Atlanta’s state agenda not approved by city council, including planned sales tax extension for water, sewer

By David Pendered

Atlanta doesn’t have a state legislative agenda that’s been approved by the Atlanta City Council. That’s because then Mayor Kasim Reed didn’t present a proposed agenda to the council last autumn amid the buzz over the general and run-off elections, according to two members of the administration who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting of the city council’s Finance/Executive Committee.

Greensferry sewer tunnel

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is pursing state approval to ask voters to extend the 1 percent sales tax to pay for sewer improvements. The Greensferry sewer tunnel, in west Atlanta, was built with such funds. File/Credit: lachel.com

This means 10 Atlanta’s lobbyists, some or all of whom are trying to convince lawmakers to enable a planned 2020 referendum to extend the 1 percent sales tax for upgrades to Atlanta’s water and wastewater system, are working solely under the purview of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration. Evidently, the council has not been brought into the legislative loop to push for the proposed sales tax extension.

Committee Chairman Howard Shook indicated Wednesday the city council needs to consider the proposed sales tax extension before city lobbyists involve the Legislature and Gov. Nathan Deal. The prospect of extending Atlanta’s Municipal Option Sales Tax has not been widely discussed.

“I’m not the only one who remembers that, ‘We’re done after this one,’” Shook said of the MOST extension that voters last approved in 2016.

“It’s just like taking tolls off of Ga. 400,” Shook said, referencing the state’s deferred promise to remove the toll once the highway was paid off. “’Hey! Remember that promise about ending the MOST? Let’s forget about that.”

Shook pursued a line of questions about how the city lobbyists are pursuing a legislative agenda that’s not been approved by the city council. The mayor’s deputy chief of staff, Katrina Taylor Parks, fielded the bulk of Shook’s questions.

“As far as I’m concerned, this council doesn’t have a 2018 legislative agenda that it has expressed its support for,” Shook said.

Katrina Taylor Parks

Katrina Taylor Parks

“You are right, but you will get a resolution next week … so you all can review it prior to it being read in on Feb. 5,” Parks said. Feb. 5 is the date of the next council meeting.

Moments before Parks responded, Shook’s question was answered by Melissa Mullinax a senior advisor to the mayor. She said the city’s chief in-house lobbyist, Megan Middleton, typically would have drafted a legislative agenda and delivered it to the council.

“I don’t know why that didn’t happen,” Mullinax said. “Megan’s not here today. She’s at the U.S. Conference of Mayors [in Washington].”

The conference on Wednesday cancelled a planned meeting with President Trump after the administration released on Wednesday a list of 23 sanctuary cities that may have records subpoenaed to determine compliance with federal programs. Atlanta is not on the list. A statement from the mayor’s office about the meeting did not mention Bottoms’ position on the decision to not meet with the president.

Before Shook posed his question, Mullinax had presented to the committee a list of pending or expected legislation that Atlanta’s lobbyists are monitoring. The matters include:

  • MOST reauthorization for a 2020 referendum;
  • Possible effort to state to take over control of Atlanta’s airport;
  • Possible effort to create a transit authority to cover 13 counties in metro Atlanta;
  • Potential legislation to facilitate efforts by cities and counties to establish affordable housing;
  • Tax on electric vehicles;
  • Annexation.
Megan Middleton

Megan Middleton

Atlanta now has nine contract lobbyists, plus Middleton, according to the state agency that monitors lobbyists at the state and local levels. The list of lobbyists, their pay for this year and the date they registered to represent Atlanta includes:

  • Jeremy Collins, exceeds $10,000, start Feb. 1, 2016;
  • Robert Davis, exceeds $10,000, start Feb. 7, 2013;
  • Robert Highsmith, exceeds $10,000, start Feb 7, 2013;
  • Daphne Jackson, exceeds $10,000, start Sept. 9, 2014;
  • Atiana Jenae Johnson, exceeds $10,000, start Jan. 1, 2017;
  • Bo Moore, exceeds $10,000, start March 3, 2017;
  • Marcia Rubensohn, exceeds $10,000, start Feb. 24, 2017;
  • Gabrielle Sanders, less than $10,000, start March 11, 2-16;
  • Tony Simon, exceeds $10,000, start March 3, 2017.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

3 replies
  1. Not Playin says:

    Robert Highsmith sure is a busy guy… running Justice Petersen campaign, who ironically withdrew from a vote to transfer the Johnson vs Atl annexation case…the challenged annexation is labeled ‘purported’ by the highest court in Ga…….Highsmith also formed and is treasurer of the TSPLOST committee (campaign slush fund) as reported by channel 2……also Holland&Knight, where Mayor Reed was previously employed… Highsmith is Mayor Reed’s private attorney, as reported on channel 2….

    yep

    busy guyReport

    Reply
  2. Not Playin says:

    The TSPLOST campaign committee (slush fund) unused monies were “donated” to several CoA council members, that recently sought to remain in power…..the names are easy enough to find…

    ask Highsmith

    what is the likelyhood that Highsmith is CoA’s lobbyists for the “Annexation” matter listed in the story…..

    likelyReport

    Reply
  3. Shirley says:

    For over 40 years it has been standard practice for Council to approve the legislative agenda as the governing authority of the city and certainly before lobbyists are hired. In fact, the Agenda has received input from the public as matter of routine Council review.Report

    Reply

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