Atlanta’s economic development agency to face tighter control by Atlanta City Council
By David Pendered
The Atlanta City Council is set to impose greater control over Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development arm that acts as Atlanta’s agent to promote housing, economic development and redevelopment – all of it under control of a board chaired by the mayor, whose top advisor argued against the council’s exercise of authority.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ senior governmental affairs advisor, Charletta Wilson Jacks, spoke against the council’s effort. However, support for the plan from two council committees has set the stage for expected approval by the council at its Aug. 5 meeting. Councilmember Matt Westmoreland, who’s elected citywide, has championed the proposal.
The heart of the dispute is whether Invest Atlanta should be contractually bound to a strategic plan that is to steer the city’s policies and programs for economic development.
The contract would compel Invest Atlanta to perform the duties outlined in the strategic plan to the satisfaction of its contract partner, Atlanta. Otherwise, Invest Atlanta’s administrators could ignore both the duties and any requests regarding the plan the council may submit through its representatives on Invest Atlanta’s board. Friction over this issue has arisen periodically over the years between council and the city’s redevelopment agency.
The mayor’s office influences four of nine board members – the mayor serves as chair and appoints three members. The council has three representatives, including the chair of the Community Development/Human Services Committee and two members appointed by the council. Two remaining seats represent the Atlanta school board and Fulton County commission.
The debate over the contract issue is impeded by the lack of a strategic plan.
Spring 2020 is the target date for the Bottoms’ administration to finish the document. The lack of a plan evidently has propelled Westmoreland’s argument.
The strategic plan could have enormous scope because of the reach of Invest Atlanta in everyday life in the city – the Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. is to “perform the functions of, or to carry out the purposes of,” the redevelopment agency, according to the BeltLine’s articles of incorporation. Invest Atlanta is to help homebuyers close a loan, to mentor female entrepreneurs and perform similar tasks. Behind the scene, Invest Atlanta represents the city’s interests in negotiations with the state in efforts to attract corporations to the city.
For example, it’s up to Invest Atlanta to ensure its incentive packages include provisions such as clawbacks. Invest Atlanta required clawback measures in exchange for the $350,000 incentive it provided Carters, Inc. to move into Buckhead in 2012. The company was to have reneged a portion of the money if it hadn’t created 200 jobs at certain wages and benefits by 2015.
Westmoreland contends the council should not sign a five-year contract with Invest Atlanta until the contract includes a strategic plan. The five-year contract is half of the original proposal, which provided for Invest Atlanta to serve as the city’s redevelopment arm for a decade.
Westmoreland led the effort that resulted in two council committees, Community Development/Human Services and Finance, to require a strategic plan be included in the contract, known as an intergovernmental agreement.
Westmoreland delivered these remarks July 10, during the meeting of the Finance Committee:
- “My view on this is that we don’t have a plan yet. We have very important objectives that are outlined. I don’t know how we can approve a five-year contract without specific outcomes and objectives and metrics by which we have to hold ourselves accountable over the five year period that that IGA will run.
- “I think it important that we say these are metrics [for which] we’re going to hold ourselves accountable, as it relates to underserved communities, middle-wage jobs, and building wealth in communities of color – and they don’t exist yet.”
In addition, Westmoreland contended the council should see in the strategic plan the administration’s concepts for integrating the city’s workforce development agency, Worksource Atlanta, into Invest Atlanta – a restructuring the mayor announced June 26. Worksource Atlanta offers services including training for high school equivalency degrees, computer skills development, and a clothes closet to provide professional attire for job seekers, according to a report on its website.
Invest Atlanta was formerly known as the Atlanta Development Authority, until the ADA chose to do business under the new name. In 1998, ADA was incorporated to accept the assets and duties of a former redevelopment agency, the Westside Public Development Authority, and to absorb the role of an entity created to prepare for the 1996 Olympic Games, the Corp. for Olympic Development in Atlanta. Terms of the ADA’s articles of incorporation included a requirement that:
- “The Authority shall under multi-year performance based contracts with the City of Atlanta work with those communities designated by the City to create redevelopment plans, implement redevelopment plans or carry out tasks designed to augment, improve, support or encourage redevelopment or economic development.”