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Gwinnett Sheriff Keybo Taylor Talks Prison, Challenges and the Future of Law Enforcement [Podcast]



Sheriff Keybo Taylor

Sheriff Keybo Taylor dives deep into the complex intersection of law enforcement, mental health, and community engagement. With decades of experience under his belt, Taylor provides valuable insights into the challenges facing the criminal justice system and the solutions being implemented in Gwinnett County, from addressing mental health issues within the prison system to fostering diversity and trust within the sheriff’s office. Listen to the UrbanEBB podcast, with host Rico Figliolini, and hear Sheriff Keybo Taylor’s vision for the future of law enforcement and community relations.

Keybo Taylor for Sheriff: https://www.keyboforsheriff.com/
Gwinnett County Sheriff Website: https://www.gwinnettcountysheriff.org/sheriffkeybotaylor
Gwinnett County Voting: https://www.gwinnettcounty.com/web/gwinnett/departments/elections

“The biggest thing that we have to stay up on top of as the criminals evolve, our training has to evolve. That’s the most important step, because no matter what type of technology you have, you still have to have people out here that can interpret what’s going on. So with good training, we get good intel. The better your intel is, the better you can put things in place to be a little bit more proactive.” — Sheriff Keybo Taylor

0:00:00 – Introduction by Rico Figliolini and gratitude to the sponsor
0:02:27 – Responsibilities and challenges of the County Sheriff
0:06:55 – Renovations and improvements in the county jail system
0:08:24 – Emphasis on mental health resources and programs
0:13:04 – Challenges in recruiting and retaining qualified law enforcement personnel
0:15:14 – Efforts to promote diversity within the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s office
0:20:55 – Challenges in public perception and the importance of changing law enforcement culture
0:25:54 – Handling cybersecurity-related calls and collaborating with appropriate agencies
0:26:20 – Ongoing training programs, including de-escalation and use-of-force training.
0:27:42 – Investments in upgrading taser situations, body cams, and technology for force recognition.
0:28:51 – Major initiatives addressing bullying and anti-gang efforts
0:31:31 – The evolving nature of law enforcement over the last 40 years
0:33:20 – Human trafficking in Gwinnett county
0:35:57 – Info on Keybo’s campaign and voting opportunities
0:36:48 – Closing

Podcast Transcript:

Rico Figliolini 0:00:00

Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of UrbanEBB, a new podcast we’ve been doing that talks about the urban environment, culture, public safety, and business. And today’s guest I’ll introduce shortly. But before we do that, I just want to say thank you to our sponsor, EV Remodeling, Inc. They’ve been a sponsor of ours for going on two or three years now. They’re based in Peachtree Corners. Eli owns the company, does great work, business that does from design to build. Check them out at EVRemodelingInc.com. And thank you for supporting us. Special guest today. Now, who I interviewed back 2020 during COVID actually, when we first started doing video podcasts remote. And that’s Keybo Taylor, Gwinnett county sheriff. Hey, Keybo, how are you?

Keybo Taylor 0:00:50

How are you doing? It’s good to see you, Rico.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:52

Good to see you, too. It’s been a long time. We’re in 2024 now, Covid seems to be a long time ago, and four years have passed quite a bit. But we learned quite a bit from you back then when you ran for office. Now it’s almost time for reelection again. Actually, it is time for re election again, but we’re going to be talking more about Gwinnett County Sheriff’s department, what it is, what’s its responsibilities. But before we get into that, I just want people to know a little bit about you. So if you, in brief, could tell us a little background about you, Keybo, that would be great.

Keybo Taylor 0:01:27

Okay, sure. Just a little bit of background about me. I was born and raised here in Lawrenceville, Georgia, so I’m a native “Gwinnician,” if you want to call it that. I raised my family here, just have been here. I started my law enforcement career very quickly back in 1983 with the Gwinnett County Police Department. Retired from there, and then, as we said, became sheriff in 2021. And so basically, like we talked about before, we just came in with a hodgepodge of ideas that we wanted to try to implement here at the sheriff’s office and be glad to discuss that with you.

Rico Figliolini 0:02:08

Sure. So tell us also for those that don’t know, because sheriffs lease officers, marshals, the city of Peachtree Corners now has a marshal system in place. So a lot of different responsibilities. Tell us for those that don’t know what a county sheriff does and is responsible.

Keybo Taylor 0:02:27

Sure. What a lot of people don’t know is that the sheriff is the chief law enforcement official in the county. Okay. Regardless if you’re a police chief or whatever, the sheriff is the official head law enforcement officer there, and the duties parallel, and sometimes, but then most of the duties of the sheriffs are exclusive to the sheriff. One, we’re the chief law enforcement officer in the county, as I said. And our job, our first responsibility is law enforcement. Now, here in Gwinnett county, we have a full service police department, Gwinnett County Police Department. So a lot of the law enforcement functions of that is handed over to the sheriff’s, excuse me, to the police department. But we’re also responsible for securing the jails, any type of civil paperwork to be served, serving warrants, felony warrants, securing the court systems, and a handful of other duties I didn’t even know that the sheriff was responsible for until I got into sheriff’s school and I realized that it was a bigger job than I first thought.

Rico Figliolini 0:03:34


Keybo Taylor 0:03:35

We do have a lot of responsibilities. Yes.

Rico Figliolini 0:03:37

Okay. One of the main responsibilities that I remember is obviously running the jail system, the county jail, and the budgets. So it’s not just an enforcement position, but it’s an administrative position in that sense. Right. Running budget, making sure you have the monies to do things, the employees to implement the policies that you put in place. How has that been over the years? Obviously, you first started, weren’t privy to, I guess, the way the jail system worked.

Keybo Taylor 0:04:08

Let me tell you. We came in and Rico, as you know, we came in right in the middle of COVID as Covid was starting to wind down. But what I found coming in is that nobody really knew what to do with the pandemic with COVID and some of the challenges that we were facing in the jail systems itself. And that wasn’t just here in Gwinnett county, that was across the country. And there was a lot of things that was trial and error that we had to try to figure out as we were moving along. So there was a lot of policies in place that when we came into office, we realized that we had to make some changes on some of those policies as we moved forward, especially as it came to, and as it pertained to personnel people. And you also know that we had just came off the heels of George Floyd, and we came off the heels of Ahmaud Arbery. And so, I mean, it was an eventful time coming in, trying to figure, know, how do we maintain and keep everybody safe in what we’re doing, and not just staff. That was also keeping, I don’t call them inmates, I call them residents here. Keeping them safe here, too, as well as dealing with people leaving the profession and trying to get people back into the profession.

Rico Figliolini 0:05:39

There were definitely challenges back then. Anyone that watched tv, the news understood that, like you said, that’s just keeping your own personal safe. But in prison, your residents, if they were infected with COVID how do you quarantine them? How do you treat them? Right? So I’m sure you had to go through that.

Keybo Taylor 0:06:00

Yeah, we had a pretty good system. Basically, when anybody came in to the jail, of course we asked them, we checked, we did the medical screening of them. But we isolated all of the new detainees coming in. Okay. And we isolated because we were going by the guidelines that we had gotten from the CDC between twelve and 14 days. So we would put them in. Into an area. Everybody that came in on a day, we kept them in that area, kept them separated from the general population. And then at the end of that time, if they were still testing negative for Covid or wasn’t showing any symptoms, symptoms, then we will put them into what we call Genprop, which is general population. But anybody that we found that was sick, we continue to keep them separate from that general population until they were.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:55

Cleared of COVID Have you done any major improvements to the actual physical jail system since you took office?

Keybo Taylor 0:07:04

Yes, very good question. Yes, we have. The majority of the renovation that we have done is in the area that we call the Plunkett building, which is the oldest section of the jail that we have. And basically, we had locks that needed to be replaced. The residents had figured out how to defeat those locks. The sensors was wore out, panels was wore out. So we went in and we retooled that particular portion of it, and we turned that into not just the medical side of it, but also for mental health. So basically what we did is we took that space and we consolidated mental health and medical all in one area.

Rico Figliolini 0:07:49

That was one of the issues that you were running on as well. And I think, even currently, about mental health resources within the prison system, dealing with detainees and residences that have mental illness was never really a priority at some years ago. And that has shifted now, I think, in the way responses are made by first responders and such. So what you’re saying is that now you are handling that physically in a different place as well, a little better than it used to be, I guess. Are you providing, obviously, programs and stuff then?

Keybo Taylor 0:08:24

Yes. I mean, we took a close look. When you look at anybody that comes through with a mental disability, if you’re looking at use of force, you’re looking at treatment, you’re looking at where they are in the criminal justice system, mental health is kind of like right at the center podge of all of it. When you’re looking at, if you go in and you do a comprehensive study of your use of force, then you’re going to see the majority of the people that come into a facility such as this and attack a deputy or deputy has to use force is normally because they’re dealing with some sort of mental disabilities that is causing that. Okay, so basically what we did is when we came in with the medical contracts, we wanted to put a stronger emphasis on the evaluation of people coming in the door. Now, does that mean that you’re going to catch everything? No, because some people may not present until a couple of days inside of general population, and then we pick up on the fact that they’re suffering from a mental disability. But we wanted to make sure that we address them coming in the door and what type of treatment plans being more aggressive on treating people with mental disabilities here and providing services, whether it’s services while they’re here and even trying to address mental disabilities once they’re back out outside of our facility, but also in with that, too. We started a mental health task force because like I told you when you and I first talked almost four years ago, we have to start looking at maybe these people don’t need to be in a jail setting. Maybe they need to be in a crisis stabilization unit. So if we could get to someone and identify a person that is going through a mental health crisis, get them to a hospital, get them into a different system other than bringing them to jail and getting them the services that they need, and then also, too, providing them with more services to help them reintegrate and get back out in here to the public so that they’re productive and they’re not recycling and coming back into the jail again. So those are some of the things that we looked at, but we realized that in order to give best care, we had to consolidate those services in one area physically. So it’s been a journey, but I feel like we’re making a lot of progress with it. We’ve had some missteps in here as far as dealing with folks with mental disabilities, but we have to make sure that we’re putting the emphasis back on the state DBHDD to make sure that we’re moving inmates, residents into the systems where they really need to be, where they can get that proper care.

Rico Figliolini 0:11:23

Yeah, that makes sense because I don’t know what percentage. What percentage of the population would you say that is that you deal with mental health issues?

Keybo Taylor 0:11:34

I don’t know what the percentage is, but right now, I have between four, maybe 450 inmates in here that has some sort of level of mental disabilities that they’re dealing with. And right now, I think the last number I had is I’ve got 15 here in the jail that should be in the state system getting treatment. And for whatever reason, we’ve not been able to move those make slash residents to the state.

Rico Figliolini 0:12:08

One of the things that is a problem apparently nationwide, it’s not just here is, and it’s not just the prison system necessarily. It’s law enforcement, is that it’s difficult to find qualified people to be hired. Time and again, I see there are budget dollars for hiring, let’s say 20 or 30 or 40 people within a system, but there’s not enough application. So the money sits there, that there is money maybe to hire, but there’s not enough qualified people applying for those jobs. And when they do, from what ends they even Gwinnett police, they’ll put them through the system, train them and all, and then within a year or two, those people leave for better paying jobs somewhere else, maybe. How are you facing those challenges? This is not just here. It’s across the board with every business, it seems, but more so, I would imagine, in law enforcement.

Keybo Taylor 0:13:04

Well, it’s like anything else. You got to look to see what the trends of the day is. And when you and I talked before, I believe we did discuss this. I told you that there needed to be, and I’m going to use a different term, a cleansing of our business here, meaning that there’s people that is in law enforcement that should not be in law enforcement. When I came in, I was coming in behind an administration that was between 13 and $14 million paid out in damages due to use of force. So, like I said, when you identify these bad actors, you got to get them up out of law enforcement completely, meaning that they should not be able to leave one agency and go to another and stay into this business. So that was a challenge. But in order to bring in the top people, you got to know that we’re in competition with other agencies, city agencies, other sheriff’s offices across the state and across the. You know, obviously, Gwinnett county has always been known for the training. All right? So a lot of people was coming here, and people realized that if you get an officer or deputy that has been trained here in Gwinnett county, they know what they’re getting. They know that they’re getting people that have some of the best training in the nation. So they make it attractive for these people to go to different agencies and leave us. So we’ve been in contact with our county commissioners and the county administrator, and we’ve talked about some of the concerns with that and coming up with different ideas on making Gwinnett county the place to be and then making Gwinnett county the place to be. We got to be ultra competitive with anybody else as far as what we’re looking at, as far as salaries, benefits, working conditions, supervision. Where we get people in and keeping folks, the retention is the most important thing. Getting people in the door is one thing. Keeping them is something totally different, for sure.

