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How Peachtree Corners is Using Advanced Cameras, Drones, AI and Next-Gen Policing Tools, Plus More

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In this episode, we delve into the challenges faced by Peachtree Corners in addressing the rising incidence of vandalism in its Town Center and how the city is working to enhance community safety. Join Rico Figliolini and City Manager Brian Johnson, as they discuss the proactive measures being taken, such as the deployment of marshals, the implementation of advanced surveillance cameras with AI technology, and the focus on prevention and education. Discover how Peachtree Corners is using technology and community involvement to create a vibrant and secure environment for its residents and visitors. Don’t miss this insightful conversation on enhancing community safety in Peachtree Corners.

Plus, they discussed Peachtree Corners Town Center improvements (town green, dog park and fitness trail), Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners Criterium Road Race coming in April, and the planned roundabout on the Trader Joe’s side of the Forum.

Timestamp:
00:00:00 – Intro
00:04:09 – Addressing Vandalism and Crime with AI Surveillance
00:07:57 – Protecting the Community: Addressing Minor Offenses and Ensuring Safety
00:10:18 – The Use of Facial Recognition Technology in City Surveillance
00:14:50 – Ensuring Child Safety at the Town Green Playground
00:20:03 – Enhancing Safety with Surveillance Cameras and Technology
00:24:40 – The Unbelievable Work of the Marshals
00:27:36 – Exciting Updates and Events in Our Town
00:30:40 – The Ultimate Fitness Event: Bike Races, Running Races and More
00:35:29 – Improving Intersections for Safer Driving, East Jones Bridge and Peachtree Corner Circle
00:38:21 – Developments & Traffic Safety Measures in Progress
00:41:15 – Creating Affordable Housing Options in Peachtree Corners
00:43:07 – Closing

Podcast Transcript

Rico Figliolini 0:00:01

Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life, and a series of podcasts, including this one, Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager. Hey, Brian, thanks for joining us.

Brian Johnson 0:00:11

Thanks for having me, Rico.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:13

Yeah, it’s always good to talk through what the city’s doing, things, upcoming development and all sorts of stuff. So let’s get right into the thick of it. That’s the first thing I want to talk about, because the marshals have been working at it for a month now. I think it’s been. It’s January, so about a month, maybe, although longer than that, because some of the stuff started before that.

Brian Johnson 0:00:38

Right?

Rico Figliolini 0:00:40

And I had a podcast recently with Edward Restrepo, the chief marshal. So you all should listen to that one. That was a pretty good podcast, if I could say that. But they’ve been here. They explained some of the technology they’re using at a recent southwest Gwinnett chamber meeting, and now I understand they’re actually in the midst of taking care of something that’s been going on now for a little while, vandalism, both at town center and some other places. So maybe you could fill us in a little bit about what’s going on.

Brian Johnson 0:01:15

So, you know, as a reminder, the marshals were brought in to know a force multiplier. In addition to Gwinnett County PD, which is still the primary law enforcement agency for the know us residents. We pay a millage rate to Gwinnett county to pay for that police protection here, so they’re still our primary police department, but the marshals are a supplement to, you know, it’s allowing us to focus their efforts on things that may be harder for Gwinnett county to respond to, whether it’s based on call volume or personnel constraints, or even, in some cases, the amount of importance they put on certain things. Organizationally, the west precinct commander still does report to a police chief who works out of an office way up north of Lawrenceville. So sometimes what’s important to the residents of this city don’t always correspond to the same level of importance. Know some of them. Now, that’s fine. But anyway, so the marshals, we bring them in to do that, and we have had something come up of late that did kind of meet this definition of an additional asset being used to focus on something that’s more important to us, and that is our town center and the vandalism that we have seen of late. If you think about all the work. Being done there and the commitment, financial. Commitment we’ve made to the town center, we have created a location that’s a gathering place for the community. So on one hand, it’s definitely working. The amount of playground equipment we have. Out there, we’re getting ready to finish what is really a world class obstacle course. We’ve got the grass in the town center or on the town green itself being redone so that it can handle rain. Better than it did. And it can also be greener and not have patches where we were struggling with last time before. We’ve got a dog park going in. We’ve got lots of shade structure. We’re doing all these things that invite people. That’s all great. But when you do that and you have lots of people, not every one. Of those people are good actors, right? And we have some bad actors. And we have had a lot of vandalism of late, tagging, graffiti, some cases just wanting destruction of property. Just like, somebody who felt like it was cool to go into the bathroom and rip out of the wall, the partitions in between the toilets.

Rico Figliolini 0:04:41

It’s amazing. Yes, it’s just amazing. Just to think of the thought process and anger they must have in something to go do that. Just ridiculous.

Brian Johnson 0:04:53

I mean, the fire pit we have out there is constantly being jacked with. People think it’s fun to put stuff into the flames. I mean, it’s just never, you know. As you can imagine, again, based on, like, say, call volume or the level of crime that Gwinnett county police officers are dealing with, graffiti and other stuff are not always as high a priority. However, from our standpoint, we think it. Is in the context of what we. Don’t want to have, is our town center develop a reputation for being a place where it’s kind of the wild west for these type of people who think it’s okay to do, to tag. And so we put our marshals on it, and as I have expected them to do, they went in, assessed the. Situation, and came back with some technology. Options for us to use to be an added tool at their use, we have put in additional cameras that have unique capabilities, including, again, cameras that can send messages to our marshals. If people are in the view of the camera for a certain amount of time or there are certain numbers of. People in the camera, these cameras are. Able to identify whether something is a person or a vehicle.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:34

Is that using a little bit of AI technology?

Brian Johnson 0:06:37

It is. And so we have AI being used to do that. And a good example might be the stairwells in the parking deck. Stairwells are infamous for, especially kids doing things, because it’s a combined space that doesn’t have a long view from afar for other people to see them doing something. And so we put cameras in there, and those cameras have AI, and they’ll end up sending messages when it’s essentially taking activity of people in the stairwell, that they’re there longer than you would. Normally see them in there, and then. It’ll send a message. And then our marshals can look at their phone or their computer and assess whether or not it’s somebody who stopped and they’re tying their shoe, or they can actually.

Rico Figliolini 0:07:33

Because they can actually see a live video feed from their stay. Well, yes.

Brian Johnson 0:07:38

When they get the message, then immediately that’s the live feed of the camera. And then some of these cameras we have in there have speakers on them, and so then they’ll be able to talk through and say, hey, I see what you’re doing. You need to move on. You need to do whatever. So that’s just one example of some of the things that we’re doing to help out. It is complicated when we have caught kids tagging or destroying property because they’re minors. So when it comes to prosecuting them, there’s a different process for minors. We’re not, particularly in cases where it’s the first time for a kid having done something, we’re not wanting to ruin any kid’s career or anything. We’re more worried about a, prevention or. B, at least putting to a degree. The fear of God into a kid who did it the first time, telling. Them that, look, you’re not able to. Go out there and do things without people seeing you like you think. And if you get caught doing this. Again, then the city may end up pursuing a charge of some sort. Trying to work with the parents, bringing the parents in and showing them evidence of what their kid’s doing and saying, hey. Do you want your kid to be banned from going to the town center? Which is another thing that we can do. And if they go back, they would actually be trespassing. So again, we’re using tools to help.

Rico Figliolini 0:09:24

But there’s no facial recognition right now as far as being able to keep. That in the database to say, because. That was the thing. I think at some of the concert venues, they were doing facial recognition to make sure to keep out bad players. Which is not a bad thing. But obviously, some people think that’s a. Bad thing to do, that we have not.

Brian Johnson 0:09:49

That can be a common. Function that is used at certain event venues. You’re right. We’ve talked about it before, where people walking past a certain point, the cameras taking facial recognition and comparing it against people who have warrants out for their arrest and doing it that way. We have not deployed that technology. I have not wanted to get into the cross that threshold or get into personally identifiable information being stored on city servers. So we have not deployed those functions, despite the fact that really facial recognition software and technology is not particularly innovative anymore. So most cameras have the ability to. Have that function on there. It’s just a matter of software that gets certain points on a base and then compares it back to a database that has the same things. So it’s not particularly cutting edge technology anymore. It’s just not used wholesale because of the sensitivity of facial recognition information.

Rico Figliolini 0:11:05

I mean, all these camera systems and stuff, everything’s evolving and changing. I just saw something on love and alive that just came across this morning. About ring now saying that if video. Wants to be had by police, they actually have to serve a warrant now for the video to be released. Now, I don’t know how that works. Me owning ring. If they’re saying that because I’m using it through their system, it’s on their. Cloud, that disrupts the access unless you have a warrant. There wasn’t too much. Eleven live didn’t cover too much detail on that.

Brian Johnson 0:11:49

But I believe it’s still like our connect PTC program, which is the one where you register your cameras. I do believe that if you voluntarily. Give permission for police to pull feed. From your camera, or merely just say, I have a camera, and if there’s ever a crime in the area, and you think that my camera feed might help you, here’s how to contact me, and then you can contact me and ask for. And I believe both of those will still supersede the need for a warrant. Because you voluntarily given police department permission.

Rico Figliolini 0:12:30

Correct. I think that’s where that was going, that if the individual homeowner didn’t want to do it, it cannot be forced unless you provide a search warrant or warrant on it. But that just shows how technology as advanced as we’re getting, the police, the. Marshals were sharing with us a few things as well, technology wise, that are. Being used or going to be used or being tested right now. Like bola wraps. Taser ten versus the normal taser that has two prongs. The taser ten has ten because as they were explaining, and as anyone can imagine, two wires being hit into perpetrator. May not hit the right way. So you’re going to need several shots. And that’s why the taser ten will give you up to ten shots to be able to get that connection. And electrification, that’s needed.

Brian Johnson 0:13:22

Yeah, you could be wearing a thick coat or body armor or whatever, and the leads don’t actually get into your skin. On the town center stuff, on the. Vandalism stuff, God forbid we have to. Do use that, but we’re wanting to do is capture crimes being committed. Oftentimes it’s pretty easy for us to get a name to a face, because. A lot of times we just have to ask around and people who have. Kids that age, or they know themselves or they coached them or whatever, then you’re like, oh, I know that kid. We’ve had one where it was a kid that I coached many years ago. And I saw it, I knew who the kid was most of the time. The people who are there doing it are people who live in our community. That’s the sad part.

Rico Figliolini 0:14:26

I was going to ask you that.

Brian Johnson 0:14:28

It’s also sad that there’s not more self policing. I wish that there were more adults out there that were policing the actions of their own kids or others. We have kids wandering off. A parent will have a kid that’s. Like two years old, they’ll take them. Out to the town green, and then the parent sits down and they’re talking or looking on their phone, and then the kid wanders off and they’re on playground equipment that are beyond their abilities. But the parent thinks that it’s a. Babysitter and they just let the playground become the babysitter. And then you run into problem where a kid falls and they shouldn’t have been there first place.

Rico Figliolini 0:15:11

Yeah, you’re right. People don’t take responsibility like that. Instead, I see it every day when I go out. It’s unbelievable. And in certain places you really want to keep your eye on your child. Because people can get abducted. It happens every day in the city metro area of Atlanta.

Brian Johnson 0:15:35

And even the fence, the wooden fence that’s going around where the fitness or. Obstacles were in the woodline there, that. Is being done because we needed to secure those stations away from kids wandering in without the parents would just let them wander in there and then get on stuff that again was beyond their ability. So our insurance company said, you’ve got to contain that. So now when the towers go in. Because since it’s in the woodline, we decided to make the fence look more like a frontier fort. So we’ve got the little fort towers. Going in on the corners, and once. That happens, you will only be able to get into it. At two locations and you’ll have to walk through a point in which there’s a lot of signage saying if you’re not of a certain age or haven’t signed a waiver, you’re not to be in here at all. Now, that won’t mean that people won’t sneak in there. It’s not going to be gated. You don’t have to have access or anything. But if somebody ignores it and goes in there and gets hurt, we can’t.

