I finally understand why Buckhead wants to secede

I can finally understand why Buckhead wishes to secede. 

I don’t say that to be flippant-more a reluctant resolve. I’m still opposed to their anti-density approach and their anti-water boy feelings. IMHO Atlanta needs to either densify now or we’re going to turn into San Francisco. Please don’t interpret my understanding as an endorsement- quite the opposite- I think Buckhead successfully creating their own city would be horrible. I just recognize why they would do it in conjunction with my own exhaustion/frustration/ willingness to slit my wrists in the midst of the theater of community involvement played out here in Atlanta. Like my last post, I’m going to write things here that are going to piss people off and say the awkward out loud. It’s cool. I’m used to being the bitch at this point, so I dig in rather than bow out. It’s not my intention to cause offense, yet I’m willing to do that because I think making some people feel comfortable while others have to endure what’s going on in our city right now is a greater offense to the citizens who live here. My last post seems to have made it to my Congressional member, so if folks like my truth-telling, curl up with your beverage of choice, ‘cause I got a LOT to say about how the City of Atlanta could improve. I just hope whoever reads this doesn’t stay in their feelings and sees this as more of a call to action to solve actual problems, not the performative foolishness some dream up.

As Peach Pundit readers know, I’ve been serving the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board in an elected capacity for the past year. I serve as the Correspondence Secretary and while that is a title, I have little actual power to do anything above what any other member of the full board does. The one privilege I get within this volunteer service is that I have access to an email account that receives emails that are supposed to come to the Board as a whole- albeit those emails are typically only shared at the discretion and timing of the President of APAB. Transparency is not APAB’s nor the Department of City Planning’s strong point, but it is an important element of my own integrity. So combined with my own experience in campaigns and lobbying at the state level, my willingness to sit through many mindless performative meetings around the city, and my having a modicum of intelligence more than a snail, these all allow me to connect the dots of various meddlings across the city. 

…And I write about them and my own personal opinions here on Peach Pundit, as I have before coming to APAB and presumably I shall afterward. 

There are costs to this, yet it’s a small price to pay in hopes that exposure of certain things may bring change. All I can do within the body is call attention to challenges within the city I reside. 

Or is it?

And that’s the question I’ve pondered before and finally resonates now with me about Buckhead. Last year, I had been giving a ton of time to my Neighborhood Association and last October I ran into a situation where it didn’t matter my name, my knowledge of the laws, or the people and personalities involved. My personal pleadings weren’t going to dissuade the powers that be from calling the cops on an innocent kid I personally knew. Thankfully, my wise husband talked me into leveling up rather than just bowing out. He told me to lean into the citywide aspect of APAB and with the convincing of a particular member of the Nominations Committee, I leveled up my advocacy to the city level rather than spitting into the wind at the neighborhood one any longer.  I remind my husband of this often when he is frustrated with my venting about the city. 🙂

For my advocacy for transparency within APAB, I’ve been gifted with an Ethics Investigation. Because when I have written in the past about the timing and way in which the emails I had access to have been shared (because I have access to them firsthand versus hearing about them secondhand as the rest of the Board does) I was rewarded by having an internal ethics investigation performed, initiated by the behest of the APAB President. This was after she seconded the removal of Lily Pontis from the Public Safety Training Center Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee (CSAC) and blocked the appointment of the APAB Public Safety Chair to the city’s Public Safety Commission. Most recently she slowed walked an ACRB candidate’s appointment so much that she was appointed to a federal committee rather than one in Atlanta. But this month in a rare show of surprising efficiency- APAB is moving forward with some appointments to the ACRB’s board after months of inaction. My guess and personal opinion are the board is being packed in advance of something that will be coming down to them in the very near future. The APAB President postponed appointing the Mayor’s Nightlife Czar to the Public Safety Commission for these appointments, so they must be important. 

For lobbyists and campaign hacks reading this piece, you are probably aware that state ethics investigations require a formal filing of a complaint. I can personally tell you though, that in the City of Atlanta, that isn’t required! There can be an entire investigation conducted without any formal filing and without any disclosure of what those initiating conversations or notes might entail. Here’s the report I received when it was all done. To date, there has been no mention of this Ethics decision within APAB nor has the Ethics Division provided the Board with a copy in the email listed on the city’s website. In this email exchange, it seems that DCP received a copy of this decision on 11/4 and “per protocols” are to bring this to the attention of the Executive Committee. In the email exchange, I asked “how” and “who”. This is the thread we’ve exchanged over the past four months. You may notice that there is also an opportunity for the Compliance Division to weigh in as well at some undetermined time in the future. I guess DCP “forgot” to mention it in our last meeting on Sunday. We just make the rules up as we go over here in Atlanta! 

