Notes on the Mayor, Town Halls, Nightlife Czar, & Microsoft

My writing on the City of Atlanta has been extensive in the past year. We don’t have as robust of media coverage as in the past, and even though my writings are all my personal opinions, I hope they give at least a little insight to folks on what’s happening here and how it impacts the state around us. I’m super excited to see we have a new contributor from Dekalb on the blog as well, and if you haven’t met/ read Lane, give his first post some eyes. As for me, I’ve tried to write about my first hand experience in certain circles and for doing so, I’ve continued to check in with the Ethics Division monthly since the APAB President alluded to a multi dept ethics investigation into my writing back in June and July. Spoiler alert: no decision has been made. Lately you haven’t heard from me because life has gotten in the way, and I have had the unfortunate and completely unexpected loss of two friends within a two week period along with the funeral of another friend whose death was earlier this summer. But I have taken mental notes, and tried to follow up where I can throughout. I’ll share them here as a smattering of topics rather than a deep dive into any of them. Here’s my brain dump, and how the pieces connect, for anyone who wishes to read.

In this piece I’ll share my knowledge of:

  • The Mayoral request to APAB to appoint the Nightlife Czar to the Public Safety Commission
  • My questions based on his bio (and info Senator Burt Jones might wish to know)
  • City Council postpones the work session on NPU boundaries- no future date offered
  • Mayor’s first Town Hall & the discussions therein (weak sauce responses from the Mayor, included)
  • My recommendation to go to the Atlanta Police Foundation if you really want to get anything done in Atlanta right now
  • The Transform Westside Summit’s meeting and grappling with education, transportation, and how the Mayor recognizes these contribute to racial inequities and how to address that

The Mayor has asked APAB to give him one of our appointments to the Public Safety Commission- to Michael Paul. According to this email exchange, the Mayor’s appointee has not been showing up for the meetings, and he wishes to appoint another. He would like to appoint his nightlife “czar”. Avoiding the obvious cringe-worthiness of penchants for Russian labeling, this request tipped me off to the fact that the Public Safety Commission isn’t going the way the Mayor had hoped. I guess he needs back up, and the current APAB President- the ever present handmaiden of the City– is willing to hand this over without even considering 

  1. The Mayor could just ask for his appointee’s resignation.
  2. APAB has a designee, our own Public Safety Chair who the President has been purposefully blocking, to be appointed.
  3. What’s in it for APAB?

Call it a lingering habit from the trade of lobbying, but when an elected official wants something that you can deliver, I would humbly say this is the BEST time to make the case for something the Board wants. Why this hasn’t occurred to the APAB President speaks volumes to me on the fact that she sees her role continuing to be a duty to the city, not to the citizens. 

I made an open records request of the original exchange between the APAB President and City Council. Because, well, I don’t trust the APAB President farther than I can throw her AND due to my practice of using her own emails that are exchanged in our shared general APAB email to demonstrate her meddling in affairs of the city, she now conducts the majority of her city business on her personal email accounts. This is a fascinating quandary for the city upholding open records requirements, but I’ll leave that to another to investigate. In the meantime, the open records request actually revealed that the person sending the request to the APAB President is also the person who is the custodian of open records. 

IMHO, in other words, the inmates are running the prison here.

It’d be funny if it weren’t my own city government. 

I have some questions about the bio offered to APAB that I hope Mr. Paul will be willing to speak to in a future meeting. I would ask those directly, but we were not given the accompanying BACE form with contact information that typically comes with an appointee consideration of APAB. My questions are:

  • Was your work at Hartsfield and its contract process before or after Mayor Reed’s brother attracted the attention of the state legislature? Senator and LG candidate Burt Jones would probably like to hear about this as well. 
  • What was your involvement in the Gulch deal as your service on Castleberry Hill’s Neighborhood Association overlaps with negotiations?

