A look back and forward at the end of this term of the Atlanta City Council
By Saba Long
Four years ago our city came to the proverbial fork in the road in selecting a new Atlanta mayor and some freshman council members.
The 2009 campaigns highlighted tremendous concerns related to public safety and the fiscal wellbeing of the city. Significant revenue losses due to the Great Recession Atlanta led the Council and administration at the time to increase property taxes, an incredibly risky election year decision.
This week marks the last meeting of the current Atlanta City Council. As the incoming Council and the current mayor prioritize the coming term, an internal reflection on the successes and missteps of city leadership should take place.
Freshmen — to this term — City Council members Alex Wan, Yolanda Adrean, Michael Julian Bond, Keisha Lance Bottoms and Aaron Watson have made an indelible impression on the legislative body and the city.
From the Council’s first official vote in support of same-sex marriage to better management of internal Council operations to championing cycling infrastructure to tackling the city’s complex alcohol license code, these Council members have much to be proud of accomplishing in just one term.
The current Council has recorded votes on a number of hot button items including pension reform, arguably the mayor’s signature legislation of the term.
Atlanta was the first major city nationwide to resolve its pension liabilities – a savings of nearly $20 million annually. Even so, there is more to be done on the pension front, including modifying other post employment benefits.
Outside of internal matters such as employee benefits, the current Council has largely dealt with land use matters including what some see as the proliferation of Wal-Mart and Family Dollar in the urban core. Imagine if community leaders and district council members used the same fervor displayed in opposing these seemingly low-quality establishments and instead fought to bring Whole Foods, Publix or Trader Joe’s to our city’s food deserts and BeltLine neighborhoods.
A parallel debate could have mirrored that of the Washington, D.C. City Council regarding Wal-Mart and raising the minimum wage of all workers regardless of industry.
Another critical vote with land use implications was the approval of the new stadium project to be used primarily by the Atlanta Falcons. The full Council chose to entertain the legislation immediately rather than the follow the typical committee process.
Nearly 10 months later, the stadium neighborhoods and the city are concluding the approval a laborious community benefits plan.
The new term will bring one new face (Andre Dickens) and one veteran (Mary Norwood) to the Council chambers, although it is unclear of how the dynamics will shift. Much like committee assignments were of note at the start of the 2010 term, Council President Ceasar Mitchell will have to consider what the new members will bring as well as the political interests of his colleagues.
And weeks before the official swearing in of the Council and Mayor Kasim Reed’s second term, speculation already is underway over who will be in the running for mayor in 2017.
It is a microcosm of the political dance taking place on the national level. Time, and votes, will tell what the next four years will bring for our local government.
In the interest of full disclosure, Saba Long has worked directly for Council member Aaron Watson, as noted in her bio. She took a leave from the city to volunteer on Watson’s 2013 re-election campaign.