525,600 Minutes

Atlanta is having a moment. And not a good one. In the midst of what would fuel my default hopeful optimism about the city is this weird power struggle that’s hanging like a shadow over everything, making it more like Gotham than the “City Too Busy to Hate”. The shadow manifests in the propaganda narrative ranging from the City’s social accounts (which seem less informative and more just a means of pushing out puff pieces) to the AJC articles focusing less on the city and more on MARTA. MARTA is a reasonable distraction to a certain extent, but the shiny newfound interest in auditing our transit isn’t enough to distract me from the absolute shitshow that the City is right now. It all makes me feel like I’m living in the Upside Down, except the only thing Netflix seems to provide to Atlantans is more traffic jams on city streets while filming. I wouldn’t say that the city isn’t trying, it seems to be more that it’s trying to reinvent itself into another version yet expecting different results. It’s a lot of shiny objects that don’t grapple with longer-term challenges. All the hopes I had of Georgia emerging from the pandemic in a new and improved fashion seems like a pipe dream that makes a mockery of our past. Whereas Atlanta’s First Black Mayor rested on elevating community voice, it seems Mayor Dickens (maybe Atlanta’s last Black Mayor for a while?) is suppressing it while heeding the beck and call of a Governor who ran on “rounding up illegals” but now wants to claim he’s moderate. While I think most of us thought fondly of Reed and Deal’s relationship that brought about the deepening and expanding the Port of Savannah, along with the Inland Port, I believe the Mayor of Atlanta has sold one of Atlanta’s “lungs” for the sake of the eventual presidential campaign of a Republican Governor that would probably have cheated off his paper in class. And all for what? A discount on some shipping containers so the Governor doesn’t have to clean off the streets around the Capitol’s nifty new gates? It’s kind of sad, really. In this piece, I want to talk about why the power struggle that exists in Atlanta matters here, regionally, and nationally for both Republicans and Democrats. I’ll reach back and explain how the propaganda has contrived the cults of personality we currently live in, tell you where you can find out what’s really going on in the City of Atlanta, identify the new grift, and demonstrate what ramifications this all may have in the long run- spoiler alert- I see a LOT of positives on the horizon. Pour yourself a tall one ‘cause you’re gonna want to curl up for this one!

I find my inspiration in the strangest places. 

While at the Atlanta Opera, located in Cobb County and only accessible via car, (but that’s just a redundant means of saying Snob County’s elitism will welcome Atlantans’ money only as a means of barrier to entry, thank you, Bill Bryne!) I enjoyed seeing the final performance of my favorite opera, La Bohème. The Director of the Atlanta Opera welcomed the crowd, thanked donors, and informed us that like Rent, going forward, the opera would be seeing a new iteration, based on the Covid pandemic. This makes complete sense, and I was surprised it hadn’t occurred to me. If you are unaware, the culminating scene of the opera is when Mimi dies of tuberculosis due to the cast’s poverty and inability to provide healthcare. So too, in Rent, the epidemic is updated to be HIV, and it seems only fitting for the next generation’s struggle to be set amidst Covid-19.  Art reflects life, n’est pas?

It got me thinking about Georgia’s own challenges since the pandemic, the ever-present income gap (the largest in the nation) that exists in Atlanta, the evergreen political campaign topic of crime, and how the “Atlanta Way” is just a polite means of exploiting the impoverished rather than providing the basics that are needed for survival. Hell, Mississippi is looking at expanding Medicaid, so Kemp better be crossing his fingers that he can pass it before them if he wants to look like a moderate in a Senate race. I know Southerners don’t like to be too out there, but y’all- we’re bringing up the rear at this point.  Like La Bohème’s themes, exploitation of poverty and death in the face of poor healthcare isn’t new. It IS sort of the basis of all societies that came before us, we just like to flatter ourselves into thinking we’re doing something better, kinder, stronger, faster…you get the idea. 

But these are the things on which memorable campaigns are built, yes?

Donald Trump wanted to “Make America Great Again”. And Biden…Biden has wisely steered clear of Georgia by hosting Mayor Dickens in the White House and sent his wife instead this Thursday to schmooze the wealthy donors of Emory rather than gracing us with his presence. We’re solidly getting the B team, not the A team after the protests regarding Cop City. It highlights rather than downplays the ever-present reality of American politics that we prefer to incarcerate folks rather than provide them a social safety net, which is KIND of the Democrat whole thing. Hating Cop City protests is not exclusive to one party- oh no! The Cop City thing is something the Mayor, Governor, and Attorney General REALLY hope will just die away, but damnit, folks just keep popping up at the most inconvenient time. The DPG (per usual) just wrings its hands and hopes the storm blows over without too much damage to its side. Alas, their cowardice in not leading on the Cop City issue has cost them and Dickens the caché of a Presidential visit on the national stage. 

