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Peachtree Corners Life

Why Baron Reinhold is Running for Gwinnett County Sheriff

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“You have to have a force that people want to join, and that is incumbent upon the leader to create the environment where people love to work. Where they know that their boss has their back. They know that their boss is looking out for their career. They’re invested in training, equipping them, and so on.” Baron Reinhold talks about his run to be the next Gwinnett County Sheriff.

Baron Reinhold, who has a 30-year military background, discusses his varied experiences in the Navy, including leadership roles in nuclear command and reconnaissance. He aims to enhance transparency and accountability within the sheriff’s department through measures like budget audits and public forums. He stresses the importance of restoring public trust by addressing organizational issues promptly and effectively, including staffing shortages and jail safety concerns. Listen in with your host Rico Figliolini.

Timestamp:
00:00:00 – Baron Reinhold’s Extensive Military and Community Service
00:01:53 – From Naval Academy to Military Consulting: A Military Career Spanning Decades
00:04:50 – Running for Gwinnett County Sheriff
00:07:05 – Addressing Gwinnett County’s Challenges
00:10:14 – Lack of Transparency in Sheriff’s Budget
00:12:21 – Implementing Command Climate Surveys for Organizational Improvement
00:14:14 – Navigating Jail Budget and Safety Challenges
00:18:21 – Understaffed Jail Struggles with Inmate Safety
00:21:56 – Importance of Effective Leadership in Law Enforcement
00:24:13 – Addressing Staffing Challenges in Law Enforcement
00:28:12 – The Sheriff’s Role in Upholding Constitutional Rights
00:31:20 – Balancing Constitutional Rights and Public Health
00:34:40 – Abuse of Public Funds for Personal Branding
00:36:28 – Exploring Alternatives to Traditional Law Enforcement
00:38:54 – Experienced and Qualified Candidate for Gwinnett County Sheriff

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT:

Rico Figliolini 0:00:29

Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliollini, host of Peachtree Corners Life here in the city of Peachtree Corners in Gwinnett county. And lately we’ve had election candidates on the show. Today we have a special candidate who’s running for Gwinnett county sheriff. His name is Baron Reinhold. Hey, Baron, thanks for joining us.

Baron Reinhold 0:00:48

Thanks. It’s great to be on your show.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:49

Yeah, no, I appreciate you being here with us. Barron has a long resume of participation in all sorts of things, certainly in the military. Right. And different posts, different positions that you’ve been in, from everything from a professor of naval science to director of military community management, you’ve been part of nuclear command and control operations, team three. I was looking at that. I was like, wow. Squadron commanding officer, United States Air Force. You on the admiral staff in Bahrain, I guess, during deployment in 2003 to 2004, is that correct?

Baron Reinhold 0:01:32

Well, there’s about three different things in there. I was at US strategic command, and I was also on, that was a combatant command in Omaha, Nebraska, but I was also on an admiral staff out in Bahrain for two years and another admiral staff in Norfolk for two years.

Rico Figliolini 0:01:48

Okay. Yeah. And the list goes on. It’s just. It’s an expansive list of accomplishments. And you’ve been involved in a lot of volunteer work in organizations quite involved in Europe. Some of the past groups included Boy scouts, Kiwanis club. But what I’d like you to do is tell us a little bit about yourself, beyond the resume, if you will, and you know what you’re currently doing, and give us a brief, a little bit about that.

Baron Reinhold 0:02:18

Sure. Well, thanks again, Rico.

Rico Figliolini 0:02:19

Yeah.

Baron Reinhold 0:02:19

My background, I joined the Navy right out of high school. I enlisted for a year and then went to the Naval Academy prep school that year, and then on to the naval academy when I graduated from there. I ended up going to flight school, finishing up flight school, and spent 30, 30 years as an officer all over the world. Just kind of look at the last half of my career, which is most of my senior leadership positions. Right after 911, I was the officer in charge of a number of combat detachments. Our squadron got surged for the next 20 years, doing the most important missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. And after that, I was on that admiral staff, brought the family out to Bahrain, right there in the Gulf region. It was a couple years there, then was in charge of global strike planning at US strategic command for two years. Then the third year there, I was the deputy commander’s executive assistant, went on to command the nation’s, one of the nation’s two highest reconnaissance squadrons, and again spent most of that time in Afghanistan. And then was the officer in charge or the senior officer on the nuclear command and control 747. So, literally, if we had nuclear war, we would be at a different base every night, were constantly on the move. And if nuclear war happened, our ground nodes would be gone, and I would personally be briefing with the president on his nuclear options and executing his war orders from the 747. So that was totally different than my reconnaissance days over land in the combat zones. And anyway, then from there, I went on to command a unit that was in charge of the entire Navy’s 388,000 community management. So we made sure that the entire Navy, over a moving 30 year period, was properly manned in every subspecialty, which was a pretty wild job. And then I finished up, like you said, I was the commanding officer of NROTC Atlanta region. So I had a battalion at Morehouse that had Spelman and Clark Atlanta attached to that, and then a battalion at Georgia Tech that Georgia state and Kennesaw state attached. And we trained all the naval officers and, you know, future Marine Corps officers at those six schools. So that’s kind of a quick 35 year round the horn.

Rico Figliolini 0:04:41

Yeah. Where did you originally come from, Baron? Where did you.

Baron Reinhold 0:04:46

I was born in Rochester, New York, but we moved around a lot when I was a kid, and we settled in Miami when I was in first grade. So I considered Miami until Hurricane Andrew wiped out the house, and my family moved up to Melbourne, Florida. By then, though, I was out of the house and in the navy, blasting around the world. So Miami was the home that I grew up in.

Rico Figliolini 0:05:06

Gotcha. And when did you move back, actually, to. When did you move to Atlanta? Let’s put it.

Baron Reinhold 0:05:12

Well, we did 16 moves since I’ve been married, which is, you know, that’s kind of wild to think about. My oldest daughter did 15 of those. So we moved here in 2015, built a house here in Gwinnett in Suwanee, and, you know, made the commute down 95 or 85, rather, every day. So I got up really, really early, got down there before the traffic got insane. And we usually either try to beat the traffic home or stay until the traffic that dissipated.

Rico Figliolini 0:05:42

Yeah, God knows the traffic has continued to build. Doesn’t disappear.

Baron Reinhold 0:05:48

Yep. But when I heard January 1 of 2020 and then since then, I started a consulting business. So I still do a lot of work down in Pensacola, which is the cradle of naval aviation, which has been a lot of fun because all the senior officers down there, you know, buddies of mine and the admirals and whatnot, and then the students, a lot of them were my former students at my Georgia Tech and Morehouse battalion. So I always get together with them. So I’ve got both ends of the spectrum. The senior most, the junior most people every time I go down there.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:21

That must be fascinating. My youngest wants to go into military history. He’s actually attending Kennesaw. Not quite the place for that, but that’s where he’s starting at, right? Yeah, he’s all into. Especially prior to World War two. World War two and prior, actually, that part. So it’s fascinating to be able to see and talk to people that are involved. So your consulting work is still with the military, I’m assuming? Correct. Okay. And so I guess the biggest question. The first question would be, why? Why run for Gwinnett county sheriff then? Why run for that post? Why do you see that you need to do that?

Baron Reinhold 0:07:05

Well, I mean, really, there are a lot of reasons. First, we did exhaustive study. We could have lived anywhere we wanted to when we moved here, and we did a lot of study, a lot of research, and Gwinnett county was the place to move to, you know, in 2015. And, you know, it’s been great. And, you know, we’ve seen a lot of changes, and almost all of those have been in the wrong direction in the last three to four years, whether it’s, you know, school board problems or taxation rates, you know, we have high. I think, well, I don’t think. I know. We had the highest number of people, you know, having a problem with their property taxes and appealing those. So those are going the wrong direction. And then certainly crime and just everything that the sheriff’s office is supposed to be doing, they’re failing in a major way. And so seeing what Butch Conway did for a quarter century and then seeing what’s happened since Sheriff Taylor took over, it’s night and day, and any county can only really be as good as the sheriff and the law enforcement. And since the sheriff is the senior law enforcement officer in the county, that’s a direct reflection on who’s doing that job. So, bottom line is, I think Sheriff Taylor’s doing a horrible job, and I think I can do. I think I could turn the county around completely.

