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Atlanta’s ‘can do’ spirit fading into ‘dysfunction junction’

Maria Saporta

By Maria Saporta

Some days living in Atlanta is depressing.

Last Thursday (Oct. 17), was one of those days – marked by two events back-to-back.

It started with the Atlanta Press Club Newsmaker lunch with Meria Carstarphen, a leader who has helped turnaround the Atlanta Public School system since she became superintendent in 2014.

Despite getting amazing praise for her work from national to local leaders and even the APS’ elected board members, her days as superintendent are numbered because the board has decided to not renew her contract, which runs out June 30, 2020.

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen speaks to the Atlanta Press Club on Oct. 17 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

In her talk, it was clear Carstarphen still wants to do all she can to make sure all of the students attending Atlanta public schools can succeed either in college and/or career. She delicately sidestepped any questions about a conflict with the board by saying they were all working to make sure the turnaround continues.

Here we have a classic case of screwing up something that’s been working. Whatever happened to the adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”?

So the APS board has dug in its heels and begun the process to hire a search firm for Carstarphen’s successor. And that makes me sad for our city.

Right after the Carstarphen lunch, the board of the Fort McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority met when it voted to part ways with the Moody-Macauley team that had been working on a master plan for the development of 144 acres not owned by film mogul Tyler Perry.

Stephen Macauley’s firm, in partnership with builder David Moody, had been working with the surrounding community for more than two years to develop a master plan that was embraced by almost everyone involved.

Even Tyler Perry, who at different times considered buying the rest of land, said it was a great design and would love to see that vision developed.

So what did the board do? It decided to start all over and restart the process to look for another developer. It did not go into detail about why it was parting ways with Macauley-Moody, and it paid lip-service about how this was a great opportunity to move forward as a community.

But in reality, the move will only delay the future development of the 144 acres of Fort Mac. And this is not the first time the community has been let down by the Fort Mac board in more than a decade.

Several other attempts to secure a master developer, along with countless community meetings for residents to provide input on various plans, have failed or been discarded. And the sale of 330 acres to Tyler Perry for the bargain price of $30 million was a deal done between then Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Perry with little to no community involvement.

The Fort Mac board’s decision to buy out Macauley-Moody likely will cost the authority millions and millions of dollars. So instead of investing those dollars in improving the land that they own and implementing a plan that almost everyone embraces, we’re left with little hope of any progress occurring on the property in the foreseeable future.

Of course, Fort Mac leaders claim they could select a new developer and start construction in 2020. But remember the leadership at Fort Mac is tenuous at best. It’s being led by an interim executive director – Alan Ferguson – who continues to have a fulltime job at Invest Atlanta.

Alan Ferguson, interim executive director of the Fort Mac authority, stands with Atlanta Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd and Cassius Butts, chair of the Fort Mac board, after the decision to part ways with Stephen Macauley. Renderings of the Macauley plan continue to be on display at Fort Mac’s offices (Photo by Maria Saporta)

And its chairman is Cassius Butts, who had previously resigned his position, was asked by Gov. Brian Kemp to come back to make sure a deal to sell the Forces Command building so it can become a lab for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration went through.

Bottoms, who had urged the board to hold off on selling the building – supposedly on Tyler Perry’s behalf, lost in a 10-1-1 vote, which apparently made her administration so mad that it has sent a default notice to the Fort Mac board saying the Authority owes the city nearly $5 million.

Now if I’m a developer looking to partner with the Fort Mac board on a plan for the 144 acres, why in the world would I want to enter into that mess? Here’s the challenge. We have limited inspirational leadership in Atlanta right now – leaders who are working constructively to create a better city rather than tearing our town apart.

Wouldn’t we be far better off as a city if we had leaders who would work on a way for Tyler Perry, Steve Macauley, David Moody and financier Euclid Walker to implement the current master plan for Fort Mac?

