A Conversation with Fulton County Commissioner Natalie Hall

Host, David Martin sat down with Fulton County Commissioner Natalie Hall at the annual National Association of Counties conference as part of a series of conversations with those in and around county government. Our own Good Government Show questionnaire.

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A Conversation with Fulton County Commissioner Natalie Hall Transcription

David Martin: This is the good government show.

Natalie Hall: This is a lifestyle. You live it. You don’t. You don’t shut it on at 830 in the morning and shut it out in five. You don’t get holidays and weekends off. It is 24 seven, 365 days a year. It’s a lifestyle.

I used to always be surprised that people didn’t know what we did, how we did it, who we were, what we offered. But now I realize that it’s just something that we have to consistently do. We have to educate the public on what we offer as elected officials and what the government that we’re elected to actually does for them.

If you serving from your heart is never work. It’s just that you’re helping people along the way through your life. And even if I’m doing something that people would consider personal, like going to a game, I’m going to run into constituents.

David Martin: Welcome to the good government show and a good government show extra. I’m your host, Dave Martin. I recently attended the National Association of Counties Annual Conference. This is where many of the nation’s county officials gather and they share ideas. They set a course for the coming year and promote good government. And I talked to many county leaders and asked them to define what good government means to them and how they measure their success.

Here on this special edition of The Good Government Show are their answers. It’s our own good government show questionnaire. On this episode, we’re talking with Natalie Hall. She’s the vice chair and county commissioner of Fulton County, Georgia. Her district is made up almost entirely of downtown Atlanta, and she was recently named by the NAACP as commissioner of the year.

And I’ll be back with our conversation right after this.

The Good Government Show is sponsored by NACO. That’s the National Association of Counties County Government is actually the oldest form of government in the in the United States and touches more people directly. Think about it. Roads, highways, hospitals, schools, recycling, law enforcement, water and sewers. In most of the country, those services are maintained by the county. That’s county government. NACO is a nationwide organization and they represent all 3069 counties across the USA. NACO helps county government work better together, do things like sharing best practices and as we see in this and other episodes, when county government works well, well, that’s just good government. The Good Government show gets many of our stories from NACO. So thanks for the stories and thanks NACO for working to support good government.

The Good Government Show has a new sponsor, OurCo. That means our community. OurCo find a way to make county government and change makers even more effective. The folks at OurCo provide a platform that blends in-person and digital interactions to connect people in a more human way. The mobile app transforms meaningful conversations and reliable data into actionable insights that inspire positive change.

It’s sort of like a flash poll. Want to know if the community would rather have a dog park or a bike trail? OurCo can get you an answer immediately. Engage your citizens, groups and officials. Learn their wants and needs. Build trust and build programs and policies that advance your county, your job creators, and your constituents. Visit ourco.com.

That’s ourco.com to learn how they do it. And while you’re there, book a demonstration. Thanks, OurCo. Thanks for coming on board the good government show.

Welcome back to the Good Government Show. If you like what you hear, then please like us and follow us on Facebook and Twitter and rate the podcast where you’re listening right now. Your comments help us continue to tell these great stories. And of course, listen to season two of the good government show. Now here’s my conversation with Natalie Hall.

Hi, this is David Martin. This is the good government show. And this part of the show we’re talking with different folks in government about government and the role of government. And right now, I am joined by Natalie Hall, who is a commissioner in Fulton County, Georgia, and was pointed out to me as one of the more dynamic county commissioners in in certainly the U.S. today.
So thank you for being with us. Welcome. And if you would, just give us a little bit of your background and who you are and where you serve and how long you’ve been here.

Natalie Hall: Well, first, David, let me thank you for having me. I appreciate it. I’m the Fulton County commissioner of District four in Atlanta, Georgia. What’s unique about my district is that it is entirely inside of the city of Atlanta. I serve from the homeless to the very wealthy, and I’ve been in office for five years now. I was originally the chief of staff to the late commissioner who held the seat.