Rico Figliolini 0:08:27

Now, the sheriff, so then people understand the difference, right? Gwinnett county police and the sheriff department. Two separate entities. Right. Gwinnett county police has the police officers that arrive on the scene of a crime that patrol the streets and stuff. Right. Gwinnett county sheriff has other responsibilities, including the jail system, serving subpoenas and such. Right? Correct. So two different. Just want people to know that two different areas. One of the things that, quite frankly, to my audience, we’re not fact checking any of this, but Baron is one of two candidates running. We have the incumbent, Sheriff Kebo, and we have Baron running. One of the things you want to do, based on what you’re saying, is that you want to be able to do full audit. How will you ensure that the audit’s done correctly and that it’s. That it’s open, impartial, transparent. How would you plan to do that?

Baron Reinhold 0:09:30

Well, just one thing before we go on. There’s actually five people running against the incumbent right now.

Rico Figliolini 0:09:37

I’m sorry, you’re right.

Baron Reinhold 0:09:39

So there’s three.

Rico Figliolini 0:09:40

Yeah.

Baron Reinhold 0:09:41

Unfortunately, it’s a partisan race, which I don’t think it should be, but I guess people aren’t interested in what I think on that. So there’s two Republicans and three other Democrats that are running against the incumbent on the Democrat side. But so, obviously, nobody is happy with how he’s doing, otherwise we wouldn’t have so many people running for that position. But, yeah, so the issue is when Butch Conway, who was the sheriff for 24 years here in Gwinnett county, who incidentally, endorsed me over all the other candidates, even though a couple of them worked for him or with him, one of them worked directly for him for about twelve years. Butch, when he left, he had a budget of $105 million. Right now, Sheriff Taylor has a budget of about $170 million, and he’s got almost about half of the deputies and jailers have left. So he’s got a force that’s half the size, and he’s got a budget that’s $65 million ish more. And so there’s money being spent in crazy places. Obviously. We know that from day one when he repainted all the sheriff’s cars with his name on the back of them. Again, a waste of taxpayers money. But there’s a lot. Where is the money? That’s the whole issue. You can’t trust government, you can’t trust law enforcement when money’s being squandered on frivolous things. And you can’t. I mean, I’ve put in all kinds of requests for, you know, freedom of information act stuff, but I didn’t know that you have to pay for all that. So I figure, okay, I’m a taxpayer. I want to know where this money’s being spent, or I want to know how many. How many deputies we’ve lost every year for the last four years. And, you know, if you want to know that, which is right on a spreadsheet, you got to pay $150, or you got to pay this, or they slow you the information, even if you do pay. So those kinds of things are frustrating. You know, you talked about transparency. I mean, I want to do an audit. You’d have a professional, reputable agency come in and do that, or organization and find out where all this money’s been spent. I mean, if you ground zero of building trust with the citizens of the county, it’s based on knowing facts. And I can’t find facts. And I’m in this race without paying a lot of money. So I think we need to do this audit. We need to flip the table, make it public facing, even if it’s pretty damning, whatever the results are of that, the public needs to know. And you need to snap a chalk line and say, okay, this is what happened before. This is when I took over. And this is what happens from here on out. And it’s not just a budgetary chalk line. I’m talking about in the Navy, every time a commanding officer takes over, they do something called a command climate survey. And again, that’s snapping another chalk line, but that’s more typically with personnel and programs. So what that does is the entire unit gets to give an anonymous. Takes an anonymous survey that’s very in depth. And then they get a free flow. They can type whatever they want at the end of that. And so as a new CEO coming in, new commanding officer coming in, you get the results of all that, and you get to see, okay, if it’s just one or two things, you know, maybe it’s a. You know, maybe it’s not all that important, but it’s good to know. But if there’s huge blocks of ink on, okay, this is a major problem, then it gives you, the new person, the information you need to, a, know that there’s a problem, b, address that, bring all your people in and say, this is obviously a huge issue here in this command. Here is my plan. You bring in people so you can all talk about what that issue is, what the background, why there’s that problem, and then come up with a solution. And then you brief personally, as the CEO, you brief all your different levels of rank, and then you give them an opportunity to give you feedback face to face. And so those kinds of things are critically important for a new boss coming in. And we will do something like that, not only with the people who are currently at the sheriff’s office, the deputies and jailers, but I’ll have surveys sent out to those that left because obviously they left for a reason, and I know why a lot, a lot of them left because I’ve talked to scores of them. So that’s important information.

Rico Figliolini 0:14:04

Sure. I would imagine also that a place like the county jail system, the sheriff system department, I mean, if they’re, if they’re expending money, there’s probably usually bids for certain things, contractual bids. There’s discretionary funds that can be spent on certain things because you don’t want to hamstring a department. There’s usually a budget level where you can spend money up to before it needs to go out on a bid system or some other thing. It could be in $170 million. Budget could be complicated doing that. It could take some months doing that. In the meantime, whatever you find, like you said, you will be able to address at that point. In the meantime, while that’s happening, because that could take several months, you’re going to be hitting the ground. You would hit the ground running. I know there was some other things that you were talking about, like measures that would implement, that you might implement to improve safety and reduce high rates of inmate injuries or deaths in the jail. Has that been an issue? Now, I haven’t myself looked at those issues. So tell us a little bit about that, about what you’re looking at and what you would implement day one for that week. Right.

Baron Reinhold 0:15:23

So right off the bat, well, literally on day one, during his press conference, Sheriff Taylor implemented. He did away with something called the rapid response team. So the rapid response team are trained personnel where if there is an issue going sideways and deputy is in danger or a jailer is in danger, then the rapid response team is rapid. They’re in there within seconds and making sure that you, you know, the deputies are okay and that the inmates are okay, too, because, you know, obviously, if things get out of control, people are getting hurt. So you take away the most important tool of, on day one of how to keep your own personnel safe, and you give them no tools to replace that. It turned into an immediate catastrophe. I mean, one of the people that’s been helping me on my campaign was the 2019 deputy of the year, and she was in the, in our jail, which is one of the biggest in the country as a jailer for, you know, I think, 18 years. And so she was training other deputies and other jailers how to do their job, not only ours, but, you know, other sheriffs would send theirs in, too. And they begged her to stay on and continue training. She was going to leave when Sheriff Conway left. She stayed on for six. Well, she stay. Asked her to stay for six months. She agreed to, and within two weeks, she left. Now, she left because she saw what was going on and how she saw the writing on the wall immediately that, okay, we’ve got no way to maintain control because, you know, if we’re, if people are getting hurt, we can’t protect ourselves, let alone the inmates.

Rico Figliolini 0:17:02

And let me ask you a question, though. Obviously, I would imagine when Sheriff Akibo came in, there was a reason why he stopped it because there might have been, there was all these things going on right there.

Baron Reinhold 0:17:15

Well, yeah. He said if you go back and read the news clips in 2019, 2020, his justification for that was that there were some charges leveled against the rapid response team of using excessive force. And if that’s true or if that’s not true is a new leader. You come in and you, you, you deal with the problem. What he did was he came in and got rid of the tool. He even said, hey, it’s a good tool, but it’s being misused. So, you know, you don’t get rid of the tool. You, if people were being abusive, then you discipline them or you fire them and you keep the tool and you train more with those data points to make sure that, you know, abuse isn’t taking place.

Rico Figliolini 0:18:00

Okay, fair enough.

Baron Reinhold 0:18:01

But obviously, you don’t come in and you undercut your, your entire, all of your deputies and all of your jailers and don’t give them any tools to maintain control of the jail. So as they started leaving, things just have continued to spiral out of control. A jail that is supposed to have about 50 people per shift currently has about 20 people per shift. They used to have, the inmates used to have 8 hours a day out of the cell. Now they’ve got 1 hour a day. They’re locked up 23 hours a day. It’s crazy what’s going on in the jail right now.

Rico Figliolini 0:18:34

It seems like there’s not enough people. I know I’ve spoken to people in the Gwinnett police and such. There’s budget money there to hire, but there’s not enough applicants should say qualified applicants.

Baron Reinhold 0:18:47

Well, that’s only part of the issue. I mean, yes, law enforcement has had its challenges since 2020, but the reality is if you are an. An agency or a sheriff’s office that is, you know, is led by a good leader, then guess what? People don’t leave.

Rico Figliolini 0:19:07

People come there.

