I’ve been writing a lot about process and politics, but this week I’ll talk about how this and our individual actions contribute over time to culture in the ‘City too busy to hate’…and how that plays into foolish Capitol games Buckhead folks LOVE to play with local control. Bad policy for all of us is the result. You can also blame our Editor for this highlight- he and I had lunch this week and discussed a different turn this piece had taken when he told me he doesn’t generally worry about what happens in Atlanta. I’m going to explain why he should :). The piece will focus on specific topics if you’d like to skip ahead: the Municipal Clerk’s Office, past Atlanta Planning Advisory Board President failures to pass on resolutions passed by the board as a whole, Dept. of City Planning’s editing feedback, and how APAB somehow finds itself in the middle of another public safety issue- which leads to an overqualified candidate not being seated on the Atlanta Citizens’ Review Board- the entity that reviews the actions taken by police. The actions (or inactions as it were) of Atlanta lead to density in our Editor’s backyard. If Atlanta was enabled to densify, I’d wager Woodstock would see less need for multi-family housing.
Over the past seven months, I’ve worked with the knowledge that not all of the resolutions passed by APAB were passed onto the appropriate parties that then ensured they were read into the City Council’s Meeting Minutes. This is the letter that was sent to the Dept. of City Planning (DCP) from APAB on July 5th.
The municipal code states that Boards, Authorities, Commissions, Etc. (BACEs) are to turn over their records to the Municipal Clerk’s office.
The Municipal Clerk’s office submits the resolutions to the Atlanta City Council, where they are read to Council members, appointments are considered, and action is either taken or not by Council. APAB is an advisory board only and while we can lead a horse to water, well, you know the rest. Effectively, APAB is another tool for the citizens of Atlanta to speak directly to their council members.
I’m limited in my metaphors to state affairs, so will employ those here: One can think of APAB as a group of citizens from each Senate district across the state who came together, wrote a suggestion to the Senate, and the Secretary of the Senate read it into the journal. This suggestion has no actual legislative value, but, you know, if folks from across the state agreed on something, this MIGHT be an issue that needed some attention. Low hanging fruit/easy win/ campaign fuel, really just pick one.
This is what APAB does- only at a city council level.
If I were on the Council side I’d employ APAB more as a vetting process for potential legislation, and it is my hunch that’s what Councilmember Amos and DCP are doing now. It’s a wise strategy and IMHO, this is a missed opportunity from the City Council belying the fact that they recognize that APAB hasn’t actually been as representative of the city as it could be. But I digress…
What happens when the entire board representing all NPUs across the city entrusts a single person to deliver their messages to lawmakers and then that individual doesn’t? What happens to Atlanta if this has happened over the course of five years, three Mayors, and two APAB Presidents?
I’m sorry to say this isn’t hypothetical and it might explain why we are where we are as a city.
More important to me: how does this change the dynamic of zoning in the city, housing needs and affordability in the state, and legislation at a state level?
From 2017-2021 the APAB Presidents during those years have intermittent records (with large gaps) of sending these resolutions that were passed by the full board onto the Municipal Clerk’s office. As a result, there are 34 resolutions, passed by the Board that (from what I can tell) never made it to Council.
Until July 5, 2022.
I’m still waiting on the Department of City Planning to confirm receipt of that email, but while waiting, I figured it would be helpful to send it to the Municipal Clerk’s office as well and share it with you for good measure. Like photography, redundancies are good plans for public documents. Since, you know, transparency and all. I’m sort of losing faith in any city offices, the more I work with them. IMHO certain city employees are actively trying to redirect, block, or stymie voices with which they do not agree-even when they request feedback. The image below is IMHO DCP’s approach to policy making.
I know what you’re thinking- this woman needs to leave well enough alone. These poor city employees are just trying to do their job and here she is asking all these damnable questions!
But it wasn’t me this time! Honest!
I received a request from a citizen- not a member of APAB-just an interested individual who emailed the general APAB email to request the City Council meeting minutes where a particular resolution was read into the record of City Council. This nice older gentleman had some questions, and I really love these types of folks- they are generally the citizens who care!
