By Maria Saporta
While it’s anyone’s guess who will be the next mayor of Atlanta, one thing is certain. The Atlanta Committee for Progress is already putting the pieces in place to ready to help make sure the next mayor is successful.
ACP, as it’s known in powerful circles, is composed of many of the top CEOs and civic leaders in Atlanta.
It was put in place by Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin early in her tenure when she recognized that she needed help from some of the top leaders in town. Even before he took office, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed decided he would continue the model of using the ACP as a sounding board and as an initiator of his initiatives.
On Friday, March 24, the ACP met for its quarterly meeting. It was the first (and the only planned) meeting held outside of the City of Atlanta. The meeting was held at the corporate headquarters of Cox Enterprises in Dunwoody. It is the prerogative of the ACP Chairman to host the meeting of executives during his year at the helm, and the 2017 Chair is John Dyer, president and CEO of Cox Enterprises.
“I’m just grateful to John for being chair,” Reed said after the meeting. “We had as great a level of participation as we have ever had.”
Among the leaders who attended Friday’s meeting were: Yum Arnold of Leapfrog Services; Mark Becker of Georgia State University; Paul Bowers of Georgia Power; Matt Bronfman of Jamestown; Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A; Drew Evans of Southern Company Gas; Dietmar Exler of Mercedes-Benz USA; Martin Flanagan of Invesco; Larry Gellerstedt III of Cousins Properties; James Hannan of Koch Industries; Scott Taylor of Carter; Doug Hertz of United Distributors; Donna Hyland of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta; Ronald Johnson of Clark Atlanta University; Glenn Lurie of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Operations; Ryan Marshall of PulteGroup; Craig Menear of the Home Depot; Penny McPhee, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation; Bud Peterson of Georgia Tech; Jeff Portman of AmericasMart; Bill Rogers of SunTrust Banks; John Wilson, Jr. of Morehouse College; Jeff Sprecher of Intercontinental Exchange; and Claire Sterk of Emory University.
“I’m really encouraged,” Dyer said on Friday – describing it as a “great” meeting. “It’s rare to get that many business leaders in the same room and get their engagement for the city.”
And Dyer appreciated the CEOs who traveled long distances to come to his office, specifically mentioning Dan Cathy, who drove an hour-and-a-half to attend the meeting.
“These are all people who live and work here,” Dyer said. “They want to see the city grow and prosper. In that sense, there’s a shared vision.”
Duriya Farooqui, who was named as ACP’s executive director exactly a year ago, has been working with the board to prepare for the transition of a new mayor as well as the anticipated turnover within City Council, partly because of the number of existing councilmembers running for either mayor or City Council president.
“Atlanta is going to continue its growth, so what does success look like?” Farooqui asked, adding that ACP is working on strategic proposals for the city’s future. “It’s going to be very helpful for whoever is going to be the next mayor. These are investments that will need to be made in the future.”
Franklin and Reed have leveraged the ACP in different ways.
Franklin used the ACP as a way to launch major initiatives – eventually having them become their own entities. They included the Atlanta BeltLine, the Atlanta Police Foundation; Brand Atlanta; the Peachtree Corridor Task Force and the Regional Homeless Commission.
Reed has used the ACP as a way to focus on the city’s financial health – to work on pension reform, to propose greater efficiencies within City Hall, and to provide oversight of the city’s investment of its infrastructure bonds. A couple of years ago, ACP launched the Westside Future Fund as a key intiative.
On Friday, Reed talked to ACP members about the city’s financial condition and about the sale of Underground Atlanta – likely to close close on March 30. He introduced Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, who presented the city’s crime data. The committee held a discussion about the former Turner Field, which will be Georgia State University’s new stadium, and they also talked about the Engage Atlanta incubator venture with Georgia Tech. And they talked about the city’s upcoming elections.
Reed only made a passing comment about the corruption investigation being conducted by the U.S. Justice Department, saying the city was cooperating.
“The feeling in the room was that the (mayor’s) race is not gelling,” Reed said. “We talked about inclusion being an increasingly important issue – income equality and inclusion. Those will be important no matter who is elected as the next mayor.”
Farooqui said that during the meeting (which is closed to the public), there was alignment that the ACP partnership and its oversight role of infrastructure bonds had worked well, and ACP will continue that model to oversee the recently passed T-SPLOST funding.
But ACP members do not plan to leave its future up to chance.
“One of the things we have asked Duriya to do is to meet with every one of the candidates,” Dyer said. “(ACP) has to start with the mayor’s intent and an underlying set of priorities. Let’s look back at what we’ve done, and let’s look at the opportunities ahead of us.”
Farooqui said she wants to make sure every candidate knows how the ACP partnership has developed and how valuable the committee can be for the next mayor, and more importantly, the city.
“The group has started thinking about where Atlanta is today, and what are the opportunities in the future,” said Farooqui, who added that ACP’s members bring tremendous resources to the table. “We want to share the benefit of that thinking with everyone who is running for mayor. And we want to make that point of view public.”
Dyer also said he will host the next three ACP meetings at Cox Enterprises’ space in Ponce City Market – back to the heart of the city.
“We have the December ACP meeting scheduled on the Friday after the run-off election..” Dyer said. “Hopefully the new mayor will participate.”