Baron Reinhold 0:19:08

So what we have seen in Gwinnett county is we’ve seen sheriff deputies and jailers flee this leadership because it’s untenable. As a matter of fact, I did, a couple years ago, I did this Suwannee Citizens Academy police academy, and it just so happened I got teamed up with a officer who worked for six months under Butch Conway, made the transition, and after a year, he took a significant pay cut to leave the sheriff’s office to go work for the city of Suwanee. And talking to him that night, it’s what every deputy I’ve talked to has said, whether I solicit the question or not, they’re like, yeah, it’s ridiculous. It became untenable, and they left inmate safety.

Rico Figliolini 0:19:53

I mean, it’s always been a problem, I think, in any jail, right, there’s only a certain amount of leeway you can do. Sometimes it can’t be helped, you know, with. You hear about these things all the time on, like, not in Gwinnett sheriff jails, but in federal jails or state jails, where there’s drugs in the jail, sometimes there’s other things going on, and that actually increases the inmate safety issue because other people causing problems among the population, if you will. What tools would you use to improve that or to reduce that? I mean, so it’s not just happening because. I don’t think it’s just happening because officers are being abusive, and some of them have been. It’s also being the other side of that. So what tools can a sheriff have to do? Do you plan on restructuring that whole command of how things are done?

Baron Reinhold 0:20:53

Yeah, I mean, immediately. I’ll reinstate and train a rapid response team. What we need is we need the proper numbers of deputies back in the jail cell. It’s a horribly dangerous job when you are critically undermanned. So the issue now is instead of being in charge of one cell block, they’ve got deputies, at times in charge of two, three, and up to four cell blocks. You know, that is. That is sheer insanity. And when you’ve got that type of. I mean, the inmates know that you can’t maintain control of them, and so things get. You know, things get crazy, and you can’t stop it. So what’s the answer to that? The answer is to keep people locked behind, you know, in their room 23 or in their cells 23 hours a day because you can’t control them. What’s that? Due to the mental health that makes people, you know, more angry. And when they do get out, there’s more problems. So all of these things are precipitated by the fact that, you know, the deputies in the law enforcement is a very tight knit community. So I just went through that, you know, quote unquote police academy. I’m post certified now. I went back in September through December. And, you know, all the guys, you know, a bunch of them were prior, you know, jail or were jailers before they were coming back to get their, you know, their full post certifications. And, you know, those guys, you know, talked in depth about all the different sheriff’s offices around the various counties and about all the different police. But, I mean, they know. And the word. It doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t say it doesn’t matter.

Rico Figliolini 0:22:21

The money.

Baron Reinhold 0:22:22

I mean, money is always attractive. But you know what? You have to have a force that people want to join, and that is incumbent upon the leader to create the environment where people love to work, where they know that their boss has their back. They know that their boss is, you know, is looking out for their career. They’re invested in, you know, in training and equipping them and so forth and so on. And that’s. I mean, the history of, you know, my background for 35 years is training and equipping and leading high, you know, high, highly performing organizations that are the number one of their type in the entire Navy. And you get, you know, there’s a. There’s a specific award called the Battle Efficiency Award. Now, they call it battle effectiveness Award. Same award, just. They changed the name, but you get that when it’s the number one unit of its type in the Navy. We won. We were awarded that back to. Back to back three years in a row when I was the commanding officer. So I know how to build organizations that people love to work in and love to do their job. And that’s what we need here. We need that type of leadership to bring people back. And I know that they’ll be back. I mean, people want to come back. I’ve talked to deputies all the time. They want to work here and Gwinnett, but they won’t work for this sheriff.

Rico Figliolini 0:23:37

Do you. Do you think that salaries or benefits have to change also?

Baron Reinhold 0:23:42

I mean, there needs to be. I mean, right now, if you listen on the radio, you can hear. You know, you can hear the. The Gwinnett county sheriff’s office, you know, spots on there all the time, and they’re, you know, attractive numbers and this, that and the other. But they’re not hiring anybody. I mean, they’re. Their numbers are single digits. You know, people are not coming to their hiring conferences, and they’re not responding to those ads, even though, you know, on the surface it sounds good because they know. They know that, you know, it’s better to work someplace for less money than it is for a boss that doesn’t support you. To answer your question, all of that stuff needs to be looked at, and we need to be the most competitive, pay in the area, and have the best leadership. And because the thing is, after you’ve trained people and you’ve equipped them and built the organization that they don’t want to leave, you don’t want to lose that talent. And those are the two key factors, to have the leadership and to have the money to support maintaining them there so they don’t train, move on.

Rico Figliolini 0:24:45

Yeah. And that’s been, I guess, the problem with law enforcement in the metro area. Right. They get trained in one place, like Gwinnett county has had that, where they train police officers, they work for two years, and then all of a sudden, they get hired away to a different county. Right. Maybe it’s closer to their home. You know, it’s a lot of different reasons. Right. I mean, our peach recorders. Sheriff Restrepo, chief. Sheriff Restrepo is a former Gwinnett county police officer, decided this would be a good place for him to be. Right. So people do leave. So, yeah, I mean, it’s hard enough to find people, even in the private sector, to do things, and it’s difficult all around. So unemployment is low, they say. I guess it’s low, but, yeah, paying bonuses do make a difference, and that’s something a sheriff has control over. Right. That’s not something that has to be decided at the city council level, at the county level, I don’t think.

Baron Reinhold 0:25:46

Well, I mean, certainly the budgets and the money come from the commissioners.

Rico Figliolini 0:25:51

Right. Total budgets. Right. But if you have, like, positions for 40 positions to be filled, but you can’t fill it, you still have that budget money in that line, I guess.

Baron Reinhold 0:26:02

And the other. Your point when you talk about personnel and money is, you know, this. The current sheriff, Sheriff Taylor, you know, has a command staff that’s completely bloated. He’s got all these really high level, high paying positions that he created, and, you know, and it’s like a three for one. The guy who’s actually doing the heavy lifting in the jails or serving warrants. Their pay compared to all of these created positions is way out of whack compared to what’s normative. And that’ll be something that we’ll go back through and rescale that to the right number and have the positions that are needed. But we’re not going to have fat in there, just collecting a paycheck and, you know, having duplicative jobs or whatever else. It’s not happening.

Rico Figliolini 0:26:52

So you’re not just auditing budgets and stuff. You’re going to be auditing the structure of the command. Who’s there? Okay. One of the things that you point out, too is constitutional training, mandating constitutional education, how to enhance the daily responsibilities of the deputies and jailers. So tell us a little bit about that. What you mean by that?

Baron Reinhold 0:27:16

Well, it’s interesting because, you know, 35 years in the navy and every time you have a promotion, you reaffirm your oath to protect the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And, you know, it might seem a little more intuitive, possibly for military personnel because we’re typically overseas and worrying about the people attacking the country and protecting our constitution in that capacity. But in order to do your job in law enforcement, you need to understand how the constitution applies to you. And that has to factor in to, I mean, you have to know because you’re swearing an oath to it, too. So what does it mean? You know, there’s, there are laws on the books and we’ve seen throughout history that there are times when, you know, mandates can come down that are not constitutional. So then the question becomes, is the senior law enforcement officer in the county, what are you going to do about that? And if people don’t understand the constitution, then they can’t work through that. And that’s important. I mean, I think it’s a big problem in America that the Constitution is more and more being ignored. And when you have a mandate that is a potential massive violation of the constitutional rights of the citizens, then the sheriff is the one that needs to engage them and let people know this will or this will not happen. And so, you know the sheriff to know it, then everybody also needs to know it because they need to understand why their command is taking a certain stand.

Rico Figliolini 0:28:50

Okay. That almost begs the question, though. Okay. That if you’re, if you’re, if the sheriff is supposed to enforce mandates that come down, these are, these are laws just like anything else that needs to be implemented. Sheriff can’t, I mean, it’s been done. Obviously, we see it at the federal level where certain laws are being ignored right now, is that right to do, can you slow walk that law, if you will, and not do it? You know, I get it that there’s priorities and that sometimes you might say, well, the priority is not that law. We’re not going to, we’re going to, we’re not going to step through and enforce that right. We’re going to be enforcing these other laws that really are important.