Rico Figliolini 0:15:14

And walking along that road, if you will. Diversity. Getting different people within the system that may not have been in the system before, diverse employment to be able to. I mean, we’re. Gwinnett county is a majority minority. Majority minority county. And to get the right officers and diversity in there, multilingual, it’s important as well, especially in the jail system, I would imagine. Even so, how do you deal with that? How has that been going?

Keybo Taylor 0:15:48

Well, like you just said, Gwinnett county is one of the most diverse counties in the nation. And I can’t remember. I think it’s like 150 something different nationalities here in Gwinnett county. Obviously, be nice if we could find somebody from each and every nationality and get them in here to represent the Gwynette county sheriff’s office. But that’s not possible. But what is possible is for me, my executive staff and command staff, to set a culture here that is welcoming for anybody, any culture, to come in and have a good, positive workplace within the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s office. So I think as long as you’re doing that and you’re getting good, qualified applicants coming in, we should continue to be able to diversify our staff and even upper management. I feel like we’ve done a very good job of diversifying the command staff, the executive command staff, and we’re just trying to get people at all different levels to provide me and my chief with the best information on how we best serve any and everybody here in Gwinnett county. Because I campaign on being the sheriff for everybody. So that’s what we’re looking to try to do.

Rico Figliolini 0:17:14

It’s interesting because dealing with gangs and human trafficking, I know that’s one of the areas that you all are working on. And with the diversity of the community, the asian population, every culture has different ways of having to deal with crime that happens within their community. Right. Some will step forward and report these things, others won’t because of fear of retaliation and stuff. When you’re dealing with gang human trafficking and implementing units to handle that, how do you approach that? How successful has it been and what are you doing there?

Keybo Taylor 0:17:54

Well, very good question. The first thing you got to do is you got to build trust. And in the process of building trust, you got to ask yourself the question, if we’re talking about gangs, what is it we got to start with? What is it about this kid that make him feel like he has to be a part of a gang? What is it about his environment, his home life? Who is around him? Or is there a significant threat that this person feels like they cannot deal with and live safely in their community without being involved in a gang? So that’s the first step. Second step is to, once you figure that out, finding people where they are all right, you don’t want to try to address these problems in an enforcement capacity all the time. So basically what we did is that we went in and we started trying to do other things to put ourselves in front of these kids in communities. And the third and the most important step is, and you said it yourself, people don’t report because they’re fearful. Okay? And a lot of people don’t trust law enforcement. And so when I came in, and again, I’ve talked about it from day one, is that we have to create a culture. I have to create a culture to where everybody feels safe with law enforcement. So when you go back and you look at elderly black people who probably have had some very negative experiences with law enforcement, then they’re inherently not going to be trustful. So we’re trying to change that. And that’s the reason why we set up our community outreach section so that we are out here in neighborhoods, and we’re having a presence in these neighborhoods that has been unrepresented before as far as law enforcement. So once you start to establish that trust and they see us in other capacities other than coming in to lock somebody up or do the negative things that is perceived in a neighborhood to keep them safe, we’re trying to build that trust. So once you build that trust, people feel comfortable with us. Then they will come in and open up more, give us more information so that even if the resources don’t come in from the sheriff’s office, we can collaborate with other resources, outside vendors, whatever it may take to say, hey, we need to go into this area, do ABC, because this is a problem. So we go in and we can look at the environment, we can look at the structure of the family. We can look at what’s going on within the school systems in those areas. We can address those areas. And once people feel safe, then maybe they don’t need to feel like they need to go and join a game. They can live productively without having the pressures of that, needing that type of added protection.

Rico Figliolini 0:20:55

Yeah. Does make a difference where you brought up and the environment that you’re in? Absolutely. And I think part of it is also, I think we’ve lost, to a degree, respect for people and for law enforcement. Not out of fear, but just respect that they’re doing a good job out there. They’re doing the best job they can out there. In an environment where you have to be the good guy, the good guy isn’t always able to work against the bad guy well enough. Maybe because there’s no rules when you’re a bad guy, but you have to follow rules when you’re a good guy, right?

Keybo Taylor 0:21:31

That’s correct. But the flip side to that is when we, as the good guys, become the bad guys once again, it’s like, okay, see, that’s what I’ve been talking about. You see what they’re doing. And unfortunately, we get to see so much more of the bad. But when you look at the number of the bad that we deal with, it’s such a small percentage of what people do out here in law enforcement every day. There’s millions of police contact with folks every day. And unfortunately, we get to hear about a handful of them.

Rico Figliolini 0:22:10


Keybo Taylor 0:22:11

They’re so egregious that you don’t have a choice. But, hey, that’s such a negative perception of what they’re doing. You got to address it. But as the leader of your agency, department, wherever you’re at in the food chain and law enforcement, it’s up to us to make sure we change that culture. And that’s what I’ve tried to do here, is make sure people have that feeling of comfort. Now we’re saying that, okay, does that mean that something won’t happen? No, it doesn’t mean that for sure. No matter whatever we do, things still happen. We still get bad players that make it through the system, into the system.

Rico Figliolini 0:22:48


Keybo Taylor 0:22:49

So then it becomes, how do we handle? Okay, are you trying to cover up the bad, or are you addressing the bad? And the approach that we’ve taken is that we address our bad head on, whatever. That may be one thing that I’m proud of, and I don’t have the numbers of the stats here in front of me, but the use of forces that we have. And I want to make a difference between what we call necessary force, excessive force, and when we’re using force, because we have to use force in certain situations. We wanted to take a look to see if the force was one necessary and if it was excessive. And we have done a great number, excuse me, a great job in reducing the number of unnecessary and excessive force complaints that were sustained, which means that, hey, a deputy went too far. And how do we address that? Is it a training issue? Is it a disciplinary issue to where this person, again, like I said at the very beginning of the show, we got players out here that don’t need to be in law enforcement. And we, as leaders, we have to identify those people.

Rico Figliolini 0:24:04

Yeah, no doubt. Listen, when you’re hiring enough staff to do the work of everything being equal, they’re not robots, right? They’re going to go out. There’ll be unique situations that they’ll come upon that wasn’t trained for maybe, or it may have been, but may have not have been emphasized because it rarely happens. But, like, you know, there’s TikTok, there’s Instagram. Things will blow up on a social media tool site, one thing, and make you look bad, where you may have hundreds if not thousands of other encounters where everything’s fine, in fact, where there are heroes to be made, if you will, instead of villains. Right in the system.

Keybo Taylor 0:24:48

Because it is a dangerous headline that day. Yes.

Rico Figliolini 0:24:56

As the sheriff’s department and such, do you ever handle? I mean, I guess not probably anything in the cybersecurity realm or do you get calls on any of that from citizens or related to technology theft or even retail theft? That’s not something.

Keybo Taylor 0:25:17

Yeah, we don’t necessarily handle it, but we do get the calls on it. And basically what we’ll do is we’ll refer it out to the appropriate agencies to handle it, whether or not we don’t have the resources to do cybersecurity. But that’s where your partnerships with the state and federal agencies who has a wider range that deals with these type of crimes, have units that that is all they do is deal with cyber type crimes. Then a lot of times we rely upon, and we depend upon them.

Rico Figliolini 0:25:54

You were saying before about training or about looking at altercations that might happen when you revisit that and you see why did that happen? Can we retrain that? Is there an ongoing, I’m assuming there’s some ongoing education programs for training for sheriffs, whether it’s encounters like that or for technology. So is there ongoing training for those types of things as well.

Keybo Taylor 0:26:20

Sure. The state requires, and I can’t remember how many hours every year, deescalation training. Okay. Use of force and deescalation. And on top of that, we emphasize, and we put in more training here, whether it be cit training, we emphasize, we put more emphasis on deescalation. So before it was just use of force, how to shoot, okay. Other things, man, when to use force, deadly force, those type of things. So I think it’s been a good idea by trying to incorporate more deescalation. I remember a movie one time, and I think it was a Steven Seagal movie, and I’m getting off a little bit, and we all know that he likes to beat up people in his movies. Well, there was one movie where he was injured, and he needed some herbs to get himself together, and he, you know, before, you know, got to learn how to heal before you learn how to do anything else. And I think that’s the same thing here. Before we learn to use force, we need to learn and put more emphasis on other techniques that we can do to de escalate a situation where we don’t even have to use force.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:40

Right. Agreed.

Keybo Taylor 0:27:42

So, too, let me say this, man. We’ve invested millions into upgrading our taser situations, body cams, all of these things that goes along with helping us to identify, recognize problems with force. So that’s something I’m very happy about.

Rico Figliolini 0:28:02

That’s cool. Technology has become, in the policing area, pretty big. I know that the local sheriffs here in peace, three corners are using, like, taser. I think it’s called taser ten, which is a more advanced taser gun. They’re using bola wraps. So this way they’re using tags on cars. This way they don’t have to do car chases. Pretty much. They could just gps track a car once it’s tagged. This way, there’s no high speed traffic, races across the city and streets and stuff. So technology is important, I’m sure. What about successful collaborations, partnerships, local businesses, other areas? Has the sheriff’s department done any collaboration or partnerships with private or public beyond what we’ve discussed?

Keybo Taylor 0:28:51

Yeah, there is nothing that I can do here without those partnerships. If you go back and you look, every year we do two things that’s major here, or actually three things. We have what we call our sheriff’s cup, which we bring in outside partners, and we have a football game to dress and talk about bullying, anti bullying and anti gang. We also do book bag drive every year to where we give out school supplies for students last year we were able to expand it for. We collected school supplies and necessary supplies for teachers also. But the biggest thing we do every year is we have a food drive in November, right before Thanksgiving. And our numbers in all of this, man, we’re upwards on the food drive to about feeding about 4000 people. So we have basically the largest school supplies. We have the largest probably food drive, one of the largest in the nation, I would say. But none of that is possible if we don’t have the cooperation between our outside vendors. So a lot of people that do business with the sheriff’s office, they have graciously provided time, money and resources into helping us out with those projects. I’ve gotten a lot of support from our county commissioners in sport warden. We do. And some of our initiatives out here, the churches, all the churches and other faith based leaders out here has been phenomenal as far as coming in, participating and making these events a success for us.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:44

Do you see ongoing, not ongoing, but with the evolution of the criminal, of the perpetrator, being able to continue to do what they’re doing, they’re changing the way they do things. Also the smash and grabs, the running into places like Lululemon and just stealing things and knowing that they probably won’t get arrested or won’t get stopped and stuff. So it’s all evolving. Do you see in the coming year or two challenges ahead that you’re prepared for or that you’re seeing that you want to be able to attend to those challenges and opportunities that you think the sheriff’s department needs to work with? Work towards solving?

Keybo Taylor 0:31:31

Yes, man. Like I was telling somebody the other day, if I had ran this thing all the way through, this last year would have been 40 years. And I’ve seen a lot of changes over the last 40 years, especially as it pertains to law enforcement. Okay, so in with that, and with that being said, we have to stay up on top of such things such as technology. Technology is not going to actually replace people, but it gives us a chance to where we can still do our job even if we are low on staff. Cameras, flock cameras, body cams, being able to connect with people that have security cameras around their homes whenever there’s a crime. Those type of things we’re also looking at, too. You mentioned artificial intelligence. We are looking at the fact that you got robots out here. Now, I know that at the PD, they use a lot of robots, especially on SWAT calls. That helps out with use of force. And we’re looking, taking a look to see if that is something that we could implement here in the jail system, robots. But the biggest thing that we have to stay up on top of as the criminals evolve, our training has to evolve. That’s the most important step, because no matter what type of technology you have, you still have to have people out here that can interpret what’s going on. So with good training, we get good intel. The better your intel is, the better you can put things in place to be a little bit more proactive. And then when things happen, if you got good intelligence, you got good starts on whatever, again, your investigations on.