Her name was Joan P Garner. Unfortunately, after six years of serving with her through her entire tenure as commissioner, she passed away from cancer in 2017. And at the urging of our constituents, who I guess they had just become used to.

David Martin: How did you go from a staffer to the candidate?

Natalie Hall: I guess they got used to me and they they really came after me strong through email and text messages and everything, saying, we we need you to run for her seat. You’re the only person who knows how to continue the work.

David Martin: Did you agree with everything she said?

Natalie Hall: Not immediately. I did not immediately agree, because prior to coming to to be her chief of staff, I was an executive for over 25 years. So it didn’t make it didn’t make sense to me to begin with, to be her chief of staff. But she was my friend, my neighbor. She lived a block and a half away from me for 20 years.

David Martin: And do you live in the district you serve.

Natalie Hall: In? Yes, absolutely. And so when she ran for this seat in 2010, she asked me to help her on her campaign and do all the stuff, you know, the women.

David Martin: Said, sure, I’ll help you with that.

Natalie Hall: Say yes. But she she had a knack for seeing something in people. And she saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. And she kept asking me to be her chief of staff when she won. And I gave in and September of 2000.

David Martin: She wore you.

Natalie Hall: Down. And yes, she literally wore me down. And I said, I will come help you. And then I’ll set up your office and then I’ll I’ll leave and go back to my executive job. And she said, okay. And I ended up staying with her for the entire six years that she was commissioner.

David Martin: I guess you I guess you were glad you did.

Natalie Hall: I am because I love this. And I realized there was no other way for me to continue to serve the constituents. If I went back into it, I couldn’t do it the same way that I do it now. And I love what I do. I love being able to help people and help them be successful. The seniors, the youth, the homeless and to be that voice for the people.

David Martin: So you’re not a longtime political animal. You’re just so you’re learning every day. I guess the.

Natalie Hall: Funny part of the story is my uncle was actually the first black president of Naco. His name was John H. Stroger, Jr. He was also the first black president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners in Chicago, John H. Schroeder, Jr. They honored him when he was still alive by renaming Cook County Hospital in honor of him. Wow.

Calling it John H. Schroeder General Hospital.

David Martin: So this is this is a family tradition.

Natalie Hall: So I come from a line of public service leaders, not only on the elected level, but in county government. In city government. My cousin was an alderman on the city of Chicago. So you council, you.

David Martin: Know, you were born for this. You just didn’t know.

Natalie Hall: I didn’t know. I just thought it was just.

David Martin: And so you will be with your family, you know, sort of involved in this. There’s just never anything you gave any thought to. It just they took your friend beating you down?

Natalie Hall: Yes. I never, never considered being in politics, ever. Although I have a I realize I was very social. Everyone always said you’re the most social white person I’ve ever met, you know? But and, you know, I was always helping people, but I thought that I was here to help people through technology. Yeah, I literally thought that was my area of service to the world that I would help people through looking at their business processes and making them easier by applying technology to them.

But that really wasn’t it. It was more than that. And that’s why I realized this is where I was supposed to be all along. Took me a long journey.

David Martin: It took a long while to get there. Well, now that you’re here, I want to talk to you about that. So what is your definition of good government? What’s good government to you?

Natalie Hall: Good government is when government connects with the people where they are at and that means where they live, work and play. I always tell our county employees that we cannot serve people from our offices. You can’t sit in the county government building and you cushy office in the summertime with the AC on in the wintertime with the heat on and expect that people are going to come to you.

They are not. Most of the people that need us, that really need us can’t even buy that bus to get to get to us half the time. So we need to go out into the community and connect with them and serve them from where they are. And that is what good county government is about.

David Martin: Now, you said you live in the community that you serve and have for a long time. I guess there’s a certain part of you that’s always on. So can you like throw it out, you know, a sweatshirt and sweatpants and go down to the store and pick up dinner? Or do you have to or is that do you have to like is that a performance for you or do you do you get out?