Baron Reinhold 0:29:38

But I wouldn’t put it that way because, yeah, I wouldn’t say, I mean, the laws are the laws and they need to be enforced as long as they’re not violated. For example, you know, you saw, I mean, I guess probably the best current example might be that in some counties during COVID you saw sheriffs arresting pastors for having church on Sunday. And in other counties, you saw sheriffs standing literally in the doors of churches, preventing, you know, state police from coming in and disrupting the services. So the question then becomes, you know, if the constitution is the authoritative law of the land and our Georgia constitution is also, you know, the authoritative law in Georgia, then unless there is something that says, okay, there’s no more religious freedom, then your job is to understand what is and what is not a legal declaration. And so you have to, because at the end of the day, the individual citizen, the last person between their constitutional rights being violated or not, is the sheriff of that county. So I’m not saying it’s normative that that happens, but I’m saying you have to recognize if something comes down that is not constitutional, it’s your oath. It’s your obligation, if you actually are going to fulfill your oath, to make sure that your citizens rights aren’t violated.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:03

Okay, I don’t disagree with you. I just. And we could leave it at that. But it’s just, someone has to, it’s like everything else. Someone has to decide then whether that’s unconstitutional. Now do we leave it up to the courts to decide that or the individual sheriff, lead sheriff, chief sheriff in a county to decide that? You know, and every county needs to be different.

Baron Reinhold 0:31:26

Yeah, if there are subtle things. That’s right. But yeah, something as egregious is, okay, you are not allowed to go to church. I mean, that is a gross violation of your religious freedoms, period.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:37

It is.

Baron Reinhold 0:31:38

I mean, you can, people might want to argue that, but it’s a gross violation.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:44

Okay. I could see that, you know, of course, the CDC and we don’t have to get into the politics of this, but, you know, if they feel it’s a health issue.

Baron Reinhold 0:31:52

You know, they’re, their feelings don’t. Don’t get to supersede the constitution, that’s for sure.

Rico Figliolini 0:32:00

Yeah, no, I get it.

Baron Reinhold 0:32:02

And whenever it does, that puts our entire society at risk. I mean, I’ve seen societies collapse, and I spent most of my life in those areas because of, you know, things getting out of control.

Rico Figliolini 0:32:15

And so, and I agree, it’s. It’s a fragile.

Baron Reinhold 0:32:18

We can’t allow that to happen here in the United States.

Rico Figliolini 0:32:21

It’s a fragile system. And we’re constantly fighting to keep democracy or our republic alive, if you will, because it doesn’t take much for, like you said, it really doesn’t take much, especially when we had the riots during the COVID time. Remember what CNN was almost broken into during the riots then? I just, like.

Baron Reinhold 0:32:44

You forgot the mostly peaceful riots.

Rico Figliolini 0:32:46

The mostly. Yes. Yeah, we could talk about that at some point, right.

Baron Reinhold 0:32:52

But, yeah, if you’re a cigar guy, come over the house and we can.

Rico Figliolini 0:32:56

Cigar and bourbon. There you go. Jail dogs program. So, I mean, that. That’s one of the things you mentioned, I think, in your. In your program about jail dogs, about branding. Right.

Baron Reinhold 0:33:12

This is another example of. That’s insane that that program went away. Okay, so here’s a program that literally cost the taxpayers zero, not $0.01. It’s a phenomenal program for the mental health of the inmates. And, I mean, it’s a huge incentive for them to be on good conduct so that they can actually get an animal, so that they can train that animal. The mental health aspects of that are off the chart. And the jailers loved it because people would behave so that they could be in line to get a jail dog assigned. They would train the thing, have all this feeling of accomplishments, this, that and the other. The dog obviously is good for the dogs because they got saved, they got adopted out. And it was just, like I said, it didn’t cost a penny.

Rico Figliolini 0:34:03

So why was that? Is, is just.

Baron Reinhold 0:34:04

That’s just another example of failed leadership.

Rico Figliolini 0:34:09

Other things. You’ve mentioned vehicle branding. Right? So we’ll hit some of these other things quick. So vehicle branding was one. What’s with that?

Baron Reinhold 0:34:19

Yeah, exactly. What is with that? So right when we were right, when sheriff Taylor took over, he took all the county cars that belonged to the sheriff’s office and he. Yeah. Had his name painted on the back of him. I was like, okay, okay, seriously, you paid 100. Who God only knows how much money, you know, however much it is, if it’s over one cent, the Navy would call that fraud, waste and abuse. But the bottom line is, you know, he’s got his name spray painted all over these vehicles and county expense. The irony now is he, he can’t drive a sheriff’s deputy’s vehicle up to a polling place because that’s, that’s, you know, campaigning. So if there’s a problem at a polling station, he can’t respond.

Rico Figliolini 0:35:01

Think about that.

Baron Reinhold 0:35:01

Yeah, so anyway, but it’s, it’s just ridiculous. That is, that is the pinnacle of arrogance and egotism in my mind. And, you know, to spend that money that frivolously on something like that.

Rico Figliolini 0:35:14

All right, beyond that, let’s talk about reassigning personnel. Part of it was bodyguards and drivers to other roles that benefit the short.

Baron Reinhold 0:35:23

So when, when you’re critically short of personnel to begin with, he’s got a bodyguard that goes around with them. He’s also got a driver. Actually, I think he’s got two drivers or has had two drivers. So, I mean, that’s manpower that’s critically needed in our jails or serving warrants because right now we have about 50,000 unserved warrants because more warrants come in than can get served every day because we’re critically short and people won’t work for this sheriff. So every day the warrants stack up. They can only serve so many. So every day he’s in office, you know, we’re just going to keep getting more and more warrants. I mean, I should say that aren’t, that haven’t been served.

Rico Figliolini 0:36:04

Okay. I don’t have anything against bodyguards. I mean, things can happen, right. It’s not, it’s not a study. It’s a violent society sometimes. So I don’t see why not have a bodyguard. But serving warrants, though, it’s a different story. Can’t that be done by private services contracted for, to be able to stem through that? I mean, a reasonable thing?

Baron Reinhold 0:36:27

Yeah, I think it’s reasonable. Especially when you don’t have the manpower or they won’t work for you, then, yeah, you better figure out a solution. And, but, you know, the last official number that I got, it was, you know, am I allowed to say leaked to me it wasn’t gotten through FOIA because I don’t have that much money to keep asking these questions to try to get official numbers. But this was an official number. It was 48,632 as of about a month ago. And every month it’s been going up.

Rico Figliolini 0:36:57

So, and to be fair, I mean, a lot of that may have been before his.

Baron Reinhold 0:37:02

Oh, yeah, like you said. But the fact that the numbers skyrocket because it’s warrant division is, you know, is been decimated. And by people leaving, we’re not getting. Every day that those individuals are walking around without having been brought in is a potential death or a potential violent act or a potential robbery or whatever else. So these are important things to get our arms around.

Rico Figliolini 0:37:31

It’s good to have that discussion. I mean, definitely, especially. It’s one thing to, to be one of, to voting for one of over 330 house reps. You know, they do make laws that affect people and stuff, but the sheriff system really has to be taken more seriously. Have we, towards the end of our time together, Baron, is there anything that we haven’t discussed that you want to share?

Baron Reinhold 0:37:58

Well, I would just again ask people to go on my website, it’s Baron Forgwinnett, and look up my background and look up all my proposals. At least my initial day one proposals are on there. Like I said, there’s a reason why Sheriff Conway, who was the sheriff for a quarter century here in Gwinnett county, endorsed me. And he sat down and he said, Baron, you’re the only person with the background and the senior level experience in command and the senior knowledge of budgets and how to make things happen and how to apply for money and how to engage the commissioners and on and on and on and with the personnel experience with running the entire Navy’s 388,000 personnel and keeping that manned. And part of that responsibility was the bonus structure for the entire navy and administering that. I mean, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses across the Navy. So, yeah, it’s obvious from his perspective that I’m the only person qualified that’s running to do that in a manner of sustained, superior performance, which is my track record. So I’ve always loved people. I’ve loved serving people my entire career. That’s the biggest thing I miss about the Navy is the fact that as I got more responsibility and more seniority, I could affect more and more people’s lives and their families lives and advocate for them more powerfully in their career. So I’m, you know, I’m looking forward to, you know, doing that leadership aspect, but also bringing our county and making our county safe and our jails safe and, you know, basically making it safe for, you know, the taxpayer or the tailor for the deputies and for our inmates. That’s, that’s the bottom line.

Rico Figliolini 0:39:49

Okay, so, okay, cool. People know where to find out more information. You’ve been out. There’s early voting going on, but we’ve recorded this. This was recorded on the 8th, on Wednesday. And so there’s early voting going on. I think that, I’m not sure when that ends.

Baron Reinhold 0:40:07

Early voting ends the 17th.

Rico Figliolini 0:40:09

17Th. Okay. The Friday before election day, which is May 21. And you’re running on the democratic?

