As the year comes to a close, I’m going to lean further into my reflections while I compare them to the present. My last piece was a rarely introspective one. I hope it gave insight into why I care about certain subjects and why I’ve chosen to write about them. Like I would wager all of Peach Pundit’s writers, I care deeply about my state and its people. At a friend’s recent ordination in Rev. Timothy McDonald’s church, one of the Mothers of the Church offered the words, “I don’t look like what I’ve been through,” and I remember feeling that many
women folks could relate to that. Like many other politicos, my experiences have moved me to ire, and I redirected it into my efforts in advocacy and writing. Passion and protesting in the streets weren’t enough, although I’ve done that in Atlanta, DC, and considered it in Paris while studying abroad. The strong backbone that years of being surrounded by gravel roads, wildflowers, and Blue Sky won’t be stifled by the concrete of Atlanta. Trust that. In fact, I’ve found some kindred spirits here, for which I’m grateful. Folks forget I’m from Walton County until they put me in a corner, and there’s very little question of some of my more redneck roots. But the fact is when something’s wrong- it strikes a chord in people across a lot of lines. Be that as it may, while politics is a contact sport, process is what many politicos have to navigate to get their policies heard and passed. Politics of respectability is what has driven me to strong drinks- it makes it easier to eat the ish folks feed one another. And while I’m a rule follower, I know some rules may exist past their prime. But while I may value disruption, I learned long ago that learning how to play the game well is often a more endearing approach to sustainable change. I’m also not one to show disrespect. My mother would have washed my mouth out with Dial soap and probably have a come apart as a past President of our local Junior Women’s Club and Junior Service League if I didn’t show respect to every title in every room. These approaches have served me well. While typically, process is a pretty dry topic, it is never not spicy- especially when the end result is a complete turning over of the proverbial apple cart. So bring your toter, and I’ll share a bit as we walk together for a piece.
I’ve been writing for the whole year about how the Dept. of City Planning effectively starves its own advisory board of resources. I’m willing to bet (although I don’t know this) that the starving of APAB began under the corruption of the Campbell administration and continued under Mayor Franklin. Mayor Franklin’s attempt to address the infrastructure problems (ask me about my driveway if you would like to discuss Atlanta’s ongoing challenge with aging infrastructure) is an excellent study of how Georgia would benefit from unification on their wastewater approach. The Reed administration actively opposed vocal critics and took a strong closed-door policy to let the light in, document dump aside. It’s not surprising, nor is it DCP’s fault, that APAB hasn’t received the necessary resources to thrive. Yet, underfunded and staffed by a member whose own words indicated she’s had a personal vendetta and definitely doesn’t like questioning her authority since last year, it’s been a wild ride, and my bet is we’re almost to the crescendo. I’m getting ahead of myself, though, dear readers, and I apologize. Let me explain how we got here, and I think you’ll see why I’ve drawn the conclusions I have.
When Atlanta’s first Black Mayor, Maynard Jackson, created APAB- the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board, he was acting in response to a campaign idea from an opponent which was well received by the public. As the story goes, Mayor Jackson set up the Neighborhood Planning Unit system as a means for neighborhoods to gather together and speak directly to the city’s planning through APAB. It’s my understanding based upon history that has been shared with me from those who’ve done the research (if this information is incorrect, blame my misunderstanding, not them) the original APAB was the advisory board to the Budget and Planning office (they were one and the same at that time) and had seats from members of transportation, MARTA, etc. as non-voting members. Municipal Code defines our membership as
- There is hereby created the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board which shall be composed of 25 voting members.
- The chair of each neighborhood planning committee or the designee of the neighborhood planning committee shall have one vote.
- The Atlanta Planning Advisory Board shall elect a presiding officer from the voting membership of the board.
The Atlanta Planning Advisory Board may:
- Prepare its own bylaws, not inconsistent with state law or city ordinance.
