I’ve taken an unexpected respite from writing for a minute as life has come at me fast in the last few weeks. First, I traveled in the Lowcountry as the Southern Legislative Conference recently took place with a rare sighting of three past & present Peach Punditers occurred. There is a picture of previous Peach Pundit contributor, Eric the Younger (a.k.a my husband), present contributors, Jason Pye, and myself I’ve posted at the bottom of this piece. The sessions left me with much to think of and the city of Charleston never disappoints. Yet when I returned to my city of residence, the discovery of a broken window and theft of food left me with so much more weighing on my mind. A two-hour wait for the Atlanta Police Dept., who then doused my home in fingerprint dust for a potential link to a crime I never wanted to prosecute left me wrung out. A lot of it from cleaning, as fingerprint dust seems to be as relentless as the kudzu in my neighborhood. I mourn not for the shards of glass but for the clear desperation of the child who needed food so badly he had to break and enter my home to retrieve it. While I normally discuss how the City of Atlanta fails us, I’d like to share a bit of why I share a part of the blame this time and how I hope we can all learn from my mistake. Probably not, but here’s hoping. I’m going to take this moment to explain how the hellscape of Atlanta is a trauma we’re all suffering through, while we await actual process and equity within the city. Those of us who are older
are muddling through better have better coping mechanisms, but this child is an excellent example of how we, as well as the structures around us, are failing our future. I’d suggest a strong drink for accompanying this piece.
I think I’ve shared this before, but in case you aren’t aware, at a previous point, my husband was traveling for business and a child I know from the neighborhood stopped by. He would tell you he’s a young man, which is true, in that he is in his teen years, soon to be a father, actually, but his immaturity in life is why I have endlessly tried to encourage him to listen to the adults around him. After many back and forths with his mother and grandmother, issues at school, etc. he was kicked out of his home at some point. He told me he’s part of a gang and he “camps” outside. I tend to think he does a lot of projecting to strike fear, assuming as a white woman, I would shrink from his knowledge of the street. But after years of men projecting to me in countless ways at the Capitol, I’ve learned to be a bit more discerning about who I fear. I find the loudest folks are often all hat and no cattle.
Actual power is often quietly conveyed.
After feeding him a breakfast consisting of six strawberry-jellied toast, six scrambled eggs, and an assortment of fruit, he excused himself to use the restroom and I cleaned up in the kitchen. Unbeknownst to me, my husband had moved a handgun from the locked safe he keeps it in and placed it in his nightstand drawer. The child found it and unlocked the two in the safe, hid them in his bag, and said his goodbyes to me. I didn’t even know the guns were missing until my husband came home and was putting something in the drawer, now sans Gustav. Then he looked in the keyed safe to find the others missing as well. My husband called 911. A report and the serial numbers of the guns were recorded.
In thanksgiving that I was not killed, we chose not to replace what was taken. We confronted the child at some point months later when we saw him next, and explained that while we would never deny him food nor the ability to hang out in our yard, he was no longer welcome inside our home. He has lost our trust. We were rewarded with water being poured into our gas tank. Seventeen hundred dollars later and after a dead tree that the city of Atlanta refused to remove from our neighbor’s yard fell on our car, we replaced said car with a new-to-us plug-in hybrid and a locking gas tank.
We look forward to our Mayor and Governor eventually getting around to establishing a better alternative fuel infrastructure that I tried to encourage the state of Georgia to cultivate back in 2015-2016. No rush, gentlemen.
Fast forward to when we returned from Charleston, we were not terribly surprised to find a smashed window in our bedroom. The only things stolen from our home while we were out of town were bags of Goldfish, strawberry fruit and grain bars, and the makings of peanut butter sandwiches, with our strawberry jelly jar cleaned out, and a couple of small soft coolers. The window to our Little Free Library was also broken, despite its unlocked and empty state, which we interpret as a commentary on something this child knows we hold dear. Clearly, this wasn’t a hardened criminal, but a child acting out of desperation and frustration with us.