Concurrent to this request of APAB from the City Council and Mayor, this past Saturday, during the APAB General Body Meeting, the body ratified a motion calling upon APAB to submit a letter to City Council to be read both at Council and at the upcoming NPU boundary work session to be held on Oct. 27th 9:30am in Council Chambers. The letter (still being drafted) is generally to express disappointment from APAB about City Council’s passing an ordinance regarding NPU boundaries without bringing that ordinance before the NPUs and APAB. It also offers further suggestions of bringing proposals to NPUs and APAB before the City Council takes action and requests at least one public hearing be held. We’re still wordsmithing, but the intent of the body seems to be clear- the City Council should hear from the public directly and via the NPU and APAB bodies before they make a change. 

I have a feeling the City Council is a little shook over this NPU matter.

While in my NPU meeting on Tuesday evening, I asked my Council member’s representative (my Council member often doesn’t appear in my NPU meetings, sadly) about when the agenda for the work session he would be presiding over would be released. She had no knowledge of it, but said she would take that question to him and get back to us.

The City Council canceled the work session the next day via press release. Seems about right. Why work on something when you can just kick the can further?

On Wednesday night, the hubs and I attended the first of three (3) Mayoral Town Halls. The first was at Cascade Methodist, the next will be at Peachtree Road Methodist on Monday night, and the last will be at Zoo Atlanta on Thursday evening. My incredibly gracious husband live tweeted the affair, and that tweet thread can be found here. His willingness to share allowed me to process and fully listen to the questions posed, and the personalities present. 

As expected, the town hall was a lot of solely positive promotion of what the Mayor and his leadership team have done. It also wasn’t a huge attendance, which was surprising to me. I remember trying to attend in person a previous Bottoms Town Hall at Cascade and was turned away at the parking lot because it was so packed. I particularly appreciated that Dr. Rashad Richey was the moderator, and he began the discussion with (I’m paraphrasing) ‘Criticism is the cost of leadership, and when one is no longer willing to pay that price, they should no longer be a leader’. As an aside, I’ve listened to Dr. Richey at different points, and follow him on Twitter. Since this moderation, I’ve also subscribed to his podcast Indisputable and would encourage others to do the same. 

While I answered a question via text, I never saw those questions and responses come up. Instead, the Mayor took questions from the audience, old school, lined up. The first I remember was regarding mental health and how we address the causes of many of our challenges. The response (IMHO) was weak sauce. He spoke about how difficult the challenge was and how some folks liked living on the street, and at some subsequent point i remember his Chief of Staff repeating some of his points and pointing out that the Mayor has upped the funding of PADS (PreArrest Diversion Services) as well as funds for housing more than any previous Mayor. 

Yes, and that’s the way taxes and government typically works- we increase funds from our predecessors because previous budgets grow every year, unless you’re in a recession and the tax digest shrinks. Welcome to Government 101.

I think the weakest point about that response from the Mayor was when he pointed out that if something happened right then and there at Cascade Methodist, we could call 311 and PADS would respond- that wasn’t actually true- it was 7pm, and everyone in the city I think knows that 311 is open from 7-7, M-F. It is NOT a 24/7 service like 911. I noticed no one from his leadership team corrected him either, and I thought how sad that was- the leadership team would allow him to make that misstep without kindly redirecting him. 

It made me think of the time I saw First Lady Sandra Deal correct her husband in a room full of folks in Walton County. The Governor had mistakenly said China when he meant Korea and she wasn’t going to let that slide. I hope Mayor Dickens finds his version of Sandra Deal. Someone around you who keeps your details tight is a valuable ally to have. 

Effectively, the question of mental health and housing were two questions that the Mayor tried to demonstrate he’d ‘done something’. He didn’t really seem to offer a plan for what might come in the future, more just reminded us of what the administration had done. 