- Serve as an advisory board to the city on city-wide problems, issues, goals and objectives relative to the preparation and updating of the comprehensive development plan;
- Advise the city on matters relating to citizen organizations and participation in the planning process;
- Perform other functions required by federal law relative to citizen participation where federal law does not mandate assignment to a specific agency; and
- Perform other duties as assigned by the mayor or the council.
Other code sections refer to all BACEs that speak more generally on how we are to perform and work with the city, but this is the totality of the code section that speaks to APAB directly.
Based on this code and the ever-increasing burden the city places on its NPU Chairs, their capacity to attend yet another meeting of the city, and the increasing difficulty of having enough members to make quorum to conduct APAB business, under previous years, APAB addressed the need for the designee position to be filled by what APAB bylaws refer to as a delegate and an alternate. This has been a practice that APAB has engaged in, with delegates and alternates being recognized as members since 2009. Here’s a copy of those bylaws that were kindly passed onto me. Our bylaws currently explain “membership” in this way:
This Board shall be composed of up to seventy-five (75) members, twenty-five (25) NPUChairs, twenty-five delegates and twenty-five (25) alternate delegates. The NPU Chairperson,the official board member, shall have the right to serve on the board or appoint a delegate orthe alternate delegate. Each Neighborhood Planning Unit shall have one (1) vote. Each year,by December 31st , NPU Chairpersons shall submit to the President and Recording Secretary of APAB and the NPU Coordinator the name, address, home and cell phone numbers of both the delegate and alternate delegate for the ensuing year. Failure to timely provide this information will result in both the new NPU representative’s ineligibility to vote at Board meetings and the continued service of the sitting board member until either of the following occur: (1) the NPU Chair identifies a replacement, (2) the board member resigns or (3) the APAB presiding officer both recognizes and seats the new and alternate delegates. The minutes shall reflect the identity and appointment of the new NPU representative. The Delegate shall have the first right to vote, then if absent or demurs, then Alternate-delegate,and lastly the NPU Chair.
So while there may be up to 75 members, there remain only 25 voting members, with each NPU having a vote. The voting procedure is explained in the last sentence, which adds to the confusion, IMHO: The Delegate shall have the first right to vote, then if absent or demurs, then Alternate-delegate,and lastly, the NPU Chair.
At this month’s APAB meeting, the Bylaws Committee Chair received a question from an APAB member looking for clarification about a meeting she and her NPU Chair had last week with a DCP staff member where they were told that the NPU could not have an alternate for APAB. Here’s a link to the recording of the meeting. (The question is posed at timestamp 1:11:52.) My NPU Chair also said he was asked for one name, not the upcoming chair, delegate, and alternate that APAB bylaws recognize. I’ve heard the same from NPU S. And rather than assuming this was a DCP staff member acting independently, I asked the Commissioner herself about this in an email. I can admire any boss that backs their employees up, yet I’m not quite sure the Commissioner is fully aware of the implications of this. I mean, she’s only been in the role for three months. Additionally, to the end of trying to understand what the policies and practices were within DCP for decisions of this magnitude, my sweet husband even tried to request the Policy and Procedures Manual that he assumed was requisite within any city department.
DCP doesn’t have one. Here’s that email exchange as well. My husband thought it was odd that of the top fifty of our nation’s largest cities, our city’s department for planning doesn’t have a Policy and Procedure Manual to lay out in writing how decisions and processes are made. This seems problematic, no?
Dear readers, I believe we can all agree that a city using individual phone calls and meetings as a practice to change long-standing practices they have recognized is a remarkably poor PR choice. In the recorded exchange from the public meeting, an email that was sent to APAB’s Executive Committee was referenced. Here’s the totality of that email. Please note it isn’t the Law Dept’s direct opinion in writing, but a summary of that opinion, as sent from DCP and then onto me. To be clear, no one within APAB (to my knowledge) has been provided a copy of the Law Dept.’s actual words on the matter to date, even though it has been requested multiple times by various members of the body.