I don’t personally need or want any sympathy. I just wanted to share my story so folks can see why Buckhead (if they experience even half of what I have) AS 40% OF OUR CITY’S REVENUE BASE lost patience with this type of crap. These are the blocks Atlanta puts in the face of actually getting work done. And those of us who can level up, namely white folks with money- do. We organize- think of the Buckhead Coalition and now the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods. We spend our own money and provide our own security- think of Midtown Blue. These aren’t abstract ideas- these are literally gaps we recognize the city isn’t going to fill, so we use our power and privilege to do it ourselves in the absence of a reasonably functioning city. 

On a neighborhood level, I can remember previous questions about why white folks don’t engage in my neighborhood association. And I responded then as honestly as I shall here- they don’t have to. Whatever the Neighborhood Association was doing, the white folks could pay for someone else to do it. Most people only engage in HOAs or Neighborhood Associations, NPUs, City Council meetings, etc. if they have something they want to be changed. Rarely do folks engage like me- who give what they have to support rather than demanding something of the organization. Or, like many in APAB, they serve in order to have a title they can leverage for another appointment, or elected office, or to gain some sort of favor within their own circle of influence. 

I understand this latter point to a certain extent. 

Titles in APAB and the NPU system exist largely because in a country where folks who look like my neon white husband have been the only ones who occupied places of power for so damn long, to be able to have some of that power- even in just an empty title and meaningless pomp and circumstance- is significant to those who’ve been shut out for centuries. There are a LOT of legacy leaders in APAB and around the city of Atlanta that really love the pomp and circumstance. I have compared them to the rings one must kiss at the state level like the Speaker, the LG, and the Pro Tems. 

But if you’re Buckhead, why participate in this charade? 

Why sit through meetings with representation from DCP who tells me they “forgot” the resolution I emailed them back in July (the first one of the year, the conversation begins at 1:39:12) and previously threatened a misdemeanor for enforcement? Never mind the ethics investigation- this individual forgot the literal work they are supposed to do in conjunction with their job. It makes one wonder what else they were doing. I wrote about that too, here and here and here. I wrote about the resolution DCP “forgot” here, where you can find a linked copy of the signed document. Why sit through hours of meaningless debate within APAB to only pass a few resolutions that never get delivered to City Council (those resolutions were asked about in this conversation as well and I’ve written about them here and here)? Why debate when you can level up?

Why not just opt out and create your own space of influence? 

And that’s essentially what Buckhead has done. Effectively, the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods is a mirror of APAB- just specific to Buckhead’s confines-and larger (43 member neighborhoods rather than 25 NPUs). Funny enough, DCP and the APAB President are actively trying to reduce the number of APAB members- we’ve had MONTHS of discussion about this as the President and DCP try to influence the will of the Bylaws Committee members. So rather than leveling APAB up to Buckhead, the city continues to try to draw down the number to quelch any influence. It seems as if the Municipal Clerk’s office has complained about our numbers and ever the handmaiden of the city, the APAB President is trying to make it easier on them rather than our citizens(the conversation begins at 43:25). At this point, I don’t blame Buckhead one bit. I may make fun of Buckhead Betties- I know more than a few, but I can now understand why they wish to separate from the dysfunction that is community involvement in Atlanta, particularly in regard to the Dept. of City Planning. After a year of this, I probably need to have my head examined to be willing to continue, yet by the grace of God go I.

…And out of this sort of frustration is exactly where the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods came from- disappointment from being unheard in the NPU system and Norwood’s failed attempt at the Mayoral run. Instead of bowing out, Buckhead bowed up and created almost an entirely separate city with all of the previous systems (complete with on-demand transit) Atlanta had in place-only more responsive to its residents. It’s rather smart to tell you the truth! I may disagree with their density stance and their opposition to the water boys, yet I can admire anyone’s striving to get the government boot off their neck.

The City of Atlanta may have Buckhead separatists currently at bay because of water rights and providing a new police precinct, but the reality is unless the Mayor cleans house in both his employee ranks and his appointees, he’s going to have to regularly kowtow to Buckhead to come back to the table with the rest of the city. He has nothing to offer folks who have means of solving their own problems. And this is a real problem that isn’t going away.