Rico Figliolini 0:33:20

Do you see any challenges or differences in what’s going on with human trafficking in Gwinnett county? Has it evolved differently? Is there any new dangers to it, obviously, than the obvious?

Keybo Taylor 0:33:33

I mean, obviously it has. What I was very proud on is we just had a human trafficking conference here, I think it was in January, and that’s where we brought in people from all over the nation with the human trafficking council. They came to Gwinnett county and put on a symposium here for training here. So we were able to offer that out to a lot of the different local law enforcement officers here within Gwinnett county, as well know, educating and training up our own people here within side of our agency, too. But again, two things I go back to, and I say this, and I use the same model with human trafficking as I would with talking about bullying. Why would a person be put in a position to be trafficked? Okay, what is it about that environment? What’s going on in that person’s life, especially the younger juveniles out here? These people are 15, 14, 15, 16 years old. We have to start looking at what is putting these people in these positions to make sure that we’re staying on top of what we’re doing.

Rico Figliolini 0:34:41

Sure makes sense. Everything does come from the home. You almost wish you could take these kids when they’re two years old and bring them up a certain way outside that environment. We’ve touched on quite a bit. Is there anything that we’re missing that you want to share Keybo?

Keybo Taylor 0:35:03

I think the people of Gwinnett county that entrusted me with this know. Hopefully we know because, like I told you before, we went on a so called listening tour first to hear what the people of Gwinnett county was saying and what they felt like their needs were. And hopefully I’ve answered, been able to keep the promises on some of the things that we said that we were going to do. But we’re not done by no means is this a finished product. We still got more work to do. But I feel very good about the direction that the sheriff’s office is going in. Some of the major improvements that we made specifically within the jail to address certain things. And like I say, if people need more information, they can always go to the sheriff’s office website or they can go to my campaign website and pick up on more information.

Rico Figliolini 0:35:57

Excellent. Anyone that wants to visit the website, what is the website address?

Keybo Taylor 0:36:02

Actually, my campaign website is KeyboforSheriff.com. Okay. And then the other one is the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office.

Rico Figliolini 0:36:12

I think if anyone googles it, they’ll be able to find it easy enough.

Keybo Taylor 0:36:15

Yes, sir.

Rico Figliolini 0:36:17

And you are coming up for reelection in May. I think it’s May 21 is the election date. So anyone that wants to find out a little bit more about voting Gwinnett county or registering, which I think voter registration ends sometime in April. So I’ll have some of that information in our show notes so any of the listeners watching this or listening can check that out as well. Want to thank you, Keybo, for coming back for another interview with me to learn all the things that are happening and where you are with us.

Keybo Taylor 0:36:48

Thank you for doing a good job and keeping everybody informed out there.

Rico Figliolini 0:36:53 Thank you. Keybo. Hang with me for one moment as we sign off. Thank you, everyone for visiting with us today. Whether it’s on our Facebook pages, YouTube channel, this Twitter live feed entry, when this goes out, if you have any questions, post it in the comments. I’ll try to get some answers back to you on that. And again, thank you to EV Remodeling, Inc. For being a sponsor of this program and our corporate sponsor with our publications as well. So thank you all. Take care

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Parks & Recreation

What’s going on at Jones Bridge Park and the Challenges of Urban Development



In this episode of Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager, host Rico Figliolini discusses the ongoing trash problems at Jones Bridge Park in Gwinnett County with City Manager Brian Johnson. They explore the park’s overcrowding, littering, and the challenges of managing such a popular amenity.

The conversation also touches on recent city council decisions regarding new apartment developments, focusing on smart city features, development approvals, balancing office market and community needs, navigating mixed-use development challenges, and the complexities of property rights and community growth. Tune in to hear insights on balancing community needs, maintaining public spaces, and navigating the complexities of urban development. 

00:00:00 – Jones Bridge Park Vandalism Concerns
00:01:40 – Challenges at Jones Bridge Park: Overcrowding, Lack of Oversight, and Resident Concerns
00:08:55 – Addressing Trespassing and Security Concerns at a Local Park
00:14:24 – Automated Gate Proposal for Park Closure
00:16:54 – Proposal for Improving Park Management and Funding
00:18:48 – Balancing Amenities and Maintenance Costs in Public Spaces
00:23:32 – Maintaining Public Spaces and Addressing Transient Residents
00:25:48 – Development Approvals: Recommendations and Council Decisions
00:30:27 – Balancing Office Market and Community Needs
00:34:38 – Navigating Mixed-Use Development Challenges
00:37:56 – The Complexities of Development Approvals
00:44:04 – Property Rights and Community Growth
00:47:11 – Complexities of Urban Development
00:51:34 – Addressing Affordable Housing Challenges in the Community


00:00:00 – Rico Figliolini

Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life here in Gwinnett County, the city of Peachtree Corners. I’m with Brian Johnson. Hey, Brian. How are you?

00:00:11 – Brian Johnson

Hey, Rico. Good. How are you?

00:00:13 – Rico Figliolini

Good. Good. Beautiful day. It’s been hot weather. Although, thank God, we don’t have a hurricane really coming our way. So I think we’re fine on that one.

00:00:21 – Brian Johnson

Here, here.

00:00:22 – Rico Figliolini

Before we start on our show that we do, we try to do every month about the city with our city manager, Brian, I just want to say thank you to EV Remodeling, Inc. and Eli for being a sponsor of these podcasts and a good community resident and business here in Peachtree Corners as well. They do design and build, renovation work on homes. Check them out at evremodelinginc.com. We appreciate them supporting our journalism and our podcasts. So let’s get right to it because we’ve been gone from doing this for a few weeks. But I think the first thing that we should start off with is something that’s been out there on Next Door a bit. And I don’t know if it’s quite as bad, although I’ve seen the pictures and it seems as bad. But Jones Bridge Park seems to be getting trashed on a regular basis. And July 4th wasn’t a good weekend for that with lots of stuff just being trashed all over the place there. But some people have complained about that. Some people have complained about the amount of police presence that has been called. I think one person said there were over 300 calls for police to visit in one year in 2023. I don’t know if that’s true. It sounds like a lot to me. But I thought we’d talk about it, you know, you, Brian, because, even obviously, though it’s a county the city’s park, aware of what’s going on there. And so I’m curious, what’s going on there? And, you know, does the city have anything they can do about it?

00:02:05 – Brian Johnson

So there is some challenges with Jones Bridge Park. You know, I will say also important to establish a couple things here. One, Jones Bridge Park is a county-owned and maintained park. And so, you know, there are some conversations we’ve had with them about things. And, you know, after the conversation has been had, we don’t control. You know, if it was our park, I could end up going to my parks and rec director and be like, fix it. So it is, you know, county owned, maintained by Gwinnett County Parks and Rec. Our police department is Gwinnett County PD and so their presence or you know lack thereof as some people you know have expressed frustration about is them now you know that’s not to just, you know, relinquish all involvement, but, you know, there is one of the few parks, at least in this area, that has access, like improved access down into the Chattahoochee River. Yes. So it is a very developed park because it has everything from a lot of covered pavilion space picnic tables grills it’s a gorgeous location it’s the only place on the chattahoochee river anywhere near here that has some you want to call them rapids right and then it has improved stone steps to where you can walk into the Chattahoochee and not have to like, you know, go down some little goat path or whatever.

00:04:12 – Rico Figliolini

Oh, it’s beautiful. I mean, they’ve done a great job there.

00:04:15 – Brian Johnson

It is. Then it has a big playground. And then it also has a section of it that has athletic fields where there’s league soccer.

00:04:24 – Rico Figliolini

Right. In the back right.

00:04:26 – Brian Johnson

So when you combine all of that you have a lot of people who don’t have access to a park that want to go, or excuse me, they don’t have access to nice facilities like covered pavilions and outdoor grills or whatever and they go to the park because it’s a gorgeous location. There’s things for the kids to do. You can get together, you can grill. So it attracts, you know, it’s one of those things where you create your own problem. And, you know, in this case it has. And then to compound things, there are some neighborhoods that back up right to it and we’ve even had tournaments in which Ways or just even Google Maps somebody will drive into the park and there’s no parking for like league soccer tournaments they’ll actually drive into the back of Linfield subdivision that backs up to it and walk through the side yards, the park in Linfield, and then walk between two houses that back up to the parks to get to them.

00:05:37 – Rico Figliolini

Oh, wow. No wonder some of those residents were upset. Yes. And I know the parking can be challenging there.

00:05:46 – Brian Johnson

Yes so that’s all you know so now that’s what all of us when that county as well as the city are trying to regulate you know a fourth of july weekend is you know probably one of the best examples where you just get a crush of people because everybody wants to be outside grilling and having a good time. I cannot speak to Gwinnett County Parks and Rec in that whether they planned for their parks to have, you know, a need for enhanced cleanup event you know i’d like to think that they realize the the fourth of july weekend is going to require extra you know hard to come out and get trash and all that kind of stuff that particular type of thing has not really been where a lot of the challenges are it’s been people that down there when they should not be oftentimes late at night you know I gave examples of soccer tournaments and whatever but that’s more rare what is more common is the park hours hours close at 11pm at that point you’re not supposed to be there but because there’s lack of personnel from Gwinnett County Parks and Rec or Gwinnett County Police the vehicular gate that stays open the park just past Simpson Elementary stays open because there’s nobody. They don’t have the staffing to have somebody close it every night and then reopen it the next day. So then what happens is people either know about it. They go down there and then Gwinnett PD’s presence down there, for whatever reason, has not been particularly consistent. So there are gaps in which somebody is down there and we have calls of cars down there doing donuts, drag racing.

00:07:59 – Rico Figliolini

Is it true that it’s like 300 calls? I mean, someone said they did an Opens record act, and they saw 300 times that the police were called down to the park. I mean, is that even?

00:08:11 – Brian Johnson

Well, yeah, that is potentially possible because or if you consider every call going in to be separate. So for instance, let’s say we had some motorcycles back there, doing donuts, drag revving, racing at midnight, or one in the morning. You could get five people who live in Linfield that call 911. They’ll track five, but it’s actually one incident.

00:08:45 – Rico Figliolini

Gotcha. Okay. That makes more sense. The number could get up there.

00:09:06 – Brian Johnson

But if you told me that there were 100 calls or separate instances in which 911 was called because people were trespassing and doing things late at night or whatever, at night or you know, a hundred calls a year probably would not make me say, you know, but the 300 plus, those are probably counting every individual call. But there are, I mean, one incident down there is too many, certainly many, many, you know, tens, maybe hundreds, that’s way too many. Where we have been involved of late is we have had the marshals down there on a few times where we have seen on social media there being some talk by car clubs and others that eat there. Marshals have been there and it’s hard to know if we did in fact prevent it from materializing. They’ve been down there. They’ve had cars pull in and then turn around and leave because they saw them. But we have involved there. And then the latest is, you know, currently Gwinnett County Parks and Rec, through their director, Chris Minor, is considering a proposal I proposed to them. And that is on the vehicular side chris and I had a conversation it’s many months ago but conversation about the vehicle gate being closed and he you know again intimated to me I don’t have the staff to do it and then Gwinnett PD doesn’t so I said alright this is what I’ll propose. We’ll put an LPR camera there. And there is, there is a license plate reader camera right there at the vehicular gate going into the park. So we can, when, you know, there are incidents there, we do pull video to see if we can use it. Now all these car clubs they’ll or motorcycle clubs or whatever they know about LPR cameras so oftentimes they’ll put something over their license plate when they’re getting ready to do something illegal. So the camera doesn’t always get a good face or we get a face but we don’t have any way to know their name so a face doesn’t mean anything if we can’t you know run the name. So but we do have a camera we already installed it it’s working. The second thing I proposed and he went back and said well I’ve got I said, we will buy an automated gate.

00:11:49 – Rico Figliolini


00:11:50 – Brian Johnson

Down at 11 and up at, I believe it opens at 7. And if you are stuck behind it and you come up to it, the motion will have it to where you can leave, but you wouldn’t be able to get back in.