Rico Figliolini 0:16:51

Be blamed because you have a disclaimer right there that’s so sad that people have that you have to do that. That’s like plastic. Don’t put it over your head because you’ll suffocate. The warnings that on just plastic coverings to pillowcases and other product that it needs that because no one’s intelligent to know that you put the bag over your head, you might suffocate. So your five year old goes on something, maybe he’s climbing up and all of a sudden it’s 15ft up because maybe he’s that good on a rope and then falls, God forbid. Yeah, you are right.

Brian Johnson 0:17:29

That would happen. They sprain their ankle or break it. And the parents like the city, you’re at fault. And we’re kind of like, no, we’re not. Yes, but anyway, that’s why we’re doing that. But regardless, at the end of the day, here’s the deal. We created the town center, the town green area, to be a gathering place. It is. We continue to put resources in there to make it so. And we’ll deal with the people that are out there in the way that we are. But you could argue it’s a good problem to have. It does show that the town center has become a place where people want. To go hang out for sure.

Rico Figliolini 0:18:18

I mean, these concerts that pull in 4000 people, like you said, playground equipment.

Brian Johnson 0:18:24

I mean, we’re going to have the ability to have the tot lot for really small kids that’s going in right now. Then you’ve got kind of the middle range older kid playground and then certain age, you could go into the obstacle course there. You got all that kind of stuff. The town green. Even in a normal day or evening that doesn’t have programmed stuff going on, it’s a great place to hang out. There’s lots of tables, chairs, shaded areas to sit and hang out. And then the dog park will be. Done in about a month and you’ll. Be able to take your dog there. There’s a small dog and large dog lot. And then we’re going to have the bone bar.

Rico Figliolini 0:19:10

Okay, so that’s still going. That’s going to be in concession.

Brian Johnson 0:19:14

We will have something to wear. Not sure what hours or days it will operate, but at some point somebody will operate something that if your dog is at the dog park, you can. Get a beverage while you’re there and. Not even have to leave the confines of the dog park. You can just go right up to the bone bar inside the fenced area of the dog park.

Rico Figliolini 0:19:37

It’s going to be a busy place. I mean, once the apartment complex behind Chase and HW, they’re broken ground, they’re working there also. That’s going to be within a year. I guess they’ll probably be pretty much. Up and talk about cameras and stuff. That’ll probably be camera-ed up also. I think as these things get built out. Right. There’s going to be more cameras in the system that the marshals can use. To keep us all safe, right?

Brian Johnson 0:20:11

Absolutely. And also patrolling as soon as the construction is done, we’ve got a police golf cart that they can ride around necessary. We also have a police ebike for. The off duty police officer or marshal. To be using to make their rounds. And then the substation there has the ability to pull up any camera anywhere on the facility. So even when they’re not walking around kind of showing the flag, they can still have their eyes on all this stuff. And so we have to use technology to help us and be an additional resource, and we will. But hopefully the word starts to get out that if you’re going to get. Into some delinquent activities, don’t do it. There because we will have video of you doing it. And we will use that video.

Rico Figliolini 0:21:15

And not just there. I mean, Prestrepa was talking about, there’s. Mailbox break ins that happen in some of the apartment complexes. And there’s certain times of year that it happens. And some returning players, because it’s their business, this is what they do. This is how they make a living. So it’s not just they’re doing it one time, they’re doing it maybe at several locations. And he talked to us about how. The system of cameras has helped them find sometimes perpetrators within 8 hours or 24 hours, depending on what it is. What the crime was, where it might. Have taken weeks before, and you might not have been able to find who it was.

Brian Johnson 0:21:58

Even like we had the Carnegie jewelry store got robbed.

Rico Figliolini 0:22:03

Yes.

Brian Johnson 0:22:03

Not too long ago. Our marshals identified the car within an hour of it happening. And then they were able to trace the car down to an apartment complex in Atlanta. And by talking to having detectives do some work in the apartment area, we’re able to identify the people who were in the car. And so it’s because of the license plate recognition cameras and our inter service cooperation with other jurisdictions and their camera systems allow us to do this. And as a result, we’ve solved a lot of the bigger, more notorious crimes that we’ve had happen here because of those cameras.

Rico Figliolini 0:22:55

The technology, the cameras, the detective work that these guys are doing, though, too, because it takes critical thinking to go through some of this. And I can see the passion that they have when they talk about what they do and the technology they’re using. About being able to trace a criminal. And finding out certain things. There was one where I think two. Criminals, it was two of them looked. Like there were women robbing a postal. Part of at an apartment complex. By the way, this particular complex decided to put cameras in, I guess, because too many things were happening there. And they were able to find out that essentially they went at women and. They were wearing disguises. Even with those disguises, they were able to find them.

Brian Johnson 0:23:43

Well, using the Carnegie jewelry robbery as. An example, we had a camera that caught them. They were walking away from the camera, so we didn’t have a video of their face.

Rico Figliolini 0:24:00

Right.

Brian Johnson 0:24:01

But we caught them walking away and then getting into the car. Know, we got the car. But one of our deputy marshals, Henry Mesa, was watching the video of them walking away, and he noticed that one. Of the guys walking gate was a. Little bit abnormal in that he didn’t seem to swing one of his arms the same way how they swing.

Rico Figliolini 0:24:30

That’s right.

Brian Johnson 0:24:31

And it occurred to him that that. Guy may have hurt his arm, may have been in a sling of some sort. But again, we only saw them walking. Away, so it was only to their back. And so he put in the be on the lookout that there may be somebody that has an injured, I believe it was right arm. And sure enough, when the detectives went to that apartment complex, identified the guys that were in there, and they apprehended. Them, one of them just had recently. Had surgery on an arm and it. Had been in a cast.

Rico Figliolini 0:25:08

See, that’s what I mean.

Brian Johnson 0:25:10

It’s just unbelievable how these guys can. Take video and really look into aspects of it and pull out unique things that can be. What is the determining factor of it being that person?

Rico Figliolini 0:25:26

I mean, just listening to Restrepo and then seeing the presentation they did at Southwest Gwinnett chamber and talking about social media. And know gangsters like to post their stuff, too, apparently because they want to show, they want to fan out the money, the guns, the car, in fact, two cars. I think in the particular case that. They were able to track down the person because of some of the cars that were in the pictures even so, they’re using everything, because today. You can use everything, and you should use everything you can.

Brian Johnson 0:26:00

And makes our marshals unique is because. They are not the primary law enforcement agency. They are not getting dispatched by 911. To calls, so they’re not distracted with. Those kind of things. Know, Gwinnett is where Gwinnett could have somebody working on a case, something, and then a call comes in, and they’ve got to stop what they’re doing, and they’ve got to go and respond to it. Marshals don’t have that. So Chief Restrepo is able to focus their efforts on what’s important to us and to really fill those gaps in. So they’ve been an unbelievable resource, even to date, and they’ve only been really. Up and running with the policies that. I needed to have in place to. Kind of cut them loose. They’ve only been had, really the first of the year, period of time. They have been instrumental in solving a number of crimes.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:06

The more they do, the better it is, because mostly all of these criminals. Have come, I shouldn’t say all of them. A lot of them have come from like, Clayton county or Atlanta. They’re not even local players. Correct.

Brian Johnson 0:27:20

There is not a know. The vandalism of the town center might be an example where there’s local. But the major crime, violent crime being committed here are not Peachtree corners residents. They are criminal elements coming from parts outside the city, coming to the city because that they know that we have people with resources that make it to where it is interest to the criminal element.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:48

Yeah. Easy targets for them. Yeah. All right. Why don’t we talk? We’ll keep it short on some of. These things coming up, but I just. Want to go through it a little bit. One is we know the dog park will be ready. Sounds like within a month. The closing off of the fitness trail. It’s almost done. Just have to put up the towers, I guess. And so by the end of April.

Brian Johnson 0:28:18

March, I guess all the town center. Stuff, the town green, turf replacement, drainage and turf replacement, the tot lot, the obstacle course fencing, and the dog park, will all be done by the end of March. Excuse me, because may is our first concert. All of this stuff needs to be done beforehand and we want the turf to at least have a month of nobody walking on it so it gets set. But all of this will be done by the end of April, and the town green will be wide open at that point. We’ll start our summer concert series.

Rico Figliolini 0:29:04

Cool. Yeah. And I hear it’s going to be a big one. Leading off, we got a good one.

Brian Johnson 0:29:09

We got a really good mix of types of music, some actual bands, some cover bands of big names. It’s going to be a fun season.

Rico Figliolini 0:29:22

It’s going to be great. I think every year more things are. Coming, more things are being added. So all good. Like the Criterion road race, curiosity labs annual. Started last year. Had a really good start. Did rain that night. I think it was Wednesday that day. But still had almost 300 people. Had a good turnout. This year it’s going to be April 28th, I think. Is it Saturday? So it’s going to be right at the tail end of speed week. Or is it beginning of speed week?

Brian Johnson 0:29:54

The middle of speed week. Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:04

That’s a Sunday. The 28th.

Brian Johnson 0:30:06

It’s a Sunday. Yeah, it’s April 28th.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:08

Right.

Brian Johnson 0:30:09

It’s a Sunday. Now, there’s a couple of differences. It’ll start at ten. It’ll probably be over around eight. But not only are we having the bike races of different skill classes, everything from amateur all the way up to pro, we’re actually going to do a professional invitational road race, meaning a running race. We’re going to do.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:37

Really?

Brian Johnson 0:30:38

Yes, we’re going to do a mile road run. It’s going to be a tough one because it’s an uphill course, essentially, but we’re going to have that. So for runners out there, you’re going to be able to do that. If you’re not a cyclist, but you’re a runner, we’ll have a road race, and we’re also bringing in a bunch of kids. Stuff like bouncy houses, those things. So for parents who want to bring their kids out and if they’re too young to necessarily sit and watch all of the race, there’s going to be some things for kids. And then we’ll have food trucks out here. Then we’ll have lots of different vendors that are in the space of exercise at some level. We’ll have everything from bike manufacturers, maybe shoe companies for running those kind of. Things, all the way down to some. Of the recovery type of things like cryotherapy and spa treatments and everything. Definitely some technology within the vulnerable road user space. Again, it’s a curiosity lab event, so we want to make sure we highlight the technology that’s out there to help both runners and cyclists be safer. So it’s going to be a great event.

Rico Figliolini 0:32:08

Yeah, it sounds like it. Way more than last year. A lot more stuff happening. The other thing is, I think Atlanta Sci-Fi Film Festival is coming back later in the year. I heard about that. So that’s cool. That’s the second year running that’ll be coming. The city is working on developing a new app to be able to. That’s a flexible app that the city could grow into. Do you want to spend a few minutes just telling us what’s going to be in that app, at least at the beginning? What are you looking at doing with it?

Brian Johnson 0:32:41

I think we all know that oftentimes the first and maybe even many cases, the primary vehicle you use to get to a website or to do something is through your phone. So if you want people to find that way to get to, say, your website or to get you information is user friendly, you got to have a very good app. Our app has limitations that are preventing us from doing some of the things that we want to be able to do. And so we’re right now talking to some companies to make sure that we have kind of the wireframe that is the bones of an app. We need one that’s much more robust for us to be able to do everything from geofencing to where we can push notifications to somebody as soon as they hit our city limits to the. Ability to push us more pictures. If somebody sees something out in the community and they want to report it, we want them to be able to post many pictures and videos and send it directly to us if they see something happening. We want there to be more interaction with our marshals through the app. We want weather to be able to come through it. We want Waze and Google Maps to be able to come through it. We have a lot of different things that we want to use. So that Peachtree corners stakeholder, whether they. Live or work or play here, could download the app. And within the app you have a one stop shop for everything.

Rico Figliolini 0:34:25

Cool. And they should be able to even. Maybe at some point check permits or. Maybe house permits maybe. Or pay for things on there.

Brian Johnson 0:34:34

Yes, absolutely.

Rico Figliolini 0:34:37

Good. The other thing is that there’s development. Going on, as always in any city. That’s growing and traffic has to be attended to. I know that the Medlock Bridge Road. 141 intersection where CVS is, I think that looks like that’s all pretty much done over there.

Brian Johnson 0:34:58

Well, no, that’s Bush Road and Medlock.

