RICO For Everyone!


People outside of Georgia must think living here is wild- and it is! I mean, if we’re going to start competing with NYC for the number of RICOs used here, then we should at least get city and transportation planning. Amirite or amirite?? Atlanta did exist on a grid originally, but the advent of cars has been compounding the negative impact of planning since whoever turned that grid on its side, so here we are! The recent provision of RICOs from the Attorney General, the latest DOJ challenges to maps, the ongoing saga of weak sauce attempts of the City of Atlanta trying to stave off the will of its own people all while the decidedly uninspiring challenge of Mayor Dickens to the Atlanta Regional Commission Chair may leave others reeling. Oh, I almost forgot that crane incident at the Publix! Frankly, for me, I feel like this is a train that’s been coming down the tracks for some time- while I absolutely LOVE the people of Atlanta and wish our city COULD lead on planning, Mayor Dickens’ current Planning Commissioner has not demonstrated much more than her ability to offer weak talking points I can read in the paper. IMHO, these are not people to put in charge of our state’s largest regional entity to plan. 

I have been reluctant to criticize the Commissioner of Planning directly because I think one should have a chance to get their feet under them before others should expect big things. But, she’s been here a year. What can we point to that she’s done? How has Atlanta improved because she’s leading this office? 

In a conversation last December with Kenyatta Mitchell, the Intergovernmental Affairs Director for the City of Atlanta, I was told Commissioner Prince was chosen for the basic ‘blocking and tackling’ she needed to do in the office. It wasn’t clear to me then, nor anymore now what this sports metaphor meant. But from my own meeting last November with Commissioner Prince, she poorly feigned naivety in asserting her lack of understanding of how people could be working in the department without line items for their budgeted salaries. Thinking back to my own experience with Dekalb County Commissioner Boyer, who was also the person who introduced me to Michael Hightower, Commissioner Prince’s previous employer, I pointed out that Commissioner Prince had previously worked in Dekalb County, so she could not be unaware of how local governments move money indiscriminately. She closed her mouth and seemed to recognize that I don’t entertain folks who play dumb. For the legislators reading this, who have greater access to the Commissioner than myself, I hope you reflect on what her work has brought you. If that’s a positive, I hope you’ll sing her praises so that I can hear as well. 

My bet is though, that nothing comes to mind at all when you read her name. 

I hope then that metro Atlanta lawmakers join me in questioning what Mayor Dickens wants to bring to chairing the entire regional commission. Our beloved Editor isn’t generally interested in Atlanta affairs, but if he doesn’t want more density in Cherokee, he may want to pay attention to the ARC board chair position. 

Meanwhile, rather than looking at equitable density across the City of Atlanta, our Council members and Commissioner seem to balk at the responsibility of candid conversation that requires flexibility and evolving on issues rather than just digging in heels and saying defiantly, “That’s not how we do things”. It helps that the Dept. of Planning in the City of Atlanta is more of a clearinghouse of developers’ permits rather than strategically thinking about how to meet the needs of our citizens. Like children, lawmakers seem more interested in packing up their ball and wanting to go home rather than doing the hard work of governing and improving the process to hear from its citizens. 

And that is, of course, only when and where the process exists. 

Atlanta has starved its citizens of process and well-resourced systems so much that it is no wonder we have cranes that collapse in on parking decks- our systems here lack any real accountability or teeth, save indemnification. We have been the city too busy to hate- too busy to care about our citizens vs. attracting the next concert, conference, or sporting event as well. This is the quiet truth of living here. These events are great, but like beach towns outside of summer- it isn’t clear to me that the City of Atlanta- Dept. of Planning, Mayor, or City Council, or even our state legislative delegation is super aware we have to plan for population growth, infrastructure maintenance, and education of our people. These are really boring topics that don’t drive people to the polls, sadly. It’s the boring work of governing well that takes time, data, and an openness to evolution.