Baron Reinhold 0:40:19

I’m running on the republican ticket.

Rico Figliolini 0:40:21

Republican ticket.

Baron Reinhold 0:40:22

And the primary. You know, it’s Mike Baker and I that are running against each other on the republican side. And then Kebo Taylor, who’s the incumbent, and Curtis Clemens, Joe Mark and Brian Whiteside are running on the Democrat against.

Rico Figliolini 0:40:38

So as opposed to people listening to this, as opposed to school board races, which are decided on this election May 21, since it’s a nonpartisan or deemed nonpartisan this race, once the ballots are decided. So if you’re looking to want to support Barron, obviously you need to pull the republican ballot to be able to do that. Or the democratic ballot if you want to vote on that side, too. Either way. And then the election actually runs through until November where decisions are made. Right.

Baron Reinhold 0:41:11

So November, if I’m the candidate, then it’ll be running against. Well, there was probably going to be a runoff, my guess, on the Democrat side, since there’s not. But whoever wins that is going to be hopefully who I’m running against.

Rico Figliolini 0:41:26

Yeah, that seems like it. Well, Baron Reinhold, I appreciate you taking your time speaking to me about the issues of where you feel passionate about and how you feel you would handle the Gwinnett County Sheriff Department. People know where to reach you now, or at least where to find your information. And if they want to reach you via email or phone, the information is on your website, I’m assuming.

Baron Reinhold 0:41:50

Absolutely right.

Rico Figliolini 0:41:52

So hang in there with me for a minute. Everyone else, I appreciate you joining us listening to this. We’ll be doing some other candidate podcasts over the next week or so a few days. There’s a few more that I’ll be interviewing different races, so check it out and, you know, share this with your friends. Appreciate your time. Thank you everyone.

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Peachtree Corners Life

Ruwa Romman on Recent Georgia Legislation and Gaza [Podcast]

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

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

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

Podcast Transcript:

Rico Figliolini 0:00:01

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

Ruwa Romman 0:00:11

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

Rico Figliolini 0:00:14

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

Ruwa Romman 0:00:20

Delicious.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:21

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

Ruwa Romman 0:00:48

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

Rico Figliolini 0:00:53

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

Ruwa Romman 0:01:05

Totally.

Rico Figliolini 0:01:06

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

Ruwa Romman 0:01:31

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

Rico Figliolini 0:01:47

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

Ruwa Romman 0:02:02

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

Rico Figliolini 0:03:01

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

Ruwa Romman 0:03:11

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

Rico Figliolini 0:03:29

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

Ruwa Romman 0:03:35

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

Rico Figliolini 0:03:43

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

Ruwa Romman 0:03:48

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

Rico Figliolini 0:03:51

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

Ruwa Romman 0:03:59

It’s a fun ride. It’s a fun ride.

Rico Figliolini 0:04:01

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

Ruwa Romman 0:04:22

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

Rico Figliolini 0:06:27

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

Ruwa Romman 0:06:33

So it.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:34

Yeah, go ahead. I’m sorry.

Ruwa Romman 0:06:38

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

Rico Figliolini 0:07:25

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

Ruwa Romman 0:08:08

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

Rico Figliolini 0:08:54

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

Ruwa Romman 0:09:49

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

Rico Figliolini 0:10:32

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

Ruwa Romman 0:10:51

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

Rico Figliolini 0:11:20

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

Ruwa Romman 0:11:36

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

Rico Figliolini 0:12:29

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

Ruwa Romman 0:12:43

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

Rico Figliolini 0:14:25

Yeah, for sure.

Ruwa Romman 0:14:26

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

Rico Figliolini 0:15:08

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

Ruwa Romman 0:15:13

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

Rico Figliolini 0:16:18

Okay.

Ruwa Romman 0:16:20

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

Rico Figliolini 0:16:24

It’s okay.

Ruwa Romman 0:16:27

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

Rico Figliolini 0:16:47

So the.

Ruwa Romman 0:16:49

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

Rico Figliolini 0:17:06

More revenue for schools because. Less tax credits.

Ruwa Romman 0:17:10

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

Rico Figliolini 0:17:29

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

Ruwa Romman 0:17:46

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

Rico Figliolini 0:18:07

Okay.

Ruwa Romman 0:18:08

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:18:08

All right. All right.

Ruwa Romman 0:18:09

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

Rico Figliolini 0:18:31

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

Ruwa Romman 0:18:51

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:18:51

Yeah.

Ruwa Romman 0:18:52

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

Rico Figliolini 0:19:41

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

Ruwa Romman 0:19:49

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

Rico Figliolini 0:19:52

Okay. Okay. Sometimes unrelated stuff.

Ruwa Romman 0:19:56

Correct.

Rico Figliolini 0:19:57

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

Ruwa Romman 0:20:09

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

Rico Figliolini 0:21:09

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

Ruwa Romman 0:21:23

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

Rico Figliolini 0:21:29

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

Ruwa Romman 0:22:01

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

Rico Figliolini 0:23:27

Yeah, yeah.

Ruwa Romman 0:23:29

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

Rico Figliolini 0:24:18

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

Ruwa Romman 0:24:59

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

Rico Figliolini 0:25:52

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

Ruwa Romman 0:26:03

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:26:04

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

Ruwa Romman 0:26:27

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

Rico Figliolini 0:27:12

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

Ruwa Romman 0:27:21

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

Rico Figliolini 0:28:09

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

Ruwa Romman 0:28:30

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

Rico Figliolini 0:29:30

Yeah, sure.

Ruwa Romman 0:29:31

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

Rico Figliolini 0:29:58

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

Ruwa Romman 0:30:50

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:50

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

Ruwa Romman 0:30:58

Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:58

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

Ruwa Romman 0:31:10

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

Rico Figliolini 0:31:21

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

Ruwa Romman 0:31:47

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

Rico Figliolini 0:31:52

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

Ruwa Romman 0:32:19

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

Rico Figliolini 0:32:35

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

Ruwa Romman 0:32:58

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

Rico Figliolini 0:33:09

Good.

Ruwa Romman 0:33:10

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

Rico Figliolini 0:33:37

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

Ruwa Romman 0:34:10

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

Rico Figliolini 0:35:24

Good to hear. Appreciate you sharing that with us.

Ruwa Romman 0:35:27

Thanks.

Rico Figliolini 0:35:28

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

Ruwa Romman 0:35:35

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

Rico Figliolini 0:36:02

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

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Peachtree Corners Life

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

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

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

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

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Peachtree Corners Life

Yanin Cortes Shares Why She’s Running for Gwinnett County School Board

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May 21st Election Decides Gwinnett County School Board District 3

Peachtree Corner resident and Cuban immigrant Yanin Cortes shares her journey from struggling with English in her first year in an American elementary school to running for the Gwinnett County School Board. Endorsed by local leaders, she highlights system strengths and challenges. Yanin is a talented singer, entrepreneur, and mother of three who stresses the importance of community support, clear policies, and continuous improvement to address new challenges. Listen in to hear more about this candidate and the upcoming election. Hosted by Rico Figliolini

Resources:
Yanin’s Campaign Website: https://yanin.org/

Timestamp:
00:00:00 – Yanin Cortes Runs for Gwinnett County School Board
00:01:41 – From Immigrant to Aspiring Musician
00:03:55 – From Music to Family and Entrepreneurship
00:05:48 – From Educator to Entrepreneur: A Diverse Journey
00:08:09 – Pursuing a Passion for Education and Community
00:10:12 – Celebrating Gwinnett County’s Diverse School System
00:14:36 – Navigating Discipline and Safety Challenges in Schools
00:17:22 – The Role of the School Board: Oversight and Support
00:20:10 – Balancing Community Input and Systemic Realities
00:22:51 – Implementing Policies: Complexities and Challenges
00:24:29 – Improving School Safety and Restoring Trust
00:28:48 – Navigating Diversity in School Systems
00:31:50 – The Joys of Family, Community, and Running a Restaurant
00:35:17 – Advocating for Community and Children in School Board
00:37:57 – Importance of Voting for School Board

Podcast Transcript:

Rico Figliolini 0:00:01

Hey, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life, where we begin to see a lot of electioneering going on, a lot of more things going on out there as far as this May election, May 21. That’s coming up in a few weeks. And this has several nonpartisan races that are decided this May versus a primary and final elections in November. So what’s happening this month is extremely important to you, and you need to be aware of it. And this is one of several podcasts we’ll be doing with candidates. And I appreciate Yanin Cortes showing up and speaking with me about her race for Gwinnett county school board. Thank you for being here this morning. Appreciate it.