Pity; isn’t it one of the rules of politics to never waste a good crisis? Somewhere, Rahm Emmanuel is writing a memoir, in Japan.

But here in Atlanta, we’ve got an affordable housing crisis that is being addressed by a Zoning Committee chair who worked for Bloomberg and got her committee position not because she earned it- OH NO! Not in Atlanta, where the grift is just baked in here- no! Overstreet and another Black female council member bitched about not getting the committee chairs they wanted in the AJC. So the President of the Council gave it to them. I mean, look- I’m all about female empowerment, but I also think the drama of putting it in the paper was not a choice I’d personally make. Tacky is as tacky does. Meanwhile, Overstreet has only recently come to her senses about blocking her opposition to tiny homes as a means of  “protection” of single-family residences because urbanists within the city had a comin’ to Jesus with her. Bless her heart. Overstreet’s lack of knowledge regarding zoning and her penchant for the establishment crowd makes her more in line with the elites in Buckhead and Cascade, rather than the folks who are trying to purchase their first home. 

Speaking of folks who don’t know their audience….The AJC has really lost any credibility it once may have had. It tarried far too long without leadership that reflects the city, and now it’s trying to fast-track revitalizing its reputation with a Black Editor. Godspeed to Andrew Morse as he tries to right the sinking ship! But hiring Monica Kaufman (who I believe resides in Henry County now) doesn’t ingratiate more of the folks who actually RESIDE in Atlanta. I think that’s been the weirdest part about living here. You eventually realize that if you just attend all the things that are discussed in the news, you’ll see that most of the stories in the AJC are only scratching the surface rather than accurately reflecting what’s going on on the ground. Instead, for real news, I turn to the Atlanta Community Press Collective, Canopy Atlanta, Decaturish (not Atlanta), The Saporta Report, King Williams, and last, but definitely not least, friend of the blog, George Chidi. Everyone has their own slant, for sure, but these folks actually live and are on the street here and their offices aren’t located in Dunwoody.

But it isn’t just the AJC that serves as puff pieces for the City government! Not at all!

Sometime last year, I kept seeing all these photos of an apartment building I couldn’t place, but knew I recognized. Here’s the Atlanta News First article. Look at that rebranding! They too are competing for your eyes & clicks, even at the sacrifice of meaningful reporting. You can see the emphasis of its ‘crime ridden’ nature and how it was “drug-infested”. I thought, how could I know where this is? And then, while driving FK to school one morning, it hit me like a ton of bricks! This “crime-ridden area” was the street kiddo and I drove up every morning to school! The truth is, the buildings were (and many still are) open, windowless, and can harbor folks looking for housing from the cold. Here is an image the news article and social media didn’t show. This photo was taken (obviously) from my parked car on November 15, 2023. The road isn’t super busy in the mornings, which is why I like to drive through. There’s been some improvement, but not much.

But that happens anywhere, because we have an overwhelming unhoused population here, not because this street in particular was problematic. The buildings are also located on a street with single-family homes where children walk to school and kiddo and I often slowly drive through bc there is a particular cat who we have seen walking along with its person (a child who plays a band instrument) walking to school. In the morning. It’s a pretty cute sight. I mean, I guess there are problems on this street like anywhere else, but there’s also a vibrant community with children, parents, etc.-even pets! The only thing missing is the white picket fence. The school is also small enough my child knows this other child’s name. For all you hear about the challenges within APS, the community and people are strong, connected, and genuinely care for one another.  

This might also be the time to mention that this is the neighborhood in which our current Mayor was raised. The Street is Delmar Lane, you can look it up on Google Maps.

But if you read the papers, you’d think this was some horrible area where the council members and developers came and “saved” it. There was even a ribbon cutting and some of the buildings have been painted white brick, à la Chip and Joanna Gaines. New brand, new name-Alpharetta beige everywhere- voila! Problems solved-right? 

But here’s the hard truth: the reason why things are broken here is because the City hasn’t bothered to maintain anything or hold anyone (including themselves) accountable. And, without meaningfully addressing affordable housing and holding developers accountable, we’re just doing the same thing all over while expecting different results. The City has opened a recent affordable housing location in the heart of downtown, called The Melody, named after a woman who literally froze to death on our city streets. If you’d like to know her story, background on the city, and the site itself, I encourage you to subscribe to George Chidi’s substack. And while George is correct- the Mayor put all his political weight behind this and made it happen quickly, I will respectfully say to the Mayor, you cannot stop here. We MUST have more scalable models like this AND (remember that good ‘ol friendship you have with the Governor?) support and accountability from the state. Hold that thought for a moment. 