This is sort of what I see more prevalent than not with Mayor Dickens. So far, he’s just revitalized plans of previous Mayors rather than come up with anything bold of his own. He shows up to events, in stark contrast to his predecessor, but I didn’t know that I had recognized a certain bro-ey feel about him and his administration until Wednesday evening. It was heavily male and they all seemed to walk with the swagger I used to find among men in cowboy boots at the Capitol or tech bros in other spaces. Think the Yang Gang, in black. His COO is a woman, for sure, and it makes me wonder about how much emotional labor she does FOR the Mayor in managing the city and all the personalities in it. I could totally be wrong, yet find that women are often put in places where they serve as filters for men in decision making spaces-to shield the boss and soothe the masses. This is all conjecture though- I know absolutely nothing about the woman or her role. 

What I do know is I will be attending all three of the town halls. Each area represents a space of wealth in the city- Cascade, Buckhead, and Grant Park. A fellow REALTOR referred to Grant Park as Buckhead 2.0. The yuppie mothers pushing their strollers was their indicator. I am particularly interested in any questions that come up in Grant Park about police presence, as a few years ago the City used an LRAD in the area and the Grant Park Neighborhood Association President wrote a letter to the City afterward that I shared within my own NPU and I know was shared likewise in NPU P. I’m curious how Grant Park feels about the APD. I’m also curious about whether Buckhead is happy now or still wants more.

In recent conversations, I was trying to piece together with others why the Mayor was so gung ho about Cop City. Noting his need for another voting member to be secured by APAB, it seems like this issue is more of a millstone for him that it feels like he could easily lay down. But I recognize there are other things at hand. Folks have pointed me to Buckhead, yet I went through the Citizens’ Police Academy with the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods’ President who, among the several other classmates from Buckhead, seemed to be more interested in more police presence and a particular new precinct rather than a new statewide training center located here in Atlanta. None of them seemed to care or want Cop City. 

It seems that Cop City is more a push from the Atlanta Police Foundation, rather than Atlanta’s citizens. It was explained to me in this way: if the Mayor supports Cop City, then the APF keeps the cops showing up, responding to crime, and despite the low numbers of recruits, they keep the city running and the Mayor looks like he’s doing something on crime. Likewise, the Mayor is using code enforcement and nuisance laws to address the challenges a few gang owned nightclubs present to the city, yet these laws aren’t only affecting these problematic clubs- they’re affecting all of our nightlife. Some would assert we’re throwing out the baby with the bath water. To be fair, I am aware that the previously mentioned APAB appointee COULD BE the Mayor’s attempt at a nuanced approach to the nightlife challenge in that we have a gang affiliated club challenge vs an overall nightlife challenge. Maybe the Mayor’s new appointee is the key to threading that needle. I’d like to hear more before I make any decision one way or another. While I’m skeptical, I’d like to give both the Mayor and his proposed appointee the chance they deserve to make their case. 

Further, I would wager that if you want something to be done in Atlanta, you might skip the process and screening to see the Mayor and go to the top- the APF President. Right or wrong, it seems that’s the person effectively calling the shots. It seems the APF President sees Cop City as a money generating property, as funded by the City of Atlanta that will line the APF pockets for years through their ability to bring in police and fire depts across the state. With that in mind, it would seem that the influence of the APF will only grow here vs decline. So if you’re a betting person, or a lobbyist, investing in leaders who you want to know will be wise for your PAC funds, it seems that the APF will be the future king maker unless someone intervenes now. As a resident that’s incredibly troubling (dystopian really), but as a person who has advised organizations and managed PACs, I try to keep it real rather than idealistic.

Another significant portion of the town hall was when I heard that the Mayor wants Atlanta to be a city where folks raise their children. This made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It sounds really good, but what does that mean? To me, this might explain why Chick Fil A is going up in Midtown and a bunch of new build, cookie cutter boxes starting at $650,000 are going up in my NPU, but what does that look like to the Mayor? And is he fully aware that our nightlife business is its own revenue source? I hope so, but as Atlanta is quickly becoming Alpharetta, I’m not so sure. He seems blissfully unaware of the impact his plans have on displacement, or maybe he just doesn’t care. 