Yanin Cortes 0:00:44

Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure, too.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:48

Sure. Love to hear more about why you’re running and stuff. I just want to give some background about you. So this is for actually district three election of Gwinnett county school board, which represents geographically Peachtree Corners, parts of Norcross, Berkeley Lake, Duluth, Suwannee and Sugar Hill. Fairly large District 31 schools, public schools in that district. And you entered the race with actually several endorsements already. So the retiring board member that’s been representing Peachtree Corners in this area for like 28 years, Mary Kay Murphy, has come out and endorsed you. Amelia, Mike Mason has endorsed you, and so has representative Scott Hilton. All of them, Peachtree Corners residents, all of them involved so heavily in the community. So some great support you have. Now, I’d like to hear, you know, I’m sure the rest of us would like to hear a little bit about, you know, why you’ve decided that you want to run, but tell us a little bit about your story and then why you’ve decided to run.

Yanin Cortes 0:01:51

Sure. I am a first generation immigrant. I was born in Cuba, and I came to the United States when I was ten years old, and we migrated to Hollywood, Florida. Out of all places. Yes. And it’s funny because everybody says I went to Miami, but that was not my story. And Hollywood at that time was a very american town, all american town, although the Cubans were living somewhere in Miami. And I probably was one of two children in the class that spoke Spanish. And it was a hard year for me. I call it the year of silence, since it was really hard to just talk to anybody. But I had amazing teachers that guided me, that were there for me. And I think that’s where my love for school started because I had so much support. And being an immigrant family here, it’s a very hard thing to go through, especially parents coming, not knowing the language, working two jobs to making sure that people have, that we had food on the table. So I went through the whole years and I kind of went into music. And for a while there, and after I graduated high school, I decided that I wanted to be a famous singer. You know something? The dream of everybody, they just want to be. And I went through auditions and I wrote songs, and I spent a lot of time on track. And I got signed with company EMI.

Rico Figliolini 0:03:46

Oh, wow. Yeah, sure. Famous record company. Sure. Label.

Yanin Cortes 0:03:50

Yes. And I got to travel the world first. The first signing was with a group. It’s a three girl group, and we represent. And we went all over the place in Europe. And then after that, I decided that I wanted to just have my own thing and write my own songs and decided to be a solo artist. And I got signed with EMI also, but in South America. But after that, somehow in between that, I got married, I started having kids. And then I decided, oh, I don’t want to be traveling all the time. I need to pay attention to my kids.

Rico Figliolini 0:04:27

You have three.

Yanin Cortes 0:04:28

Well, my son, at that point, he was only one. And my husband has supported me because he’s also a musician. He was also signed with Sony and, you know, but then we just came back to Miami. Now this time Miami, and I went back to school and decided to go for education. And my husband went to FiU and he said, well, you know what? Don’t worry. I’ll go study hospitality and business administration, and we’ll go move to Atlanta and open a cuban restaurant. Your mom was amazing chef and cook. And you will sing whenever you want to. You will have. You can on the weekend. There’s a good. Yes, it is. He is amazing. He is wonderful. And he made that dream come true. He did. And we both graduate. I graduated when I got to Atlanta. I transferred to Georgia State, and that’s when I finished school. But we opened the restaurant in between that, and I started teaching at Shiloh High School.

Rico Figliolini 0:05:40

So you guys own, actually, mojitos in downtown Norcross? The crossing. The crossing in downtown. No, cross as well. And the mojitos at the forum. Yes. Entrepreneurs, talented singers. It seems like it. And you were a teacher at Shiloh High School for a while, too, right? A former educator, yes. And. And you’re. And you have three kids?

Yanin Cortes 0:06:11

I think I have three boys. I call them boys, but they’re men already.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:15

Two of them, sure. Yeah, I would imagine. Well, so one of them still home, I guess? Or are they all home, or does that work.

Yanin Cortes 0:06:25

Yes. I also have a nine year old. We started over again somehow. Don’t ask us why, but it’s an amazing experience. I think as you grow older, then you say, oh, maybe I should have done that with the other one.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:37

And that’s interesting. Yeah. The last one, I have three kids, and the youngest is seven years apart from the middle one. So, yeah, you get to see that. And I also come from immigrant parents. I was first born in the States here. So I can appreciate coming from a household that had no english speaking. And I think my kindergarten or first grade teacher had my parents in because I was speaking half Italian, half English. They can understand everything I was saying. So I can appreciate the difficulties of a young family and educators that were present with you at the time really does make a difference, because I think if you had the wrong teacher, you might not have been as fortunate. Right?

Yanin Cortes 0:07:21

No. I have to say teachers were amazing for me, especially in high school afterwards. And at the beginning, they were there to guide me. They were there to support me. They knew that I was going through a rough time. And then in high school, my music teacher was an amazing teacher because it was like a family. We ended up in this choir. There was only 14 of us, and we were like a family for the whole four years, and that kept me going. And you have some people that if you were struggling in a subject, he will go, hey, what’s going on? And let’s go. You have to do this. I know you love singing. I love. I know you love doing this, but you always have some inspirational, some person that. A mentor that tells you, hey, let’s go for it.

Rico Figliolini 0:08:17

Curious. What instruments did you. Did you play, or did you.

Yanin Cortes 0:08:22

I was singing all the time. I played guitar a little bit, but I wouldn’t, like, even dare say that in front of people because they make me play or some horrible song.

Rico Figliolini 0:08:34

Have you sung at the restaurants?

Yanin Cortes 0:08:37

Yes, I used when we opened the restaurant in 2008. I’ve been singing ever since then. Friday and Saturday night. I took some time off when I had Lincoln, my. My youngest. But right now, I’m still singing every Saturday night and forum location.

Rico Figliolini 0:09:01

Cool. So let’s get. Let’s dig down a little bit about why. You have great background, obviously good endorsements, but why are you looking to run for Gwinnett county school board? What is motivating you to do that?

Yanin Cortes 0:09:14

Well, I love this community. Kids are my passion, too. They. I can see their faces light up every time they learn something, and I think that we should keep that going. And I think being a member of the school board will help. We have a lot of immigrants coming into our county right now, and our county is the most diverse county, and I think it in nation. And it’s incredible that we have such a diversity, such a love. Guene county has always loved education, so I wanted to make sure that I wanted to be part of that. I wanted to encourage people. I wanted to be the voice for the parents that have concerns and just voice that to. To the schools. And I wanted to be the voice for our community saying, hey, we want to make sure that our tax dollars are spent wisely. And I know that we all have anxiety, but I believe that Gwinnett county has an amazing school system. We just need to come together and talk and come bring consensus and just making sure that we’re working together to achieve success for all students, you know.

Rico Figliolini 0:10:45

That’S great to hear. The county has gotten, like you said, it’s actually a majority minority. It’s changed over the decades. I’ve been here since 95. My kids have gone, all my kids have gone through public school the same way I did in New York when, before I came here. Simpson elementary Picnicville, Norcross they went through the IB program at Norcross. In fact, the two of them that went through IB, if they hadn’t gone through, I think they wouldn’t have done as well. The IB program really taught them how to write, how to be critical thinkers, how to mold things together, subjects. So the school system has done some good things, right? Yes. What do you think they do well at the school system right now?

Yanin Cortes 0:11:32

Well, definitely those programs, the IB program, the early learning for. They have a play to learn program right now that they, including the parents, to come before they get to school so they can learn how to teach their kids to be ready for kindergarten. We have the program. A lot of people don’t know about it, but it’s amazing because it just prepares. We have all the stem programs that we have right now with a paltry weekend. We have just different alternatives for students that are looking. I think there’s a pathway to careers that they’re developing in some of the schools that if a kid wants to go to trade school instead of college, he’s going to have. He will have that ability to concentrate on that. And some people don’t know what they want, but if they’re guided, and I think this is one thing that we can concentrate that I will fight for in the school board. Okay. Yeah. What else do we have? We have a lot of things that are amazing. The sports, amazing sports here. That sports people think it’s just one of those things, but it drives kids. It gives them discipline. It makes them do their best, because they know they have to be good. They have to do good in their studies so they can go and participate in the sports. And the same thing with music. Marching band was a haven for my kids because they were musicians. None of us came out. So both of my kids were marching band, and the teachers were amazing. Mister Ventura, Pinckneyville, I love him so much. He was guidance for my kids, and he has that tough discipline. But at the same time, you know.

