By Maria Saporta
The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) is having Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed speak at its 2017 Summit in National Harbor, MD. on Tuesday morning.
As late as Monday afternoon, the agenda titled Reed’s talk as follows:
“Spark Talk: Taking a City from Bankruptcy to Booming Hub”
The blurb under the title was even more specific.
“When Kasim Reed took office as Atlanta’s mayor in 2010, the city was in bankruptcy and its future prospects looked bleak. Today, Atlanta is thriving…”
The problem is that the City of Atlanta has never been bankrupt or close to bankruptcy, according to former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who preceded Reed as mayor. Franklin was elected in 2001 and served from January, 2002 through January, 2010.
“When I took office, the city’s budget was not balanced,” Franklin said. “We balanced the budget within six weeks. We laid off 1,000 people, and I cut my salary 30 percent. We put in strict financial controls.”
During Franklin’s administration, property taxes were raised twice – the last time was in June, 2009 in the heat of a mayoral campaign and in the middle of the Great Recession. That property tax increase insured that the next mayor – Kasim Reed – would inherit a city that would be financially sound. That tax increase also required the city to significantly build its reserves every year.
One of Reed’s favorite talking points is saying the city only had $7 million in reserves when he took office, and today the city has reserves of $175 million – and he was able to do that without a tax increase.
But Reed has always stopped short of giving former Mayor Franklin (and the 2009 City Council) any credit for his administration’s financial success.
Still, the title of Reed’s NACD talk claiming that he took a city in bankruptcy and made it a booming hub took Reed’s storyline to a new extreme.
“If in fact the mayor said that or wrote it, he’s lying,” Franklin said while in Omaha, Nebraska attending the annual Purpose Built Communities Conference.
So how did NACD come up with the title and description of Reed’s speech?
“Hi Maria – thanks for bringing this to our attention,” Jenna Garland, a spokeswoman for Mayor Reed, wrote in an email late Monday afternoon. “We asked NACD to change the text. We recommend contacting the NACD for comment.”
Susan Oliver, a spokeswoman for NACD, provided a statement late Monday.
“When we drafted the session title and description for our fireside chat with Mayor Reed, we did so wanting to capture the great success story that is the city of Atlanta over the past several years,” Oliver wrote. “In crafting the title we used an imprecise, and in hindsight poor, choice of words. We apologize for any unintended confusion this may have caused about the state of the city’s finances in 2010.”
What is not clear whether Reed or his staff had approved the title of his talk to NACD. Usually a speaker will come up with his or her own title or at least approve of the topic as the speaker prepares his or her presentation.
Atlantans attending the NACD conference near Washington, D.C. were so concerned by the original title of Reed’s talk that they sounded an alarm, which was heard at the Purpose Built Conference in Omaha.
That led Franklin to want to set the record straight.
“The city has never been in bankruptcy, and it has never been close to bankruptcy – not during the Great Depression, not in the Great Recession, and certainly not in 2009,” Franklin said.
By 8:30 p.m., NACD had changed the online blurb of Reed’s talk but not its title.
After the inaccurate title was once again brought to the attention of NACD, the title was finally changed in the online agenda an hour or so later.
Here are three different versions of the agenda featuring Reed’s “Spark Talk.”