00:12:03 – Rico Figliolini

Gotcha. Okay.

00:12:10 – Brian Johnson

Then once we install they then commit to maintaining it. And it is some degree of maintenance. Anytime you have automated it breaks more often you know, anything, than, a gate that you got to get out of your car and walk around the lock. So there is some dollar amount component to it, but that’s what I offered is you know, to, buy them an automated.

00:12:38 – Rico Figliolini

Would that be similar to, like, you’re waiting on them. Is there, I mean, is that like, that’s like a railroad thing? That’s like the one behind the Forum, I guess. That’s just a bar that goes down?

00:12:49 – Brian Johnson

That’s correct. And by the way, more solid material than like just a wood, you know, painted to, you know, some of the railroad ones are a little bit flimsy. You know, it’s more, this is both to kind of know that you’re not supposed to be there and it should be solid enough that you wouldn’t want a car to go through it because it would damage the car. Some of the railroad ones I’m not sure if it would even damage it if you know hit them.

00:13:16 – Rico Figliolini

No, no yeah I get that and I mean the only other thing I could think of is if I was a car fanatic I’d send someone to the other side of it to, like, wave the sensor so then it opens and then we could drive in. I mean

00:13:30 – Brian Johnson

Yeah, there is no way that if somebody is hell-bent on getting in the car, we can just, you know, make it.

00:13:37 – Rico Figliolini

I mean, but that’s the easiest thing. The thing I was thinking, as long as – somewhat of the same lines that you were thinking. And I’m not sure what the sheriff’s hours are. But there’s a gate there that closes. It just needs a good lock on it.

00:13:56 – Brian Johnson

There’s already a gate there, but you have to have somebody physically go out there and lock it. And then physically go out the next morning to unlock it. And what minor had said is I don’t have the staff. And Gwinnett  PD is like, we don’t have the staff to do that. So like, you know, we would love to have it closed and locked. But what I’m saying is: In lieu of that put an automated gate down And it could be two arms that you know can’t get it to go up. You can even go so far as if you’re on the other side after the park closes you could end up to where it doesn’t go up with motion. The Fields Club actually does this. There are facilities where if you’re caught behind the gate after hours, you’re not supposed to be there. You actually have to call the non-emergency number for Gwinnett PD. They have a key and they’ll get out there at, you know, whenever they can.

00:15:06 – Rico Figliolini

And that almost sounds better because, you know, if the park is closing, technically, is it at dusk or is it technically at 11 p.m.?

00:15:14 – Brian Johnson

It was 11. I mean, maybe there’s different hours. I mean, I thought it was 11.

00:15:20 – Rico Figliolini

So, I mean, I think it’s reasonable that whoever’s still there should just be stuck there and call in.

00:15:26 – Brian Johnson

They have a problem with that again, but again, that’s not our park.

00:15:30 – Rico Figliolini


00:15:31 – Brian Johnson

So, once I would turn it over at Parks and Rec, they could work that out. But no, I don’t find that unreasonable that if the hours of the park are clearly, you know articulated through signage there, you get caught behind the gate after it closes. You’ve got to call a non emergency number. They’ll have the ability to raise it. But maybe then. And I think in the Fields Club, their arrangement is if a Gwinnett PD officer has to come out and unlock the gate, they get a trespassing violation at the same time. So wait there for however long it took for somebody to have the time to get there. But that was our proposal because then it wouldn’t be staff intensive. But, you know, Chris’s point, well taken, and that is you’re providing me an amenity that does or will have to have maintenance dollars attached to it. So he was like, I need to run this up the flagpole, whatever,  I just have to come back. But that’s our current proposal.

00:16:52 – Rico Figliolini

I think that’s great. Yeah, I think you can even modify that to the degree like you said with what Linfield does, guess. Because how many times is someone really going to be stuck behind there anyway? At some point, is it every night? Doubtful right? I it’s not going to be like that. And if there is, that’s another problem. But, right? And the cleanup I can understand that being an issue. part, And that’s not always. I know there is an issue like that especially summertime weekends where the trash bins are overflowing. There’s not enough trash bins. They don’t want to put more trash bins. Maybe they put plastic bags there, but people do steal the plastic bags. You know, there’s other parks. You know, if we had a nonprofit set up called like Friends of Jones Bridge Park, you know, where they raise some money, they go and they buy some more containers for the parks. Because maybe, like you said, I mean, there’s always expenses to maintain things. People don’t understand that even Simpsonwood, which is a passive park, which is what Jones Bridge is, that budget, I’m sure, I think they said was $370,000 a year for that park. That sounds like a lot, but there’s trash collection every week. There’s a bunch of other things that have to be done there, mulching and all that stuff.

00:18:12 – Brian Johnson

Well, Jones Bridge is an active park because it has activated, it’s got active programming. It’s got soccer.

00:18:18 – Rico Figliolini

True, true, true. That’s true.

00:18:19 – Brian Johnson

So it is. Yeah, I would supplement what you said by just saying, you know, as government, anytime we’re looking to add an amenity, there are two types of dollars that you have to consider that is the upfront cost of constructing the amenity, improving the amenity, whatever. Take it up. I mean, we get constantly people who tell the city, oh, you should just buy that property and turn it into a park. Well, one, is as soon as you have a public parcel, people want it to be improved. Hey, what picnic table is there? Can you put a playground or whatever? And now you get into the second dollar amount and that is the annual amount that you’ve got to budget to maintain it. We have pushed back in some cases on things that we have the money to do right then, but we know that it’s going to be adding an annual cost that we just do not want to go down that road. And so you have to make the decision that, look, we either need to do this, maintain this right, or don’t do it. You know, our Town Center is a good example. I mean, you know, we’ve created, you know, some of our own maintenance, you know, challenges, maintenance obligations by putting in more playground equipment, attracting more people. So we have to, but we committed that that’s our downtown and we’re going to make sure we manage it right. If you can’t, then close it or do something, you know, and there are even intermediate steps. If grills, grills are actually a controversial thing to add to a park.

00:20:11 – Rico Figliolini

Yes, for sure.

00:20:12 – Brian Johnson

Grills there, it attracts people who want to spend time with larger groups of people. If you don’t have that, you would not have as many of the fourth of july you know stuff. So if people unfortunately don’t take care of things and take care of their own trash, which they should. And by the way a non-profit or a community group has been discussed before. The problem is I’ve been in meetings with even Gwinnett County Parks and Rec in the room, but residents talking about what’s going on. Oftentimes when it comes up, the residents are kind of like, you know, A) who’s going to be part of that group? So there’s a lot of people who have a lot of demands on their time. And so it’s going to invariably be the people who live right there. And then their other argument is you are charging us Gwinnett County Parks and Rec specific millage or property tax to maintain these things. You know, why are we having to supplement you taking taxes from us that are specific to parks and rec and now we also do extra work because you’re saying you aren’t allocating the resources necessary to maintain your home.

00:21:37 – Rico Figliolini

This is why there are cities like Duluth and Johns Creek, I believe does this that have their own parks department because this way they know they can zone down to their locality they can take care of their own parks. You know Gwinnett is huge, Gwinnett does a great job the parks department, I think does a really great job in maintaining a lot of the sports facilities a lot of the parks but it’s a demanding thing like you said. I mean it’s and you got to deal with people’s just people being trashy. 4th of July there’s, if there’s not enough trash bins, they don’t, they’re not going to take trash home with them. They’re going to leave it there. And unfortunately, and that’s a sad thing, but that’s just the way it is.

00:22:16 – One of three, you’ve either got to have a representative down there during the day to be policing as it’s happening.

00:22:23 – Rico Figliolini


00:22:24 – Brian Johnson

If not you either can put extra trash bins out there or remove some of the amenities that are creating trash. Which you hate to do saying when people don’t you know their behavior is such. That’s another, I’m not recommending I’m just saying that. Or you allocate you know you come up with the schedule that you know the day after 4th of July, you’re going to have extra crews going out there to clean it up because, you know, it’s like our concerts. The morning after concerts on the town green we have extra staff that goes out there and cleans it up really well because we knew that there’s going to be a lot of people on the town green. People just don’t take care of stuff that’s not theirs. It’s sad, but it’s reality. And we just have to, you know, allocate resources accordingly. And so, yeah, there are some things that can be done to mitigate this. You know unfortunately Jones Bridge Park is a great amenity but great amenities attract people from parts way outside of Peachtree Corners and you know and more people than the residents would normally load on that park. And, you know, that’s the downside of having a great unique amenity.

00:23:50 – Rico Figliolini

So at least the city’s talking to the county and you’re just waiting to hear back at least about that gate.

00:23:56 – Brian Johnson

That particular thing, yes, we will continue to. Because it is in our corporate limits and we are interested. And those residents there should not be dealing with what they’re dealing with. So, you know, but you know, certainly it would be better if we controlled it directly. No doubt about it. We don’t.

00:24:17 – Rico Figliolini

All right. So cool. I’m glad we got to talk about that. I know that it’s a, it is a big deal. I mean, this stuff. And you’re right. People just don’t take care of things that are not there sometimes, which segues a little bit into apartments to some degree, right? It’s not equity. It’s transient a bit, right? People rent apartments and stuff. Apartments are not a bad thing per se. It’s just if it’s done well. And two apartment zonings just came up, right? The Day building and the Da Vinci Court applications. And I was reading before I knew that they were both denied. I was reading a bit of the conditions on the Day building one, for example, that was proposed for 248 units with a minimum of like 3,000 square feet of commercial space still to be retained. And there was a bunch of really good, strong conditions on here about smart development, smart city developments, LED lights, license plate readers have to be there, security systems on the property, smart home technology within the residential units. It’s all like good stuff. Good, good, good.

00:25:30 – Brian Johnson

Well, Rico, I mean, you probably won’t toot your own horn, so I will. But, you know, some of those have been the result of previous conversations you and I have had on this very podcast. Where we’ve talked about are there things city can do when developers are coming in front of us wanting something to make it better. And my job as an application works through the process with the help of staff is to make a project as good as I can on the off chance that it’s approved. Even in instances where the recommendation from staff might be to deny for various reasons, my job is still, because I don’t know, you know, I don’t vote and council still has to vote. So I have to be prepared for either one. So, you know, even if in instances where we’ll recommend denial, we will still continue to put pressure on the applicant to agree to conditions to make the product the best we can. If, in fact, council says, yes, Mr. city manager we hear your recommendation but we like it we’re going to approve it then at least I know I did everything I could to make it the best. So that’s no different here I mean it didn’t get approved if it had been we made it as good of a product as we could have possibly made it.

00:27:02 – Rico Figliolini

And I agree and you guys have done a great job. And certainly through conversations, I mean, you’ve added things even beyond what I would like to see. But I’m glad that you’re also incorporating stuff like that because it’s, you know, being able to be a smart city and work these developments in a smart way makes sense to me, right? If we keep saying we’re a smart city, then we better be making sure that what comes to fruition addresses some of that, right? Because otherwise, what’s the point? And, you know, having, I mean, there was also, I think you guys came up with the participation of developments like this in the crime-free multifamily housing program, which I thought was great. The individually metered areas of apartment units. This way, at some point, could they be made into condo equity property? Yes, by doing that. Even putting that they have to put $20,000 worth of minimum value of public art in the lobby. Instead of this just being a cookie cutter, trying to let’s just fit 240 apartments on some hill, which is what the big building is essentially on. So I’m glad that you guys are doing that. But let’s get into why then, because DaVinci Core was another one that we applied for apartment development. I forget how many units. And this was basically using an empty parking space to a degree, I guess. I know there’s a moratorium that you all placed on the Central Business District. Did that run? That was for six months, right?

00:28:40 – Brian Johnson

It is. We’re currently in it. But these both, if somebody, an applicant had actually or a developer had dropped an application in even an hour before the moratorium starts, they got in the door. We can’t, you know, so these that they had been in the process for a while. I mean, as you know, these things really once the application is officially in our process, unless we push it along a little faster for other reasons, it’s generally 90 to 120 days before it is actually voted on. So it takes some time.