This conflict isn’t new, nor is this the first time APAB membership has come up in some form, with DCP being the determining entity where the NPU bylaws, APAB bylaws, and municipal code conflict. (Hence why I asked this to be cleared up as a “best practice” recommendation. Bueller….Bueller…) Perhaps, looking at the visual, it sort of makes sense why this wasn’t a part of the conversation since a large portion of the city doesn’t even recognize APAB in their bylaws. Here’s an email exchange from earlier this year where DCP points to the APAB bylaws and practice of Chairs, Delegates, and Alternates of submitting these names by Dec. 31st. In the email, you can see where DCP references the body choosing two individuals in addition to the Chair and that APAB’s bylaws recognize all three. There is no mention of the municipal code in this email exchange, but I can confirm that the 2022 NPU W Chair represented APAB in the APAB General Body meetings from Jan. until later in the 2022 year, before a new delegate was elected by NPU W. This was also concurrent to the change from virtual meetings to in-person only meetings. The NPU W Chair and I were solidly aligned on virtual meetings, even though we may not be on membership. Only after NPU W elected a new delegate after the chair’s absence did NPU W have representation at the General Body meetings again. Dear readers, I’m betting you can see how this system can be rife for some personal pettiness in neighborhood battles, right? Hence, APAB references in our bylaws that each NPU gets one vote, although they can have up to three members of our body. As a reminder, APAB is not above NPUs, but is made up of them (if in theory alone). In a review of the NPUs bylaws across the city, it was striking to find how varying representation at APAB presented itself.
Now imagine if all of Atlanta’s citizens got to elect their membership to APAB directly instead of a chair appointing them. Wouldn’t that be cool? Yep, I suggested this as an NPU K bylaw change to my husband when he served as chair, and he was opposed to this because he felt like our NPU had difficulty filling seats as-is. I hope this shows EVEN MY HUSBAND leaned on previous practice rather than what he labels as over-burdensome democracy! LOL. When I tell y’all I’m advocating for more transparency and more citizens’ voices at the table, please know I start in the home. And its not just the city, my husband ignores me too sometimes! 🙂
And in keeping with using myself as an example in my writing, I’d like to demonstrate why this is a bad idea. My husband’s approach lends itself to nepotism and an exclusion of others as long as I (as the delegate) stay in good terms with the Chair. The more inclusive approach would have been to give me some sort of challenge to my seat vs. just reappointment with each chair. What incentive do I have for accountability to my NPU? Most of my NPU doesn’t even know what APAB is, nor do more new APAB members- nothing’s written down or even (for the most part) exchanged between the two entities. (I tried to improve upon this this past year, but without a website where this could be uploaded, it never fully launched, and opposition from the APAB President and DCP was ever present. Here’s hoping for next year!) While I have brought a report each month and tried to connect neighbors when they had questions, I never got any real feedback on preferences for voting or decision making. In effect, I can demonstrate why the system doesn’t work, even on a NPU level, as it should- or it doesn’t really work because it is dependent upon the personality in the seats and their ability to communicate. Ideally, as citizens’ means of directly impacting the CDP and supporting or not supporting items brought before them by the city, APAB should be a means of bringing to administrators and legislators alike the failings of the city systems, vs. neighborhood issues.
However, in a review of NPU bylaws, I wondered how each NPU bylaws address this designee, delegate, or alternate directly. This past year, the Dept of City Planning (DCP) introduced the “best practices” document I referenced above, in which I made requests in writing, in public meetings, and to Council members to address the relationship between NPUs, APAB, and DCP. My comments were edited out of the final document and when it was presented to Council, they were not mentioned. As you might imagine, there’s some lack of standardization of how NPUs individually address this, but it can be better presented visually, so you can hopefully see how this functions as a system, rather than individually. Here’s the map the City of Atlanta provides on its NPU dashboard, so you can see theoutlines of the individual NPUs as they exist across the city.
Now here’s an image from Atlanta Regional Commission’s GIS map. This can be found here.