Rico Figliolini 0:13:39

I can appreciate that. Yeah. These teachers that teach in Gwinnett county schools are underserved, I think, in some right way. So under respected by some people, but they’ve done a great job. I totally agree. Sports has been a tremendous drive. I mean, more sports athletes come out of Gwinnett County, Gwinnett county, and Norcross High school, but even some of the other high schools, for sure. And not just football or baseball or soccer, but volleyball, lacrosse. I mean, this city and this county has produced so many athletes, even theater and music, like you said. I mean, the theater at Norcross has done great, and some of the other high schools as well. So there’s lots there. But there are big challenges, right, to the school board, to the school system, I should say. School board has been changing over the last few decades. Different representations have come in. Tools have changed also, right? Social media has made it a little difficult. TikTok, Instagram, not that they’re bad apps. They’re just like anything else. They’re used badly sometimes. Right? Yeah. So you have disciplinary school safety issues. We lockdown school shootings, although we haven’t had any that I’m aware of in Gwinnett county that are. That were inside of school sometimes. Shootings on. On high school campus, maybe, but mostly, it’s unrelated to the students sometimes. So what do you see as challenges to the school system and when, with regard to discipline, school safety?

Yanin Cortes 0:15:15

Well, school safety has to be a priority. It has to be the number one. Just because if we don’t have. If the teachers don’t feel safe, if the kids don’t feel safe, there’s no learning going on, because everybody’s just worried about survival. Right?

Rico Figliolini 0:15:31

And we.

Yanin Cortes 0:15:33

I think the school board went through a very difficult time about a year ago when they. Two years ago, really, when they decided to change the discipline policies, and. And it created chaos, in a way. And some of the teachers didn’t know what to do. Didn’t know if they were afraid to discipline, and that caused a lot of confusion in the system. But they did go back this year, and they decided that they were going to take back and try to go back to the old way. And I think that was a great decision. But it took some courage from people to say, Mary Kate Murphy was one of those people that said, we need to. I take my vote out this one. Can we go back to the place where we were, where we can control our classrooms, where the teachers have the power to control their classrooms, where the administrators have the power to control their building?

Rico Figliolini 0:16:39

And.

Yanin Cortes 0:16:42

So I think it’s getting better, and we still have a lot of work to do. It’s just that I think it was something that’s kind of set us back a little bit. But I have faith in Gwinnett County. I know that we will go through this. I’m running because I want to be that pathway to, hey, we can get through this.

Rico Figliolini 0:17:06

So what do you find then? The role of the board? Right. You’re volunteers, don’t get paid. I mean, this is stipend, but it’s really not considering the size of the budget. This county, I don’t think anyone ever gets paid well, and they do it for the love. You know, you’re running because you want to be on the board, because you want to feel like you can provide your guidance. So. But what is the role of the board, in your mind?

Yanin Cortes 0:17:34

The role of the board is three main goals and pretty much hiring and firing of the superintendent. Overseeing. Not overseeing, like, micromanagement, but making sure that all the laws that are already in place are being followed, and. And also just giving support to the superintendent so that they can achieve their goal. Approving budgets, making sure that we don’t go over budget, and that it is appropriated to things that will benefit the students and teachers because they’re the heart of this whole thing. We can say this or that, but the students, we have to make sure that we have quality educational systems for them. We have to make sure that we have. The teachers are being taken care of, that they have competitive salaries, and that they’re being supported. So the school board is in charge of overseeing or just making sure that everything. Everything is running how it’s supposed to be. Okay, but we are not supposed to make policy unless it’s something that is, that we notice, that is somebody’s not following what they’re supposed to be doing. But usually the superintendent is the one that makes everything happen, and we say, okay, yes or no? And we come together and saying that.

Rico Figliolini 0:19:20

All right, so there’s leadership. You guys are there to make sure and guide that leadership or policies to make sure. I mean, you all have a vote on the board. So obviously budgeting and all that, anything that happens, the board is voting on. And it’s not always unanimous. Right? I guess that’s good. Yeah, I mean, that’s a good thing. I mean, you don’t want. I mean, it’s good to be unanimous that you all are in agreement on things, but it’s also good to have diversity as far as opinions go. The fact that the disciplinary changes that happened two years ago were reversed now two years later because people are honest about failure of it and how it would work. So going to the role of the community then, because two years ago, pretty much that was the response from the community. So the whole idea was not just a response from the community, but it was also the people that were elected to the board decided that that’s what they thought should be done because the community maybe was voicing that opinion or the loudest voices were out there. So there’s a role for the, for the community. Sometimes it could be right or wrong.

Rico Figliolini 0:20:34

Right. But what do you, what do you see as that role from the community?

Yanin Cortes 0:20:39

Obviously, we have to pay attention to what the community says because they have concerns sometimes. I think that not every. Some people think. I don’t know. What I’ve encountered is that everything is magical and happens in a magical way, but there’s so many, so many levels to everything and, okay, well, this happened because of that, and they tend to blame one person alone. And in reality, I mean, it’s a huge system and we have. I know, I ran the restaurants, so I know that even though you have some policies, not everybody’s going to follow those policies in the way that it was intended to be followed.

Rico Figliolini 0:21:30

Right.

Yanin Cortes 0:21:30

And it’s hard because we are a lot of people, but we all one, you know, we are that school system. Right. So. But we all bring different perspectives into that, and I think they’re all valuable because everybody has a different need in their mind and how we see the world. So the community should be heard and should be paid attention to. And that is when we get together and we say, okay, the community is asking for this. Is this reasonable? Is this going to work in the school system? I think the problem was, okay, the community is saying this and we need to do that or we need to change the laws about this. Yes, but what would that entitle? And how can we accomplish that without bringing the whole system down. Yeah. We cannot burn the house because they won’t have a house anymore. Right.

Rico Figliolini 0:22:34

That’s a great way of looking at it. Yes, for sure. And you’re right. I mean, there’s thousands and thousands of employees in the county, and not everyone will. Just. Even a small business, like with 30, 40 people, not everyone follows that policy the way you said it, so I could say that. And you’re right, because even though you may agree on the subject to implement, it gets complicated. Right?

Yanin Cortes 0:22:58

Yes.

Rico Figliolini 0:22:59

It’s like Congress, when Congress passes a law, people think that, well, that’s. That’s the law. Whereas now the department that has to take care of implement that law now has a set of guidelines and policies to deliver that. And that could be completely different than what was intended by the law. So I can understand the disciplinary and policies changed because they were trying to address something, but in the end, it didn’t address it properly, I guess. And this is why there was more problems there. So there’s a lot of action. Right? There’s a lot of action.

Yanin Cortes 0:23:39

Sorry, I’m not used to talking like that. But, yeah, that’s something that we can learn, definitely. When we. When something is done and it’s not successful, it’s an opportunity to learn and just to go forward. And I think that’s the mentality that we have to have for our school system that we love in our community. That is the mindset that we have to. Let’s not just point fingers at everybody. Let’s go forward.

Rico Figliolini 0:24:10

Cool. Good way of looking at it. I think if you’re elected to the school board, are there any particular actions you’d like to see happen or policies that you would like to see implemented? Anything new that you’d like to see, any actions that you’d like to see the board do once you’re elected?

Yanin Cortes 0:24:28

Well, definitely. My main safety, like I said, is, number one, making sure that whenever we have a policy that is in place, that we follow it, but that we have training for the teachers, training for the administrators, that we. That we have a plan that works and. Or that the people that are managing that portion because operations is more left to the superintendent. We are governance, and the superintendent is in between both of them.

Rico Figliolini 0:25:03

Right.

Yanin Cortes 0:25:04

Governance and operations. So at one point, we just have to talk to if we have a concern, and I think it should be in a diplomatic way, and I think it should be in a civil way. And lately we haven’t been seeing, because we have the same objective. The objective is to have a great school system, and I think that should be the vision.

Rico Figliolini 0:25:31

Do you think the school handles diversity well, the school system?

Yanin Cortes 0:25:37

I think Gwinnett county has been one of the pioneers in that because we have been diverse for a long time. I think when we go into just making everything a blend game or a politics get into the school system, that’s when we lose, because we will start saying, oh, this is. We’re. Like I said, we’re all different. I think it’s a plus for us. I think we can make this an amazing example for the whole nation. And I think when Gwinnett county has been taking steps towards that.