00:29:18 – Rico Figliolini

Well, I don’t know if we can say this, but the city council voted denial on both of these, 7-0 denial. One of them was, I don’t know if the other one was, the Day building was actually recommended for approval by the planning department, I believe, because it fits. Both of them were. But the city council representatives of the people decided seven to nothing that these should not move forward. Spirit of the moratorium or other reasons?

00:29:52 – Brian Johnson

Yeah, the moratorium didn’t really have anything to do with these two. So moratorium was really just to give us a brief period of time to take a closer look at a very specific part of the city, and in our case, Central Business District. And really even more granular than that, the office product within it, and drill down a little bit more on making sure that both we have some additional things that might protect us from having just more of a crush of these mixed-use developments that have aspects of it Council or the community doesn’t want. At the same time, maybe looking at certain areas where we might actually loosen the code to allow for some creative uses of underperforming office because you’ve got to be very careful. You know we are a, you know second largest municipality in Georgia with no city property tax. One of the reasons that’s the case, about 30% of our general fund budget is from business license revenue. So we’ve got to make sure we’re doing everything we can to ensure that businesses are healthy and they’re generating income in this city so that then we get business license revenue from it. And right now the office market is really soft. And there’s a lot of underperforming office buildings in which the owners are coming to us saying, oh, I can’t bill it. I’m underwater. Will you let me redevelop it into. Well, those are coming and we don’t get to choose what applicants come here. So everybody has a legal right to ultimately be heard by council with a vote of yes or no. So we’re trying to make, trying to tweak the comp plan section of the central business district. We’re thinking about breaking out the Town Center, Forum kind of that area right there that’s more retail centric and make that a little bit more unique from Tech Park. Right now they’re together as part of our central business district. And as you well know, our local economy is both. But Tech Park’s type of use is way different than a retail hub like Town Center.

00:32:28 – And the retail hub is part of the entertainment overlay.

00:32:44 – Brian Johnson

There’s an overlay over that to you where you can, do things like walk out of a restaurant with a beer and walk down the sidewalk, and window shop or go to the town, whatever. But yeah so, we’re trying to make that central business district break it down even into a more granular level. It might be able to allow us to, again, on one extreme, maybe protect ourselves from, you know, constantly getting stuff. So this will allow us to kind of forecast to people who are looking at it, what we may or may not, or council may or may not be open to. But also, you know, tweaking some things. I mean, you and I talked prior to the podcast about, you know, an existing office building that was very close to putting in pickleball inside of what was or actually still is a commercial office building broken up into offices for you know white collar administrative occupants. They were going to gut the whole thing and the reason is, is because right now there’s not a lot of people looking for office space. And the owner’s like I’m trying to get creative here, so we’ve got to be creative or make sure that our code for the right things in the right instances might allow for a little bit more creative things than our zoning code foresaw when it was written many, many decades ago. And so that’s why the moratorium exists. It did not have anything to do with council’s consideration of these two applications.

00:34:18 – Rico Figliolini

From what you heard from the council, is there opportunity for these to come back in different forms. Like, you know, obviously 248 units, studio, one, two bedroom, multifamily. I think that was, we were talking about stacked flats in the Day building rezoning. You know, no one’s saying that, you know, this is a MUD, multi-use development or mixed use development, right? Yeah. Mixed use. The problem with that is that these types of things, and I can see why the moratorium was put in place, because all these applications that are coming is like, we want to put these 250-plus apartments and we’ll keep 3,000 square feet or 2,500 feet or 1,200 feet as restaurant or breakfast place or something. So they’re trying to fit, they’re trying to say they’re mixed use when in reality it’s an apartment development. And there’s no mixed use really to it. Can this come back?

00:35:33 – Brian Johnson

We have had a few of those symbolic things but we amended our ordinance, I don’t know, a year ago. And now you know, you can’t have a use that exceeds, I can’t remember exactly, like maybe one use, exceed more than 60% of the 100%. So you can’t have 98% residential, 1% commercial, 1% retail. You can’t play that game and then call it mixed use.

00:35:57 – Rico Figliolini

Or is it a mixed formula of apartments and equity, like the stack flats? That would be considered equity, I guess?

00:36:00 – Brian Johnson

No, still residential.

00:36:02 – Rico Figliolini

It’s still residential.

00:36:04 – Brian Johnson

Remember, equity versus rental cannot be a consideration in and of itself of whether something is approved or not. A parcel, under the zoning procedures law, a parcel has to be considered whether a residential use is good for that parcel or not. You can’t end up saying, well, only if it’s equity or only if it’s age-restricted or only if it. Those things bubble up. Developers oftentimes will offer to do that in return for improving their odds. But that cannot be a consideration of something because you have to understand, you know, these denials, you know, when staff does a report, we have to objectively look at whether or not the application is in, you know, conflict with any local code law character area that kind of thin. If it meets all those criteria we’re not really these recommendations are not like I wake up one morning and I’m like yeah I think one go there, it’s the recommend approval because it meets all of the legal.

00:37:22 – Brian Johnson

Sure, sure.

00:37:25 – Brian Johnson

Now, that’s merely to say that. Council, each individual has to vote their own conscience, and they all have other considerations. So, you know, that’s not. But I bring that up to say, you just asked the question of could they come back. Anything can come back, but it can come back in various ways. An applicant can wait for the cooling off period and present the same exact thing. And timing sometimes matters. Those comments have come up about these two mixed-use development applications are very close to the Town Center, a Town Center in which there are two previously approved residential units that are not completed yet. One is under construction, Solis, there on the Town Center side, and then North American hasn’t started theirs yet. So there’s been talk about timing. But that’s one way to come back. Another way is is they could re-engage with the city and say hey maybe if we tweak the site plan to you know have this or whatever, the parcel that’s basically at the corner of Engineering and 141 right across on the west side of 141 from Racetrack and Peachtree Corners Liquor, they submitted a mixed use development that had 275 apartment units. Along with some other, you know, two other uses and that was denied. And then they came back and just made it a townhome and just had 75 townhomes.

00:39:06 – Rico Figliolini

Right. So they’ll probably sell for 750,000 or more.

00:39:11 – Brian Johnson

So that was a way for them to come back but it was a different product. The other way is you know also I have to understand in the case of the owner of the Da Vinci Court property they have filed a suit against us. So we will be in front of a judge at some point and if a judge finds that that the denial was not based on legally defensible reasons, the judge will kick it back and force Mayor and Council to consider that site again.

00:39:56 – Rico Figliolini

Okay. So that happened once before, or that happens all the time, actually. But even before the city was approved, it became a city. That happened where Town Center is, where the properties, Charlie Roberts, sued because he felt that it was not a good zoning. And in some ways, he probably was correct about where it was. So he got courts to go back.

00:40:30 – Brian Johnson

Yes, it forced the county to consider and they did approve. And then he came back to the city with a product and it was going to be, well, yeah, it was denied filed suit but then there was conversation amongst us and he withdrew that in return for coming back with what was ultimately the product that he sold it for. So it does happen and in instances, a judge could say, nope, mayor and council, you did not, that was a violation of that property owner’s right to their highest and best use. You did not meet zoning procedure law. Try again.

00:41:20 – Rico Figliolini

I can see that. I think if I don’t recall the exact details of the comprehensive plan, but I think, doesn’t that property, if you look at the comprehensive plan 2040, I guess, and you look at where that property backs up to or borders, is it other offices or is it the area of land that in the plan says could be multi-use family? You know I mean, he could come back and say.

00:41:51 – Brian Johnson

Yeah this is a good point. Our comp plan both of these mixed use applications were in the character area in which our comp plan said would be appropriate to have dense residential. You know, the density of residential is fitting in a town center, downtown area. So from that aspect, our comp plan does say that it was an appropriate use there. It doesn’t go any farther than to say dense residential, again, because you can’t solely based on what type of residential, don’t get into rental equity, age restricted or whatever. So it doesn’t say that, oh, it’s appropriate for equity dense residential. That can’t be in and of itself a consideration. But dense residential is an industry-accepted appropriate use in downtown areas. That one we didn’t make up. We’re not unique in that regard. Now, again, community may say we don’t care and put pressure on the elected officials. And, you know, we certainly are at a point, I will say, that we have a lot of, I mean, we have a significant enough of a resident base that moved here. You know, they oftentimes when they’re not happy with a decision council made or they’re wanting to get their comments and, you know, front of council before council is on something. Oftentimes I’ll start with a, I moved here in 1992 and oh the city has grown and traffic has gotten worse or whatever and I do not disagree. You know I have no doubt that those comments are true however we as a city as many people don’t realize, have a limitation to our ability to say no. A property owner who has a legal right to a highest and best use of their property. And when we are located in a growing metro area, there is a constant demand for residential. And then a property owner is like, I can get a higher and better use of my property with putting residential on it than I currently can get. It starts to get into a difficult area. And those who think that we can hit the pause button on growth, that is impossible. The city does not have the power to just indiscriminately say, nope, we’re done growing. We’re not going to need more people. And that’s where it gets, you know, again, it’s challenging. The most difficult decision I have to present to council for consideration are land use decisions. But again also just because property owners want to get more money there are certain things that if they don’t meet you’re kind of like, no I’m sorry. You know, I think. It could be Rico you’re like look I could get more money selling my house demoing it and constructing, I don’t know.

00:45:25 – Rico Figliolini

A duplex.

00:45:27 – Brian Johnson

Something like that. And then we say, no, it’s not appropriate because you are in a neighborhood that are single family detached residential. So it’s not appropriate. Those are easy. There’s always extreme. It’s where you get into where, you know you don’t have something that clear it’s right next to one that already is what they want.

00:45:50 – Rico Figliolini

Yeah it’s a, I can understand it’s a difficult thing.

00:45:52 – Brian Johnson

It is yeah. I’m trying to say that there’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer. I’m only just trying to make sure that people understand that the city is not lured over land use in such a way that Mayor and Council can literally just say no or yes indiscriminately. It has to be based on people’s principles.

00:46:17 – Rico Figliolini

But this is also why the comprehensive plan is there. And people should understand that next time it gets updated. What, in four years? I think it was just recently updated, right?

00:46:30 – Brian Johnson

Yeah, about four years from now or so, maybe it’ll be updated again. It gets updated every few years.

00:46:37 – Rico Figliolini

Right. So people should be aware of that because that is what guides a lot of this. Because they can point to that eventually and say, well, you denied me, but your plan shows I should be able to do this type of development. It doesn’t say specific, like you said, departments or equity, but does talk about density and stuff like that. And what you expect that the city, you know, how this will all pan out because in a controlled way, that’s what the plan is. The plan is to provide a controlled way of expansion of a city’s population that will naturally grow, and that’s what developers look at. And if the developer comes back and says, well, you know, this shows I should be able to do that, bought the land for that reason, or I own this and I can’t do the office building. I mean, I just saw Dell, I think, was trying to get all their employees back for full time in the office five days a week. And half their employees said, we’re not coming back. We could do hybrid two days a week, you know, at home, three days in, but we’re not coming back. So what do you do? Do you fire half your workforce because they’re refusing to come back? I mean, it’s such a changed world.

00:47:55 – Brian Johnson

And then, you know, even on things that the use itself isn’t necessarily controversial, it’s just the call it growth. You know you have some anti-growth people who it doesn’t matter what it is they don’t want it to change. You’ve got to be careful because when markets change properties go through you know phases. You know would we rather have an empty office building that’s in decay potentially dragging down the neighborhood lot? Or do we want to work with the property owner to try to find something that’s you know we got criticism on the property I mentioned earlier where they came in with 275 apartments denied and they came with 75 townhomes. So now those who only care about equity versus rental, they were kind of like, alright, they’re equity. We still had a contingent of residents who were like, I don’t know why you’re letting them do this. It’s going to increase traffic. Well, that’s potentially true if you consider that the office that was there at the big surface parking lot, it was completely vacant and the office building was no longer actually habitable because it had water damage. But there were people who would have rather that thing sit there like that because they didn’t want any more cars. And you’re just like, okay, you know. But that property is also not generating revenue for the city. And then it’s dragging property values down because appraisals are based on comparables. And it has a ripple effect that we as a city cannot ignore and that’s what makes these decisions really complicated and it is not and can never be as cut and dry as somebody who’s like we should just seal off the city to growth or we could never have any more apartments or we could never allow for that. We can’t do that legally and we shouldn’t be doing that functionally because our local economy is very nuanced and complicated and important. If we don’t want to have, levy a millage rate on residents of the city. Right now the business community is holding up, you know, that revenue stream. And you know the city’s not taking money from you and I, Rico, merely based on the value of our residential property we own.