Rico Figliolini 0:35:00

Bush Road. That’s what I meant, Bush Road.

Brian Johnson 0:35:02

Now, we do have the intersection improvement at Medlock. East Jones Bridge. In 141 right, we have an additional turn lane onto East Jones Bridge heading south or right turn. We have a deeper stacking on East Jones Bridge for the left turns. And then we’re going to end up on the southbound side of 141. Coming out of Johns Creek, when you. Hit just past Wellington Lake, there starts. To be a lot of, call it deceleration turn lane into, like, suburban medical Ingalls, the forum. We’re taking all those and making it a through lane. So when you hit Wellington Lake heading. South just past it, you will ultimately have three lanes of travel all the way up over the hill until you hit Peachtree corner circle.

Rico Figliolini 0:36:06

Right.

Brian Johnson 0:36:06

The purpose of that is to try to flush cars through that busy stretch faster because that’s where it can get backed up. And so that’s happening. We’re working with GDOT and we’re in right of way acquisition right now of some additional right of way. So that’ll help those intersections.

Rico Figliolini 0:36:30

And along that way at Peachtree Corner Circle. Now, when you make a right by what’s going to be opening soon, the renewed QT. Brand new building, brand new. Everything brand new there. So when you make a right turn. Eventually it’s being designed now, I guess. And design, you said, is the roundabout. That’s going to be by the trader Joe’s entrance of the forum.

Brian Johnson 0:36:56

That’s correct. And so, you know, right now, if you come out of the forum there at Trader Joe’s and you want to turn left, it’s not a particularly. And so we’re going to do is put a roundabout. So if you want to turn left, you’re technically turning right and then just going right into a circle and then coming out on there. So that’ll make it much safer for everybody there. So there’ll be one going in there.

Rico Figliolini 0:37:26

Right. So that’s coming. I wondered about that because at some. Point when I heard it originally, I was like, why? It’s only 400 feet or yards, I guess, feet from the intersection. But does make sense because I’ve sat. There sometimes wondering why people are playing chicken, see if they can make that left turn before a car comes down. And God knows I’ve seen at least, at least one, if not two accidents. A year right over there, because someone. Decided they had to make a left. When they should have just waited.

Brian Johnson 0:38:01

So this will make it to where. Technically nobody’s making a left. Well, they’re actually just entering directly into a roundabout and they just go around it. That’s how they make their left.

Rico Figliolini 0:38:16

Yeah.

Brian Johnson 0:38:16

Those are the kind of things that should move traffic through more consistently and safely than it currently is.

Rico Figliolini 0:38:24

Cool. So that is coming into play. Obviously, at another time, we’ll talk about this better. But obviously there’s more developments. Developers wanting to apply for more developments, more apartments. I know that there’s one that’s being looked at off, I think, Da Vinci court, maybe. That could be 200 plus units. There’s some other ones being looked at. I think I just saw in the agenda this past. I don’t know if that was the first read or second read. 75 townhouses. Yeah.

Brian Johnson 0:39:03

That’s off of engineering, Engineering drive. Right. Nine plus acres.

Rico Figliolini 0:39:09

And they’re looking to put 75 units there. Right.

Brian Johnson 0:39:13

But, Rico, that’s an important. I’m glad you bring that up. That’s a great example of what mayor and council are doing in that parcel, which is basically at the corner of 141 in engineering, on the west side of the road, across from the liquor store.

Rico Figliolini 0:39:32

Correct.

Brian Johnson 0:39:34

It’s one parcel in, so you can’t really see it from 141 because there’s trees right there, and then there’s an open surface parking lot, literally at the corner. It’s the very next lot. But anyway, they came before mayor and. Council last year with a product that had apartments, and city council denied that, and then they came back and worked. With staff, and now they’re coming back with an equity product and less density. It went from like 150 or 75. Apartment units and got denied. And then they came back and they’ve got about 75 townhome units. So mayor and council are still. While we may have a lot of these coming in front of us, they by no means are like, oh, sure, sounds good.

Rico Figliolini 0:40:33

No.

Brian Johnson 0:40:34

Very strategic in location use type of. Housing unit, all that kind of stuff. So we’ll have more of these to follow. It’s the way things go. But we’ll be very dutiful in our assessment of each and every one on. A case by case basis.

Rico Figliolini 0:40:57

Good to see that. Good to see. Yeah. I’ve even heard maybe possible condos versus. Apartments, which would be, I think, better. Right. Equity owned is always better.

Brian Johnson 0:41:08

Yeah. You want to have diverse housing stock, but you don’t want to have too. Much of any one thing. And that goes for apartments. That even goes for single family detached residential. Not everybody can afford houses in Peachtree Corners right now or wants to do it so you have to be careful. Though, about what type of housing units you allow to go where. And that’s the challenge.

Rico Figliolini 0:41:36

Yeah, we’ve discussed that before, even affordable housing. We talked a little bit about that, that the city, the council, planning department. Are looking at affordable housing programs. We’re truly affordable how that would work. Yeah.

Brian Johnson 0:41:51

And when we say affordable, we’re just talking about putting some mechanism in there. That takes an equity product and doesn’t. Allow the market to just jack the prices way up. It’s kind of capped to a point where it makes it affordable for somebody who wants to own, just like maybe. Some of the people in the education. Profession or public safety, police and fire. Those are ones that, unfortunately, those professions don’t necessarily make a ton of money, but great to have more of them be able to live in the city. And so that’s our focus as we’re assessing what our options are, for sure.

Rico Figliolini 0:42:36

I mean, living an hour away from somewhere is always a difficult part for. Them, their family and those they serve. We’ve been close to 40 minutes. Appreciate the time, Brian, that you give me every month to talk about these things.

Brian Johnson 0:42:52

Absolutely.

Rico Figliolini 0:42:54

This is always a good conversation. There’s always stuff I don’t know. I mean, it’s good to do this. And to meet you all at different. Times also, and having city council people sometimes on these podcasts also talking about what they’re seeing and doing. You all just had the swearing in. Too, this past Tuesday. I think we did.

Brian Johnson 0:43:16

We had four council members sworn in. Most notable is we have our first african american female council member, Laura Douglas, who was sworn in. And so. We have a new council member. She took Lori Christopher’s old seat after Lori retired. And so we’re excited about bringing her on board. And then we had three other incumbents that ran and they got sworn in. So back to the business of the people, definitely.

Rico Figliolini 0:43:55

Thank you, Brian. I appreciate you being with us and talking through this stuff. Everyone, thank you for joining us. Till next time, Peachtree Corners Life. Visit us at LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com the website, to find out more information on a regular basis. And pick up the latest issue of Peachtree Corners magazine and Southwest Gwinnett magazine. We’re actually working on the next issue. International Foods and Flavors is the cover story for our next issue of Peachtree Corners magazine. You would be surprised maybe, about the different types of food and venues we have here, from west african to cuban. To venezuelan to just a ton of different type of variety of restaurants and foods here. So check it out and appreciate you being with us. Bye.

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Peachtree Corners Life

Ruwa Romman on Recent Georgia Legislation and Gaza [Podcast]

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Georgia State Representative Ruwa Romman shares insights into the legislative session, highlighting the dynamic of having a third of the House composed of new members. She addresses the complex issues of balancing public safety and civil liberties in immigration status checks, the political landscape challenges during an election year, and experiences of changing positions on bills after hearing new information. Plus, Romman shared her view on the war in Gaza. With your host Rico Figliolini.

Resources:
Ruwa’s Website: https://www.ruwa4georgia.com/

Timestamp:
00:00:00 – Discussing Important Issues
00:03:07 – First-Year Freshman Dynamics
00:04:19 – Concerns over Misuse of Immigration Enforcement Legislation
00:07:03 – Concerns Over Police Funding and Immigration Checks
00:10:43 – Balancing Immigration Enforcement and Community Trust
00:12:41 – Navigating Student Loan Forgiveness and Data Center Legislation
00:15:18 – Changing Perspectives on Film Tax Credits
00:16:59 – Balancing Film Industry Incentives and School Funding
00:18:47 – Navigating Legislation: Freshman Lawmaker’s Perspective
00:25:04 – Improving Early Literacy through Education Reform
00:26:43 – Balancing Work, Campaigns, and Local Elections
00:32:21 – Unsolicited Home Selling Offers
00:33:19 – Engaging the Community and Addressing International Challenges

Podcast Transcript:

Rico Figliolini 0:00:01

Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. We have a great guest today, Ruwa Romman, the Georgia State Rep, District 97. Hey, Ruwa, how are you?

Ruwa Romman 0:00:11

Hi. I’m good, thanks. Thanks for having me. How are you doing?

Rico Figliolini 0:00:14

Yeah, good. It’s a beautiful day. Just came back from lunch, so all good. Mojito’s at the forum. Excellent.

Ruwa Romman 0:00:20

Delicious.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:21

And I actually had breakfast this morning at First Watch, so I’m just doing dinner, lunch, breakfast, lunch and dinner tonight at a new restaurant that just, that’s opening or media preview called Dahlia’s restaurant at the Hilton Northeast here in Peachtree Corners. We’ll see how that food is, but we have more important things to discuss rather than food. So let’s get.

Ruwa Romman 0:00:48

 I don’t know if there’s, honestly, to me, that’s like, top number one priority in my life.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:53

Well, actually, you know what? That’s funny, because in my family growing up, italian, italian heritage, everything around the dinner table was game, essentially. So that’s the best place to talk about stuff sometimes.

Ruwa Romman 0:01:05

Totally.

Rico Figliolini 0:01:06

Yeah. So let’s, let’s talk a little bit about what’s going on because the session’s over. And it’s interesting because, you know, most people coming from New York state, reps in the House and House Senate seats and stuff, they’re almost practically full time. They work, like, in session, like nine months out of the year here in the state of Georgia. How many days is it that you’re in session?

Ruwa Romman 0:01:31

Yeah, we’re about 40 days, all of January, all of February and all of March. And so the intent, but, you know, the reason it’s 40 days is because we also have, like, committee work days, and we try to have some time to actually go through the bills that gets harder at the end of it. But, yeah, we’re about three months of.

Rico Figliolini 0:01:47

The year, so there’s quite a few bills that cat looked at. I don’t know what the numbers are. Maybe you could share that with us. You know, how many actually got looked at and how many ended up passing? Quite a few passed, I think. And I think we actually vetoed a few also.

Ruwa Romman 0:02:02

Yeah, there were definitely some vetoes, of course. And actually, people can go on legislation. So legis.ga.gov, and you can actually see every single vote that we have done. We took a total of 890 votes this year, or I guess, like this session. And that includes everything from attendance to bills. And to be clear, when we talk about a session. So there’s, like, this year’s session and then last year’s session is technically part of this one because it’s a biannual. So over the course of those, I guess like eight month period, we took over 890 votes. So that was attendance. But a lot of it was on, you know, bills and moving things and, and stuff like that. So we voted on a lot. I think it was. Somebody said we had almost 1200 bills that moved through per like four month period, but only about 200 of them get signed.

Rico Figliolini 0:03:01

That could be good because some of those bills aren’t that great. And this is your first year, really, isn’t it? Is it your first full year?

Ruwa Romman 0:03:11

I am a brand new freshman, as they call us. What was really, actually unique about us this year is about a third of the House was freshmen. So it gave us an opportunity to get to know each other and start on a blank slate. And I think it really made the dynamics of the House a little different in a good way.

Rico Figliolini 0:03:29

Good. Yeah. Because it can be frustrating. I’m sure Congress has their issues, but. Yeah.

Ruwa Romman 0:03:35

Yeah. We actually voted on our speaker on the first try in about 15 minutes. So we did what we were supposed to.

Rico Figliolini 0:03:43

Yes. The grownups are in the room here in Georgia as opposed to Washington.

Ruwa Romman 0:03:48

I don’t know about the Senate, but the House. We’re good.

Rico Figliolini 0:03:51

Yeah. The Senate had its issues, from what I understand. Right. And if they weren’t in session, probably would have been good in some cases.

Ruwa Romman 0:03:59

It’s a fun ride. It’s a fun ride.