The Atlanta Police Department was called, and it took two hours for any responding officer to show up. As a reminder, I reside eight minutes from the Zone One police precinct. After the first hour of waiting, my husband ordered Door Dash from Tassili’s, a favorite restaurant in the West End neighborhood. He called 911 (again) and then entered our order into the online menu application. This was a double entendre- Tassili’s is not known for quick service due to its popularity, and so my husband posed an honest question on Twitter, wondering who would show up first. He tagged the APD in the post. That seemed to be more effective than 911, surprisingly, as LEOs arrived ten minutes before dinner.
I have spoken numerous times about how poor city services are in the city of Atlanta, and at this point, we don’t have a blue flu or a pandemic to blame them upon. Our only accountability here seems to be public shame, which is a sad commentary on where we are. We also don’t have low pay or poor training to attribute to this, as the APD budget takes up 1/3 of Atlanta’s budget, with $67M dedicated to a mock city it seems no majority of citizens actually wanted. I have said I understood why Buckhead has wanted to secede from Atlanta previously.
I now understand why many of my long-time neighbors stopped calling the cops years ago.
The officer who responded to the last call, Officer Jones, was again our first responding officer. LEOs are not an uncommon sight in our neighborhood. He was and has always been, nothing but professional, courteous, and thorough. Based on the few conversations I’ve had, I would describe him as eloquent, knowledgeable, and discerning. He greeted me by name, which is notable since my last name and my husband’s (who placed the call) are different. While I haven’t clarified, I believe he is one of the officers I met while I was in the Citizens’ Police Academy. I remember him mainly because he was on the scene responding to a mental health emergency and we talked about how he’d gone to law school before joining the force. While I’ve met folks who start as an officer and then go to law school, I thought it was interesting he had chosen the opposite. I hope the City of Atlanta pays back every penny of his student loans. This time, he had another officer with him when they first arrived.
The officer with him was more friendly and conversational. He asked me about the cost of my elliptical machine, which seemed odd, to me. Almost as odd as the patch he wore on his vest that said “2020 Riots Veteran”. I tend to reserve the term “veteran” for the folks that have been members of the armed forces, but this seems to fit with the militarization theme of police forces since the 1033 program was instituted. Here’s a picture of a similar patch. A quick Google search tells me these are sold by private entities to LEOs and feature different cities, not exclusively Atlanta.
Let me be clear: even if the APD comes back with any matching fingerprints, we will not prosecute.
And the reality we tried to explain to the officers about our house is that the surfaces are covered in children’s hands and fingerprints- so much so they will be indistinguishable from our own prints, which are both on file with the county. Mine was originally due to my status as a CASA, my husband’s due to his weapon license, and later, both of ours as part of our application process to be licensed as a foster family through Fulton County DFCS.
As an aside, the process of becoming a licensed foster parent through Fulton Co. DFCS has taken 3.5 years, culminating with our notification of the state’s approval last Monday. We look forward to seeing what Senator Kay Kirkpatrick’s study committee brings to light next month.
I’d like to tell you that this situation could be righted by more love, more God, but I simply can’t. The reality is, the child most immediately needs food and shelter, and probably a therapist to help sort through deep fear and paranoia. I know this kid’s story includes a father who died young and was incarcerated, but he isn’t going to hear anything with an empty stomach. A few years ago, I even reached out to the alternative school he was sent to to make certain they knew he had a community behind him that would try to support them if needs were defined. No one responded to my email.
I mention this incredibly personal story to highlight the gaps I find in Atlanta.
Almost everywhere, instead of working together, these siloed entities neither collaborate nor even have structures that easily share information. And to be clear- I don’t want to share information to put children behind bars, but to provide the necessary resources to them and their families to prevent what happened to my husband and myself to anyone else. This child should have been in the care of the state. This child shouldn’t be hungry enough to steal. And I should never have lost my temper with this kid. This child had so few resources, to begin with, and as punishment, I foolishly exacerbated the challenges by denying more when I know we all should be striving to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” or some such something.
Many have opined on the honestly unsurprising nature of my state House Representative announcing her party affiliation change. I say welcome! I gave up party affiliation years ago! There really wasn’t much else for her to do, frankly. She dug herself a hole and the only way to save some face potentially was for her to complete what she started last session. I expect her to lose her re-election, but the greater loss IMHO, is the meaningful discussion Atlantans (and Georgians) should be having about education and the state of kids in our state.