00:50:30 – Rico Figliolini

Right, yes. Only the county does that.

00:50:31 – Brian Johnson

Right. But most cities do.

00:50:36 – Rico Figliolini

Yes. So we’ve, you know it’s good to have opposition because it provides creativity. It provides a way to make a project better. But, you know, I certainly disagree with those that feel that things should exactly stay the same. Like the Forum at one point. Well, why was that being changed and stuff? Because they would prefer having the 17 empty stores that were there at one point.

00:51:03 – Brian Johnson

And growing.

00:51:04 – Rico Figliolini

Yes. So, people, you know, obviously, you know, people, well, you know, the rent’s going up and they’re not letting people, you know, you don’t know other people’s businesses and what’s necessary to actually make that business work or what their cash flow is. Because maybe it’s not as good as you think, you know, because the market is not quite there. Or maybe they’re trying to make it a little different and stuff. So yeah, opposition is fine because that does help make projects better. But because we could go down this road forever, I mean, there’s things I’d like to see. There’s things that I’d like to see development come in and say, you know what, 30% of our apartments are going to be made and only rented to median income people. Really affordable versus, let’s say, our normal apartment rent is $2,500 for a two-bedroom. We’ll make these $1,400 for a two-bedroom. But you have to meet that median income that allowable and make it affordable. I mean, there’s all sorts of nuances.

00:52:03 – Brian Johnson

We’re working on that, Rico. We’re working on that very thing. Oh absolutely.

00:52:05 – Rico Figliolini

Are you working on that? I’d like to see affordable housing here. Yeah. Because, good.

00:52:09 – Brian Johnson

We are seeing if we can’t get, you know, call it, you know, starter home, you know, call it workforce housing, whatever. But yes, we are looking at maybe having a restriction on the title that the owner can’t sell it for a period of time into the future except to somebody who’s making a percentage of the area median income.

00:52:40 – Rico Figliolini

Okay. I mean, all those things. Other states are doing it. Other counties are doing that. I mean, I have friends whose kids can’t. They’re just saying, I can’t buy anything here in Peachtree Corners because there’s nothing. And I’m not making enough to do that purchase. You know, maybe they’re doing well. They’re doing a household income of $80,000 between two, a husband and wife, or $100,000, which sounds like a lot, but that’s not a lot when you’re dealing with buying a home and you have to put down a certain amount of money on it. So, yeah, I mean, we could keep talking about that. Maybe we should do a show on that, actually.

00:53:15 – Brian Johnson

Well, we should, definitely. I’ll tell you, you bring up a good point. Here’s something that many people don’t realize, because it’s only a phenomenon that’s happened over the last couple of years but for a long time and for legitimate reasons people were very protective of you know oftentimes we’ll just use Simpson Elementary School as an example. A very high performing elementary school that people wanted to get their kids into. And its performance made the area that fed into that more valuable. When I bought my home in the Simpson Elementary School District eight years ago, I could have taken my exact home, picked it up and dropped it into you know Berkeley Lake Elementary or something and I would have lost fifty thousand dollars of value. Same exact home, different school feeder. So people were always protective of oh we don’t want to overcrowd the schools we want it to be whatever. Do you know that Pinckneyville Middle School, both Peachtree Elementary and Simpson Elementary have had declining student populations over the last three years and are under enrolled? And the reason for that, take Simpson Elementary. Most, in fact, as it stands right this second, all of the residential units are zoned to be an ownership and equity product. There’s no apartments feeding it. The house values are so high that people who have elementary school age kids haven’t in their career made enough money to be able to afford a half a million dollar home in Simpson. So they can’t afford it. And of course, interest rates hurt. And then you also don’t have turnover from the people who are currently in them.

00:55:23 – Rico Figliolini

Oh, yeah. Who wants to sell at this point.

00:55:24 – Brian Johnson

6,000 square foot homes that are now empty nesters but they’re like we could get a good dollar amount for our home but then wherever we go we’re going to have to pay through the nose as well or the big one is I have a three percent interest rate or I don’t own it or I don’t have a mortgage at all and now if I want to buy I’ve got to pay 7% interest. I’m just going to stay in my home. So you don’t have homes becoming available and then you don’t have younger families able to afford it. So because of it, we don’t have the feeder for those. So Simpson Elementary is in danger of losing some of their paraprofessionals that are not teaching class, but they’re kind of supporting. Same with Pinckneyville Middle School, because their student population is down and they’re actually under-enrolled. We get comments as recent as the last couple of weeks. Oh, even on the last two rezonings. Oh, it’s going to overcrowd the schools.

00:56:29 – Rico Figliolini

No, that it’s not.

00:56:33 – Brian Johnson

The schools are down. But, you know, just people.

00:56:37 – Rico Figliolini

People don’t understand. It’s the headcount that funds the schools. They don’t have enough students. They’re not going to get that budget from the county.

00:56:47 – Brian Johnson

Budget goes down, teachers go down. But also, you know, right before our podcast, I just met with a number of residents who provided some really good recommendations on how we can improve the information about land use decisions the city is making, you know, about applications coming in. Making it easier to find the information, making it easier to understand the process, things we’re going to be adding to the website to make it better. Based on some of the recent public hearings and, you know, how people found out about it. So we’re always looking to improve as well and make sure that all of our residents, the more they know about the complications of this and understand what council is faced with, the more they’ll appreciate the challenging decision council made, but they did the best that they can. And the council did not make these decisions based on rolling up to the final meeting barely knowing what’s going on and at the end of the day kind of being like you know where’s the win although that way they spend time and we spend time with them educated on this and they do a great job of making decisions on really complicated land use development.

00:58:08 – Rico Figliolini

I think, you know, part of, I mean, this is good what we do. I think a lot of people listen to the podcast in a variety of ways, whether it’s audio or video on YouTube or Facebook and stuff. I think we’re going to try to make a better effort also in reporting some of the things coming up because we don’t always do that. We’re doing post coverage sometimes. We’re a feature magazine, so it’s a little different, right? But I think we’re going to start doing a little bit more of that coverage so that people can be aware of the things coming up also.

00:58:45 – Brian Johnson

I’ll offer you one other thing, Rico. I don’t know how resource intensive it is or if it’s advantageous for you, but as you know how to look, when we get applications in at a certain point, staff report’s done and we make it available to the public so they can see the application, they can see the staff assessment as it’s getting ready to go to planning commission. If you want to take individual, you know, land use cases, and do special podcasts to discuss those particular.

00:59:00 You could do that. Sure. Right on.

00:59:26 – Brian Johnson

I am myself available. A community development director would be happy to do it. We could do it together. You know, if you find value in doing that, and then you can push it out and say, hey, this is specific about, you know, this mixed-use development rezoning application that council’s going to hear and we can talk through.

00:59:47 – Rico Figliolini

You know what, that’s great. And on something like that, maybe we can even do it as a live thing and take questions from people. Okay. That’d be cool. We’ll work on that. So we’ll work on how we can, what that would look like. And I’ll get back to you. Appreciate you offering that. Cool. Everyone, thank you. You know, this was going to be a 30-minute podcast. It ends up being one hour. Sorry about keeping you like that, Brian.

01:00:15 – Brian Johnson

I was going to say, you and I, we always have the best intentions up front. But these are complicated but important things to discuss.

01:00:25 – Rico Figliolini

For sure. For sure. So thank you for more time than I asked for. Everyone, share this podcast. Rate us if you’re on Apple, IHeart, if you’re listening to this. Give us a rating on this podcast. Certainly share it to your friends, your HOA, whoever, you know, whoever you need to share this out to. Some good discussion here. And I think more to come for sure as we do every month. But thank you again and thank you to EV Remodeling, Inc. for being a sponsor, a corporate sponsor of our podcast and good supporter of our journalism. We appreciate that, Eli. So check them out at evremodelinginc.com and find out how they can help you remodel your home. Thanks again, Brian. Hang in there for a second. Thank you, everyone else. Appreciate it.

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Health & Wellness

CHRIS 180 Expands its Services into Gwinnett County [Podcast]



On this episode, RJ Encinas from CHRIS180 discusses the organizations’ missions to provide trauma-informed behavioral health and wraparound services to children, families, and adults in the Atlanta and Gwinnett County communities. Programs address underlying experiences impacting families, not just presenting issues. CHRIS180 provides counseling and support services regardless of insurance status, partnering with local organizations. Hosted by Rico Figliolini

CHRIS180 Website: https://chris180.org/

00:00:00 – Understanding Trauma and Community Care
00:01:20 – Transforming Lives in Gwinnett: The Story of CHRIS180
00:05:50 – Embracing Technology and Community Connections
00:08:44 – Providing Free, Nonprofit Services
00:10:15 – Expanding Awareness of Community Support Services
00:12:21 – Supporting Families in Juvenile Justice
00:14:27 – Adapting Services to Individual Needs
00:17:52 – Measuring Success Through Data and Community Engagement
00:19:47 – Embracing the New and Expanding Horizons
00:22:26 – Expanding Wraparound Services for Diverse Communities
00:25:20 – Leveraging Family Strengths in Home-Based Services
00:27:00 – Collaborative Family-Centered Approach
00:29:25 – Expanding CHRIS180’s Staff and Services

Podcast Transcript:

00:00:00: Rico Figliolini

Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of UrbanEbb, a podcast that talks about culture, politics, society, and we have a great guest today that will help us a bit more to understand about the traumas in our lives and how to take care of those people we care about. His name is RJ Encinas from CHRIS180. Hey, RJ. Thanks for joining me.

00:00:25: RJ Encinas

Hey, Rico. Thanks so much for having us.

00:00:28: Rico Figliolini

Yeah. No, this is great. It’s a beautiful day outside too, so it’s good to be in the house.

00:00:31: RJ Encinas

It is nice. Yep.

00:00:35: Rico Figliolini

So CHRIS180 just opened a new facility in Lawrenceville, Georgia, here in Gwinnett County. And there’s services that are going to be expanding into that facility and reaching out to Gwinnett County. And the services that are going to be expanding into that facility and reaching out to the Gwinnett community. So I guess the first question would be, give us an overview of CHRIS180 and its mission. And tell us, by the way, a little bit about yourself as well.

00:00:58: RJ Encinas

All right, cool. So yeah, so like you said, Rico, my name is RJ Encinas and I am the Vice President of Wraparound Services here at CHRIS180. I actually am brand new to Atlanta. I’ve only lived here since January, so I’m still trying to find my footing here in Atlanta, still, you know, testing out the delicious food and different locations. The positive is I happen to choose a home in Gwinnett. So, you know, living here and the new office opening here in Gwinnett just, you know, kind of worked out perfectly. So CHRIS180, it is an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization that opened in 1981. For the past 40 years, we have worked with over 200,000 families throughout the metro Atlanta area. What we do is we provide life-changing trauma-informed behavioral health services and wraparound services to children, families, and adults in communities that empowers them to change the direction of their lives. A lot of what we do also is meeting the families where they’re at. I think that’s so important to help support them in the most natural setting. So whether that be home, school, a foster home, community-based programs, our goal is to help support them where they need it the most. And that very much coincides with our mission. You know, our mission is to heal children, strengthen families and build community. And so with that said, I’m sorry, did you have a question?

00:02:27: Rico Figliolini

 No, no, no.

00:02:28: RJ Encinas

Okay, cool. Sorry. So I loved CHRIS180. I think that’s, you know, obviously a big reason why I, you know, I was driven to come here. The diversity of the populations that we work with, the vast amount of programs that we have under our umbrella. The cool thing is CHRIS180 is actually an acronym as itself. It’s a standard for our core values. So creativity, honor, respect, integrity, safety, and the 180 itself represents change. As you know, our goal is to help change lives in the community that we serve.