Rico Figliolini 0:04:01

Yes. I would think one of the important bills that you were, that you mentioned before we started was House bill 1105 that you wanted to talk about too. Why don’t we start with that one? Let’s go. Because you said that actually wasn’t turned into legislation. I mean, it’s legislation, but it was never signed, right?

Ruwa Romman 0:04:22

No, it was signed. And this seems to happen every election year. And I’ve actually noticed this. I try to watch a wide range of news, or at least follow them, and a lot of news organizations suddenly will start talking about immigration. Everything terrible with immigration, suddenly it becomes every headline. And then as soon as election year is over, it literally go. And I wish I was joking, but it literally does go away. And because of the tragedy that happened with Lake and Riley, all of a sudden, that was all we talked about for the last few weeks of session. And it was a real tragedy. I mean, parents lost their daughter, friends lost a loved one. I mean, and it really shook the UGA campus. But I was left wondering with the fact that if the perpetrator was any other person, any other type of person, if it would have gotten that kind of attention. And so what ended up happening was, unfortunately, some of my republican colleagues used that as an opportunity to push through this bill. And what it does is it mandates that our local law enforcement, so, like Gwinnett Duluth, any, any local law enforcement is now required to do federal type work, which is ensure or I guess, check to make sure that somebody is a documented individual in the United States. There’s a couple problems with that. One, it opens up the door for discrimination, because now a police officer feels like they have to check people’s papers, for lack of a better word, if they seem suspicious. And frankly, you know, those who are, who don’t look brown are not going to be impacted by this, but those who do could be. The other problem with the bill is that our driver’s licenses are not good enough documentation to prove our citizenship. Even though our licenses here in Georgia are verified. You could travel with them. I believe you can even go to Canada driving using your license. And that creates a host of problems, because now police can detain you for 48 hours. Right. So if you’ve got a job, if you got kids, if you got any set of responsibilities, suddenly your whole life can be derailed. Mistaken.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:27

Yeah. Is that prior to being. Being arrested and for a crime? Correct.

Ruwa Romman 0:06:33

So it.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:34

Yeah, go ahead. I’m sorry.

Ruwa Romman 0:06:38

The problem is that the bill is written badly. I think a lot of times people think that because we pass a bill that it’s written well, there are some inconsistencies and lack of clarity. So, like, do you actually have to be booked, or could it be that somebody arrested you because you were being annoying and then they decide to hold you to check your immigration status? And the other piece about this bill, again, along with the contradictions that a lot of people don’t realize, is it defunds the police. And I mean that sincerely. If. If a local police department chooses not to engage on this basically quota system, they could lose state funding as a result. And so it opens up this, like, wide range of issues from how we treat people holding them unfairly and now losing funding if they’re not doing federal level work, which they’re not getting more money for either.

Rico Figliolini 0:07:25

So let me ask you this. I mean, from a common sense point of view, from the way I look at it, is that I can appreciate what you’re saying as far as if you’re being stopped on a road. Yes, I can see that discrimination is. Will never go away. Right. As much as we try. But if you’re arrested and you’re booked for a crime. Right? And you’re mugshot and everything. You’re in prison. Wouldn’t that be a reasonable time then to check because you’ve committed a crime now, you’re not judged yet guilty, haven’t had a court case yet, but you’ve been booked, officially booked on that crime. Would that not be a good time to check to see if there’s an illegal immigrant?

Ruwa Romman 0:08:08

Yeah. The problem. The problem, though, is who do they normally check to make sure it’s not an illegal immigrant? Right. So you then have discrimination on that side of it. So not only are people more likely to be arrested, for example, if they are black or brown, they’re now more likely to have that 48 hours hold. So they could have been released that night, but now, because they have to check their immigration status, they’re now being booked for 48 more hours. And suddenly the problems start to add up on each other, and you end up having to spend valuable jail space on somebody that you wouldn’t have normally had to hold to begin with. Right. Because, remember, our prisons and jails are already overcrowded. You know, our justice system is already at its brink, and so you’re just adding more problems without actually providing any more funding is the other piece of it. So.

Rico Figliolini 0:08:54

So if you hold someone that I want to. Not that I want to get into the weeds or anything, and I won’t say bills, bills are not, God, their intent, you know, they sound good until they’re not. And I heard you and Scott Hilton at a recent legislative panel, and you were giving out some details of particular bills, and had I not heard you say those facts about those bills, I’d be like, well, on the face of it, it sounds good, but apparently it’s not because it’s this. Right? If I was fact checking or if I was able to see further into it, and most citizens don’t have that time or that interest to look at certain things further than a one sentence descriptive. But if a person’s booked and they’re in jail, they’re booked for a reason, right? So they’re going to be there regardless for 24 to 48 hours anyway. So why not check the status during that time?

Ruwa Romman 0:09:49

Totally. And, you know, so, first off, I do, like, I feel like I do need to give voice to the fact that people who are more likely to be booked, and I’ve seen this happen in front of me are, you know, again, black and brown folks. However, to your point, if they’re already there, why not check there’s a couple of problems with that. One, it can be really, really cumbersome depending on the kind of software that they’re using, whether or not they are on a special system that can do that kind of checking. But that’s why, for example, there is that 48 hours hold to give time for that check is my point. Right. So in order to allow for that check to happen, it does take up to 48 hours. And now you’re holding somebody for two days that you normally wouldn’t have to hold otherwise.

Rico Figliolini 0:10:32

Okay, understood. I mean, in a perfect world, it would be fine. You release them as they normally would be released. And if it comes back that they were illegal and they should have been held, then you go back out and get them at residence that they declined.

Ruwa Romman 0:10:51

Have to take care of that. Right. That’s what federal, like, we spend federal money on this kind of stuff that’s under the purview of the federal government and federal agents, because the other thing people don’t realize is when you do this kind of stuff, it reduces, there’s already a lot of distrust between law enforcement and community members. And so now you’re reducing that little bit of trust. So someone, for example, who is seeing a crime or is a victim of domestic abuse and might be undocumented, they’re now choosing not to seek help because they’re scared of this specific piece.

Rico Figliolini 0:11:20

And again, going back to legislation and details, I mean, it could be then that it would be checked for felons. Felon felony level crimes versus a misdemeanor crime would be better. I mean, so there, there’s some pathway there, right, to be able to do this. Yeah.

Ruwa Romman 0:11:36

And to be clear, you know, we have, with things like this, a lot of times when I engage with my colleagues, I try really hard to engage on implementation because I know sometimes we come at it from a different perspective. Like you said, it’s not a perfect world. I wish it was, but it’s not. And so a lot of times we do offer straight up, just technical feedback, but the reality is, especially in an election year, it sort of ends up with a mind of its own and kind of just, you know, goes. But in the meantime, I tell folks, like, make sure your passport is up to date. We’re now at that kind of situation, truly. Like, I’m actually, because an expired passport does not count. So if they were to book me, for example, for whatever reason, and my husband brings my passport, it’s expired, they will not accept it, and I could be held for 48 hours. So, yeah, yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:12:29

Difficult national identification code. That’s what it comes down to at some point, I guess. Yep. What are the bills? Are two closest to you that you’d like to talk about?

Ruwa Romman 0:12:43

Yeah. So we actually had some really great movement this year on things like student loan forgiveness. There were a few bills that we passed, but they were specifically related to student loan forgiveness on sectors that we needed more people in. So, for example, mental health care, those who provide drug addiction services, which kind of do overlap a little bit, which was really great to work on. I think last year we did something similar. It was the governor’s bill on law enforcement. I was kind of hoping we would do the same for teachers. So, like, if a teacher teaches for however many years, specifically in a rural area, we could provide a student loan forgiveness faster than the federal government. I think that would go a really long way with retention and recruitment. But it was really heartening to see that we were beginning to, as a body, recognize the importance of sort of filling in those stopgaps. We also, unfortunately, the Okefenokee, the one bill that I got a lot of emails on was actually to protect the Okefenokee. Unfortunately, that bill did not pass. But I do encourage people to reach out to our senators, Senator Ossoff and Senator Warnock. From my understanding. I think specifically Senator Ossoff’s team is looking at ways to designate it as a UNESCO heritage site. It is a heritage site, but it’s not the right kind of heritage site list, I guess. But there is a way to protect it from that angle. So we’re hoping to maybe try to get around it. There. There was some back and forth on data centers to. Tax break. Yeah, I actually originally was a. And this is kind of my favorite kind of legislation where I. I’m not sure what I think about it, and I like to hear the arguments because, you know, it’s just, you learn a lot and.

Rico Figliolini 0:14:25

Yeah, for sure.

Ruwa Romman 0:14:26

I originally was a yes on that bill, particularly from an environmental perspective. But what had changed my mind was one of my colleagues. Her district relies on jobs in data centers. And apparently a lot of data centers now are moving towards, like, multiple elements of energy, like solar. So they are less, I guess, bad in terms of, like, energy consumption. So I learned a lot through that bill, and it did end up getting. It did not pass to take away their tax break, which was good because we need to study it a little bit more. But I learned a lot. Right. I went in with, like, one idea, and I heard from my colleagues who had better experience than I I did. I thought, okay, I’ve got new information. I’m going to adjust accordingly.

Rico Figliolini 0:15:08

And that’s a great way of doing that. And I’m assuming your colleagues were from both sides of the aisle, maybe on the subject.

Ruwa Romman 0:15:13

Oh, yeah. There were no’s on both sides of the aisle. There were yeses on both sides of the aisle. Same thing with the film tax credit, by the way, which also didn’t make it to the finish line. You know, I remember going into. Because they were trying to reduce the film tax credit. And originally I went in as a no, and I actually walked out. Yes. And same thing. We had some. Because for me, I actually had a constituent. And again, this is like my favorite thing to tell people, and I hope more people hear this. I had a constituent reach out to me, and she is in the film industry. And she told me about how, like, job to job. Yes. It’s not how much we’re giving in tax breaks, but if you look at, for example, when a movie comes to a town, how much revenue provides that town in hotels, food, lodging, et cetera. And so she gave me some, like, really, really great information, and I found myself going, huh. Maybe I don’t fully agree with this. And I would much rather be able to study it more and the downward effects more. So it was just. It was just like, really, really interesting. And then I think. So I. So sorry. Now I mix it up. I originally went in. No, I ended up with that.

Rico Figliolini 0:16:18

Okay.

Ruwa Romman 0:16:20

I originally went in, No. End up being confused myself. Hold on.

Rico Figliolini 0:16:24

It’s okay.

Ruwa Romman 0:16:27

Yeah, yeah. So the reason I went in. Yes. Is because of my constituent. And then I end up being a no because the bill itself doesn’t actually talk about the. Or it didn’t address, like, the smaller. Like, how are they called? They’re like little companies. Right? Like there’s little builds of film and then there’s like, the big budget films.

Rico Figliolini 0:16:47

So the.

Ruwa Romman 0:16:49

Correct. So the bill made a distinction between those two things. So what she actually told me about wasn’t. Wasn’t going to be impacted by this bill. So I ended up being a yes. But I would have. I don’t even think I would have considered a no on a bill like this because it meant more revenue for schools, as an example, had it not been for that constituent. So I.

Rico Figliolini 0:17:06

More revenue for schools because. Less tax credits.

Ruwa Romman 0:17:10

Correct. Because right now we’re losing. We’re losing out on revenue that these film studios. Because they’re big film studios. Right. We’re not talking about the small films. We’re talking about huge film studios that are currently not paying taxes, even though they’re using a lot of our roads, a lot of our infrastructure, things like that.

Rico Figliolini 0:17:29

But don’t they bring. So. Okay. This pedestrian a little bit on my part because I don’t know all the facts on it, but I would think, because I think was North Carolina or South Carolina ended theirs, and we got a lot of business moving south to our state, and we’re the biggest one.

Ruwa Romman 0:17:46

Yeah. Normally, I’m a yes on bills like this. I was a no for a little bit because of that constituent. So what happened? Because so many of us were no, they actually limited the bill on the House side. The reason it failed on the Senate side is because they tried to expand it way further than a lot of us were comfortable with. And had it not been for that constituent, I wouldn’t have even thought to ask my colleagues to limit the bill that way.

Rico Figliolini 0:18:07

Okay.