So I did what I always do- I tried to find the answer myself. Then, I called in reinforcements. Here’s the exchange I had with the Municipal Clerk’s office.
Now I’d like to say that up until this point, I’ve had generally positive interactions with the Municipal Clerk’s office. In fact, I have shared in previous APAB meetings that the Municipal Clerk’s office is auditing the BACE list- finding out which were active and which ones were not. There are 125+ BACEs in the City of Atlanta. This isn’t a small task- and one I have openly praised this particular employee for in the past to others.
But the response I got to my gratitude was a professionalish “don’t waste my time” next time.
For all of y’all who’ve worked in Capitol offices, we know any Senator or Representative would have CHEWED us OUT for sending this type of email. But #NOTATLANTA. Please note the Municipal Clerk was cc’d and said NOTHING. This is similar to the experience I’ve had with the Interim Commissioner of the Dept. of City Planning. A bunch of zilch to some SERIOUS personal pettiness I have received.
But I guess this is the level of professionalism I can expect from seasoned City employees who have no actual accountability.
Whew. I’ve worked in retail and the food industry. Ever tried telling drunk Buckhead Betties at Phipps you’re closing up for the evening when they want to shop? Yep. I’ve put in my time in customer service jobs.
This response is unacceptable and speaks to the challenge of interacting with a city office. If this is how they speak to me as a volunteer- with a title (albeit with zero power), how do they speak to citizens? Goodness!
Can Chick-Fil-A please send in their best trainers for our city staff? PLEASE??? Frankly, even the worst Chick-fil-A trainer would still cause improvement.
TBH, this is part of Atlanta’s overall challenge. Nothing’s written down- afterall, that’s why the BACEs are all being audited, right? And when you ask questions, the expectation from the city is that everyone should already know the answer. Even though they haven’t contributed in any way to educating citizens nor are they willing to write anything down so that you can educate others because they’re so afraid of becoming the next Mitzi Bickers. (Easy solution, don’t be corrupt-pay to play is usually not acceptable in any government layers.) The city also does not retain records adequately, doesn’t update nor standardize its process nor is their data shared online in easy to find/ use websites. So we are forced to reinvent the wheel 125+ times. …Because that’s a GREAT approach to getting ish done!
Let me give you an example that speaks to the Municipal Clerk’s office and how their and the City of Atlanta’s lack of standardization have ramifications for ongoing challenges of public safety in Atlanta and the national discussion we’re having regarding police:
A person was appointed by APAB to the Atlanta Citizens Review Board (ACRB). Atlanta is one of the few cities in Georgia that has an ACRB to review instances of police brutality. This person has a JD from UVA, a Masters from Harvard, and a PhD from Emory, but somehow moved faster through the federal government’s system of background checks rather than Atlanta’s. The appointment was made in February 2022, but at the July meeting, the body was notified that the vetting process now (this hasn’t happened before according to the APAB President) is held up because of the educational review of the appointee’s background check (discussion begins at 2:22:14). I thought it was odd when I heard it in the meeting, but then I found it incredibly suspicious after I went back to the APAB general email and saw that this email from the ACRB came only an hour after I sent the meeting invitation to the ACRB appointee-after months of inaction, it seemed striking to me there was all of a sudden an email concerning this the literal hour after I sent the meeting invitation. The appointment could not move forward until this educational hurdle was overcome. Here are the emails the APAB President is referencing in audio and you’ll see that it resulted in this overqualified Atlantan moving faster through the federal background check process than the City of Atlanta’s.
Do you see how again APAB is somehow caught in the middle of Atlanta public safety issues?
Fascinating, isn’t it? It’s almost…intentional.
However, rather than just go on my own suspicion, I double checked myself. I spoke with the appointee directly and asked for consent in sharing this information. It seems as if there was another piece, shared in the email reply- there always is, isn’t there? The appointee signed the required BACE form (here’s a copy so you can see the form yourself) and was then called later and said the form “expired”. If anyone can find any indication of an expiration on the form, I’ll buy your next cocktail. So the appointee signed it and sent the form AGAIN. Then, an hour after my emailed meeting invitation was sent the appointee miraculously received this notification about an educational declaration. By this time though, the appointee had already been accepted onto a FEDERAL COMMITTEE and had to withdraw from consideration for the ACRB because it would be a conflict of interest.