At this point, dear reader, I bet you’re wondering ‘where are citizens?’ Why aren’t we raising cane about what we need? Why don’t these efforts make us feel empowered to bring our challenges to the city to resolve them?

About that. Remember that power struggle I mentioned? 

Y’all know I like open records requests as a means of accountability and transparency, right? 

So after the (now previous) APAB President kept canceling our Executive Committee meetings last year, I inquired after the APAB email inbox. One might wonder how we established an agenda each month without the Committee assigned to confirm it, but then you would be assuming that the board wasn’t just a puppet show for the City of Atlanta. For the last 3 months of 2023, APAB had no Executive Committee meetings.  All of the agendas and setting any of that was done by the President and disseminated by the NPU Director’s team. There was no discussion by the Executive Board. I sat on it. We didn’t meet. There were many complaints from the board members themselves for receiving materials the night before. But you know, they wouldn’t want to give anyone a chance to read it and (even worse) pass it onto me. LOL!

You see, as an elected member of the board and correspondence secretary, I had login access to it until the previous APAB President removed my access in July. So after my access was rescinded, and the meetings were cancelled, I made an initial request to the Dept. of Planning. As you can see from our emails exchanged, they clearly said “not it”, so I made a direct request to APAB and all Executive Board members were cc’d on the reply. Please note I also explained not only that I only wanted screenshots of the inbox and sent folders, but I also explained HOW to take a screenshot. I gave it some time, then filed an open records complaint subsequently with the Attorney General’s office. 

Now I’d like to take a minute to say that the majority of my past open records complaints were handled by Kristen Settlemire, in the AG’s office. She has since then been promoted, and understandably so. She was quick, and kind, and I never had to wonder too long about what was going on. While the AG’s office received reasonable criticism for their slow walking of open records requests by the Georgia Recorder, when Ms. Tong called me for an interview for this piece, I could do nothing other than sing Ms. Settlemire’s praises and emphasize how quickly my experiences with the AG’s office have been executed. Unsurprisingly, you may notice none of my praises were printed in the Georgia Recorder article. My experience must have been an outlier, and presumably, that is bc of my writings here. 

But then, of course, I’ve put the AG’s office in a couple of hard spots, right? Here’s when I wrote about the previous APAB President lying in an open meeting and the NPU Director didn’t correct her, but had the PIO in the Dept. of Planning lie about not being able to find text messages for her. And then again, when the APD didn’t initially answer my open records requests about a raid in my own neighborhood. Since the AG is so hell-bent on this Cop City debacle that he too will play fast and loose with the facts in his own presser, he’s probably happy to have my open records requests be slow-walked now just like everyone else’s to cover for the City of Atlanta. Yikes! It’s a bad look all around. I’ll come back to this, but just hold on.

On January 2, 2024, you can see, I forwarded the last communication I received from the (now previous) APAB President to the AG’s office. So, I’ve given the AG’s office a full month to respond and give me…an update? A resolution? An excuse? Something? Anything? Bueller? Bueller????


The truth is, this is a bigger conundrum than a typical open records complaint. Remember me saying everything is broken here? 

You see, the City of Atlanta is so derelict in its communications, support, and facilitation of the NPU system (that the City will have you believe it ADORES if you look at all the City’s social posts), all of the emails that the City of Atlanta sends to APAB and APAB’s entire City Board functions are facilitated by a Gmail address held by the previous President. 

You read that right: An entire city BOARD is being facilitated by a privately held Gmail account instead of a city-supported, and open records searchable one. If you wonder how the grift is so prevalent here with developers and petty individual members wielding so much power, I give you exhibit “A”.This is a board that was a crowning achievement of Mayor Jackson’s NPU system for elevating citizens’ voices in zoning decisions, namely because the Interstate and highway “revitalization” projects of the 60s and 70s negatively impacted Black neighborhoods by slicing them in half. Ensuring citizen voices were heard was something that Atlantans took seriously and enshrined in a 50-year-old zoning mechanism that has never been updated nor is fully administratively supported at this point. 