Natalie Hall: No. This is what I tell every person that I’ve ever hired in my office. This is a lifestyle. You live it. You don’t you don’t shut it on at 830 in the morning and shut it out in five. You don’t get holidays and weekends off. It is 24 seven, 365 days a year. It’s a lifestyle. So I do everything I’m always serving.

Yeah, it doesn’t matter what time of day, it doesn’t matter what day of the week I’m always serving.

David Martin: So when you leave the house, you’re ready to be right. Your constituents.

Natalie Hall: Always.

David Martin: Okay.

Natalie Hall: Always.

David Martin: So how do the people that you serve and, you know, not just in Fulton in Atlanta, but anywhere in the country, how do people know if they’re getting good, effective government.

Natalie Hall: When they feel like they have been offered the best services and programs that are helping every member of their family and their community? Because I always tell people in Georgia, in Fulton County, we are mandated by the state to provide health and human services. And that is what we do for every constituent is not just the least of these, it’s not just the homeless.
The seniors is everyone. And someone asked me the other day, they said, Well, all you guys do is serve the poor. That is not true. We have services for small businesses. We have services for economic development. We spend millions more dollars in economic development than the city of Atlanta or of any other county in the state of Georgia.

So there are services that help the overall community and the people that live in the community.

David Martin: What’s your personal yardstick for how effective you’ve been? What do you what do you what do you look at when you do some self-evaluation? How do you know that you’ve been effective?

Natalie Hall: I look at at the end of the day, did I accomplish a goal of responding to every requests that I have received and responding to it in a manner that the person that I am assisting tells me that it was to their satisfaction is not about whether or not I think I did a good job. It’s about that constituent and if they feel like I did a good job.

So I’m always looking for that feedback from my constituents, whether it’s a resident, a business owner or a nonprofit organization. I’m looking for them to tell me if they feel like that it was a job well done.

David Martin: That’s kind of a big task you’ve given yourself to respond to everyone who inquires.

Natalie Hall: Yes, but the beautiful thing about it is Fulton County. We are afforded the opportunity to hire staff. And so in our in our office, we can have four full time staff or we can have three full time and two part time. And I have done the job of every single person in my office because from being the chief of staff to the late commissioner and putting together her office, I literally have done every job.

And so when I hire someone, I personally train them. And now I have such a dynamic chief of staff and one of my team members who’s been with me since I first ran for office in 2017 is now my chief of staff. And so she has learned everything through listening and watching and has trained her well. She’s yes.

So she literally helps with the training and everything now. So it’s it’s is easier because I have the staff.

David Martin: So what should people look for? Citizens not not just your constituents, but any citizens. What should they look forward to know if the leaders they’ve chosen are effective and doing the right thing.

Natalie Hall: If they are? Well, first of all, one thing that I’ve noticed about the citizens is government has not done a good job of communicating all the things that we actually do and all the things we offer to our citizens. It has been a labor of love for me since becoming Chief of Staff in 2011 to my late boss till now of all ways, sharing what are the services and programs that Fulton County offers.

So everywhere I go, I’m always talking about what we offer to the people and I used to always be surprised that people didn’t know what we did, how we did it, who we were, what we offered. But now I realize that is just something that we have consistently do. We have to educate the public on what we offer as elected officials and what the government that we’re elected to actually does for them.

David Martin: And then is that hard?

Natalie Hall: It is. It is difficult. But, you know, with technology, yeah, it has made it a lot easier. So with social media and email and so much, so many other ways of communicating, it has made it easier. But for me, does he.

David Martin: Get frustrated because, you know, you send an email and, you know, you go, well, I didn’t see that. Well, I put it in the email. I mean, do you get.

Natalie Hall: Well, I never say that because I don’t only just send email as an email. I go on social media, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and I will go out to the community. I go to every single neighborhood planning unit, neighborhood, business and Civic Association meeting in my district. And my district has 84 neighborhoods. And so there are well a lot of meetings that I attend.