On Sunday, I attended a celebration of life for Richard Stogner at Manuel’s. Several of us spoke of the true public servants we have lost – leaders who worked collaboratively to build a more vibrant city – George Berry, Spurgeon Richardson, James Stogner, Maynard Jackson and Ivan Allen Jr. They helped build Atlanta’s reputation as a “can do” city.

Some of those leaders are still with us – Shirley Franklin and Andrew Young (to name just two) – but they are no longer have the political power to fix our current malaise.

In short, it feels as though Atlanta has become dysfunction junction.

And yes, that makes me sad. We deserve better.

Note to readers:

At the beginning of her talk to the Atlanta Press Club, Meria Carstarphen read the following lines from the “I’m Determined to Be Somebody Someday” by R. Herbert Brewster. May we find inspiration in these words:

The present conditions and dark circumstance
May make it appear that I have not a chance.
The odds may be against me, this fact I admit.
I haven’t much to boast of, just a little faith and grit.
In spite of the things that stand in my way,
I’m determined to be somebody someday.

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Maria Saporta
Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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8 Comments

  1. Avatar
    brainstar8 October 22, 2019 10:46 am

    The City of Atlanta and many of its entities is run by petty, unethical, power-hungry people. Until voters in the city take charge, the City will continue to have the corruption it has had for more than four decade. Otherwise, the wishin’ and hopin’ things will change one day is a fool’s little game.

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  2. Avatar
    Michael Coleman October 22, 2019 11:27 am

    In the unprecedented push to force the school board to change its mind, some key considerations seem to be missing from the discussion. I am told that the performance of some of the City’s inner city schools has been abysmal. I am also told the The outsourcing of schools to private operators has yielded only marginal improvement, if any. If those facts are true, they would more than support the school board ‘s decision. With respect to the Fort Mac decision, I understand that the developer has failed to meet deadlines or secure financing. If true, why are those not mentioned in the story. In the effort to unfairly tarnish the Mayor and her advisors, the theme seems to be “ why let the facts get on the way?”

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  3. Avatar
    Iwasthere October 22, 2019 12:19 pm

    The city is dysfunctional because the Mayor is dysfunctional. The Mayor is dysfunctional because she is compromised. She is operating from pure survival mode. It doesn’t matter. She’s done and she knows it. Once she is gone things will improve dramatically

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  4. Avatar
    John R. Naugle October 22, 2019 12:35 pm

    Ms. Saporta,
    Your article giving our city a new brand alternative, “Atlanta: Dysfunction Junction”, must have been difficult to write.
    Many know of your deep love for our city and that you’re like a new-era mother who protects her future and disciplines her as if she were your very own daughter.
    Therefore, I imagine you saying and having the following discomfort as you were writing this article:”This is gonna hurt me more that it hurts you.”
    Speaking the truth in love is a difficult responsibility that every family member, or aspiring civic, government and business leader must practice IF they want their affections to be anchored in a foundation that lasts forever and is genuine.
    I am one of many in the Beloved Community who has been inspired by your examples of ‘speaking the truth in love’ and your genuine love for our city.
    Your years of journalistic integrity with various news outlets, and your commitment to APA’s 9 core “Principles of Journalism” (especially #1: Obligation to the Truth) are an inspiration to many. https://americanpressassociation.com/principles-of-journalism/  