In contrast, in the case of Cop City, in GOOA, I can totally see how if you only followed the AJC or other more Cox-owned subsidiaries, you would interpret the Cop City movement as some small rebel-without-a-cause group. But in fact, they’ve shown themselves to be more organized, more adept at legal maneuvering, and just generally better at building consensus around a cause than the Mayor and any group of City Council members. 

It’s striking really. 

They have their own media that is making Atlanta City Council meetings far more accessible than efforts the city has made. They live tweet meetings across the city. They share documents and open records requests. They challenge in the courts, and in the streets. They inspire me! I sat in on budget hearings for the first time and learned what complete charlatans some of these Council members are AND how much the social media account for Council is just puff pieces for Council member’s self-promotion. This movement has made local government far more accessible and the citizens far more empowered than the City’s own paid staff makes it. The movement seems to take an end-user approach to all its endeavors so that the citizens who engage with it receive more value than what we’re getting from our paid subscription to the AJC. 

….And they’re doing it all for free.

You may not agree with the abolition movement. You may be an avowed anarchist. Maybe you don’t want Cop City to turn into a training ground for paramilitary training- particularly those associated with Israeli forces. Maybe you just wish the City was more transparent and fiscally responsible. They got you. All points of view seem to be welcome in the Stop Cop City camp vs. in the city of Atlanta. You can follow the Atlanta Press Collective twitter account and get better coverage than anywhere else for basic city information. Ironically, the Mayor here tells us he’s more about drawing circles rather than lines, but in practice, I haven’t seen that to be true. In contrast, by virtue of sheer hard work, showing up, and consistently documenting the City’s failings what the city is doing, the Cop City movement has organically grown to have more support than the Mayor. And that’s how most of us think hard work is supposed to function- on a merit basis, vs. nepotism or cronyism.

And it’s not happening in a vacuum. 

You’re watching a political movement evolve across our country. I would say like the feminism movement, it is coming in waves over decades. Even Attorney General Carr, in his presser on the RICO indictments, linked the autonomous zone in Minneapolis to this site in Dekalb County (timestamp 7:06), and many others have questioned/noticed that both the date listed on the indictments is the same as the date of George Floyd’s murder. The Attorney General also incorrectly asserted (timestamp 9:06) that “…residents of Atlanta have rightly chose to build a state of the art Public Safety Training Center”, and again later said this issue has been voted on “over and over”, seeming to miss the glaring fact of who has voted on this and who has not. 

Respectfully, Mr. AG, the Atlanta City Council and Mayor made that choice, the citizens of Atlanta are currently petitioning to have the mere chance to make that choice through the polls and the Mayor, Municipal Clerk’s Office, and City Council have actively worked against even allowing citizens to vote on this issue. 

Normally conservatives are more in favor of empowering citizens vs. their government, but Attorney General Carr seems to have forgotten what limited government actually means. 

Mayor Dickens will ultimately lose this battle to time, as most lawmakers do when they ignore the rising tide of citizens’ interest. So I hope the Biden admin provides him with a golden parachute better than KLB’s. I don’t know if this RICO charade is the climax of the story, but I’m going to stick around to see this to its end. I’m old enough to remember the ad by the Young Guns (who are slightly older than me in our middle age) of the rat with a gold crown on his head running through the mock cityscape of Atlanta. That was the death knell of Governor Barnes’ administration and the turning of the tide for Democrats’ hold in Georgia.  

In Atlanta, we’re watching the Old Guard lose their grip, despite the City of Atlanta doing all it can to maintain The Atlanta Way. You probably heard AG Chris Carr praising the “private partners”. They’re there- but losing steam in a city that can’t hide from a unified force that’s exposing the exploitation of its people. Also, many of the older heads are literally dying off. But by maintaining the personalities over fair process, the city has lost future converts-younger folks who are coming of age and aren’t willing to take it like the previous generation. This means that power is being lost by attrition, much like the party changeover that happened statewide back in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Let me give you an example of this choosing personality over process.