And because I have a team, they spread out and they’ll cover the meetings on my behalf as I make my way across my district personally to touch every neighborhood in my district. And I call it doing hard work.

David Martin: Doing hard work, hard work?

Natalie Hall: That’s right. Not hard work is hard work.

David Martin: Do you take a day off? Do you do you have downtime? Do you relax? Do you got to go to a baseball game? I don’t know.

Natalie Hall: Yes, I do. You know, like I said, it’s a lifestyle. Yeah. If you serving from your heart is never work. It’s just that you’re helping people along the way through your life. And even if I’m doing something that people would consider personal, like going to a game, I’m going to run into constituents.

David Martin: And it’s too hard, I guess. A county official.

Natalie Hall: No, that’s why you have to live it. You cannot just be elected for a position and a title and a seat. You have to be it has to be something that you do from your heart. And that’s why I call it hard work.

David Martin: So if people feel like they aren’t getting effective government from their elected officials, what should they do? What would you like to tell them to do?

Natalie Hall: I tell them, for instance, with Fulton County government, the board of Commissioners has a meeting on the first and third Wednesday of every month, and it’s televised. And there is a public speaking portion of that meeting where they can literally come down, fill out a speakers card and speak to us for 2 minutes and tell us whatever they feel they need to tell us, whether it’s that we’re doing a good job or bad job.

They need something in their community. That is their time to speak to all seven Board of Commissioners and let all of us know at the same time what’s on their mind.

David Martin: Do they?

Natalie Hall: Absolutely, they do.

David Martin: So.

Natalie Hall: Oh, they sure do. Right.

David Martin: Like to be on the receiving end of of harangue, shall we say.

Natalie Hall: I love it because I want to hear from the people. I don’t know what I should be doing if they don’t tell me it’s their money, their taxpayers money. These are their programs we’re serving them. They elected us to be their servant and their voice. And so in order for me to know what they want me to do, I need to hear from them.

It’s always good to me.

David Martin: Okay.

Natalie Hall: And if somebody says something that in my chief of staff is standing right here, she can tell you watching as someone steps up that is, someone steps up to that microphone at our televised meeting and they say, Oh, I called your office and no one answered. I look directly over to her at the meeting and I say, Go get them.

And she gets up and she literally goes, I.

David Martin: Should say she’s laughing at both of us as we’re talking. You’re probably worried that you that either that’s okay.

Natalie Hall: And so she will literally get up out of her seat and go and introduce herself to that person and find out, you know, what’s going on and what happened. Because there’s no way that we miss anything. We have emails and then if someone calls our office and leaves a message, the message turns into an email that hits every single one of our phones, my phone and must.

David Martin: And this is the danger of having the right person running for political office. Yes, you to how to do this.

Natalie Hall: That’s right.

David Martin: So government is not simple. Is that a fair statement?

Natalie Hall: Yes.

David Martin: What would you like people to know about how government works? The conversations maybe that you have with other commissioners or that you have with maybe your staff or with, you know, other people that run, you know, the Labor Department and the athletic departments. What would you like people to know about how government works?

Natalie Hall: I think that the thing that I would like people to know about how government works is on the county level, government works for them to provide a successful path forward. We provide those things that they don’t have, the things that just take them a step further in their life to make sure that they’re successful from their health needs to services.

Like we have some of the best services in Fulton County, Georgia, for our seniors. For example, our seniors can ride over and live for a dollar each way anywhere they need to go, whether it’s to the doctor, to the pharmacy, to the grocery store. We do home delivered meals for seniors. Those are the people that are aging in place.

They have put in their time in these jobs. They’ve retired and it’s time for someone to take care of them. That’s how we feel about it. Okay. So we make sure that we do whatever can we can to help them age in place peacefully and with all the resources that they need. So that’s an example of how government can work for the people.

