so much. It was great being here.

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Elections and Politics

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



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.

Regina’s Website: 

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


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


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


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


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


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



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.

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

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


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.

Continue Reading


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



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/


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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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