00:03:07: Rico Figliolini

Wow. Great. That was a great overview. Where did you come from originally, RJ?

00:03:12: RJ Encinas

Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. Yep.

00:03:16: Rico Figliolini

You’re probably happy you left there, but the heat can be bad here too.

00:03:20: RJ Encinas

Well, you know, it’s funny because, you know, I talk to my family, you know, almost daily. I’m very close to my family and even the water pressure is hot when it’s on cold because it’s so hot there. So, yes, I’m loving this weather. That’s one of the things that I think that has made me most excited to live here is this incredible weather. Yeah.

00:03:38: Rico Figliolini

And it’s a little bit more seasonal to some degree. Although it’s changed a lot since 1995 when I first moved here. The weather has been just changed a bit. It stays cooler longer now, I think.

00:03:52: RJ Encinas

Oh, okay. Well, that’s a good thing.

00:03:53: Rico Figliolini

Yeah. But when it gets hot, it really gets hot and humid, so that doesn’t help. Yeah. So you guys opened up the Lawrenceville facility here in Gwinnett County, obviously Gwinnett is majority minority, the most diverse county in the state of Georgia, the largest county, I think still by population. It takes a lot of people to run a place. So one of the programs, let’s get right into it, I guess. Can you explain a little bit the trauma-informed care and what that means and how that’s an essential part of the service that CHRIS180 does?

00:04:32: RJ Encinas

Yeah, I mean, I think trauma-informed care, the easiest way to describe that is it’s providing services to children and families where it’s more of an element of looking at what’s, you know, not looking at what’s wrong with you versus what happened to you. How do we support you? How do we get, you know, what led up to this point of your life where we can help support you? And so part of what we do is we try to establish, you know, a foundation of where to start, a starting point, and then we take off from there. So, you know, with that said, you know, a lot of what we do here, we have a vast amount of services that we provide within our organization. We do, you know, there’s child parent psychotherapy, we have play therapy, psychiatric services. Here in Gwinnett, the office specifically has, it’s a counseling center. So we have, you know, a variety of therapists here who provide, you know, a great deal of different modalities when it comes to, you know, therapeutic interventions. Aside from that, where I come in, we have a wraparound program. It’s a huge program. And the positive is we have a bunch of specialties within our program. So specifically, the program that is housed here in Gwinnett is the birth to eight program. And so what we do is a lot of family approach, obviously, because the children are so young. And so we do a lot of, you know, ensuring that whoever is responsible, you know, in that home to help that home function well, that’s who we want to work with everybody as a unit. We also have our foster care and adopt program here as well. And that is growing. I think the positive is that we’ve always been a part of the community here in Gwinnett, working with clients and families. But I think it’s so astronomical to have an actual location here, to have a home base here where we can have people come in and provide that direct support. They see us, they see us as part of the community. And then also, you know, for people like me who live in Gwinnett, you know, it’s great to be able to have a touchdown, you know, to be able to come to every day and support, you know, in a different kind of way. I think we’ve gotten so used to, there’s so much virtual, I guess it’s just part of our life now, right? Since COVID. And so, you know, I think, you know, some of the things that I love is being able to have that direct interaction with not only, you know, people, community, but with the staff, you know, I think it’s such a different feel of the relationships you build and offering additional support to them in a way that is, I guess, you know, just plain different from, you know, this sort of conversation.

00:07:08: Rico Figliolini

Sure. And obviously we’re doing this remote too, so I can appreciate this started out as a remote podcast back during COVID, whereas we were in person before that for the most part. But it just makes life easier, right? You can talk to a lot of people on their schedule we’ve had podcasts you know people have been in the cars you know doing the podcast with me so it’s all fine it’s all good absolutely it works yeah so as far as so you mentioned quite a few programs so far yeah and play therapy, child parent, psychotherapy programs. Do you use technology at all? Does the nonprofit use sometimes Zoom calls even? I mean, are they?

00:07:55: RJ Encinas

Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, it’s not only like, you know, not only like you had said that it’s just, it’s part of the world now, you know, and it’s part of how we’ve developed, you know, but again, it’s also helped us to develop additional services and serving families that are unavailable. You know, if transportation is an issue, if they live, you know, further away, technology has really become pivotal in our ability to reach families at a greater distance. So, you know, even though we are here in person, we are a facility that offers counseling services, you know, face-to-face, we also offer virtual sessions as well. So we definitely use technology in lots of different ways and including some of our psychiatric services as well.

00:08:32: Rico Figliolini

Really? Excellent. Now, these services are provided free, obviously, right? There’s no going to insurance or anything like that. There’s a nonprofit supplying.

00:08:47: RJ Encinas

Yeah, it’s both. Yep. It’s both. Yeah. We definitely have grants contracts that help support families who are uninsured. So we definitely have that option, but yeah, typically, you know, we, you know, a lot of, a lot of our services are, I guess, like I said, it’s both, it helps, you know, it’s sort of like, let’s, our hope is to not say no ever, you know? And so it’s however we can help serve you, let’s find a way to serve you. So that’s typically our approach of how we look at things.

00:09:13: Rico Figliolini

Yeah. Okay. So with the new facility in Gwinnett County, how are you looking to integrate these services to the local community and within other organizations, if you will? Because I’m sure you’re reaching out to other community organizations.

00:09:27: RJ Encinas

Yeah. You know, actually last week we had an incredible open house. It was, it was super fun. Lots of sister community programs came out to say hello, which was wonderful of them. So, you know, I was here and actually, I made three really great, you know, contacts with people who I wouldn’t probably have otherwise. And so as of as early as of Monday, I was already receiving emails, phone calls from those people that I met. And you know, again, in a lot of instances, because you we, we know, aren’t such a huge presence here or weren’t, a lot of people didn’t know what we offered or what we still offer, you know, after COVID and whatnot. So there is a great need for our support services out here. So I think, you know, continuing that communication, establishing those relationships, those reports. There’s a lot of local businesses in this specific area we’re at. And so, you know, we’re supporting them as well by trying out all their different lunch menus during the week, you know. But I think aside from that, I think just showing our good work. I think that’s one of the biggest things is being able to establish a name for ourselves, you know, here in this particular area where, you know, families feel good and comfortable to come to us for help.

00:10:47: Rico Figliolini

Yeah. I, you know, with as much as what we do with the magazines that we have and stuff, I knew of CHRIS180, but didn’t really know all the services until I got in touch and someone said, why don’t you interview them for the podcast? You know, it’s just a lot of services you all provide. And I think that you’re right. I mean, quite a few people don’t know these services, right? And so the other one, I think the other part of the service I was going to ask you about, obviously collaboration and partnerships are essential to what you do. But with Gwinnett County and its court system, do you all work with the court system as well? Do you provide a program where you’re dealing with or getting referrals through the court system?

00:11:40: RJ Encinas

Yeah. So, I mean, that’s one of the, again, like how you mentioned having these relationships, you know, we have a lot of referral sources. And so we actually do have a juvenile justice program where we work directly with the courts. And so it’s supporting, you know, children who are in need in crisis. I guess to backpedal a little bit, the idea of wraparound services is to, you know, provide just that. We’re wrapping the family when they’re in crisis. So it’s sort of at the highest need. Let’s get them stable and kind of figure out at that point on what is needed next. How do we support you? Do we continue providing these support services? Is there addition? Is there not? So with the Juvenile Justice Program, you know, there’s a lot of court components in which we do help support families, whether that is involvement with the Department of Family and Child Safety, whether it is court order that they receive additional therapeutic services or interventions. So whatever it may be, we definitely have a lot of referral sources. But again, I think part of the relationship that I built last week is in addition to that as well with the court involvement. So, again, I think this is just starting to blossom into what it potentially could grow into.

00:12:53: Rico Figliolini

I like the way you talk about everything. It really is, you know, you may be dealing with a child that has some issues and stuff, but dealing with the whole family makes sense, right? Because maybe those issues are coming out because of parental issues, maybe because, you know, substance abuse within the family. And they may not be doing it, but they may be affected by it because of it, as they would. How do you handle the substance abuse in your programs also? Someone comes to you that way. Do you do that in-house? How do you handle someone that comes to you, obviously has some mental health issues, but also is doing substance abuse?

00:13:43: RJ Encinas

But like you had mentioned, such a variety of various programs that we offer here at CHRIS180. We do have therapists, so, you know, counselors who are specialized in treating children, and adults who have substance abuse problems and issues. What we do is, when we receive a referral or someone calls saying, hey, this is an issue at hand. We need help. What we do is we complete an initial assessment on the child and the family or whoever needs to be enrolled because we do support children and adults, families. And at that point, we then determine what is needed right now. If it is something that we are unable to do, which is probably very small because we have, again, so many great support programs. But if it is something that we’re not able to do and support in that moment, you know, we, part of our job is to find resources for family. That’s one of our biggest things, you know, and with the relationships built throughout, you know, the over, you know, over 40 years, you know, we have a lot of great connections in the sense of, hey, you know, I have this parent, this is the immediate support they need. What could this look like for them? So, you know, it’s also reaching out to, you know, who are the experts in, you know, particular areas. So we love the idea of collaboration. And so I think with that said, you know, it’s sort of the best part about it is that our goal is to try to individualize services for each person who’s enrolled. We don’t look at people with one particular issue and, you know, ballpark them at this is your issue. This is what you’re also going to receive, like, you know, the 400 other people that have that same issue. Our goal is to look at them as individuals and make sure that we’re tailoring those services to that particular person.

00:15:22: Rico Figliolini

I would imagine, you know, people coming to you, I mean, they’re being overwhelmed by issues in their lives, by challenges. And I can see how getting that under control makes sense first before you can treat the byproduct of what’s going on. So what challenges are you finding? Now, I know you’ve just moved here, but in society, you know, since COVID, since things, I’m assuming you’ve worked in this field for quite a while though, right? Do you see any difference coming to, I know it’s such a short time, but do you see any different types of challenges in the Southeast here, let’s say, in Atlanta that you’re listening to versus Arizona? Or is it the same?

00:16:17: RJ Encinas

Yeah. I mean, I think it varies, obviously, where you live. I think there’s different challenges depending on, you know, your location, your environment. But, you know, I think one of the things that is consistent is, you know, there are families who need help who are, you know, what is now the new norm in regards to the challenges children and families face was probably what we considered, you know, high acuity population that we worked with five, six years ago, because the world has changed so dramatically resources and just, you know, the ability to get, you know, what’s needed, you know, now it’s sort of like a lot of some of these cases we hear the it’s, ability to you get, what’s know, you needed, now know, it’s sort of like a lot of some of these cases we hear it’s, they’re very traumatic, they’re very tragic. And it’s sort of, you know, not you don’t want to normalize it, but you want to look at it as okay, I guess this is now the new challenges that we have that maybe we didn’t have before, or is one of those once in a while things you heard where now it just seems more consistent. So everything seems to have elevated severely over the past four or five years. But yeah, we’re ready for whatever comes. Our goal is to try to help them in the best possible way.

00:17:37: Rico Figliolini

Sure. No, I appreciate that. You’ve expanded. Because of the expansion, there’s probably, you have more services and all that. There are challenges in doing it in a new place. And it sounds like you’ve overcome that a bit by networking, by meeting all sorts of new people and finding new resources that you can use and other people that want to reach back out to you. How do you measure the success or the impact of the programs that you have? You know, moving forward, how do you do that? Is that something you have to do?