This map has demographic data of the city of Atlanta as demonstrated by the magenta and tangerine color that covers the majority of the map. These are the color lines in the city. The smaller portions are the previous Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) redlined neighborhoods.
This map has a lot of information on it, so I would encourage others to go to the website directly and play around with the maps. Data is cool, especially when you can see it in vibrant colors! You can play around with it to see how the color line in 2019 stays remarkably aligned with the redlined areas, except in Midtown and Dekalb County. The latter of which is the Grant Park area that has been gentrifying for the last decade or more.
Now, unfortunately I couldn’t find an NPU map to overlay (to be honest, it’s difficult to find a lot of citywide NPU maps online. But, I’ll list them and you can compare to make sure I’ve made accurate assertions here. The NPU bylaws that even mention APAB in some way (even remotely) are NPUs H- Y with the exception of N-it seems to follow the color line more with A-E (save D). NPUs A-E don’t mention APAB at all in their bylaws except NPU B’s bylaws say, “A draft of the minutes shall be sent out via email prior to the next board meeting. Once approved by the Board, the minutes shall be sent to the APAB delegate, appropriate Council member(s) and the Planning Department as needed/ requested. The Recorder or their designee shall email the minutes of each Board meeting to the Board.”
Likewise, NPU I only mentions APAB by saying, “Shall also work with the APAB Transportation Committee and implement necessary Sub-Committee to ensure that all NPU-I streets are in compliance with safety rules.” This probably wouldn’t make much sense except that NPU’s I Chair was also the APAB Transporation Chair up until 2022, if memory serves me correctly. We served as co-chairs together on the APAB Transportation Committee in 2021.
What do you notice about these NPUs that mention APAB and those that don’t? They follow the color lines- except NPU Z. Midtown and the Dekalb corridor of Atlanta serve as the intermingling portion. This seems to fit. When I lived in Midtown, I feel like my neighbors and I felt very progressive with our Pride flags and whatnot, although looking back it seemed like a lot of those spaces were predominantly white.
A note on racial implications before I forget…It was brought to my attention that despite my associations with the term “handmaiden” harkening from my years reading Margaret Atwood in Women Studies classes at Agnes Scott College, this term bears racial connotations that I was unaware of and had not intended. That’s the unfortunate way that white female privilege works- I can feel the oppression of misogyny but not recognize the way my own words and actions oppress others in ways I would not want. Explanatory comma: for my white readers who may not know, it was explained to me that Black folks of a certain age read my use of this and align it with a racial epithet for enslaved folks who worked inside the home. I would like to take this moment to apologize in writing to the APAB President for the use of this term and the harm that has caused her. I recognize that my words have hurt in a way I did not foresee nor intend, and for that, I apologize and will not use it again.
NPU Z follows A-E in that its bylaws doesn’t mention APAB at all. In fact, it doesn’t identify how the APAB delegate is chosen, or that NPU Z is represented in any way at APAB. That seems striking for the President of APAB to come from NPU Z and APAB’s Financial Secretary, who is NPU Z’s delegate, to come from the same NPU. So too, it seems interesting that transfer of voting rights are not mentioned in the bylaws either, since the NPU Z delegate has voted for NPU Z for the past year so that the President can preside over the meeting rather than voting directly. I appreciate this best practices approach to presiding over the APAB meetings, yet I wonder how this affects the interpretation that our officers are to come from our voting members. I think something about stones and glass houses, fits here.
NPU R is also somewhat of an anomaly as well, in that NPU R’s bylaws are the most strict in adhering to the code as written. And if you remember correctly, NPU R was the entity that I wrote about previously this year that DCP was trying to “realign” into obsolescence. Clearly, its bylaws fitting with code wasn’t the problem DCP saw there.
Now I reside in NPU K. Our bylaws, like the others on the south and westside of the city, reference APAB representation explicitly and mirror municipal code implicitly. NPU K’s bylaws say, “The Chairperson of NPU K shall appoint an Atlanta Planning and Advisory Board (APAB) delegate and an APAB delegate alternate. The NPU K Chair shall seek volunteers first from the committee chairs. If there are no volunteers from the committee chairs, the Chair of NPU K shall then seek volunteers from the general membership of NPU K.”