The conversation should be about whether we value and should further invest in the traditional schools in APS or contract more out to charters. Effectively, whether or not we wish to have that discussion in a political race, is going on around me in Atlanta in myriad ways already, from funding to zoning. The search for a new Super is only the tip of the iceberg.
And now I can personally attest to where not seriously considering these things lead.
I believe in Georgia we’re really challenging our ability to walk and chew gum at the same time by focusing on the QBE funding reform, foster care (next month), and affordable housing at the same time. Meanwhile, APS’s Board of Education is not renewing the Superintendent’s contract (again), but, like her predecessor, we can’t count Dr. Herring out. A particular previous Junior League President, IBM alum, and Coxe-Curry ambassador always has a trick up her sleeve. This time though, there’s no John Lewis to come in and save this Super. So too, might the Mayor’s Senior Policy Advisor have some plans, who, when he and Councilmember Westmoreland served on the APS Board of Ed together, awarded Governor Nathan Deal’s education policy advisor an almost $100K no-bid contract.
I don’t suffer fools who mismanage tax money well-male or female. And I’d wager all of these intersect with the kid who stole food from my husband and me while we were out of town. We all have his desperation on our hands. Living in a kinship care situation (not foreign in many families around me), in a rapidly gentrifying portion of the city, and quite possibly his only autonomous access to resources was in his school, which he poorly chose to drop out of.
Everyone in the nonprofit space knows schools are your number one gateway to distributing resources and social services. I interpreted Mayor Dickens and APS’s closer alignment as a strategic attempt to distribute meaningful and equitable resources to kids in our city. Alas, it isn’t clear that will come to be.
Currently, Courtney English is leading the way in moving APS to a charter model, with Purpose-Built, à la East Lake, right in lockstep with a Commissioner of Planning who lives there! May Cousins Properties’ pockets be lined for another generation! Kipp recently hired a new Chief Impact Officer that sounded a lot like a public affairs position versus education. The Tapestry model has been personally petitioning NPUs in gentrifying areas, so it seems APS parents will have their pick of charter models to explore. Let’s hope these models work because we don’t have a lot of data that say they do. I’ve written about the Franklin-promoted Purpose Built school model previously when it was discussed at a Westside Transformation Summit. Dr. Herring was known for selling off or repurposing Birmingham’s property holdings, which I would wager we’ll see some of here. There are a few indicators I’ve seen. First, the appointment of a 20+ year APS Asset manager to the Zoning Review Board, and a recent scuffle over a historic school in NPU Y that involved APAB’s recent Ex Committee meeting and an ethics investigation over – I kid you not- an Instagram picture.
These are the serious topics our fearless leader, the APAB President, addresses in APAB’s Executive Committee meetings.
This latter point is one I’ve made repeatedly here- the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board is a nexus somehow of undue political buffoonery that somehow all harkens back to a few people in leadership. I don’t know how these idiots got power, but what I do know is they are running our city into the ground and bleeding tax money while making a mockery of the process around them. And the Dept. of City Planning, the Municipal Clerk’s office, and the Mayor’s Intergovernmental Affairs Director are letting them do it, and shielding them all along the way while sacrificing any good name and reputation they have to facilitate this foolishness.
Whether it’s the puppet advisory committee, CSAC, that was supposed to have some oversight over the mock city Mayor Dickens wants to build or the Public Safety Commission the current APAB President blocked an appointment to, or even the Atlanta Citizens Review Board, where she slow-walked an appointment to choosing not to appoint a new Education Committee Chair FROM HER OWN NPU to now this- a seemingly meaningless appointment to the Beltline TADAC that she is influencing indirectly by bringing to the Executive Committee’s attention yet another Ethics investigation that has nothing to do with APAB’s work.
At this point, I’ve lost all faith that any APAB members or the City of Atlanta will hold any of these things accountable. The City is in complete dysfunction amid its own shell game and we’re all left here to fend for ourselves as we sacrifice our young on the altars of the reputations of the Old Guard.
If you wonder why and how these intersect, allow me a further moment to connect those dots for you.
