Richardson talks governing philosophy with Cobb young professionals

Feb. 18—CUMBERLAND — Cobb District 2 Commissioner Jerica Richardson spoke with young professionals Thursday in a conversation that was heavy on governing philosophy.

Richardson represents District 2, which includes Smyrna, Vinings, east Cobb, the Cumberland Community Improvement District and other unincorporated areas. She was first elected in 2020, flipping the seat from Republican to Democrat.

Maranie Brown, a member of the group and vice president at Blackrock, introduced Richardson, a full-time white-collar employee in her 30s, as "one of our own."

"Being a diverse metro county, her primary goal is to use the challenges that the county faces to elevate conversations that communities around the county and the country should be having," Brown said. "Such challenges on the horizon include rapid and diverse growth, environmental issues, discrimination, trust in law enforcement, recession proofing the community, and long term wealth gaps and inequalities."

A tech alliance operations and strategic programs manager at Equifax, Richardson said her background as an engineer informs her public service.

"What an engineer's mindset can do when done appropriately is get you to understand — what are you really debating about? What are you really trying to solve? ... So that is what I feel I bring to the public sector, is being able to ask good questions, and making sure that we're involving the right people so that we can get to better solutions," Richardson said.

Governments, in the commissioner's view, can pool more resources and more risk than other institutions. Whether its public, private or personal finance, she believes in investing short-term capital to prevent the drain of long-term maintenance.

"I'm a fiscal conservative, but I believe in ROI (return on investment). ... It's not just about cutting costs, right? It's about how are you spending? How are those resources being allocated? Are there better ways to allocate them?

The commissioner also spoke about balancing models and averages with the diversity of groups and interests she represents. One of the tools she uses is her "community cabinet," a group of community leaders that represents different communities across her district. Meeting with these leaders, she said, provides her with perspectives she wouldn't otherwise understand when crafting policy.

A favorite topic of Richardson's is the difference between equality, equity and justice. Equality, she said, is providing the same resources to everyone regardless of need. Equity, which she favors, is allocating resources based on need to produce equal outcomes. Justice, which she prizes above the other two, is removing barriers and reforming systems that create inequalities in the first place.

One attendee asked how she approaches justice, especially when less-privileged people are often the furthest from government.

"My table can't fit 200,000 people. ... But this is where you have to work harder, because you have that access," Richardson said.

Reaching those groups requires meeting them where they are, she said. An example employed was the rental assistance funds, some of which were directed toward the Cobb Magistrate Court in order to work with tenants and landlords to prevent evictions.

"So at least if we don't catch them in the first stage, the second stage, the third stage, the fourth stage, we can catch them at the last stage," Richardson said.

In addition to the community cabinet, Richardson last year conducted a two-month "priorities tour," meeting with more than 40 different groups to hear feedback and better understand citizen priorities. Richardson is planning another tour for this year.

Chase Sanger, a field representative for U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, called Richardson "one of the most accessible government officials I've ever known" during the question and comment period.

Looking back

Richardson also touched on accomplishments and goals from last year, ticking through a number of priorities, many of which are still relevant.

Those included overcoming economic and public health effects of COVID-19, increasing pay for public safety employees and passing the budget. Richardson briefly mentioned that she wants to push the county to adopt an environmental justice agreement and said an affordable housing pilot program is in the works.

Other issues on her radar are the ongoing mobility and transit debate — and possible sales tax; and youth, diversity and inclusivity initiatives.