So Atlanta loses a UVA, Harvard, and Emory trained previous attorney who (I learned in our discussion) also worked with the King family at the King Center as a potential member of the Citizens’ Review Board. What a loss for all of our city! Let me also say I have no knowledge of this appointee’s views on the police, any views the appointee may or may not have on Cop City, as a matter of fact, I’d never spoken to this person before reaching out to make sure I understood what failed to happen in the appointment process.
Now- back to the discussion of individuals and bureaucrats having undue influence…if these entities, the Municipal Clerk’s office, DCP, and APAB have only one person with whom they’re to interact, wouldn’t that increase the opportunity for influence and manipulation?
I’ve attended APAB meetings for the past three years. The one and only time NPU A’s (Buckhead is represented by NPUs A and B) representation has been present (other than the swearing in at the beginning of 2022) occurred when they wanted the APAB membership to sign onto a letter opposing the densification of the city. Gloria Cheatum spoke to APAB about a letter she referenced sending to various NPUs (wasn’t sent to the entire board) and then wanted us to vote on it WITHOUT reading it. Here are the minutes from the meeting. You can find it under “NPU Announcements”. I’d love to give you public facing links to APAB meeting minutes, but unsurprisingly, DCP hasn’t gotten around to posting them. This is the link to where they may eventually be posted. I wish the city posted the videos from these meetings. You could see for yourselves how NPU B (Buckhead) and NPU Q (Cascade) often signal to other members of APAB prior to votes. For OTP folks, that’s white and Black wealth influencing opinion, which is probably the best example of ‘the Atlanta Way’ I can give you.
I’m not having ANY OF IT.
Y’all. I know a lot of legislators don’t read bills before they vote, but I’m not voting for ANYTHING I haven’t yet read. Thankfully, I wasn’t in the minority.
Now, legislators from Buckhead who like to trot out their titles of “conservative” just LOVE to mess with Atlanta. I TOTALLY get it. The city has earned a lot of it… But this is where I will respectfully assert they have failed and should defer to their so-called values of local control. It seems so weird I have to remind conservative legislators and our Governor of this. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the path they, nor the Governor followed. Instead of Atlanta citizens deciding their own fate, the Governor signed HB 1405, and it went into effect on July 1, 2022.
Now this cluster of horrible data management and overreach of authority by
rich white and Black folks Buckhead and Cascade has resulted in bad policy, a divided city the Mayor is trying to piece together, while mending fences with a Governor who probably would have cheated off his test in school. But at least it’s online and available to citizens for transparency, so we consider this “progress”, right? *shrug* Oh, and the lack of densification of Atlanta is pushing housing prices up and forcing the suburbs to expand. The traffic I encountered driving north on Wednesday and the discussion of an apartment building going up near our editor’s home tells me this anti-densification of Atlanta is already affecting everyone around it. I personally can’t WAIT for all these suburban conservatives to lose their own districts because of legislation they sponsored that drove more diverse and progressive people to their districts. This is the kind of kharma I really enjoy.
If Atlanta’s citizens had been heard over the past 5 years, 3 Mayors, and 2 APAB Presidents, we might not be facing some of the challenges we are today. Maybe, just maybe, citizens would have been heard and some improvements could have been made.
Data flowing from APAB to the City Council seems to be an opportunity for improvement for the city in myriad ways. Initially, when this process of resolutions was discussed, Dept. of Planning asserted it was their role to deliver this to Council- despite it being in code that it’s to be received by the Municipal Clerk’s office. Oops. Who wrote that down?
Now, APAB is engaged with DCP on revamping the NPU system. This can’t possibly go wrong, can it? LOLz.
Recently, the City Council of Atlanta passed this resolution calling upon APAB and the Interim Commissioner of the Dept. of City Planning (who’s never been to our meetings in the three years I’ve been on the board) to work together to create a ‘best practices’ approach for suggestions for NPUs. I expect we will eventually see codification of this in law, but the Councilmember who sponsored this learned from his predecessor to slow walk the revamp process lest he lose his seat. The city breeds extreme caution and cynicism, what can I say?