As the city develops, the Mayor and his team can’t seem to coax their great connections with businesses and developers into anything more than funding a mock city. Meanwhile, they’re failing horribly at providing Atlanta with a more equitable distribution of affordable housing across our city instead of just in the south and west sides where previous red-lining has cultivated generations of poverty already. As a result, the most vulnerable in our city are often displaced. They move farther out. Remember me mentioning to our fearless leader/ previous state legislator/ editor/ now turned lobbyist/ popcorn entrepreneur that he needed to worry about Atlanta’s densification because it affects his ability to keep multi-family units out of his hair in Cherokee County? Yep. Folks move north too.
And guess where I learned that a family in Mozley Park of four is heading to yesterday? Lakewood Heights.
So my bet is, what the City of Atlanta is experiencing now in my area is just going to repeat itself in others until my city leaders can actually be about the business of providing meaningful support in the forms of housing, food, and mental health supports, and general good governance practices. Right now it seems Sam Bankman-Fried is running Atlanta.
Now, funny enough, I’ve been following the heated discussion regarding the historic Lakewood Elementary School there bc some of my friends already live in the area. And I have long loved historic preservation. Two different sets of friends on vouchers were moved down there because it’s still relatively affordable. This is the section of the city I referenced in the podcast that doesn’t have sewer access. But many readers may have positive memories associated with this area as a result of the Jimmy Buffet concerts over the years (I may have been to a few) and other concerts that have graced the Lakewood stage. It’s relatively undeveloped. But that won’t last for long. As a REALTOR®, I’ve been watching investors make moves in this area for at least the last five years. Word on the street is there’s a developer in the area who wants to purchase the school from APS sans going through the RFP process. Do you see how the process is so often missing in Atlanta? It’s Planning, Council, APS, pick one. He wants to turn the Lakewood School into either an Early Childhood Learning Center (now incentivized by City Council) or an Orange Theory. I appreciate the spectrum of options, don’t you, dear reader?
What I appreciate most about this developer are his political connections, particularly on the right. Folks at the Secretary of State tells me he is interested in state contracts. A cursory reading of his LinkedIn page demonstrates he has been appointed by the Governor to General Contracting and Residential Board and to the place where all Cobb County Republicans go for cushy jobs (and send their children to college) KSU’s advisory board. I found it particularly interesting he was appointed to KSU’s advisory board by Holder Construction’s President.
Holder Construction also handily got contracts for all of my undergrad alma mater’s building phase when Beth Holder served as Agnes Scott’s co-chair of fundraising for the project that then lined her husband’s company’s pockets. The couple also served as bundlers for previous Senator David Perdue. Holder Construction, which does commercial, not residential construction, also built Arthur Blank’s last house. None of this is illegal, I just mention it because often Republicans and Democrats like to paint one another with the opposite color brushes.
I find most are influenced by the color of money.
The citizen input and accountability mechanism is supposed to be the NPU system. But I’ve written previously about how the Dept. of City Planning manipulates it to weed out who they don’t want. So too, you’re now seeing (yet again) how the APAB President uses her office and “anonymous” emails and the Ethics Dept. to undercut the reputation of a citizen leader who is trying to ask meaningful questions in her NPU. This NPU leader made the unfortunate choice to be appointed by APAB to the Beltline TADAC, and now somehow *miraculously* the APAB President is involved in yet another Ethics investigation- this time, amazingly, not her own. Here’s the email. Here’s the recording of the APAB Executive Committee meeting (discussion at 0:10:23) in which this was discussed. Here’s the recording of the APAB General Meeting (public comment begins at 18:32 and the part discussing this appointment begins at 30:45) where this was addressed. Again, I apologize that this is a poor audio quality recording but as you can see here and here both parts of the recorded video shared by the Dept. of City Planning somehow missed recording the entire portion of public comment. Isn’t that convenient?
I promise; I can’t make this stuff up, y’all.