Rico Figliolini 0:26:14

Cool. Now, you’ve been running as, obviously, you’re running as a candidate right now. Are there priorities as a candidate? I mean, are you. You knocking on doors and stuff? I’m sure you’re meeting people. What are you hearing out there? You know, what are they, or what are people saying to you that you can share?

Yanin Cortes 0:26:34

Well, pretty much the concerns about safety, concerns about high quality education and what is happening to. There’s a lot of anxiety right now about the school system. I think it’s because it was caused because of the discipline implementation policy, that it was chaotic, and everybody just. We need to gain that trust back, I think. And we can do that by just. The school board, honestly, has been acting. They’re always in a fight right now, or it looks like. It seems like that. And would you project that to people? It doesn’t project any confidence. And so, I mean, you see a situation from the outside. You have no idea what’s going on in the inside. It doesn’t tell you the whole thing, the whole story, but there’s a lot of things that go on and that people are working very hard. Our teachers are working really hard every day to teach our students. Our administrators are doing the best possible things that they can do for the teachers and our students. So I believe that’s happening. I just think that because of the discipline fiasco, that’s if we are, the school system has to recuperate. And also, we have a lot of immigrants coming in our system right now, and it’s creating. The graduation rate is not being measured, in my opinion, the way that it should be measured, but that we have no control over that because that’s all over the country, right?

Rico Figliolini 0:28:22

Yeah, for sure. So the system is. Yeah, any school system that has an influx of a lot of immigrants, there are challenges. Right? Language, culture? A little bit. Although we are a multicultural county, I mean, it’s just like we have representative of, I don’t know how many. Over 150, I think, different nations in our country, and certainly from the Pacific Rim in Asia to Latin America to other countries as well, coming. Coming here. So there’s always going to be challenges, I guess so it’s good to have someone, I think, that understands those challenges that’s closer to the immigrants experience than not. Do you think your business background prepares you for the school board?

Yanin Cortes 0:29:10

In some ways, I think so, definitely. I think having the opportunity to have mojitos and the crossing and been an amazing experience for me because I have dealt with, I call it two kinds of customers. Right. Our employees are our customers because we have to make sure that we provide a good working environment for them. And our customers that come in every day and they’re asking for a specific product, are we supplying that to them? Are we providing good customer service? Are we. Are we understanding what they want from us either from. Are we managing the situations that we’re supposed to. It just teaches you. And we have every. When you go on a Saturday night to mojitos, every nation is there. Sometimes I sing and I go, okay, who do we have? Anybody from Mexico. Anybody from here. And then people can. Ukraine. Yes. And everyone like, oh, my God, there’s, like, people from everywhere in the world in this place.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:23

Oh, for sure.

Yanin Cortes 0:30:23

Just having a good time. And everybody has a different culture. And sometimes when I’ve had the problem with employees not understanding each other or maybe some. Some kind of disagreement, I find that it’s mostly because they have a different culture, and the way that they thought about this is the other person is different. It thinks about it in a different way. So we do have a challenge. It’s a big challenge. But that is why we. I believe we have to find a common thing. Okay, you have a problem with this employees. What is wrong? What is your problem? And then they will talk to the other, and at one point, they would see that they were both looking for the same thing, but in different places.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:14

And that’s amazing. I definitely, you know, that is amazing. You’re right. I think, in that regard, that we all want to go to a certain point. It’s just how we get there. And you’re right. Culture is really. I mean, I grew up in a neighborhood that was jewish, italian, and keep and tell people when I. When that’s the case, you know, I grew up on meatballs and matzo balls. You know, it was all. It was all family, and we all ate and eating around a dinner table, made everyone equal, you know, we sharing foods and stuff. But so that’s what I see, you know, when I hear restaurants and stuff. And that’s a difficult business also. So you guys must have been through a difficult time, even through COVID and. And just even running a business like that with help and employees.

Rico Figliolini 0:32:06

So I can imagine.

Yanin Cortes 0:32:08

And they become part of our family. It’s one of the things that I never say people that work for us. I say people that work with us to make this happen. Right? And, yeah, and it’s incredible because I have seen they got there, and before, when we hired, when they were hired, they had no family. Now they have a kid, and they’re still there. And some other people that had been through the restaurant, and then they left and went to college, and now they come back and say, hey, look, I graduated from college, and I went to this, and I always want to know. I have some of the kids that worked in the restaurant always coming back. And so you’re. You’re my mom. You’re like my mom, my second mom, and they all. And it’s just an amazing experience because you become so close to everybody and you feel what they’re going through. COVID was horrible for everybody, but I think it was an amazing thing when we couldn’t open and we didn’t. And some people just called me because I will work. I don’t care if you pay me or not. And. Or we decided, okay, you guys go home. I don’t want anything to happen that at the beginning when nobody knew what was going on and go home, we’ll pay you. And then I told Luz, I think we’re gonna run out of business, but lose is my husband. But it all worked out. Cause everybody knew that we had to survive that, right? And hopefully, thankfully, nobody in our. In our staff gets sick. Nobody in our family got sick.

Rico Figliolini 0:33:47

And everybody’s, you know, well, that is fortunate. That is fortunate. And I know the community supports mojitos at the forum and stuff. People always talking about. It’s like one of. One of the great icons in pastry corners. So we’ve talked quite a bit about the roles and everything. Is there anything that we haven’t spoken about that you’d like to share? I just think.

Yanin Cortes 0:34:12

I just want to tell you that my family loves this community. We love the schools. We actually moved to Peachtree Corners because of Simpson Elementary. I was looking around, and I was like, okay, this is the best school. This is where we’re going. And I remember that I didn’t even look at the house that was the only house left for sale in 2006, the house were flying off the market like hotcakes. I think this and some elementary, it was the home for my kids and Pinckneyville and Norcross. And I care for my community. I really care for our children. I want to make sure that people are looking at, looking at our school system in that way. I want them to have that love and passion for our community because I think that would, it will create something good, and that’s what I want to be there for. I know that my experience will come in handy in the school board. I know that I would be able to talk to the other people, the other school members, and talk to them and say, well, I believe this, and this might work like that. And then if they have to listen to their point of view, and somehow I think that I will be able to come into a conclusion and this is the best for our children because that’s the most important. Our children, our teachers and just our school system for our community.

Rico Figliolini 0:35:41

Very good. I was going to ask you to sell it to make sure people come out to vote, and you just did it. Where can they find out more information about your campaign, Yanin? Like, what’s the website address?

Yanin Cortes 0:35:56

Yanin.com.

Rico Figliolini 0:36:02

Okay. And they can go to that site, find out a little bit more information, contact you if they have questions, or maybe even ask for a yard sign if they want.

Yanin Cortes 0:36:13

Yes. That would be great. It’s funny because my son was, we were coming from school and he’s like, look at this. Look at your signs everywhere, mom. And I was like, oh, my gosh. I don’t know.

Rico Figliolini 0:36:30

They got to be special feeling I’m sure.

Yanin Cortes 0:36:33

A humble person that kind of intimidates me to see my name everywhere. That’s not like my style, but I, but that’s what we have to do is it’s, it is an election, after all.

Rico Figliolini 0:36:45

Yeah. Yes. You definitely have to be out there. And I understand you’re, you know, a quiet person that way, been told. But you have, you know, you, I think you expressed yourself really well here. So if anyone has any questions, they certainly can put questions to you on the comments below, depending on where you’re watching this, whether it’s YouTube or Facebook or on Twitter, which is where this goes live in a few days. So this not live now, obviously, this is simulcast live for those that may be watching it or post watching it afterwards. So I do appreciate your time here. Yanin Cortes, running for school board district three. And thank you very much for being with us.

Yanin Cortes 0:37:28

I just wanted to remind you, early voting is going on now until May 17, and then the election day is May 21.

Rico Figliolini 0:37:38

Excellent. Appreciate you doing that. So don’t forget, go out there, because, again, this is actually the only vote that you’ll be making for Gwinnett County School board, does not happen in November. This is a nonpartisan race, and you all better be out there, because otherwise decisions will be made in May, not in November.

Yanin Cortes 0:37:57

Yes.

Rico Figliolini 0:37:58

So the final election day, actual election day, is May 21. So cool. Thank you for being with us. Appreciate you sharing your opinions, Yanin. Thank you.

Yanin Cortes 0:38:07

All right. Thank you for having me.

Rico Figliolini 0:38:10

Sure. Hang in there for a minute. Thank you, everyone, for being with us.

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