Ruwa Romman 0:18:08

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:18:08

All right. All right.

Ruwa Romman 0:18:09

Yeah. All right. I use, like, my yeses and my nos, but, like, I was just trying to explain the details. Like, again, for us, the details are where this kind of gets lost in the sauce. And so when we have constituents come to us and say, this is what I think about this bill, I can go to my colleagues and say, here’s a concern I’ve heard. Normally, I would be a yes on this. Can you fix it? And then they fixed it. Okay.

Rico Figliolini 0:18:31

So, you know, it’s interesting, because when people are voting sometimes on legislation or resolutions that are not a yes or no. Well, yes or no, but not for someone, that’s. Sometimes it’s written in such a way that if you put no or yes, it could be the wrong way of going. Right of the way you’d want to.

Ruwa Romman 0:18:51

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:18:51

Yeah.

Ruwa Romman 0:18:52

And there are. And part of the confusion, to be clear, like, you will sometimes see a legislator vote one way the first time on a bill and a different way the second time on a bill, it’s because the bill changes in the process. Right. For us, as the House, we could. The version of the bill, it goes to the Senate, it comes back a different version, or in committee. That’s the other piece of, like, why I was originally, I became a no because of this constituent. Because originally in the committee, because I do follow committee stuff, too. Like, if I know a bill is definitely making it to the floor, I try to go back and watch the committee. So I remember watching the committee hearing and marking it down as a no again, truly because of this constituent. And when it then the committee actually changed it to address the concerns that I had and others had. And so then it became. Yes, because that’s actually the best part of the legislative process.

Rico Figliolini 0:19:41

Yes, it does. Everyone gets the two cent to put in on it. Did it end up. Did that bill end up having amendments to it?

Ruwa Romman 0:19:49

Yeah, it got amended in the Senate, and that’s why it didn’t pass at all.

Rico Figliolini 0:19:52

Okay. Okay. Sometimes unrelated stuff.

Ruwa Romman 0:19:56

Correct.

Rico Figliolini 0:19:57

There was another bill that ended up dying in the Senate, but I thought it was interesting how brought it up. It was the EMS changing that to essential or identifying it as essential services. So tell me a little bit about that one.

Ruwa Romman 0:20:09

That was actually my bill. I was incredibly grateful that House leadership allowed me to pass a bill as a freshman Democrat, which doesn’t always happen, but, you know, that goes to show the importance of, like, building relationships and sort of treating this as a professional job like you would anything else, because it goes a long way, and my husband’s in a part time EMT, and I was chatting with his co workers, and they said, yeah, we’re not considered an essential service. And I go, why not? And it’s because EMS actually started after law enforcement and fire. So law enforcement and fire have been around for almost a century. EMS started in the 1970s. Sorry, they started in, like, the 18 hundreds. EMS started in the 1970s. So it never got, like, put into all these laws that we’ve created around EMS and fire or around police and fire. And so what the bill would have done is actually would have reduced a lot of red tape for our EMS personnel and, frankly, recognize them as the essential service that they are. It ran out of time on the Senate side, so my hope is, if I get reelected, is to continue working on that bill and get it across the finish line.

Rico Figliolini 0:21:09

Congratulations, because I know how difficult it is for a freshman to get. To get their own bill, and this was a really good bill. I’m just surprised it didn’t get passed this year. I’m actually surprised hearing you saying it wasn’t essential services.

Ruwa Romman 0:21:23

So, yeah, only 15 would have been the 15th state to designate EMS as an essential service.

Rico Figliolini 0:21:29

Oh, wow. Sometimes I wonder about how we do things. Was there other legislation that you’d like to. I know there was one that I saw, HB Senate. Well, it was a Senate bill, so I didn’t even know if it went to the House. Senate Bill 233 was Georgia promise scholarship. It’s a $6,500 voucher for students attending lower performing public schools. But I guess they never get to the House. It looks like maybe, or no, it.

Ruwa Romman 0:22:01

Unfortunately passed and got signed by the governor. I was actually opposition to this bill. It passed the House by only one vote. And there was, yeah, there was actually bipartisan opposition to it. Only one Democrat voted in favor. And the problem with bills like this, frankly, is that no matter how, which way you parse it, taking money out of public schools is not a solution. And you’ll hear people say that we have spent a record amount of money on public schools this year, but we forget that after the great Recession, we actually defunded education for almost ten years. Right. We have a hole that we still need to fill because of those ten years and be able to meet our obligations now. And I feel like people forget that just because, yes, we’re spending a lot of money on education right now does not mean we’ve actually met our obligation. And what some of my colleagues think is that it’s best to just let some kids leave these failing schools rather than just fixing the failing schools. And I don’t think that’s a good path forward. The other thing is that this $6,500 that is technically supposed to be for a kid in a quote, unquote, failing school does not address getting there, like transportation, any extra supplies that they might need, any extra expenses that might come up in tuition and fees. The majority of private schools in Georgia charge way more than $6,500.

Rico Figliolini 0:23:27

Yeah, yeah.

Ruwa Romman 0:23:29

And so I just, for me personally, I don’t like school vouchers. I would much rather, for example, allow a student to pick a public school in their county to go to. That’s what I got. I grew up in Forsyth county, and each, each school had like a kind of, what I call it, almost a magnet program. Right? So had the IB program. Central has the humanities program. So each of these high schools had something that would attract students. And if you signed up for those programs, you could go to that school, even though it’s not in your district. And I would much rather be able to have public schools compete together rather than move them to a private school system where, by the way, these dollars, there’s not a lot of good oversight for them, because technically, those who homeschool can use this money, but there is no way, for example, to claw back that money if it was being improperly used.

Rico Figliolini 0:24:18

True. Yeah, I can see that. But, and to your point about tuition being much higher than that 6500, it’s like double or triple that, depending where. And even with scholarships, you still can’t. So, I mean, if you’re going to do a voucher program, in my mind, it either has to be more money or you have to do it differently, like you said. And quite frankly, I think we just need to change the way we do education altogether. And it’s just not, I mean, yeah, it’s just not working. I think that it needs to be more attention than, personally, I feel it needs more attention. The first four grades, four years of education to get the kids set in the right path before they even get to middle school.

Ruwa Romman 0:24:59

And so you do smaller class sizes, reducing the standardized testing so that we teachers can teach students rather than teach a test. Focus on them. One thing I will say on education is we actually did pass another set of bills over the past two years about how we test if a kid is dyslexic. Because right now what’s happening is that students are getting to the third and fourth grade. They can’t actually read, but they’ve been able to get away with it because of, like, everything has pictures on it. And then in third and fourth grade, those pictures go away and you realize, oh, no, this kid does not read. We did pass legislation to have better testing for that kind of stuff earlier on so we can catch it earlier. And we are trying to kind of get to a place where other school systems have done this and they are now seeing their literacy rate just exponentially increase. It’ll just take a little bit of.

Rico Figliolini 0:25:52

Time to fully set in this type of thing takes a lot of political will to be able to do, to change because you have to change.

Ruwa Romman 0:26:03

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:26:04

Yes. Process the whole mental attitude of what people look at and maybe they can do it nicely. Yeah. Instead of, yeah. Burnett County, I think, has had some issues so far, but. Well, so we’re done. So I’m curious, we’re done with the house and stuff. What do you do the rest of the year for your job? What do you do?

Ruwa Romman 0:26:27

So unless somebody is independently wealthy or retired, they go back to their work in an election year. We are also campaigning. So our, the primary is coming up here May 21. I don’t have a primary. Senator Islam does have a primary and our commissioner, Kirkland Carden, doesn’t have a primary. But if you are in the part of Peachtree corners that has Sally Harrell, she does have a primary. So please come out and make sure you vote. We also have a bunch of judgeships up for reelection, including a Supreme Court judge in Georgia. So please make sure you go to the bottom of your ballot to vote on that. There is also school board. So we have school board seat that is open again. Go back to the bottom of your ballot to see that seat. And last but not least, there.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:12

And that’s. So then people know that’s a non partisan. So whoever wins in this May 21 on the school board is the school board person.

Ruwa Romman 0:27:21

Yeah. So unlike, for example, myself and our commissioner and our senators, we. This is like the end for judges and school board. There might be a runoff, but again, we can prevent one if we all come out and vote. And last but not least, there are two tax exemptions on our ballot. One is a broader tax exemption for a homestead exemption that would save about 20, $30 a month for most people, which I know for some is a lot, but for some, they’re kind of like, what’s the point? So definitely make sure you vote on that. And then the one I personally signed on to and co sponsored is the one for teachers and public, any kind of public service employee to get an extra tax exemption because it’s becoming harder to afford to live in Gwinnett for those who provide our most needed services. So that’s where we are.

Rico Figliolini 0:28:09

All right. That’s cool. Yeah. And it’s not only difficult to live here, but it’s also. And maybe that’s why it’s difficult even higher. I mean, I know the school system has budget money for positions they can’t even find people to and even the police elected. It’s sad when you have the money sitting there and you can’t find anywhere to fill the spot.

Ruwa Romman 0:28:30

You know, it’s interesting you say this. Unfortunately, Georgia law preempts Hoas from preventing companies from purchasing single family homes. And what we’re seeing is all these hedge funds are coming into states like Georgia and buying single family homes and forcing all these prices to artificially kind of increase. And they’re artificially reducing supply. Definitely. That’s something I want to be working on this year. What I did is actually co sponsored legislation with Stephen Fry, and we actually co wrote it where right now, if you buy a business, a commercial space, you actually get a tax break because it depreciates over time. What we’re seeing is that these companies are getting that tax exemption for homes that appreciate in value. So they actually double dipping. And with the way the bill and unfortunately didn’t move, and I hope it does next year, but the way the bill would have done it is that if a business bought a home and that business owner does not live in Georgia. Cause I know sometimes, like, small business owners will, like, for asset purposes and stuff, purchase it through their business.

Rico Figliolini 0:29:30

Yeah, sure.

Ruwa Romman 0:29:31

Yeah. If the business owner does not live in Georgia. They will no longer be, like, allowed to get that tax credit, for lack of better word, and hopefully disincentivize some of this purchasing of single family homes. And I really wanna repeal the law that preempts Hoas from. From prevent cause. I will tell you this, I think, like, seven or eight homes in my neighborhood have been bought by cash from hedge funds, and they put them on the market for, like, an insane amount of money per month. That is even higher than a mortgage.

Rico Figliolini 0:29:58

Yeah. I don’t even understand how people can afford to pay that rent, unless what happens, too, sometimes is that they split pad the house and you get four people, let’s say, living in four separate rooms. And I know in our neighborhood, there’s 84 homes here, at least I’m sure about three of them are owned by companies like American Federation homes, I think is one of them. Yeah, no, I totally agree with you. I mean, my oldest son, he’s like, he has enough money for a down payment, and he’s like, why? There’s not enough property out there for me to even look through to see what I want to buy because. Because Vanguard and Blackrock and all these other companies are out there purchasing. Yeah. So we’re essentially becoming, as he says, and I agree, a subscription society. Right. You can’t buy Adobe software anymore. It’s subscription.

Ruwa Romman 0:30:50

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:50

You can’t buy stock photos. It’s subscription. Can’t buy your home. It will be subscription, essentially through a lease of rent.

Ruwa Romman 0:30:58

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:58

It’s kind of sad. Everything’s like, then. And then you. So instead of owning it outright, at some point you’re going to end up just continuing to pay someone who’s making that money. Exactly.

Ruwa Romman 0:31:10

That’s an important piece of wealth for people to be able to build that wealth for themselves. So that’s why I’m in the state house. That’s why I ran, is to try to kind of bring some of that sanity back into our society.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:21

Yeah, no, that’s great. And I would love to see, I don’t know if anyone’s really done this. I think it was in Atlanta, maybe I saw some. Something about maybe in Atlanta was like, forget what the percentage was. That was company owned. I’d love to see a study like that done in Gwinnett county specifically, especially because I’m in pastry corners to see how much, how many home housing stock is owned percentage wise by these types of companies.

