Process? What Process?
Dueling posts!! One of my favorite things within Peach Pundit!
I really appreciated Scot’s post regarding Cop City. If you haven’t read it, you should. I deeply appreciate an Editor who asks questions rather than makes assumptions, and that is the editor Scot has shown himself to be. His assertions were solid. I absolutely agree that when there is a known and transparent process, and it is followed, there should be no questions and certainly no Molotov cocktails. That’s what really gets to the heart of many challenges I’ve found in Atlanta-not just Cop City: there is no process here. Certainly not a consistent one, that’s written down, or easily accessible to the public. I think that’s been the most astounding part about living here-that and the propensity of folks who don’t live here policing other folks who do on our opinions regarding our own city’s issues. Everyone else in Georgia makes this assumption about Atlanta having a certain amount of clear process because of its size. That’s logical, right? As you grow, you scale in business, so it must be true that if another city or county in Georgia has clear process, then in the largest city in our state, we’ll find clear and consistent process as well, yes? But I’m here to tell you, that scalability in Atlanta DOES NOT EXIST. CONSISTENT APPLICATION OF PROCESS DOES NOT EXIST HERE and where it even might, it is largely dependent upon who you may know. Don’t take my word for it- listen to the Commissioner!
Last week I attended a lunch at the new location of the Center for Civic Innovation. Atlanta’s Commissioner of Planning was interviewed by CCI, and I wanted to sit in to listen. Here’s a video of that interview. I’m going to focus only on the interview portion, but the question and answer portion afterward was also very informative. I’d encourage folks to watch the entire thing.
The Atlanta Planning Advisory Board (APAB) has requested the Commissioner’s presence multiple times at our meetings, which are both free and open to the public. Some might think it odd that she would choose a ticketed event prior to engaging with her advisory board, but I’ve found that my recent open records requests to Planning are met with threats of fees until I submit a complaint to the Attorney General’s office. So using cost as a barrier to the public is what I’ve found to be right on par with the Planning Department thus far. While I find there are many pretty words offered regarding engaging the public in Atlanta, (some are the Commissioners at timestamp 34:18) few actual efforts are often made.
In the interview, she asserted many things about the Comprehensive Development Plan and how when following the planning process, we get good policy around planning our city. This makes good sense, and if that was all that I knew about Atlanta, I’d be just as much of a true believer as she is in the planning process (33:55).
But I don’t and I’m not.
What I have found was more of what Rohit Malhotra, Founder & Executive Director at CCI alluded to in his questions in the interview and Scot named in his post. It might be helpful to kindly assert that these two men are on opposite sides of the proverbial aisle. But we can all agree…There SHOULD BE a process, and even if there is one, that doesn’t mean it is followed in Atlanta, and it doesn’t mean that elected officials carry it out. In fact, Commissioner Prince takes clear and appropriate pride in discussing the deviation from the CDP in Fayette County to establish Pinewood Studios (35:07). She asserts that “usually” (not always) when an idea is inconsistent with the plan, “we’ll recommend denial of their application”(34:54). This is ideally how the process and procedure is to work, yet for many reasons, including the city not communicating well with its own citizens (37:23) it seems not to work that way and instead causes harm (discussion at 40:02).
The Commissioner asserted that citizens who engaged in the process ‘should hold their elected officials accountable’ (49:17). This set the stage for Rohit’s subsequent questions regarding Cop City referring back to a previous decade or so of City Planning documents identifying the Cop City site in the City Plan as a greenspace (50:32). Here’s a handy copy of the Atlanta City Design under the last Commissioner where pages 332-334 identifies the South River Forest as a greenspace along with pages 338-344 identify it as trail space….and yet it has now become a proposed site for a training facility. So even though its been documented as one thing across multiple Mayoral admins, and sold to the citizens of Atlanta and residents in the immediate area as a parkspace, the City wants to now say “whoops! Our bad, y’all- we really didn’t mean that, we just gonna hand this over to the Atlanta Police Foundation and we’re gonna let THEM decide how to best use that land.”
I don’t think for one moment Scot would accept this mechanism as process in the way he defines it in his piece.
Scot also left off the part about the consequences various City Council members sustained by not returning to their seats over the Cop City issue. My bet is Scot would say that these consequences are well wrought by an engaged citizenry. On this we agree wholeheartedly! But that still doesn’t mean that the City of Atlanta isn’t moving forward with this plan to line the pockets of our police foundation. My previous Council Member was one of those unseated. After her Gulch Deal vote, Cop City was the icing on the cake that Mozley Park residents seemed to be motivated around to remove our previous Council Member. Cop City was a defining issue here. More so than I had really expected, to tell you the truth. The over-policing of Black bodies in my sector of Atlanta is something I’ve had to learn about, but once I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it, y’all.
And let’s be clear about who lives in the South River Forest area. That’s middle to upper middle class folks who manicure their yards just as much as my husband does ours-probably with better results (gardners we are not, sadly). They go to work everyday and come back to host dinners with their neighbors and probably attend church more regularly than my household does. Like anyone else, they value private property rights and how the neighboring property affects their standard of living and their property values. The only difference in this scenario is that I’m white and the South River Forest residents are predominantly Black.
Ironically, I think this is one of the weird aspects that most conservatives in the Georgia GOP have never really done a great job of tapping into. In the past, I would have said the GOP would champion private property rights and transparency. But in the post-Trump, ‘Back the Blue’ identity politics, buzz-word era, no one seems to think deeply about what these principles mean anymore. I seem to have more in common with my Black and brown neighbors, in that I have a healthy respect for God, country, and authority, but none of us seem to want a state so strong it can turn against its own people. That used to be a hallmark of conservatism! But now somehow it’s considered liberal. Funny enough, I also find that accountability really doesn’t know a party. There should be a process for the city’s harmful actions-you know, the decades of red lining committed by our Federal government. Rohit asks about this accountability as well (55:22), as that’s where Atlanta is in this Cop City cluster. Effectively, we have none. The Commissioner talks of acknowledgement and recognition of harms, but she cannot speak to any resources the City can devote to this because they DO NOT YET EXIST.
To be clear, this isn’t the only instance of requesting more knowledge around process. My husband has requested what he considered to be de rigeur for any office in the year of our Lord 2023- a Policy and Procedures manual. It does not exist in Atlanta– at least not for the Dept. of City Planning. The Chief Transparency Officer references code, but anyone who’s read code knows it’s rarely all in one place and can often be contradictory. Ask Woodstock Mayor, Michael Caldwell- his time in the legislature was spent cleaning up code. I wish we had a version of him in Atlanta!
I would recommend the City of Atlanta create a more text focused document to accommodate their pretty pictures in the City Design that explains how the decisions around these things are made and how the public can engage with them. Not providing this contributes rather than eliminates the confusion around the CDP and presents more hurdles that the Commissioner has said she would like to remove. It’s one thing to want to engage more people. It’s quite another to meaningfully engage anyone.
The good news about process is that it can be changed or created. Process can be put into place where there isn’t any. So if the Commissioner, the Mayor, if the City of Atlanta wants to see an end to Molotov cocktails, I’d recommend creating this process rather than another taskforce. The taskforce thing doesn’t seem to be working for the City and I have little faith any new version of the old is going to do at this point.
Another thing that doesn’t work is arresting people for handing out flyers on the street.
This is so NOT a good PR strategy, yo.
As both a citizen and a volunteer board member within the City of Atlanta, I’ll continue to do my part to hold the City and its appointed leaders accountable, and I hope Peach Pundit readers will hold me accountable as well.