Also IMHO, this ‘best practices’ document should include defining the responsibilities and role of DCP to the NPUs and APAB. I’ve said so in June’s General Body meeting (begins at 46:03), in writing here (where I cc’d the Interim Commissioner-it’s also where DCP tries to have plausible deniability
hides their heads in the sand on virtual meetings, rather than continuing to provide Zoom links for our meetings), and in the APAB July General Body Meeting (begins at 38:24). Here’s where the DCP staff member identified that my feedback was left out because she doesn’t feel it’s appropriate even though she agrees it needs to be somewhere (begins at 45:34). I wasn’t at this meeting, so I’m the “certain someone” referred to with laughter.
…Because to define something means to standardize, set expectations for, provide means of accountability (something foreign entirely in this process), and to empower others around it, right? If DCP’s responsibilities to NPUs and APAB are defined, then APAB and the NPUs can better understand their working relationships. Additionally, this would also be some modicum of insurance that despite who staffs DCP, there would be consistency of service to each entity. Leaning on state metaphors again, I tend to think of NPUs like the House and APAB as the Senate- namely because APAB is a smaller body- we’re neither above the NPUs nor have more power- in fact, APAB only exists because the NPUs exist. APAB could ask each NPU to take up certain city issues on their agenda as our voting membership is defined in code as representation from each of the 25 NPUs and (in practice) DCP would be the entity that would put those items on the NPU agendas. Imagine that- the House and Senate working together from a grassroots origin to create policy. And in turn, policy vetting from the city of Atlanta regarding City Planning could come down through APAB to get to the NPUs- or working through the Senate to get to the House members, to be consistent with my metaphor.
Wouldn’t that be GREAT to have an entity that could easily engage citizens across the city this way for quick processing of feedback on issues? Yep. Maynard Jackson thought so too. Unfortunately, as DCP has gained ground over the years in practice and APAB Presidents didn’t submit resolutions as passed by the body, APAB’s relevance and power has waned.
And DCP was there to scoop it up.
And I would respectfully say this is where DCP, like other unelected bureaucracies, shows itself to be unaccountable and unresponsive to the folks it’s supposed to serve. This is gatekeeping of information, and since it won’t be taken to the powers that be, I guess you’ll be getting an ongoing series of indefinite length on the subject…
Personally, I’m not interested in ceding any more power from the citizens to the Dept. of City Planning. IMHO, in their codified role as “administrative support” they have neither been good stewards of that power over the years by serving or guiding us in an effective manner. There’s also that messiness of redlining and planning highways through vulnerable populations that’s part of their history. I would assert the hostility you can audibly hear in the DCP staff member’s voice in answer to my question in the July meeting is how DCP perceives any of APAB’s members when any of us question dear leader. Ask some of our members. I’m not the only one.
This is what happens when you have unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats running amok.
In absence of empowering local citizens to determine their own destinies and providing them with local control, we see the City doing what it’s done for decades- editing out comments like these, telling citizens to not ‘waste their time’, slow walking appointments that might make change, and at seemingly every turn, telling us how much they’re here to ‘serve’ us.
If this is how these folks ‘serve’ us, I’d hate to see what things would be like if they were opposed to us.
I can’t predict that circumstance, but I do know that these resolutions have now made it to the Municipal Clerk’s office. And anyone who reads this post now has a copy. So if they aren’t read into the City Council’s meeting, it isn’t because they weren’t delivered. So despite a five year delay caused by negligent Presidents, ‘wasting’ of the Municipal Clerk’s time, and DCP’s active blocking of my feedback, here we are. We may be ‘too busy to hate’, but we’ve got PLENTY of time for pettiness that creates a bigger cluster for the state to swoop in and create laws around the foolishness. Just enough in fact, to enable state legislators from outside Atlanta to make zoning decisions for us that will negatively impact our city’s growth and their own future abilities to hold onto their districts. Never mind how much longer it’ll take for them to commute to the Gold Dome for a session. Sprawl just feeds the traffic monster. …And the Editor will have more multi-family housing to worry about in Woodstock because Atlanta refuses to densify.
Bless our hearts.