Ruwa Romman 0:31:47

In Atlanta, it’s 35% of single family homes are owned by corporations.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:52

That’s nuts. That’s just crazy. Yeah, let’s just. If you already own a home, maybe that value. I mean, I get texted every day and same, you know, are you ready to sell? Or. The messages are the weirdest things because, like, it’s me. It’s Bobby again. And I’d like to know, you know, from our discussion last time, are you ready now? And I’m like, we didn’t even talk last time. What’s going on?

Ruwa Romman 0:32:19

We. We started getting. So we were very lucky. We actually got our home right before, like, the market went really crazy during COVID So that was the only reason we could afford. It was, like, right when the market was perfect. But within a month of us moving into our house, we started getting solicitation to sell it.

Rico Figliolini 0:32:35

And the value has gone up. I think I have to. What do you call it? I just got my tax bill from the assessment I’m looking at. I’m like, really? Where do they even called them up? And I said, how is this figured out? Can you guys give me a formula? No one can give me a formula. And it’s just like, are you kidding me? You think it’s this much? That’s crazy.

Ruwa Romman 0:32:58

So, you know, we want more people involved in this process. The more of y’all that come down people’s house, the less influence these other special interests have. So I always love to invite people to come down and talk to us about this kind of stuff.

Rico Figliolini 0:33:09

Good.

Ruwa Romman 0:33:10

But, you know, really appreciate the opportunity to talk about this. And I’m always open to meet with people, talk about legislation. We try to host what I call mini town hall. So I’ll go sit around coffee shops in the district. Usually it’s either peachy corners, even though it’s not in my district. I do try to go down there. 45 south cafe. Unme coffee and break coffee are usually where we kind of try. We try to, like, spread out across the district, but I usually post up there for a few hours about once a month for folks to come down and chat. So.

Rico Figliolini 0:33:37

Cool. And I’m going to have you give your website and all that. It’ll be in the show notes also. But before we get there, it should be remiss in not acknowledging the things going on internationally a little bit. We had spoken about that. You’d be cool talking about it a little bit. You’re the only palestinian in the state house on either side, I think, right. Of the. Of the house. How does that, by the way, how does that feel? I mean, how have. Has it been fine.

Ruwa Romman 0:34:10

Not even a little bit you know, I think it feels like my obligations have sort of burst past the boundaries of our district, for lack of a better word. I am the only elected Palestinian in the state, in much of the southeast. The only other elected Palestinian, Isam Rasul, up in Virginia. So it’s just the two of us, which meant that a lot of Palestinians, regardless of whether or not they’re in our district, are coming to us and asking us for help to sort of navigate what resources they can use. It’s mostly to either get their family out or get food in has been sort of the biggest ask of people. And so it’s been hard. I have tried to be as communicative as possible with the public. I really do try to shy away from interviews, but this is a very serious moment, and I know that I have a platform and I have a duty to use it. And so I try really hard to educate people, to get them to sort of understand a perspective they might not have thought about and to recognize that at the end of the day, we are dealing with people. They’re not human shields. They are women, men, and children who had nothing to do with what’s going on and had no voice in what’s going on. And I’ve always believed in protecting lives, all life, as much as possible. And that is where my advocacy and politics will continue to go.

Rico Figliolini 0:35:24

Good to hear. Appreciate you sharing that with us.

Ruwa Romman 0:35:27

Thanks.

Rico Figliolini 0:35:28

If people want to reach out to you or find out a little bit more about what you’re doing, where can they find that information?

Ruwa Romman 0:35:35

You can sign up for our newsletter. You can send a contact form which goes to my email at Ruwa4georgia.com. You’ll also find us under the same handle, Ruwa for Georgia everywhere. We’re on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, if you’re interested. And social media is something you’re passionate about. I am currently hiring a social media fellow. I didn’t have a primary, so I’m in a big, like, hiring spree. So if you’re interested in getting politically involved, reach out.

Rico Figliolini 0:36:02

Excellent. Good. And I see you on TikTok, so it’s all good. You, good job out there. You and Scott Hilton, I saw him on there, too, a little bit. We tried. I appreciate you sharing time with me today and talking about these things. We’ll get together, no. And we’ll get together again soon about more things that are going on, I’m sure. So hang in there for a second. But thank you, everyone, for joining us. Peachtree Corners Life. We’re working on. What are we working on? We’re working on the next issue of Peachtree Corners magazine, the best of issue. You can always find more information at livinginpeacetreecorners.com. Follow us also on Instagram and Facebook and LinkedIn if you’re listening to the podcast, Spotify or I heart radio, YouTube and all that. And we are on TikTok also as well. We’re putting out some stuff. So it’s all good. It’s all good. Thank you, everyone, for being with us. Appreciate it.

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Podcast

Comic Book and Children’s Book Author Greg Burnham

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on

Appearing at MomoCon Memorial Day Weekend 2024

Greg Burnham, a Norcross-based comic book and children’s book author who is attending this month’s Momocon over Memorial Day Weekend, spoke with Rico Figliolini this week. They talked about his recent contributions to comic anthologies Milestone Initiative (featuring Icon), Ghouls Just Wanna Have Fun (featuring Superman), and DC Power 2024 – and, his latest children’s book, Swim, Kelly! Swim! They also talked about collaborating with artists, crafting compelling characters, feedback from beta readers, and the evolving landscape of diversity and representation in comics, stressing the importance of authentically empowering marginalized voices to shape narratives.

Related Links:
MomoCon Website: https://www.momocon.com/
Greg Burnham Facebook:   / gregburnhambooks  
Tuskegee Heirs
Children’s Books

Timestamp:
00:00:00 – Greg Burnham: Comic Book and Children’s Book Author
00:02:25 – Collaborative Indie Comics Creation
00:04:51 – Crafting Captivating Visual Narratives
00:06:53 – Learning the Publishing Process
00:07:56 – The Story of Solace: A Collaborative Comic
00:09:41 – Crafting a Spooky Superman Story
00:12:48 – Navigating Creative Collaboration
00:14:53 – Balancing Indie Work and Deadlines
00:16:55 – Coaching Basketball and Crafting Characters
00:18:56 – Crafting Authentic Characters: Balancing Inspiration and Individuality
00:21:05 – Crafting Complex Characters
00:24:35 – Navigating Diversity and Stereotypes in Comics and Media
00:29:57 – Unreal Engine 5 and the Blurred Lines of Reality

Podcast Transcript:

Rico Figliolini 0:00:26

Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of UrbanEbb. And I have a great guest today, Norcross comic book children’s book author Greg Burnham. Thanks for joining me, Greg. Appreciate you being here.

Greg Burnham 0:00:40

Thank you for having me.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:42

Yeah, no, this is great. This is like, you know, I love, I’ve loved comic books since I was ten years old or younger. Mainly Marvel. DC also a little bit, but Marvel was always my best. And then graphic novels as I got older and they got into trends. But we have Greg here. He’s been an author, writer for quite a bit for a couple of decades. Right.

Greg Burnham 0:01:05

I think about it, well, a little bit over a decade. I started with the children’s books. I’ve been writing my whole life. Professionally, like a little over a decade.

Rico Figliolini 0:01:16

Okay. Okay. Well, we’re going to talk a bit about that. What got you into this and stuff? So we’re the. So let me just say that we’re ahead of MomoCon. That’s going to be coming Memorial Day weekend. It’s actually running four days, May 24 through the 27th. Greg is going to be at that. This is why we’re interviewing him also. So looking forward to meeting you in person, possibly when I come out and visit, it’s going to be at the Georgia World Congress center. It’s considered the largest gaming event in the southeast. But, you know, like any of these, there’s artists alleys, there’s all sorts of things going on in cosplay. There’s a lot of things going on at MomoCon. So it’s going to be an interesting four days. So I’m looking forward to it. I’m sure you will be, too. What days would you be there, Greg?

Greg Burnham 0:02:03

Oh, the entire time.

Rico Figliolini 0:02:05

Okay.

Greg Burnham 0:02:06

MomoCon is. It’s one of our, it’s our, one of our home conventions, obviously, but it’s also one of my favorite. So, yeah, we’re there the whole time, actually.

Rico Figliolini 0:02:18

What are you going to be doing? Where can people find you?

Greg Burnham 0:02:21

No, we’re going to be in the artist alley. And I would have to search. I just show up. But I think they told us our tables. I want to say it’s like, 304.

Rico Figliolini 0:02:32

No, that’s fine. But artist Alley, you’re going to be in, so that’s cool.

Greg Burnham 0:02:35

Artist Alley yeah. So I’ll have. We always have books, posters, other light stickers, some different knickknacks. All the books we’ll be talking about today, I’ll have. And then also, I know I’m doing at least two panels, but it could be more.

Rico Figliolini 0:02:55

I’ll see if I can find those. And I’ll put that in the links below. So whoever’s watching on YouTube, I mean, you can find it there or in the show notes if you go, if you’re visiting the website. So Greg has been doing a lot of indie comic hits that he has under his belt, but he’s also doing work with DC and Marvel. So why don’t we get you to tell us? And by the way, I just recently didn’t get a chance to read a check because it just came in this afternoon, just got one of these. So looking forward to going through that. Tell us a little bit about, I guess let’s talk a little bit about how you got into this. I mean, it’s a challenging job, right? You’re writing. It’s not like a novel. This is collaborative work. So what does that work? How do you do that? How do you handle it, man?

Greg Burnham 0:03:46

It’s usually fun. I think the toughest part is fine. Like, when you’re doing it on the indie side, it’s finding people that are reliable and fun to work with, people that are passionate. Like, as a writer, I always want to deal with artists. I want to make sure that they’re having fun, you know, doing it. So I’m always like, what do you like to draw? Like, are there certain things you think you’re better at? So, you know, once you get, you know, the team together, it’s a blast. It’s just like any other team, really.

Rico Figliolini 0:04:19

I would imagine also for you, envisioning what your characters look like, do you give that input to the artist? Do they give you sketch?

Greg Burnham 0:04:29

Yeah, definitely. The cool. So Marcus Williams, who’s my co creator and the artist for Tuskegee years, he and I, we’ve been working together for decades, you know, like, doing stuff artistically and business wise, so I can, it’s easy for me to, you know, convey it to him. Like, what the character look like this. Give him a couple examples, and we’re good. But then when you’re working with other artists, it’s like, you have to be, like, really, really descriptive. Try to, you know, I’m. I’m the guy. Like, I’ll pull up examples, like, stuff on Google. You know, like, this is the hairstyle you know, this is, you know, the body type even. I do that with, like, backgrounds and scenery sometimes. Like, this will be a cool shot, you know. So trying to help them out as much as possible. And it makes the process a lot more efficient too.

Rico Figliolini 0:05:28

Yeah, I would think. No, that’s great. I do that with photographers sometimes. I show the pictures what I think it should look like and then I tell them and then give me what you think you’re thinking it should look like as you’re there. But, but, yeah, no, that’s great that you’re given direction like that because worst thing to do is getting, is drawing stuff, then all of a sudden having to shift from that.

Greg Burnham 0:05:50

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:05:51

So you’ve, you’ve been some of these. So tell us some of the creator owned properties, some of the indie stuff that you’ve been doing. What was your, so what was your first one? Was it Tuskegee airs? Oh, yeah.

Greg Burnham 0:06:03

Comic wise? Well, the way it started, I’m sorry.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:09

Okay.

Greg Burnham 0:06:09

I just got back in town, so please forgive the coughs. Yeah. It started with a book. I always have props at my desk, this book, you know, 20 years ago, over 20 years ago, Marcus and I and another friend, Nicholas, who we created this, but we had no idea what we were doing. People were loving it. People were buying it. We didn’t understand the business side at all. So we had to kind of, we were printing them up at Kinko’s.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:37

Yeah, we did.

Greg Burnham 0:06:41

Yeah, we did everything ourselves. And, like, people were buying it. They were buying it heavy. But we were spending so much money to produce a book that it wasn’t lucrative at all. So we had to kind of step back and kind of learn the business. So I did a couple children’s books. Marcus illustrated those, and then he got in on a comic book called Hero Cats. And he was doing the art for that for a while. But the whole time we’re, like learning publishing, we’re learning comic conventions, you know, who to talk to print wise, all those things. So when we did come up with the idea for Tuskegee airs, we felt confident that we knew how to execute.