If you’d like to walk down this wonkish path with me (who doesn’t love a good set of bylaws??) You can make your own comparison across NPUs by clicking here. Please don’t trust me. Please look for yourself. Each NPU agenda is listed online, and at the bottom of every first page of the agenda is a link to the active bylaws that are in place for that NPU (or at least the ones the city has on record).
Isn’t it interesting that the very entity that the NPU “best practices” document was presented to didn’t touch on APAB’s membership question as a need for standardization? Isn’t it interesting that NPUs A-E don’t seem to need to mention APAB in their bylaws?
What else might they be engaging in that might offer them a voice in city matters?
Well, I might have written about this previously as well. Oh yes, the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods. This is the entity that NPUs A-E engage in (save D). So despite being an entity that the city uses as an engagement tool for citizens (see 4 in the previously referenced municipal code regarding APAB), ironically, a large, predominantly white and wealthy portion of the city is opting out. They’ve organized themselves and advocate separately. As I said in my last piece- I don’t blame them! After my own experience within APAB and the consistent foolishness I’ve experienced, I can’t blame these NPUs one bit for choosing their own path forward. It seems despite APAB’s own membership’s advocacy for professionalization of the board and for staff to better support us (and remove the need for my elected role), DCP has chosen a top down and rubber stamp approach to DCP rather than one as a trusted advisor who advises the Mayor and Council on how to better use the tool that is APAB. So too, the APAB membership reaffirmed the President who effectively has done little at all other than appoint, block, and remove people this year. I think something about leading a horse to water fits here.
While this is frustrating, I can also recognize it may be generational. Change is hard, and when you think that your previous work should be honored forever and ever amen, it is difficult for longer standing APAB members to see that their lack of work produced is bringing about their own obsolescence. As I mentioned in my opening, I grew up with a mother who was a Junior Service League and Junior Women’s Club President. My debut ball as a Debutante of Monroe, ordination as a deacon, and VP-Elect status to the one hundredth board of the Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. was something my parents thought of as markers of their well-honed home training. My grandfathers served in various capacities in their community- one as a 33rd degree Mason and career Air Force and the other as a deacon and County Commission Chairman. I know personally how much ‘to whom much is given, much is expected’. The expectation in my childhood was to be silent until one is spoken to, yet as an adult, if I were to make an argument, then it must be compelling one and based on well-presented data. This is where I would say DCP and the APAB President and I differ. I know that it is equally valuable to a decision maker to provide them with the counter argument as it is to blindly carry out a request. In fact, this practice was reiterated to me at the Capitol by a particular lobbyist who always claimed the rug at the top of the third floor stairs by the men’s room. Y’all know who I’m talking about. His meetings with lawmakers included both the argument and the counter argument so the legislator was not caught unaware. The first rule of lobbying is to never lie. While I would say this is a life rule, the stakes at the Capitol are the potential to damage a relationship permanently if a legislator relies upon anecdotes a lobbyist has provided without providing adequate data to back things up. This was doubly true if Leader Abrams was asking questions. She could zero in on holes in arguments like no other!
I think the rubber stamp approach the APAB President has taken and the DCP staff member’s strange indulgence of the personally petty pursuit of me via the Ethics Division is part of the reason why I find the rule change so interesting and meaningful now. Now that there seems to be an engaged group of folks who don’t follow the old patterns nor the color lines.
