By David Pendered
The 2.0 version of the Atlanta Way won’t retool the city into Wakanda. The efforts emerging from Atlanta City Hall do represent the start of a response to calls for justice issued by protestors following the death of George Floyd. The operative words in that last sentence are: Start of a response.
Proposals are to roll out this week in Atlanta City Council committees – including one to ease barriers to renaming streets associated with the Confederacy. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has announced a requirement that police officers halt peers who are using excessive force. All the measures aim to respond to calls for justice, and police and carceral reform, that have been voiced since the city’s first day of violent protests, on May 29.
Nowhere has the city government’s engagement with the public been more evident than in deliberations over the budget. The council gathered 2,429 comments that represented 40 hours and 29 minutes of talk, according to council President Felicia A. Moore, who observed: “No longer can anyone say the city council does not allow public comment.”
Almost half these comments – 1,073 comments, representing 16 hours and 56 minutes – were heard on June 19. That was the day before the council conducted, on June 20, a six-hour discussion focused on the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The Atlanta Way to modulate the discussion would have brought together two small groups – one representing business and government, the other representing protesters. A negotiated settlement would be have been reached, and released for distribution.
Rapper T.I. calling for peace in Atlanta was the first indication the script was flipped to a New Atlanta Way. T.I. stood next to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who in 2017 had tapped him to serve on her transition team. In his remarks, T.I. invoked the mythical home of the Marvel superhero, the Black Panther:
- “You don’t get treated right in New York. You don’t get treated right in L.A. You can’t get treated right in Detroit. You don’t get treated right in St. Louis. You don’t get treated right in Alabama.
- “Atlanta has been here for us. This city don’t deserve this. However, I understand that a lot of others do. But we can’t do this here. This is Wakanda. It is sacred; must be protected.”
It’s no surprise the budget was not adopted by unanimous vote – 13 to 2. It’s those two NO votes that speak volumes.
Finance Committee Chairperson Jennifer Ide said the budget did not change the status quo to a degree sufficient for her support. Ide was elected in 2017 to represent a Midtown district. As chair of Finance Committee, she oversaw the budget presentations and deliberations:
- “I’m disappointed I couldn’t support it. I couldn’t approve a budget that didn’t make any changes. I couldn’t get to a ‘YES’ on this.”
Councilmember Antonio Brown said the budget doesn’t go far enough to incorporate more of the cries for justice that have been heard on the street and in public comment. Brown is the first Black, openly LGBTQ person to serve on Atlanta’s council, elected in April 2019 to represent a district immediately west of the Mercedes Benz Stadium. Brown aimed his first remarks at Ide:
- “You have been a fierce warrior through this process, bringing this budget together. You’ve taught me many things. I have enjoyed watching you evolve into this role … inclusive, and you’ve made sure everyone’s voices were being heard, including the administration.”
Turning to colleagues who had voted for the budget, Brown said:
- “The people of this city begged and pleaded for you to listen to them. I don’t feel they were heard. Today there is an appearance they have been heard, but they haven’t. This fight is far from over.”
The budget was passed with no hike in the tax rate, though property values that have been reassessed upward may help offset expected revenue losses related to the pandemic-induced economic slowdown. The budget contemplates no furloughs or layoffs. It continues a business development fund for the east side of Downtown Atlanta. The mayor had not signed the legislation as of mid afternoon Monday.
Starting this week, the council will consider a number of reform proposals. In addition, the mayor has issued administrative orders regarding police reform. Here’s a snapshot of the measures:
Mayor, administrative orders
- Use of force policy – To be implemented by interim police chief and COO: Require all officers to stop another officer from using excessive force, and other revisions. Administrative Order 2020-18.
- Modernize police – To be implemented by interim police chief and COO: Hire one or more consultants to recommend policies on situations that are appropriate for police response, and how officers are trained. Administrative Order 2020-19.
- Advisory council – Still working: Police Use of Force Advisory Council to recommend revisions to the 2018 use of force policy. Initial recommendations were due June 18 with final report due 45 days after June 4, date order was issued. Administrative Order 2020-17.
- Police funding – Approved June 19: Requires the city CFO to submit by Nov. 1 a report on police funding, current and historic; crime rate for same period; crime patterns for same period; 10-year comparison of Atlanta Police Department to peer cities. Non-binding resolution: 20-R-4068.