Some months back, I shared a letter and its attachments that was sent to the Mayor by a fellow member of the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board (APAB), Mr. Derrick Green, documenting the actions of the NPU Director and directly stating that the relationship of APAB with the Dept. of City Planning was at a problematic point. This letter went to the Mayor and all of his cabinet members, which includes the Commissioner of Planning. Clearly, there were some emails exchanged between the NPU Director and her superiors– I obtained these through ORR. Please take the time to note that the NPU Director asserts there will be a letter coming from APAB as a whole. The APAB President wrote an immediate response, stating that the relationship with DCP was in fact fine and made clear she was not speaking on behalf of the board. She too, promised in her response, that the Mayor’s administration should expect a letter from the board, supporting DCP shortly, though. 

That isn’t what transpired, though. 

In fact, the board took a vote and voted not to respond to the Mayor and let the letter sent by Mr. Green stand on its own. Ironically, this vote occurred AFTER the Board voted 14-2-1 in favor of sending a communication to the Mayor, City Council, and Municipal Clerk in favor of having the referendum on the Public Safety Training Center. It seems, like the Cop City movement, APAB’s members are much more accustomed to divergent opinions than the Mayor or the APAB President. Maybe there’s a nugget in there about real leadership, what do you think, dear reader? Instead of recognizing APAB’s unified lack of response as an indicator that there may be some truth to Mr. Green’s assertions, the Chief Operating Officer of the City of Atlanta implied in this emailed response that the APAB President’s response was what the administration considered the authority on the relationship with DCP, despite the APAB President’s written admission to the contrary. 

When you wonder why the Cop City movement has gained traction here, I offer this small vignette. 

The City of Atlanta took the response of one individual, whose receipt of gifts from the Atlanta Police Foundation while serving on CSAC won her an ethics investigation and scandal, and who used her office to suppress the voices of others in the city over an entire board’s (of 25 representatives from all across the city) parliamentary-ordained-vote to avoid negating the letter. Let me emphasize that so you don’t miss it- these board members went through a process of making a motion, and discussion, and took a documented vote to not take action on this issue. And yet the City acted as if it did based on the hasty email of one woman and one staff member who has opened the City of Atlanta up to repeated and documented ethics and legal challenges. 

Ironically, this also doesn’t even save the APAB President from getting the ax from the City of Atlanta! I’ve heard from more than one person on the board that the NPU Director plans to ask the APAB President not to run next year. I guess anyone will do for this NPU Director- easy come, easy go! LOL! 

While I have MANY issues with the APAB President’s leadership approaches, I cannot condone the grievous interference of this NPU Director. Ironically, it also proves Mr. Green’s point! Putting thumbs on scales like this serves no citizen, even if the resulting effect is one I would prefer. I think the APAB President lacks the competence to lead, but I also believe elections like this have consequences and perhaps now that APAB has suffered through a second year of her inept leadership the members will feel more motivated to bet (with no interference from DCP) on someone else. However, the reach of this NPU Director extends beyond just culling APAB leadership. The thumb of the NPU Director was further pushed on the scale in the recent process of surveys as well. There were two surveys- NPU leadership and a city-wide survey regarding the NPU system. You can hear in the recording of the last APAB Executive Committee (timestamp 56:11) meeting where the NPU Director shushes the APAB President from asserting the presence of two surveys and you can hear the laughter in the background.

And you know why, dear reader, right?

Because I and the APAB Financial Secretary were purposefully left out of the NPU leadership survey. They don’t want to hear from us, because we are asking them to change via every means we have. And like Mr. Green, the city would rather pretend we don’t exist than have to responsibly deal with our divergent opinions.

Now expand that to the city as a whole, and follow the Attorney General’s false words about residents having had a choice in this matter….and you now see why the Cop City movement’s got organic growth. 