As I sit waiting on a response to an Open Records request I posed last month and was told it would take 10 days to fulfill on 10/25, for copies of emails the APAB President said she sent already (but we all know she didn’t) this presents to me the reasons why some of Atlanta’s citizens choose to not engage with the city at all. Why go through all this rigamarole just to get what is defined in the code already? Don’t worry- I’ve already filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s office when DCP didn’t answer my second request for a new expected date of delivery. They may play; I find Chris Carr does NOT. I’ll let the state take it from here. At least in DCP’s case, the City of Atlanta barely functions, despite the lowest bar set for either productivity or integrity. Instead, they circle the wagons, or “forget” other things, like passing on the Ethics Division decision that was in my favor. DCP’s busy- they can’t be expected to remember everything, can they? Especially when it puts eggs squarely on their face. 

Like the legacy leaders who protect the city, the city also protects them. And all of these sacrifices any forward movement the city could make for the sake of the preservation of egos and titles. The APAB President laments people not attending our meetings, yet she seems unable to reconcile the Board’s relative irrelevance because our preference for empty titles and faux grandeur crowd out any opportunity for actual work that would make us meaningful. We’re not solving citizens’ problems, so why would they come to us? Rinse. Repeat.

Ever wonder why the city is the way it is? Look at the leaders who’ve been leading it for the past decade or so. It’s the folks who’ve been holding onto their titles in these boards and commissions for decades. 

Atlanta may be the city ‘too busy to hate’, but they’re also the city of performative civic theater- engaging in kabuki theater instead of actual work that could be helpful to citizens. DCP tells us they don’t have the budget nor staff to provide us with the basics of any other professional board (staffing, live streaming meetings, a website that accurately reflects our business, etc.). I could almost be understanding of the latter except we have money for bus tours of our own parks and pop-ups at Urban Tree Cidery

Oh, and APAB has its own money- we have $4,600 to spend down for the end of this year. In Sunday’s Executive Committee meeting, I suggested that we spend it on live streaming our meetings. You know, make it easier for our members to stay engaged. We can contract that out, draw down the budget, and engage more citizens at the same time-win-win! I’m sure you all know how that went over… it wasn’t even acknowledged at the Executive Committee meeting. I pointed out that in the three years I’ve served, I’ve never once seen a Financial Report. The APAB President said there was one sent at the end of last year, so I went back through my emails and couldn’t find one. I did find where part of the Executive Committee’s agenda in Dec 2020 had an accounting record, but that’s the last I’ve ever seen. If anyone else has a record of APAB’s finances, I hope they’ll share it with me. My best guess is this will be the only accounting record we have of finances for the last two years unless a change is made.

IMHO, it’s pretty clear DCP and APAB have the money (and time) to spend on what it wants to spend and has time to remember what benefits certain folks. In lieu of budget suggestions, training our members on the CDP, responding to City Council actions, and/or actually speaking on the zoning of our city these folks play and distract.  Does anyone else find it odd that APAB is the board that advises the plan for the ENTIRE city and City Council rarely hears from us, save appointments? Our internal discussions speak to issues of zoning, public safety, education, utilities, and transportation- all of which are part of planning a city, yet they are never translated beyond our body, sadly.… And it’s not because the board doesn’t ask for it directly and has been asking for things for YEARS at this point. Even getting DCP to post our resolutions took me placing open records requests and one of our members asking about them for three months straight in our meetings despite a member of DCP staff sitting in APAB’s meeting where these are passed every month. This staff member literally sits and watches the resolutions pass but won’t post anything until I initiate open records requests and another member asks about resolutions for THREE MONTHS. All of this distraction by DCP, the current APAB President, and leaders who won’t hang it up brings everything to the lowest common denominator for any provision of services or accountability. 

But we got titles!!! And they look GREAT on those glossy brochures of future city council candidates or the resumes of potential appointees.

And where is our Mayor in the midst of this?

Some photo op I’m sure or kissing the ass of the Police Foundation who presumably have him over a barrel due to Buckhead’s demand for better safety. 

Ironic isn’t it? 

Here’s a thought for the Mayor and City Council: 

Clean house with your city employees, get serious about ethics and those who abuse the process, and appoint and/or hire people in Atlanta who want to work for your citizens rather than rely on flimsy excuses or pad their own resumes. Do this, and you won’t have to worry about secession and you just may have the opportunity to go for whatever higher office for which you aim. Or don’t, and see this pattern continue. Just don’t be mad at those of us who finally tire of the excuses and level up. I wouldn’t blame Cascade, NPU R, or any of the neighborhoods in SWATS to choose to do the same in absence of city leadership. Some of us have put in the work, gone through the gauntlet, and now are willing to put money where our mouth is. Some of us know the city is giving us a bunch of crap and calling it service. I’d appreciate it if the city wouldn’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

Leave a Reply