00:18:14: RJ Encinas

Yeah, no, I mean, I think what we do is we try to make sure we’re effective. So there’s a lot of, you know, areas in which we are monitoring it just from, you know, plain data. You know, how many successful closures have we had? How many families have graduated successfully from services? We also look at enrollment. You know, how many new members have we had since, you know, this announcement has gone out? Or how many new families have been interested in roles? How many new referrals have we received? How many additional relationships have we built within the community? You know, are we in their schools? Are we in their hospitals? Are we in their foster homes? So again, I think it’s a variety, you know, and I think that it’s hard to say just one thing, but, you know, I think you have to have both, you know, you have to have that, you know, the numbers and those, you know, obvious factors that show, you know, are our services effective? Are they working? And then you have to have that, you know, other component where it is very community-based. And what does that look like for us, you know, in this particular community? How can we improve? Because there’s always room for improvement. And what are we doing well? You know, those are the things that I like to always look at when looking at it as a whole. But I do, you know, one of the things that I was going to say earlier, too, is I think, you know, at least in this area, everybody has been so welcoming. It has felt so natural. It hasn’t felt like, hey, you’re the new kid on the block or, you know, anything like that. It has truly felt, it feels like we’ve always been here, at least in my perception. And so I think that is also motivating because it makes you feel like, you know, if this is how we’re accepted, if this is how it feels, you know, being, again, the new kids on the block, you know, it just kind of makes you want to then get out there and see, you know, what else there is to offer here. I’m a big fan of growth. I love the idea of making sure that we could potentially, you know, be even bigger than we already are. And so, you know, I think my brain is always kind of going with, you know, kind of like a hamster wheel, figuring out what is next for us? Where is an area that is underserved that we maybe have not tapped in yet? Or how can we improve an area that already exists, but maybe we can make some adjustments to it?

00:20:29: Rico Figliolini

Interesting. I’m sure that you have lots of ideas. And as the time goes on, you’ll get even more. Yeah, Gwinnett County is kind of funny that way. Gwinnett has a lot of nonprofits that work here. A lot of like Norcross Cooperative Ministries. I mean, there’s quite a few of them, actually. Good Samaritan of Gwinnett County. I mean, there’s quite a few programs out there, quite a few nonprofits and companies that are involved in these programs as well, corporations that want to make sure their employees have good mental wellness. When you’re doing the work you’re doing, what programs do you think you’d like to see in the coming year or two that you all are not yet doing that you think would have an impact here?

00:21:23: RJ Encinas

Yeah. So, you know, we just, we actually are in the process. So it’s a great question because we’re actually in the process of starting up a crisis response program. So it kind of fits parallel with the wraparound because, you know, the services that we are providing are intensified services for children and family who are in crisis. And so the crisis element of it allows us to support them on those odd times, right? So, you know, after 7pm, before 8am, if we’re struggling to get the child in, you know, into the car for school for that day, or whatever the circumstance may be, and then obviously much more severe than that. But you know, on weekends, on holidays, we want to make sure that we’re available to, you know, to the families that need our help at those particular times where they may not have a resource at that time. So that’s actually brand new. We are in the, you know, we’ve done some good work on establishing what that will look like. And so I know that once, you know, the community gets wind of that’s what, you know, that’s an additional service we offer. I know it’s going to blow up just because it’s a great resource to have for the families that we already work with. But aside from that, I think, you know, to add to what you’re saying, I think my goal would be to create, you know, a standing point for the wraparound program here in Gwinnett as well. You know, I know that the program that one of the specific programs that we have that’s housed here is the Berta 8, but we have a lot of other programs that are wonderful. You know, we have programs that are that part of their responsibility is to work primarily in the school system. So working with children throughout the day, we know resources are scarce at schools. And so having that additional support there, some training for teachers, administrators on how to manage some of these behavioral issues with some of the children that are there, emotional support. We also have specified programs that work with, like I said, the juvenile justice program. And then those, another program that we have is also those who work directly with children and families who are involved in the Department of Family Child Safety. And so again, it’s establishing what those could be in this location. Maybe we have some in the metro area, downtown, but we also have a group here because it’s grown so much. So, you know, looking at an expansion of, you know, wraparound, you know, in-home, in-community services.

00:23:54: Rico Figliolini

So you guys do go into people’s homes as well. And you go into the school system of schools, I guess elementary schools, birth to eight, right? You go into the schools as well. How do you ensure, you know, that’s kind of an odd question maybe a little bit, but, you know, when you talk about trying to make sure everyone is, that you meet the needs of everyone, right? And it’s a diverse community between language and culture. Foods, which we talked about just a little bit before the podcast. We both agree that we enjoy food. But how do you culturally keep everything – be able to reach out to these people that need it. Sometimes it’s a language barrier. Sometimes it’s a cultural thing beyond the normal, you know, nine to five, maybe they both parents are working. It’s hard to get to them during the day. How do you attend to a child then like that? But how do you handle, does that, is that an issue even?

00:25:05: RJ Encinas

You know, I think one of the things that we consider is that, you know, with the wraparound service, you know, specifically is, you know, like you said, we do go into the home. So the service itself is very intrusive because you have a stranger in the home saying, Hey, let’s try this. But, you know, part of, you know, I did that job too. You know, I, you know, every, everybody kind of starts somewhere. And so I’ve been in the homes, I’ve worked with children and families in the home. And, you know, something that I did that I felt made families feel more comfortable is just be observant. You know, what, what are the pictures you have up? What are the awards you have up? You know, what are you making for dinner? You know, what, what are your habits when they get home? So it’s really establishing sort of a starting point where, what are they doing well? What can I work off of? You know, every family does, there are things that every family does well. And so that’s, that for the most part is sort of, you know, how I like to look at services, how I’ve trained my staff is, you know, looking at the strengths they already have and let’s work off of those strengths. But yes, you’re right. You know, our goal, you know, having parents and, you know, guardians who go to school, work, those are all positives in the child and family’s life, right? So we want to be able to support them outside of that, where it doesn’t interfere with their typical tasks. And so our prime time to support families should be that two to seven block because that’s when kids are, you know, home from school, parents are getting home from work. And so really it’s providing services during that time. And we also provide services on the weekend as well. So if the family is home, you know, and they’re all, that’s the best time that fits, you know, the need for them, then, you know, we’ll arrange that. And so, you know, I think what we do, we also have something called, it’s called a YCM. And what it is, is it’s a youth centered meeting where we sit probably every 30 to 45 days with the entire treatment team and the family. And we talk about what’s going well, where are some improvements needed? What’s next? What is the next plan? You know, are we stepping down because of the progress made? Do we need to increase support services somehow? So that meeting is very powerful because it’s all driven and ran by the family. It’s their voice, it’s their need, it’s their want. And so our goal is to help support them in what they also feel is the right direction for their family. So to answer a long-winded answer, but I think part of it is it’s a combination of things. But I also feel that having their voice heard, not just in services, but as a group is extremely powerful.

00:27:47: Rico Figliolini

The powerful part, I think, is when the whole family cooperates, right? Have you ever experienced where there’s uncooperative people within the unit?

00:28:01: RJ Encinas

That is a challenge, absolutely. Because sometimes people don’t want the services, they have to have the services. And so part of it is, you know, getting their buy-in to say, Hey, look, let’s, let’s try it. Let’s try it and see what happens, you know? And that’s, you know, and I think that we have such great staff, you know, here at CHRIS180, that people are very persuasive because they’re so good at what they do. And so it starts to show the families, like, look at this progress that is being made, you know, and it’s not taking a lot of work from you. It’s just taking some, you know, habitual practices and just obviously, you know, exploring what it could look like. And so I think with that said, yes, absolutely, there’s a lot of resistance in some instances. But, you know, with that said, I think for me, it’s a motivating factor. It’s sort of like, let’s show them why they need us in their home, why they need us at, you know, for therapy. And for me, that’s sort of how I look at that is just an additional challenge. Yeah.

00:29:00: Rico Figliolini

I guess one of the things I should ask too is jobs your organization has. But do you expect to expand that staff? Is it easy to find the right people or is that a difficult proposition?

00:29:15: RJ Encinas

I think it’s, you know, I think like any, you know, job force, I think our goal is to always try to find the best fit for that position, that location, the need of that location, you know, and so, you know, I don’t know if hard is the right word, but, you know, I think we do a great job of ensuring that, you know, that the person that we’re selecting for that role is the best person for that role. But yes, absolutely. Like you said, like my goal is to expand. So hopefully, yes, in the near future, I get to hire a whole bunch of people because it is the need here in this specific area. But absolutely, I would love to grow.

00:29:53: Rico Figliolini

Yeah. The need never disappears. It actually increases. You’re right. Have we missed anything, RJ, that you’d like to talk about that I didn’t touch upon?

00:30:06: RJ Encinas

No, I think, you know, I just, I’m excited. This is a huge privilege. So I appreciate you having an interest in what we’re doing here in Gwinnett. And, you know, hopefully this continues to spread the good word of CHRIS180. The people before me have done a great job of establishing what CHRIS180 is today. And, you know, my goal, you know, my goal is to continue to live that on and, you know there’s, for me, it’s, you know, there’s a lot of, you know, motivating factors, like I had mentioned before, that have me excited to, you know, wake up and, you know, work every day.

00:30:53: Rico Figliolini

Excellent. If someone wants to find out a little bit more about CHRIS180, where can they go to? What’s the website?

00:30:59: RJ Encinas

Yeah. So our website is great. It literally lists every single thing that we do. It talks about our mission and values. Our website is chris180.org.

00:31:10: Rico Figliolini

Great. Everyone, I appreciate you listening in on this. If you have family members or people you know that you think need CHRIS180, certainly reach out to them and find out what they can provide for you all and call them. Their service has just opened in Lawrenceville, expanding into Gwinnett County. RJ Encinas, thank you for being with me and for explaining everything to us.

00:31:35: RJ Encinas

Thank you so much, Rico, for having me. Yeah, thanks for having me.

00:31:37: Rico Figliolini

Hang in there for a minute, but everyone else, thank you. If you have comments, certainly post it on, if you’re listening to this on YouTube or our Facebook pages, post it there or reach out to the organization itself. And again, thank you for being a listener of our podcast, UrbanEbb. Thanks so much.

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Elections and Politics

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



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

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

Regina’s Website: 

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

Podcast Transcript


Rico Figliolini 0:00:01

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

Regina Matthews 0:00:17

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

Rico Figliolini 0:00:20

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

Regina Matthews 0:00:31

That is correct.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:33

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

Regina Matthews 0:01:02


Rico Figliolini 0:01:03

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

Regina Matthews 0:01:17

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

Rico Figliolini 0:01:52

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

Regina Matthews 0:02:12

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

Rico Figliolini 0:04:20

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

Regina Matthews 0:04:36

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

Rico Figliolini 0:05:17

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

Regina Matthews 0:05:22

That is correct.

Rico Figliolini 0:05:23

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

Regina Matthews 0:05:38

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

Rico Figliolini 0:06:20

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

Regina Matthews 0:06:37

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

Rico Figliolini 0:07:16

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

Regina Matthews 0:07:47

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

Rico Figliolini 0:10:51

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

Regina Matthews 0:11:21

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

Rico Figliolini 0:12:08

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

Regina Matthews 0:12:25

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

Rico Figliolini 0:12:43


Regina Matthews 0:12:44

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

Rico Figliolini 0:13:27

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

Regina Matthews 0:14:14

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

Rico Figliolini 0:17:11

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

Regina Matthews 0:18:14

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

Rico Figliolini 0:19:55

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

Regina Matthews 0:20:07

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

Rico Figliolini 0:20:58

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

Regina Matthews 0:21:44

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

Rico Figliolini 0:22:34

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

Regina Matthews 0:22:49

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

Rico Figliolini 0:24:20

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

Regina Matthews 0:24:48

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

Rico Figliolini 0:26:25

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

Regina Matthews 0:26:28

A lot of people don’t.

Rico Figliolini 0:26:29

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

Regina Matthews 0:26:33

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

Rico Figliolini 0:26:44

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

Regina Matthews 0:26:53

Until they need it. Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:26:54


Regina Matthews 0:26:54

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

Rico Figliolini 0:27:41

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

Regina Matthews 0:27:47

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

Rico Figliolini 0:27:52

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

Regina Matthews 0:28:08

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

Rico Figliolini 0:28:59

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

Regina Matthews 0:29:35

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

Rico Figliolini 0:31:34

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

Regina Matthews 0:31:39

That is correct. That is correct.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:42

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

Regina Matthews 0:32:29

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

Rico Figliolini 0:32:59

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

Regina Matthews 0:33:07


Rico Figliolini 0:33:08

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

Regina Matthews 0:33:17

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

Rico Figliolini 0:36:03

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

Regina Matthews 0:36:23

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

Rico Figliolini 0:38:59

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

Regina Matthews 0:39:06

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

Rico Figliolini 0:39:22

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

Regina Matthews 0:39:48

Thank you, Rico.

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