Now, I think it is generally known that Google will provide basic information to government requests. Here’s what their FAQ page says:

So the question isn’t IF the information could be made available to the state of Georgia, upon request, it is a question of IF the AG’s office wishes to hold the City of Atlanta accountable. Because this isn’t just how APAB works- this is true for the entire NPU system- all 25 of the NPUs use private Gmail accounts, not under the purview of City Planning. So none of them are searchable via open records, nor are they auditable anymore than MARTA is. But y’all keep making MARTA the problem- go ahead! We like to pile the grift high and deep here.

In George’s piece, he points to  Mayor Dickens’ next plan for affordable housing. George wrote,

There was an edge to the celebration that one had to know how to listen for. Dickens discussed future plans to build a similar project on city land near the water treatment plant on Northside Drive. That area of — look, I just refuse to call it West Midtown, but you get the idea — has been intensely gentrifying over the last ten years. Dickens is plainly anticipating a NIMBY fight over siting.

George is referring to my side of town, and this challenge of threading it through the City’s NPU system will be aided by the fact that all of the NPUs hold their own individual Gmail accounts, some have their own websites and domain names-all paid for and managed by teams of volunteers that have been elected to the offices by their fellow NPU members- not by the City of Atlanta.

None of this can be requested via open records. Remember me telling you the city systems are broken?

Yep, residents here have been cobbling this ish together for a few decades now, while the city just hands out contracts to whoever the latest friend may be. Now, think about how this affects citizen input in the NPU system vs. developers. How do citizens have any means of transparency? 

We don’t.

Let me be candid: I don’t actually care about the screenshots or the information in the APAB inbox. I did this to prove a point. If the previous APAB President was going to lie in an open meeting, I wouldn’t be surprised about anything I could find in her emails. She’s a previous President for a reason. I wasn’t the only person tired of her foolishness. And I’m not the only person tired of the lack of transparency in the NPU system either.

This exercise was just to demonstrate that when it comes to Atlanta right now, the AG’s office ain’t gonna do shit. And while the Mayor can put his political weight behind certain projects, he’s not interested in providing citizens the verifiable data that makes this equitable anymore than the data his police force is able to provide from the cops who raided my neighborhood. It’s not a Democrat vs. Republican thing- they’re all in on it together. It’s a power struggle between those who are elected and those who have elected them. 

Why this matters is not just what this means for my neighborhood. I mean, that matters to me, but I can’t imagine it matters to any of you, dear readers. What it highlights to me is something I’m becoming more aware of through a revitalization of the center- both right and left- not just here, but nationally. The folks who like me, recognize that systems have to be maintained, and policy has to have updates that meet the needs of people’s lives. Editor-in-Chief-turned-lobbyist and I may not agree on the Cop City issue, but we are both solidly aligned on the importance of transparency of process. This is part of why Cop City remains a viable political issue, for as hard as both the right and the left want it to die- it highlights how both unite in evading a transparent process. 

On a local level, I’m seeing a TON of folks from Libertarians and plain ‘ol fiscal conservatives that know writing the City of Atlanta a blank check for Cop City doesn’t mean the City Council will maintain anything nor does it mean our streets will be safer. Unless it can be photographed and posted on the gram, City Council isn’t interested. At the state level, the police’s inside guy, Senator Randy Robertson, seems rather devoted to removing all of the headway Governor Nathan Deal made in his criminal justice reforms that have become models for the rest of the nation. Governor Deal may have a building named after him across the street, but Robertson seems to be single-handedly dismantling the legacy Deal worked his whole career to build. Nationally, there’s a not insignificant amount of folks my age who are tired of the craziness of the Trump era and are trying to get back to the basics of integrity, meaningful system reforms, updating systems so they work for citizens, and gosh darnit- good ‘ol accountability. 

This isn’t political party-specific, and that’s what makes it powerful.

I’ve written about the left-wing with the Cop City movement, but the center-right seems to likewise be aware that sacrificing good governance for petty politics means a loophole for candidates like MTG or Donald Trump to come roaring back. I would have thought AG Carr would be more in line with this cautious line of thinking, but like Mayor Dickens, he seems to have sold whatever integrity he has to align with Kemp on this Cop City issue. 

I hope it’s worth it for all of them as Kemp tries to take the national stage.  I will respectfully say that Pennsylvania Ave. seems like a long shot from here.

Back in Atlanta, the grift remains. 

Like our roads, parks, and police, the City of Atlanta has maintained very little in the way of systems that function the way they should. Someone asked me if the new APAB President was better than the old. I’d wager that like much of Atlanta, she appears to be a newer version of the same thing. To be clear, I prefer her over the last, yet I recognize without meaningful ethics reform in Atlanta’s BACEs, and NPU system, we are really just lying to ourselves about anything changing.