In my neighborhood the way this plays out is my block is in between the Beltline and the park that is our namesake. Both the park side and the Beltline side have gentrified- rapidly. My husband and I were priced out of our home within six months of purchasing it. We would not be able to be secured for a mortgage if we tried to buy into our neighborhood now. The streets behind us- Thurgood, Gideons, Fair- they have not gentrified but are beginning. And I’m seeing my neighbors who are renting, move. These are folks who’ve been here since the 90s. They are the folks who stuck it out through the challenges of the neighborhood and when things are improving they are pushed out by rising rental markets vs getting to enjoy the revitalization. 

The one ray of hope I heard from the Mayor was this portion about rental caps. He noted correctly that capping rents is prohibited by state law, but he said that was something he’d like to change within the City of Atlanta. I hope this is true and I hope he acts fast. Otherwise, he is actively missing the rising tide of folks moving from Atlanta to Clayton Co, East Point, from Mozley Park to Lakewood Heights. 

This movement of people and displacement issue brought me to watch the Transform Westside Summit meeting yesterday morning. It featured Joel Dixon, a developer of Urban Oasis, originally from Vine City, Freddie Stevens, the Housing Coordinator of the Grove Park Foundation- his background was with Purpose Built, and David Edwards, Policy Advisor for Neighborhoods from the Mayor’s office. They discussed the focus of transformation of neighborhoods, as a means of addressing racial inequities. I think those words all sound pretty, yet I’m curious how all the details will play out. The men discussed strategy, yet I’ve seen no documented plan by which anyone could hold them accountable. And if they’ve got a plan, at this point this citizen would like to see it. I believe Mr. Dixon emphasized “intentionality” in speaking about what is done here. I’m not sure how one can be intentional without a plan. I also am aware that while it sounds nice to have a “strategically aligned” APS Superintendent and the Mayor, it also is common knowledge in nonprofit and government circles that schools are your easiest means of delivering wrap-around services. 

I hope we all are in agreement the easiest way to “strategically align” the schools and the neighborhoods is to hold Fulton County accountable in not gifting Microsoft with a tax abatement. My husband and I are doing our part when we interact with Microsoft in our NPU K meetings and the Grove Park Neighborhood meetings we’ve attended. One of us ALWAYS asks the tax abatement question. So I need City leaders to do their part of holding Fulton County’s feet to that fire. 

I’m also particularly interested in this Neighborhood focus because it seems to be circumventing the NPU system. I’m all for going to people directly, yet I cannot ignore the fact that the Mayor and City Council seem to constantly avoid interacting with the NPU. I would say this seems odd, but in reality I think it’s fear. 

NPU leaders have done the time. Many of them know the process and won’t easily get distracted by the shiny new thing the city throws their way. LIke them or not, the NPU leaders are the folks who pose the hard questions and push the City one way or another. They are less easily manipulated and are politically engaged. It seems significant to me that the City tries to go around them. DCP has repeatedly said that no one cares about APAB and that its membership is so small that it doesn’t make a significant impact in the City. I think the City Council and the Mayor’s actions demonstrate the opposite- they don’t want to deal with NPUs because they aren’t the lap dogs they hope to be able to easily persuade. 

I think DCP is aware of this as well. There is a practice of going exclusively to the NPU Chairs rather than bringing information to the NPU bodies as a whole. It’s a hierarchical approach that I believe I’m watching the Mayor circumvent. For the first time in months, the NPU K meeting did not have a particular DCP Assistant Director present at our meeting. INstead, for the first time ever since Nov 2018, Jodi Merriday Community Engagement Program Director from the Mayor’s Office attended the NPU K meeting, to hear from us directly. Perhaps I’m drawing too much from this, yet I have asked the Mayor to remove the gatekeepers from his citizens, and I am hopeful this is his attempt at doing so. 

There’s so much more to write and share, but I hope I’ve provided something here that the Peach Pundit readers can chew on until I can analyze and write more. 

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