Rico Figliolini 0:07:30

At that point and get it printed. I’m assuming you got it printed yourself. It looks great. Great.

Greg Burnham 0:07:35

Yeah. So we used a really good printer out of Canada that prints for, like, the big guys as well.

Rico Figliolini 0:07:42

Okay. Okay.

Greg Burnham 0:07:43

So all that stuff, you know, it’s like learning as you go.

Rico Figliolini 0:07:47

I could tell from the quality. And it’s just I’m, I’m in a nut when it comes to graphics and printing and stuff like that. So I can appreciate the quality that went into this. So you’ve done that. You’ve done the search for SDK Sadika?

Greg Burnham 0:08:03

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:08:05

Little Rock files and. Little Rock files and the story of solace. Yeah, I guess.

Greg Burnham 0:08:13

Yeah. So, like, the story of solace, that’s was my brother’s idea. He wrote. He’s had this idea for a long time, and so I just kind of, you know, kind of guided and helped him, you know, making it into a comic because he had written it in prose and. But we always thought it would be a comic. So we have one issue of that. We’re working on the second one now.

Rico Figliolini 0:08:40

Just the Kickstarter we were talking about before. Is that different?

Greg Burnham 0:08:43

Yeah. Well, we did a Kickstarter for that last year. We may do one for the next book, but we’re trying, like, we like to try to have the book finished or have it really close to be finished before we do a crouch one.

Rico Figliolini 0:08:58

Yeah, yeah, no, I can’t imagine because otherwise things will take longer then. And that’s. So I can appreciate that. You’ve done three comic book, three comic anthologies last year, 2020.

Greg Burnham 0:09:10

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Within the last twelve months. One of those was in February. I did DC power, which is like their black history anthology. This is one of the covers. I like the prompts and would. Oh, yeah, I keep props. And so I got to write a mister terrific story. I was super happy because I snuck and brought him to Atlanta. Nobody said I couldn’t do it, so I did it.

Rico Figliolini 0:09:39

But Atlanta’s famous. Yes.

Greg Burnham 0:09:41

Yeah, but, so, yeah, that one was really cool. And then in October, for their Halloween anthology.

Rico Figliolini 0:09:51

Right.

Greg Burnham 0:09:52

They changed the names of these every year. I don’t think I have that one over here, but I did. Ghouls just want to have fun. It’s an anthology.

Rico Figliolini 0:10:03

I think I’ve got. Hold on a second. Let me just bring that up. I think it was this. Maybe that’s not quite the COVID Yeah, that’s the.

Greg Burnham 0:10:12

That’s the main cover right there.

Rico Figliolini 0:10:14

Okay.

Greg Burnham 0:10:15

And, yeah, I got to write a clean page Superman story for that one. Like this. It’s like a spooky. It’s not super extra spooky, you know?

Rico Figliolini 0:10:28

Okay, so how does that work? You have an, you have your own ideas of what you want to do, but now you have this icon, Superman and. Yeah, they’re giving you. I know they’re not giving you totally free reign. I’m sure you got a protective brand maybe, but.

Greg Burnham 0:10:44

But, yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:10:45

How do you handle that? How do you do that when they give you something like that and you go flying.

Greg Burnham 0:10:50

So I think it’s part, I mean, I think for all us nerds, like, if we’ve been reading comics and movie, watching the movies and everything, I feel like you always think about, like, what would I do if I got a chance to tell these characters stories? So I just, I wanted, like, with this one, I wanted to tap in. I mean, I’ve been watching Superman for my entire life in some way. So I wanted to kind of tap into the stuff that I loved about Superman. You know, I loved him and Lois’s interactions and, but I also wanted to tell, like, something. It’s like there every, there’s so many stories. So I was just trying to figure out a way to do something unique. And I think I did that. It wasn’t like it was a ghost, huh? Yes. Well, that even that description they gave is kind of sort of, but not all the way I used, you know, I wanted like a ghost because, you know, you think about who, you know, they say Superman is susceptible to magic. So I figured like a ghost, you know, like, what can he do if he can’t actually make contact with him, you know? Yeah. So, yeah, but it was cool because for these little one off stories, it’s like canon is not, you know, end all, be all. So they’re kind of like, it doesn’t have to, you know, be, you know, perfectly in canons. They made it easier. But there are still, like, there’s a lot of things that you, you know, you have to get, I wouldn’t say approval, but more so, like, certain things they’re not going to really do with Superman versus others.

Rico Figliolini 0:12:38

Okay, well, fun anyway, I would imagine. And I’m sure you got on your stuff.

Greg Burnham 0:12:43

I just, the whole time I’m working on it, I just, you know, have to keep pinching myself. Like, this is Superman.

Rico Figliolini 0:12:53

Okay, so you’ve done that. DC Power 2024. You’re talking a little bit about that milestone initiative. There are other artists that are in there. Do you get a chance to, when you meet other artists, other writers, other creative people, do you guys share notes? Do you like to shop talk?

Greg Burnham 0:13:18

I like to talk more. Not necessarily in general, but we talk about, like, creating one thing I’m always careful of because it’s like we, you know, you soak up so many things subliminally that sometimes something that you heard or you’ve seen could come out accidentally in your own, like, I’ve plenty of times where I come up with an idea and I’m like, oh, this is gonna be great. And I have a rule, like, I’ll come up with the idea. Usually I wait for, like, a couple of weeks, and then I come back and revisit it.

Rico Figliolini 0:13:50

Uh huh.

Greg Burnham 0:13:51

And when I revisit it, I’m like, oh, no, that’s nothing but new skin on this story. Yeah. So I try to, like, you know, keep it more in general, like, about creating stuff like that than sharing notes on what we’re creating.

Rico Figliolini 0:14:10

Gotcha. I’ve heard authors, like, best selling authors and other writers, they don’t accept anyone’s manuscript for that reason.

Greg Burnham 0:14:19

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:14:19

Or unsolicited scripts, for that matter. That could be a problem, too, I guess. You know, when you’re balancing creative work, your, your independence and publishers expectations. Right. There’s two different things. We talked about that a little before, just, just before about how it’s easier to do your own stuff because you’ve set your deadlines. You can pick the quality of work, people to collaborate with, but sometimes that may not be the case on the other side of that, where you have publishers expectations, you have to work with people maybe you’re not familiar with.

Greg Burnham 0:14:56

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:14:57

How does that work? Is that fun or can that be challenging?

Greg Burnham 0:15:02

For me, it’s fine. So a little bit more about me. Like, I coached youth sports in, you know, Norcross, and I’m not doing it currently, but I did for about 15 years. So I think that one of my strengths is being able to bring people together and figure out how to work with people, you know, in a pleasant kind of way where we’re all moving in, you know, the same thing. So I think I utilized some of that, but I’m, when you’re doing indie stuff, it’s like, typically, you know, there’s going to be a little bit extra leeway, you know, whereas, like, if you’re working with one of the major publishers, it’s like, the deadline is this day and that’s all there is to it. If you can’t have it by this day, they’re going to get somebody else to do it, you know?

Rico Figliolini 0:15:55

Yeah.

Greg Burnham 0:15:56

Yeah. So it’s like just trying to figure out balance. Not to be like a tyrant, but also to be like, we still got to make sure we’re getting it done, so, but it’s, it’s fun. I love collaborating, especially with artists. Love it.

Rico Figliolini 0:16:12

Yeah. I got to believe that you see your stuff visually being rendered is as a whole, that got to be a whole different feeling. Right. You’re writing it, you have it in your head, but that artist is rendering what you’re hopefully pulling out of your head you want. But it’s a whole, it’s almost like me seeing AI art sometimes it’s not the same thing, but, you know, you type in some words and AI will generate a picture. Right. It’s never quite as good as everyone says it is. That’s for sure. I’ve experimented and trust me, it’s. But that’s what you see on Instagram, I guess. But the, so I’m sure it’s exciting to see the rendering of what an artist produces for you.

Greg Burnham 0:17:00

Absolutely.

Rico Figliolini 0:17:02

I was curious, what sports did you coach?

Greg Burnham 0:17:05

I coached mostly basketball. I did baseball some, but it was mostly basketball.

Rico Figliolini 0:17:12

I like the way you were phrasing it before about moving in the right. Sort of in the right. In the same direction or something.

Greg Burnham 0:17:17

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:17:18

Getting parents move with you to just competing.

Greg Burnham 0:17:21

Yeah. So, and it’s like if you, if you can do that, you know, coaching twelve, you know, adolescent boys, then, like, you could do a lot of things.

Rico Figliolini 0:17:33

Yeah. Yeah, I would think. And, you know, that’s, that also brings up something else in my mind. When you’re, when you’re writing stories and you have five characters, and then I’m sure some of them are your most favorite characters. Right. More favorite one. How do you know, you have to decide these darlings, how much time they get on that page because you’re not, you know, and do you, it’s just a, that’s an interesting thing, too, to decide that. Well, what is your favorite character or two that you’ve written?

Greg Burnham 0:18:03

Oh, man, I don’t know, because, like, I mean, I love the Tuskegee heirs. Like, it’s like they’re, all of them are like your kids, all the stories. So I love Sadaka from the search for Sadica. I just don’t want to say one’s my favorite and then the other characters attack me in my dreams. But, like, I’m doing this book now called Little Rock Files. It’s like a eighties noir detectives story takes place in the south. And the main character, Owsley, I love, I also love his little sidekick Tia. She’s good. Good fun. So I don’t know, it just kind of depends on the day, I think.

Rico Figliolini 0:18:50

Do you ever, do you ever base these characters on people, you know?

Greg Burnham 0:18:55

Absolutely. So one of my things is so sometimes. So, like, with Tuskegee heirs, I have two kids, Marcus has two kids. So four of the kids are named after our actual real life kids. Now, we, I don’t necessarily, we didn’t, we modeled their look a little bit after them, but their personalities aren’t necessarily the same. But I. One of my things that I want to do, because it’s like, I love creating characters, but I want them to feel, like, organic. I write a lot of female characters, and so I definitely take inspiration from people I know. You know, it could be somebody I went to elementary school with, but I just take those inspirations because I’m always careful. I don’t want characters to be empty and feel like, you know, like, you ever read a comic where you’re like, okay, this sounds like a dude trying to sound like a woman or trying to, you know, I don’t want to be one of those. So I really try to get in. Like, I’m working on a book right now with four girls, superheroes, and I finished the first, you know, like, my first iteration of the script, and I was like, I need to add more, you know, like, depth and more emotional personality to them.

Rico Figliolini 0:20:23

Yeah. Some background, different language. I mean, you want that voice to be individual, right?

Greg Burnham 0:20:29

Yeah. It’s like, I want, like, all your main characters, I want to make sure they have, like, a voice, like, their own distinct kind of way.

Rico Figliolini 0:20:38

So. So the flames of destiny, the first character that I find slip, and he just doesn’t listen. He just wanted to do his own thing. It seems like she pays someone with the kids.

Greg Burnham 0:20:49

No, actually, he’s our. He’s our lone, you know, completely out of thin air guy.

Rico Figliolini 0:20:56

Oh, okay.

Greg Burnham 0:20:57

So, yeah, but he, you know, like, he provide. Like, he’s. People love him. Like, fans all over the place really, really love him, but he’s, you know, got some. He was kind of created to add, like, the, you know, comedy, but he’s also feisty. And as you go, you know, we’ll get more depth and stuff behind him, and readers will understand why he is, you know, how he is.

Rico Figliolini 0:21:27

So do you work through the writing process when you’re doing this? And you said, like, you did the first. Everything goes through drafts, I guess. And you want to continue to add voice and complexity to a character when you’re doing this, do you ever decide. Do you ever decide that maybe a character is not the right character and you have to change it?

Greg Burnham 0:21:52

Yeah. So, yeah, sometimes it’s like I’m hyper vigilant. I utilize sensitivity readers. I have some really good friends that will say, hey, man, this is some crap. Go back to the drone board. Good. They’re not mean people, but I tell them, I want you to talk to me. You know, like, yeah. So usually by the time they actually, like, we get into the scripting and everything. I’m pretty cool. I’m pretty sure, you know, but up until that point, yes. Like, plenty of people get cut, are changed altogether.