Outside of Atlanta, it may be bewildering to see a movement grow this quickly, and organically. But for those of us who live here, it’s plain as day. I believe this rapid growth despite these elected officials asserting things to the contrary is why so many have questioned the truth of the petition numbers. But if you live in Atlanta, you’ve experienced some version of this foolishness yourself. And you’ve either had a Stop Cop City canvasser knock on your door or run into them at City meetings or the grocery store- I’ve had all three happen. One could see this movement coming because we’re all so sick and tired of the city silencing people over the smallest things rather than actually doing its work. 

Now where, might you ask is the Commissioner of Planning in all of this? What role has she played?

Like I said before- not much.

In the last APAB General Body meeting, after over a year of waiting, the Commissioner of Planning finally graced the board with her presence. It was not particularly informative, and you can hear from the questions in the City’s own recorded video that followed from NPU Chair Amy Stout, The Commissioner’s presentation didn’t seem to pass her muster either (timestamp 30:35/2:55:41). I won’t speak for Chair Stout- I encourage you to listen/watch yourself to draw your own conclusions. You can also hear where the Commissioner defers almost entirely the question portion offered by NPU T’s APAB delegate, Terry Ross, (timestamp 43:00/ 2:55:41) when he asks about how DCP and APAB can work together to increase citizen participation in the CDP.  The NPU Director jumps in. It’s very clear the Commissioner is unprepared for these questions on her own. IMHO, she seems to be a figurehead and the NPU Director has much more significant influence on the community’s feedback. 

To that end, I would encourage you to listen to NPU Chair Amy Stout, further into the meeting, (timestamp 1:52:10), where she asserts to another APAB alternate member and long-time local advocate, Steve Carr, that “we don’t have alternates”. I thought that was a really interesting assertion, namely because APAB has not taken an official vote on that issue, while it has come up repeatedly. Here’s where the city keeps the records of the votes APAB takes. If any reader can find where that bylaw amendment has been voted upon, your next drink is on me! Meanwhile, Mr. Green and I have documented how the Municipal Clerk’s Office went from having alternates in their March 6th BACE report to poof! They’re gone from the very next report

Curious, isn’t it? It’s almost like the NPU Director and APAB President acts independently and just expect the board, Municipal Clerk, and Planning Commissioner to fall in line and cover whatever they say. It’s almost like the board is nothing more than a rubber stamp. 

If you continue listening over the course of the meeting, you’ll hear NPU Chair Stout and the NPU Director discuss that they had previous discussions about Chair Stout coming back to APAB (2:37:12). One can’t assume that the NPU Director gave this incorrect guidance to Chair Stout about alternates no longer existing, but I hope someone other than me asks the Chair who gave her that incorrect information. It follows the pattern that I’m seeing from Atlanta City Council, Mayor Andre Dickens, and now the Attorney General for the state of Georgia. 

These are supposed to be individuals citizens can trust, right? 

They are supposed to be the objective authorities on these matters. But the AG’s wrong here. Or at least if he’s voted on the Cop City issue, I certainly hope he’ll share the date on which I missed that opportunity at the polls. I wonder if he’s leaning on Mayor Dickens like Mayor Dickens is leaning on his Commissioner of Planning and like she’s leaning on her NPU Director. I don’t think anyone is working together, in fact, at least on the surface, Mayor Dickens and AG Carr are from different parties. But I do think this speaks to a culture in which the Stop Cop City movement easily gains momentum.

There’s culture at the Capitol too. First rule: don’t lie, even when it seems small. Because usually when you break the trust of the people, it’s hard to regain. We’ve seen the rise of conspiracy theories lately, and the easiest way to combat those is to offer facts. 

Because over time these things all add up. And when one realizes how MUCH they add up and keep drawing back to the same people over, and over, and OVER again. You can probably begin to see why the Cop City movement has gained ground here. Honestly, the City of Atlanta can’t seem to do anything other than trip all over itself. Attorney General Chris Carr’s efforts seem to pile on, rather than help that effort, as the errors on the FRONT PAGE of his own RICO indictments demonstrate a lack of attention to detail. Yeesh. 

Now I leave you with these questions: 

Are these the folks you want planning for the entire metro region? 

Are these folks you trust?  

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