Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman names committee chairs
By Maria Saporta
Perhaps the most important job of the president of the Atlanta City Council is to select the members to serve on the seven Council committees and to decide who will chair each committee.
Incoming City Council President Doug Shipman took that responsibility to heart. Even though he was sworn in on Monday as a newcomer to City Council, Shipman followed tradition by striving for a balance in making his appointments.
“Obviously, the committees are where a lot of the work is done and where policies are made,” Shipman said in an interview before publicly announcing the appointments. “Making sure the committees are ready to go was top of mind. I was seeking geographic balance, demographic balance, experience balance. Those factors were clearly on my mind.”
Before making his decision, Shipman had conversations with each councilmember to better understand their expertise and interests. He tried to put councilmembers on committees that they had requested while putting together the complicated jigsaw puzzle of committee assignments.
There are 15 council members and seven committees with seven slots on each committee. That means that four councilmembers are on four committees while the rest serve on three committees.
The four councilmembers who are serving on four committees are: Matt Westmoreland (community development, transportation, zoning, committee on council); Howard Shook (city utilities, zoning, finance and committee on council); Andrea Boone (committee on council, city utilities, public safety, zoning); and Dustin Hillis (city utilities, community development, public safety, committee on council).
Interestingly enough, only one councilmember who was chairing a committee in 2021 will chair a committee in 2022 — Amir Farokhi. He went from chairing zoning to now chairing transportation, even though he will continue to serve on the zoning committee as well as the committee on council.
Farokhi has pushed for zoning legislation that would have created a denser city, but there was quite a bit of pushback, particularly from residents in single-family neighborhoods and from people who were concerned that would lead to even more trees being cut for development.
“Transportation is obviously an important committee — more so this year with federal infrastructure dollars,” said Shipman, who said transportation is one of the more popular committees because it oversees the airport, MARTA, safe streets and sidewalks. “Having someone who was experienced was a good fit. I also wanted to make sure the transportation committee was balanced with new members [Jason Dozier, Antonio Lewis and Keisha Sean Waites].”
As for zoning, Shipman selected Marci Collier Overstreet to chair that committee.
“She has served on zoning for several years, but she has never been a committee chair,” Shipman said. “Zoning is a topic that’s going to continue to be discussed throughout the city. I thought her leadership would be a good fit.”
The possibility of a new zoning ordinance and a new tree ordinance are issues that have carried over from the previous administration.
“A lot of work needs to be done around the zoning conversation,” Shipman said. “We were not ready for those changes. But it’s a really important conversation for the future of the city. I thought leaving Amir Farokhi on that committee was important.”
When it comes to a new tree ordinance, Shipman said he kept Matt Westmoreland on community development/human services, although he’s no longer chair, as well as zoning partly because of his experience working on a new tree ordinance.
“I feel that zoning and the tree ordinance ought to go hand in hand,” Shipman said. “I’m sure Matt Westmoreland will continue to work on that issue.”
Chairing community development will be Jason Dozier, a new member on council.
“Naming brand new councilmembers as chairs has happened before,” Shipman said. “The voters elected six brand new city council members. It was important to reflect that desire for fresh leadership from voters. Plus, Mr. Dozier has a lot of experience with the neighborhood planning system, and his district is going through a great amount of change. I thought it was a good match for that committee.”
In addition to Overstreet, Shipman picked Andrea Boone to chair the committee on council. Although she has served on council for four years, she also had not chaired a committee until now.
Shipman also selected Alex Wan to chair the finance committee. Wan had served on council until four years ago when he ran unsuccessfully for city council president.
“Alex Wan has chaired finance before. He brings experience. Moving forward there are a lot of decisions to be made in finance — how to handle the COVID money and infrastructure funds. He offered a balance of being experienced and bringing a fresh perspective.”
Shipman also named Dustin Hillis to chair the public safety committee, which is expected to be especially important in 2022.
In all, Shipman said he worked hard to make sure each committee reflected the diversity that exists in the city of Atlanta.
“Voters have sent probably the most diverse council in history to serve in all kinds of ways,” Shipman said. “I was mindful of the voters. I really was trying to reflect what the voters said to me during the campaign.”
Shipman said many of the issues he heard during the campaign were consistent throughout the city. “It was important to me that every committee reflect the entire city,” he said.
Interestingly enough, Shipman picked several councilmembers as committee chairs even though they had supported his opponent — Natalyn Archibong, a member of city council for 20 years.
In putting together his first slate of committee appointments and chairmanships, Shipman weighed what he heard when he was running for office. He also took into account what he heard from Andre Dickens, who was inaugurated as mayor on Monday.
“I had a conversation with Andre Dickens to better understand his priorities,” Shipman said. “I wanted to be sure there wasn’t a mismatch so the committees could move forward.”
It is expected city council will be busy working on public safety, affordable housing, transportation, zoning and the tree ordinance. Councilmembers likely will have many opportunities to work on the various issues.
“I believe rotation is generally a good thing,” Shipman said. “I believe in rotating councilmembers to serve on different committees. I very much consider these as one-year appointments.”