Rico Figliolini 0:22:31

Okay, cool. So beta readers and just other people giving advice, that’s a tough thing to find, people willing to give honest advice.

Greg Burnham 0:22:38

To the ones without ego. Like, one of my friends, she’s a really good writer, and she was telling me recently a story about, she gave to one, you know, had a beta reader, and this lady, like, ripped her apart. It’s like, you know, this book doesn’t need to be made. Like, and really, she already has tons of fans. And when she releases the book, it hit, you know, it’s breaking all these sales records and stuff. And it’s like, you know, so you want people that are going to give you, like, the kind of that raw opinion, but not the one with the ego behind it, like, better than you like, because there’s so many, you know, like, readers like different stuff, you know? So just because it doesn’t sit with you doesn’t mean it’s not going to resonate with its intended audience.

Rico Figliolini 0:23:31

You almost have to have thick skin when you get these things back.

Greg Burnham 0:23:34

Yeah. Like one, I think for me, like, one of the things, like, whatever the criticism is, I’m usually okay with it because whatever I showed you in that book, I, it was 100% intentional. It’s, you know, there’s not a lot of, like, ooh, how did that get there? You know? Okay, so I’ve had people that like the way you did, you know, whatever, but then they read the next issue and they’re like, oh, okay, I get why you do. It makes more sense.

Rico Figliolini 0:24:05

So it’s like, yes, they gotta wait. They gotta live through the. Live through it. Yeah, no, for sure. I mean, sometimes the backstory comes out later. Right. You wanna give it all at once when we talk about. We talked a little bit before we start about diversity and representation, right. In works, it’s changed over the years. Diversity is a little better now. Certainly better now. I mean, even in probably the sixties and seventies, it wasn’t too much of a stereotype. Although, you know, that’s one of the things you got to worry about, or other writers have to worry about. Stereotyping people does. You don’t mean to. And sometimes the stereotype is meant, right. As a comic, it’s a comic turn or something. Maybe we’re being used in a way, but it’s not long lived in a character. Right. How do you handle that. How do you do, you know, with, with especially this industry. I mean, when you think about comic books, when people think, well, not today, but before comics, comic books was very white, you know, I mean, up until about sixties and seventies, and then there was some diversity that came in. Not a lot, but some black panther, Luke Cage or a bunch of them got more. So, as, you know, X Men came in. So that was supposed to be a thing about diversity, of accepting different people. So. But there’s a lot more indie. Well, there were indie authors back then, too, indie comics, I remember, but, but there’s a lot more now than there were before. And some of them get tv shows, too. So it’s becoming a bit more. A bit more profitable or lucrative to be able to do some of this stuff. Do you see yourself trying to get into, breaking into that, you know, multimedia, just the print?

Greg Burnham 0:25:56

Yeah, definitely. As we go, we’ve had some near misses with certain stuff, but it’s definitely a way that we, you know, would want to move to where because, okay, so with the diversity, it’s like they’re starting to realize that. And I’ve heard this from, like, execs at, like, major publishers, they’re starting to realize that diversity isn’t just putting a character, you know, like, you know, different character in, it’s allowing people to tell their, tell these stories like people, you know, so, you know, instead of dropping a black character in a book, it’s like, allow a black person to tell the story, because that’s when it’s like, you start really getting into diversity representation with stereotypes. If you’re not even aware of all the stereotypes, then, you know, yeah, you might hit one here or there. So it’s good. Like, for us, we want to do, you know, we’d love to get into animation. We’re working on a little bit of animation right now, but we would love to work on a lot of bit. But, you know, it’s very expensive. Our thing is we, we would love to be, we want to be able to kind of guide it. We already know if somebody gives you, you know, millions of dollars to make a cartoon, sure, they’re going to have, you know, the power and, you know, but we want to at least be able to keep it on the rails because we’ve seen so many times, like, I think about teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which I, you know, we loved the iteration that came, you know, to animation and everything, but it’s so much different than what the comic was and what the creators I be, you know, what their, you know, dreams about what it would be. It’s just, it was a lot different.

Rico Figliolini 0:28:01

Yeah.

Greg Burnham 0:28:02

And that was, you know, that was an instance where it still was super successful and lucrative, but you can talk to, like, a lot of creators who, like, man, they took my idea and made it terrible, so it flopped in.

Rico Figliolini 0:28:18

Yeah.

Greg Burnham 0:28:19

You didn’t get to control it.

Rico Figliolini 0:28:20

So I think. I think a lot of times when Netflix or other companies get into that, they’re just making more vanilla to just be able to reach a broader audience rather than niching it down, because, you know, it’s telling it, I think telling the stories of, from a diverse background, like you said, you don’t just drop in an indian or a black woman or Hispanic into a story. It needs to come out of their story. Right. It just needs to be. It’s more authentic that way. It’s more interesting. The storytelling is way more interesting to me when it comes out that way then, than someone. I can’t write a black story. Right. I mean, I can’t. Having diversity in the creative process is important, so. And things are becoming better. Animation is actually becoming cheaper and cheaper to make because of digital, all the digital movement that’s going on right now. So it’s gonna be. Give it another five years, you’ll be able to make your animation. 30 minutes show.

Greg Burnham 0:29:24

Yeah, it’s coming. Like, we. We were, we were awarded a bit of a grant from Epic Games to do, like, unreal engine short.

Rico Figliolini 0:29:36

Yeah.

Greg Burnham 0:29:36

So.

Rico Figliolini 0:29:37

Really?

Greg Burnham 0:29:37

Yeah. So we’re working on that. And something else that you might be able to see. We have something cool that we’re going to be. Hopefully we’re going to be dropping at Momocon, so.

Rico Figliolini 0:29:48

Yeah. Okay. I’d love to see that. Unreal engine five. That’s the last one that came out. That last version. It’s unbelievable. It looks so real.

Greg Burnham 0:29:58

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:29:58

That you’re stepping into a place that’s just like, my God, you want to be afraid that something’s going to scare the death out of you.

Greg Burnham 0:30:05

Right? I just watched the planet of the apes, the new movie.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:10

I didn’t get a chance.

Greg Burnham 0:30:12

Half the time. I’m like, that’s unreal engine right there. That’s unreal engine. Like, it’s. It’s, like, almost seamless. Like, you can’t.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:21

Yes.

Greg Burnham 0:30:21

Yeah. Like, I can tell because we’re working in it right now, but for, you know, that most people.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:28

Well, I think. No, most people can. I mean, unless you put a person in it, then it becomes these nuances that.

Greg Burnham 0:30:36

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:36

That you sort of figure that’s there’s something not quite right there, but I can’t wait for them to do more VR work because unreal engine five can do in real time renderings. I believe, as you. As you move through a story, it’s just so much technology. You can’t even tell what’s real or not anymore. If you’re like the Matrix, almost.

Greg Burnham 0:30:57

Yeah. So. Waiting for this?

Rico Figliolini 0:31:00

Yeah, sure. I’m just tell us the. So you have another book that you’ve done. So we’ve been talking about graphics and comic books. But you did swim, Kelly. Swim truly?

Greg Burnham 0:31:12

Oh, yes.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:13

Very different. So I want to make sure you tell us a bit about that, that, you know, what. What went into that, why you did, why you wrote that one.

Greg Burnham 0:31:22

So, so far, I’ve done three children’s books. Every one of them was based off of, like, an experience from my childhood. And of course they’re based, but I, you know, will make it more fantastic and all that stuff. But this one was a story that actually happened with my brother. And I taught my brother how to swim when he was way too young. So, like, by the time he’s, like, three, he can swim for. So we were at the pool. We’re military kids, and so we were at the pool, and I probably should have been paying more attention to him, but I knew he was good. He was supposed to be in the kiddie pool. And so I look up and there’s a lifeguard blowing. They’re all blowing their whistles, and they’re yelling, get down. And my brother is standing there on the high dive getting ready to jump, and he’s nine years old, and so they’re yelling, telling to get down, he gets down. And at the pool had a rule where in order for you to jump off the diving boards, if they felt like, you know, you were like, it was like you’re in danger, they would make you swim all the way across the pool in the deep end. So it’s like 10ft, you know, you gotta swim across. So I convinced them to let us do it. They let me swim beside him, you know? Cause it’s like my mom will, you know, disown me if something happens to my brother at the pool. Yeah. So, you know, we swam, and it was just fun because, like, the people, like everybody, it’s like people got out of the pool and everybody’s just cheering for him. His name is Kelly. It’s totally real. So. So I told that story, but then I also added, like, little things, you know, about swimming. The goal was to like, demystify swimming. So if, you know, it’s funny because I’ve had adults that are like, man, this is for me, you know, because people, people want to learn how to swim, but, you know, the older you get things like swimming, they seem like, that’s not real. I can’t do that. My body can’t do that. So that was the goal, is to kind of demystify it a little bit to where, you know, kids will understand. If you learn how to do it, you believe in yourself. You could be a great swimmer like Kelly.

Rico Figliolini 0:33:43

So it’s a great cover, too. Yeah.

Greg Burnham 0:33:47

My friend Michaela Moore, she’s an absolute jewel. I met her at a comic convention, and, you know, we, like, this became, you know, like, we would see him all the time. She’s younger, so it’s like we always try to, you know, not necessarily mentor all the time, but just encourage. And one day I was like, hey, have you ever done a children’s book? She’s like, sure, I’ve done one, and we ended up with this one.

Rico Figliolini 0:34:16

That’s cool. It’s good to work with people. We’re at the end of our time together. Greg, it’s been, yeah, it’s been great talking with you about your work, about the business. I love talking shop, finding out how people are creative and doing stuff. So you’re going to be a MomoCon this Memorial Day weekend, all four days from May 24 to May 27 at the Georgia World Conference center. And you’re going to be at artist alley and some panels from what you said before. So we’re going to try to find those links to the panels. Get that there. Otherwise, if you’re looking to go to MomoCon, everyone, momocon.com is where you should go. Buy your tickets. You could get day tickets weekend. I think it’ll four day passes also. It’s going to be a great event. Artists like Greg there and say, hi, especially if you’ve seen this podcast. But thank you, Greg. Appreciate you being with us.

Greg Burnham 0:35:16

No problem. Thank you for having me.

Rico Figliolini 0:35:19 Thank you, eve

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Peachtree Corners Life

Peachtree Corners Development Pressures Lead to a Moratorium and More Proactive City Planning

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This episode features special guest Shaun Adams, Peachtree Corners’ new Community Development Director who continues as Assistant City Attorney. Shaun’s responsibilities include identifying areas that could benefit from redevelopment, planning, administering, and implementing redevelopment projects, and helping to identify and obtain public funding for projects. Part of our discussions include the 6-month moratorium on new residential development in the central business district which reflects a reassessment of the city’s needs. Included in the podcast discussion was a discussion on zoning and development, emerging market trends, navigating development pressures, and community and business roles. Hosted by Rico Figliolini.

Related Links
Redevelopment Authority of Peachtree Corners: https://www.peachtreecornersga.gov/21… Peachtree Corners City Meeting Calendar: https://www.peachtreecornersga.gov/Ca…

Timestamp:
00:00:00 – Shaun Adams: New Community Development Director
00:01:21 – Peachtree Corners Resident Balances Legal and Community Roles
00:03:26 – Community Development: Zoning, Permitting, and Collaboration
00:07:24 – Adapting City Codes to Changing Needs
00:09:54 – Adapting Zoning to Emerging Market Trends
00:12:37 – Navigating Zoning Overlays and Mixed-Use Developments
00:15:07 – Examining Zoning and Development Trends
00:20:01 – The Impact of COVID-19 on Cities and the Growth of Smaller Communities 00:21:30 – Navigating Development Pressures and Public Input
00:25:28 – Leveraging Comprehensive Plans for Strategic Development
00:29:43 – Exploring Proactive City Planning
00:32:23 – Upcoming Agenda and Code Updates
00:33:57 – Upcoming Planning Commission and City Council Meetings

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