So what happens when all the displaced folks move into Lakewood and the historic school is now an Orange Theory? What happens when the oversight entity for planning our city can’t get their own head out of their ass to do the business they are supposed to do? And what happens when our Dept. of City Planning manipulates their own recordings to hide the things they don’t want citizens to see? What happens when yet another APS Super is sacrificed on the altar of tax money and little improvements? What happens when the City Council writes a $67M check to build a mock city rather than do the solid work of repairing the one in which we reside? Meanwhile, the state of Georgia wants to finally be about reforming QBE and the foster system.
I can tell you what I see now through the broken glass of my window.
The city of Atlanta, under Dickens, is quite the Dickensian Tale of Two Cities. Dickens is woefully failing at bringing them together by appeasing the more demanding of the two. Don’t get me wrong- I understand Buckhead’s frustration at the lack of delivery on basic city services, but as I’ve tried to explain here and on the podcast before- south and west sides of Atlanta are egregiously behind in development, road maintenance, and basic city infrastructure like sidewalks and sewer access. You’ve heard a lot lately about Dekalb Ave, you should check out Cascade Ave.! We aren’t even going to discuss the complete LACK of MARTA rail or even BRT in these areas.
I often like to look back to history to prevent making similar mistakes. While recently reading Why We Can’t Wait I was struck by Martin Luther King’s description of Birmingham in the 1960s and its similarity to modern-day Atlanta with the looming UPS strike nipping at our heels. Emphasis added, mine.
In the entire country, there was no place to compare with Birmingham. The largest industrial city in the South, Birmingham had become, in the thirties, a symbol for bloodshed when trade unions sought to organize. It was a community in which human rights had been trampled for so long that fear and oppression were as thick in its atmosphere as the smog from its factories. Its financial interests were as interlocked with a power structure which spread throughout the South and radiated to the North.
If you’ll read on further and replace “white tyranny” with class tyranny (you might see the two as interchangeable, but that’s your call, not mine). I will point you to a recent Closer Look with Rose Scott interview that references race as THE indicator labor uses for hiring decisions and how this continues to skew generational wealth in America toward white families vs. Black, based on 35 years of analysis. In the following quotation, I’d recommend switching out the title and name of Governor George Wallace for Mayor Andre Dickens and replacing “segregation” with “public safety” and “the most segregated city” with “the city with the largest income gap”. These switches aren’t metaphorical or hyperbole- Dickens ran on public safety. Atlanta is the city with the widest income gap in the nation.
In Birmingham, you would be living in a community where the white man’s long-lived tyranny had cowed your people, led them to abandon hope, and developed in them a false sense of inferiority. You would be living in a city where the representatives of economic and political power refused to even discuss social justice with the leaders of your people.
You would be living in the largest city of a police state, presided over by a Governor -George Wallace- whose inauguration vow had been a pledge of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” You would be in fact living in the most segregated city in America.
History doesn’t reliably repeat itself, but it has an uncanny ability to rhyme if we don’t learn from our mistakes. So with this in mind, I’ll leave you with my questions and a lesson a smarter Georgian than myself left me with at a luncheon some years ago.
Senator Johnny Isakson gave a wonderfully inspiring speech on the importance of inclusion and diversity as a strength after talking about his own approach to leadership at a luncheon in the Capitol City Club when I was part of a group of people I’m not supposed to name in publications. Miraculously, I got one of the few questions that day to pose to him at the end of his speech. It was a room full of people, it was really dumb luck I got it. I asked if he could tell me, in the room full of conservatives, many of which were women, what had he specifically done to be more inclusive of them in his ranks? I had expected this to be a softball question, honestly- Isakson had a previous female Chief of Staff and had passed bipartisan legislation like the Violence Against Women Act. He could have pulled from any of that to answer me. But I have forever been impressed by the genuine answer he gave me that day, which amounted to “I wish I’d done more”.
We all get to choose how we live our lives each day. I have chosen to be politically involved. I have chosen to live in Atlanta. My husband and I have chosen to be foster parents. I have chosen to be involved in the planning of my city. I have chosen to question power rather than pat it on the back because I will always value Georgia enough to push our leaders to do more, better, and faster for our people. I am trying to do my part. I need my elected leaders to do theirs. I cannot undo the broken glass in my home or the brokenness in that child, but I can damn sure remind folks of the shell-shocked feeling we experience when we all fall short.