In the current APAB makeup, the President of APAB is the Community Engagement Manager for Propel Atlanta, an organization that lobbies the city on transportation and walkability issues (and receives funding from the City- wonder how that electric bike rebate came about?). The Parliamentarian of APAB works for the Blank and Blakely-funded Center for Civic Innovation whose hand in Atlanta’s NPU system, APS Board races, and other aspects of the city would make these two individuals register as lobbyists if APAB were a state board or if Atlanta had any meaningful code around ethics. APAB has two City employees on it as well- the previous APAB Parliamentarian, who now is filling the position of Project Manager II, Development Impact Fee Coordinator. He manages all the fees from developers as they pay their coin to the city for the privilege of building here. NPU R’s Chair (remember that entire NPU that the NPU Director tried to eliminate that got Vincent Fort out of the woodwork?) works for the City of Atlanta as well. It seems as if he applied for the Planning office for years before being hired by the city, so I see both gentlemen leveraged their seats to get a good City job- just like many in the state legislature! My NPU representation is a developer who works in the affordable housing space and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s gunning for a piece of the Westside version of The Melody the Mayor alluded to in his speech and George captured in his article.

So 24% of APAB’s voting membership either is employed by the City of Atlanta or makes money off of it.

Somewhere Mayor Maynard Jackson is rolling in his grave. 

Now I want to be clear- I support affordable housing on the Westside, and in Buckhead- an equitable distribution is requisite, as is densification of the city. In fact, the equitable distribution of affordable housing was one of the two questions I got to ask Mayor Dickens in a small group gathered by my former broker before the Mayor took office. The AJC didn’t report on that, either. And while I could hope the Mayor asks for more than just discounts on shipping containers on the Westside, my bet is, that this friendship between the Governor and Mayor isn’t benefitting the Mayor as much as Atlantans might prefer. The residents of group homes and my friends who live in affordable housing in the city coming to my door seeking food and medical care tells me no one at the state level holds these homes accountable, nor does the state provide adequate case management anymore than they are for the kids in DFCS care. This is why so many folks who are unhoused end up in the criminal justice system. Poverty is the greatest indicator of the involvement of the state on any level. And from where I sit, the state sucks at it. Now I value this APAB President over the last. Hell, I even like the folks I just told you about- like personally, they’re really nice folks! I’d say we agree on more policy than not, to be candid. But I would be disingenuous in telling you that Atlanta has solved its problems by electing new folks to these positions. Still a pig; just different makeup. Some are more equal than others, I guess.

Georgia, as a whole, likes to rely on cults of personalities, but that’s a REALLY poor way of governing. 

This is why I see a throughline going from Atlanta to the Oval Office (it’s the government no one wanted-Trump, Biden- maybe Dickens?) that cuts through the party crap. Our systems are broken all the way through, and the center-right and center- left are coming together (finally) to address that. The center-right doesn’t want Trump. The center-left doesn’t want Cop City, but both are pulling at each of their respective parties to move the conversation. We are watching the moderate middle, the reasonably well-adjusted people come to the fore. But the responsibility can NOT rest in simply getting elected- it has to be changing the system itself. 

If we can not do this, then we are no better than those who came before us. 

So while folks across the state are probably asking why we tolerate a Commissioner whose means of getting back at her (now ex-husband) via a sex scandal is funded through our tax money and a D.A. whose love affair compromises her entire ability to prosecute a previous President (who’d have thunk we would be living in a real-life Don Giovanni?), I ask you to look at the outrage generated by both.

The electorate is so sick and tired of the scandal culture associated with politics that we want to get back to the people who can do the job and change the system so it doesn’t happen again. BTW-I’m hearing that my Congresswoman won’t be running for state DPG chair again as well- yay! So let’s all cross our fingers and hope the DPG changes over to the system of keeping those jobs separate, you know, like the Republicans! Progress is upon us! And rather than crediting the electeds with it, I ask you to kindly remember the moderate middle citizens who are often silent yet weary enough at this point to come out of indifference. 

This is in fact, the mirror of the climax of La Bohème– when all of the cast comes together at the end, sacrificing what little they each have to keep Mimi from her grave. Only for us, the script is updated and we are called to sacrifice our titles and grift (no offense to The Grifter With No Name) for a functioning government. And unlike Mimi- the system will live on, either way. Wouldn’t you like to have one that works for you? The reality is, you can change the system, you just have to stay involved.

So I will ask you, as a citizen, as a community member, what will you do with your 525,600 minutes this year?

Leave a Reply