And the Old Guard doesn’t like that group one bit. 🙂
Right before the most recent APAB meeting, an email went out from an unnamed “concerned citizen” who asserted a strikingly lot of knowledge regarding APAB’s Executive Committee members yet focused on ad hominem attacks rather than on the work, policy discussions, or process. I thought it was really interesting how the email left out the “fiduciary responsibility” discussion the APAB President and 2nd VP referenced so much in June and July Executive Committee meetings. It also left out any pointing to the bylaws requirements of a monthly finance report and an annual audit of APAB’s finances. Maybe I hang with the wrong folks, but most “concerned citizens” I know want to follow money. This one didn’t seem to be interested in that. And while I briefly toyed with the idea of filing an Ethics Complaint, I recognized doing so would make me just as petty as the folks I criticize here. And all of it distracts from the real work of the board. Funny enough, the email spoke more to the believed unification of a group that isn’t really all that unified, but is just all equally tired of the lack of current relevant work APAB is producing.
Speaking of that APAB work that the President never did- I finally received a response from my open records request back in October, after involving the Attorney General’s office-after the elections, of course. What did I tell y’all about DCP covering for the APAB President and the APAB President covering for DCP? Of all of the documents that were provided, there was shockingly no email produced that could demonstrate that the APAB President ever sent any of the passed resolutions to DCP as she asserted in the October APAB Executive Committee meeting.
Shocked. Shocked, I tell you! You mean the APAB President didn’t do what she said she did???
But to ensure I’m turning over every stone to prove myself wrong, I’m going to make yet another open records request using the third email the APAB President uses, just to try to give the APAB President that extra opportunity to prove me wrong. Stay tuned!
Oh, and if you thought APAB was going to get a status report from DCP about those resolutions we navigated through the committee process, debated, and passed as a body? WRONG!! You expected there to be something done other than pursue an Ethics investigation of me based on spam??? LOL. I will redirect you to the last recorded meeting. Question from our Parlimentarian asking for an update on the resolutions begins at timestamp 1:59:31. While the resolutions focused on DCP will receive a response at some future undisclosed date, other resolutions (read: mine) had some reference was made again to the ever-present specter of the Law Dept. with no foreseeable future date for any update. And, since this was the last meeting of the calendar year, my bet is this resolution will no longer be seen as “timely” and will be disregarded forever and ever amen.
With all this discussion of bylaws, you might wonder what APAB’s bylaws committee has discussed. That seems like an easy way to resolve some of our challenges, right? Well…while some presiding officers might leave well enough alone and recognize that power is best weilded in restraint, it would appear that the APAB President doesn’t hold that belief either. Delegation seems to not be her strong suite. Because she clearly didn’t learn her lesson in removing CSAC member, Lily Ponitz, the APAB President also provided CSAC’s bylaws as a “suggestion” for us to consider for possibilities of removal of a member. I’ll give you one guess of who she’d like to remove. If you think I’m making this up, I encourage you to confer with other members of the APAB Bylaws Committee.
Now where does all of this lack of engaging the public, petty personal vendettas and a President who doesn’t send DCP the resolutions the body passes lead?
Cast aside, I’m afraid.
Earlier this week, the APAB President forwarded an invitation forwarded by DCP to the Neighborhoof Summitt, which is to take place on the date of APAB’s General Body first meeting of the year. DCP didn’t see this date conflict as something to bring to the Mayor’s attention and told APAB members when asked that the invitation was really only for NPU Chairs and Neighborhood leaders- for a public meeting, y’all- I can’t make this up.
Wisely, it seems the Mayor is looking to hear more from the neighbors directly than the going through the Old Guard filter that seems to be only interested in reaffirming their titles with little work to demonstrate why. I think this is smart, honestly. I commend the Mayor for recognizing the gate keeping that’s happening via the current system and I hope that he’ll bring APAB along (even while we sit in our own disillusionment). After my own experience here, I can completely understand why folks no longer engage with the board after some NPU Chairs don’t make the entry to it transparent in bylaws. I also see why the city is effectively going around it. I tried to improve from the inside, but it doesn’t appear the members see the utility of making themselves more relevant or useful to the city. Unfortunately, this of course comes at a time when the city is undergoing the first Zoning Code Rewrite in 40 years. Bravo for the Mayor trying to hear his citizens more directly rather than through gatekeepers. I trust he shall have more success with this endeavor than myself.