David Martin: Is there something that you’d like people to know about the inner workings, the messy side of government, so that they understand what it is you’re up against when you try to you know, when they say, I want this or I want that, why haven’t you done this? Like, what would you like them to know about how government actually works?

Natalie Hall: Well, I would say the messy side of government is it was kind of exposed to me when I had a conversation with a commissioner from another state and county. And they were saying, well, how are you? How is your government set up? And we had two completely different setups, our government in Atlanta, Georgia, for for the county is set up where we have a board of seven commissioners.

We receive the majority of our funding from property taxes. And we have a tax commissioner that collects that money. He always collects about 99% of the taxes. And so we have a very huge budget is over $1,000,000,000 and we manage the money. But as far as the commissioners, the people manage us. So that’s why I said we have to hear from the constituents because most of the money that we’re managing is their money.

It’s the taxpayers dollars. So, okay, did I answer this exactly?

David Martin: You can.

Natalie Hall: Take it all.

David Martin: Before you go. Tell me one great, awesome thing that you’ve been able to make happen in your county.

Natalie Hall: Oh, gosh, one.

David Martin: Or a couple. You know, whatever you.

Natalie Hall: Go, there are a lot.

David Martin: Well, just give me your give me your favorite projects.

Natalie Hall: So, you know, like I want.

David Martin: People to understand that, you know, what you’ve done what what some of the what you’ve accomplished through government.

Natalie Hall: Absolutely. So I’ll take something that I shared with you earlier about I think that county government has to go to the people. They have to go where the people live, work and play. So coming in as a new commissioner in 2018 advocated for mobile units. And that was because I felt like, like I said, they need to get out of their offices and go into the community.

The mobile units that I asked for were for the library. So they have a youth group, mobile unit, they have an adult book mobile unit. They can literally go and park anywhere within the community and give people library cards. They can take books out and people can shake them out of one unit. And then the other mobile unit I advocated for is called Fulton Fresh Mobile Market, because I do have food deserts in my district and people do not have access to fresh produce.

This mobile market literally goes out, they open up the side of it and they show people how to prepare raw and cook meals with fresh produce. And then people get to walk off with a bag of fresh produce so they can go home and try it themselves. They also go out into the community where they might need a garden and they’ll help them start the garden.

They will test the soil and the water and everything and set up the garden. A mobile unit for work source. Fulton Work Source. Fulton is our workforce development arm. You know, they have the jobs, job training and all that. So taking the jobs to the to people by using the work source Fulton Mobile Unit that literally goes and parks in the community, they can get on that that RV and literally get resume riding help do job training, apply for jobs, anything else they need to do.

So those are some of the things.

David Martin: I ask you for. Why don’t you give me five?

Natalie Hall: Oh, sorry. Oh.

David Martin: Maybe five.

Natalie Hall: There’s so many more. I’m trying to cut myself off now.

David Martin: You don’t have to. Well, thank you very much. I enjoyed talking with you. This was my conversation with Natalie Hall, the commissioner in Fulton County, Georgia. Thank you so much for stopping by.

Talking with us. And the next time we talk, I guess we’ll pick up where we left off here at five great projects. We’ll start with number six now.

Natalie Hall: Okay. And I have five more.

David Martin: I’m sure you will.

Natalie Hall: Yes. Thank you, David. It’s been a pleasure.

David Martin: That was Natalie Hall from Fulton County, Georgia. An interesting journey into politics and into elected office, but it seems to be working for both Natalie and the people she serves. Join us again for our good government show extras and for season two of the good government show.

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The Good Government Show is produced by Valley Park Productions. Jim Ludlow, David Martin and David Snyder are the executive producers. Jason Stershic is our producer and editor. Some transcriptions were done by Kofi Ajeasi Ampah. Our hosts are me, David Martin and Carol D’Auria. Join us again for the Good Government Show, wherever you listen to podcasts.