    It is because of your example that I would like to recommend that you become an avowed Gandhian — if you are not already. Since 2019 is Gandhi’s Sesquicentennial Birth Year then now would be an ideal time to openly acknowledge or declare yourself an avowed proponent of Mahatma (‘Great Soul’) Gandhi. It’s vital to recall that behind this great leader (as with Dr. & Mrs. King) was Kasturba, a great collaborator and wife (2019 is her 150th Birth year too; b April 11, 1969).
    With your predilection of holding firmly to Truth, you are, perhaps without fully appreciating it yet, an integral proponent of “SATYAGRAHA”, Gandhi’s contemporary peace movement that was founded with his first peace-action when he lived in South Africa; 1906.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satyagraha 
    I realize that it would be easy for you and others to discount my recommendation to become an avowed proponent of Mahatma Gandhi. As an advocate and adherent for the most accomplished peace-builder of the last millennium (years 1000-2000) I am new to all of this and only known of Gandhi’s legacy for 2 short decades.
    However, it is more than just me making this recommendation. It’s important to note that when Albert Einstein: A Globally Celebrated Genius attended Gandhi’s 70th birthday party (Oct 2, 1939) which was 80 years ago, he stated the following:
    “Generations to come
    will scarce believe
    that such a one as this
    ever in flesh and blood
    walked upon this Earth.”
    Ms. Saporta, would it help you in your decision if it were Dr. Martin Luther King Jr making this recommendation to become a Gandhi proponent; i.e. to remember Gandhi? Dr. King is considered Gandhi’s most globally-productive and referenced peace movement protégé still delivers this vital warning:
    “Gandhi was inevitable.
    If humanity is to progress,
    Gandhi is inescapable.
    He lived, thought and acted,
    inspired by the vision of
    humanity evolving toward a
    world of peace and harmony.
    We may ignore Gandhi
    at our own risk.”

    More than likely, you’re already an avowed Gandhian and I’m still uninformed, or ignorant of this particular position. That said, I would like to publicly state that a major highlight of my social-action experiences was on June 26, 2018 — the exact 50th Anniversary of Mrs. Coretta Scott King founding of “The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change” (June 26, 1968).
    Ms. Saporta, most special on that KING Center 50th was being able to take your photo with Dr. Christine King Farris, the big sister of MLK. It is elevating to know that your photo together, along with others from that historic event, are ensconced in the archive of the Saporta Report…
    https://saportareport.com/photo-pick-the-king-centers-50th-by-john-r-naugle/  

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    Michael Coleman October 22, 2019 12:52 pm

    Salient facts seem to be missing from the discussion on both issues. I understand that the performance of some of the inner city schools has been abysmal. Similarly, I understand that the performance of schools transferred to private operators have improved only marginally, if at all. Those factors, rarely mentioned in the reporting, clearly justify the school board’s decision. On Fort Mac, it is my understanding that the developer, in over two years, failed to meet deadlines and had not secured financing. Again, ample reason for the decision. In the effort to blast the public bodies ( including the Mayor and her advisers), the guiding principle seems to be “ why let facts get in the way?”

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    RileyDuke October 22, 2019 6:28 pm

    Jon – I am not sure what you are talking about…4 of the 8 current members of the Atlanta Public Schools board are non-black women… the facts are apparent in the quantitative success of Dr. Carstarphan. Michael mentioned performance of some of the inner city schools as abysmal – research on the topic shows the APS are doing better overall and the improvements she has led are easily measured and prove her success. There is a lot to this topic and the only answer I have received from the board members who voted NOT to extend her contract is that they are now looking for someone with a different skill set.

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  7. Avatar
    ATLnative October 23, 2019 8:32 am

    Thank you Ms. Saporta for your continued efforts to keep those of us who are truly concerned about the direction that our city is headed.
    I too was disappointed with the decision of APS. It gives pause when we now must understand that we will begin at ground zero with a new Superintendent.
    I’m certain that truth behind the decision will be revealed in due time.
    As for the corruption in local politics I ask that we take note of cities such as Detroit, Newark, even Gary as a key indicator of the destruction that comes about from corruption.
    I will always love ATL, however I am saddened by the current state of affairs. What’s even worse is that I feel totally defenseless!

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  8. Avatar
    Christopher Johnston October 25, 2019 4:39 am

    iwasthere, Mayor Bottoms is not an isolated case; she is just the latest in a series of corrupt mayors that began with Maynard Jackson and his political spoils system. She will continue in office until either the voters put her out of office or she is indicted in the ongoing Federal investigations.
    City of Atlanta voters persist in voting for this type of mayor and receive what they voted for.

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