Column: After pension reform, Mayor Kasim Reed turns to city’s health care costs

By Maria Saporta
Friday, Sept. 30, 2011

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has a long-term plan to shore up the city’s finances.

The first step was pension reform — a plan that passed in July after the mayor made it priority as soon as he took office in January 2010.
Now the mayor wants to take on the city’s rising health-care costs.

“It’s the next step in stabilizing the city’s finances,” Reed said. “We are going to be asking for help again in a similar model that we used in the past.”

The formula Reed used with pensions was to put together a blue-ribbon commission to study numerous alternatives to limit the city’s $1.5 billion pension liability. Then the mayor went to the business community to raise $2 million to pay for professional services from actuaries, lawyers and financial managers to do the necessary research to get pension reform passed.

Because that model ended up being successful, Reed is now asking the business community — through the high-powered Atlanta Committee for Progress — to raise $500,000 to hire professional services to study the city’s health-care obligations to current and former employees.

The study also will review “other post-employment benefits” that the city currently provides. “We are asking the Atlanta Committee for Progress to fund a study on health-care costs, retiree health-care costs and current health-care costs,” Reed said. “We have to get a sense of where we are in the health-care space.”

Reed said he would like to have the studies completed in the first “180 days of the new year,” which would mean the mayor could try to get legislation passed next summer in time for the city’s 2012-2013 fiscal year budget.

By the way, once the city has addressed its health-care costs, Reed plans to take on the city’s unfunded infrastructure needs. He plans to work with the business community to develop a benchmark study to see whether the city has sufficient revenue to meet its future operating and capital needs.

“How do you continue to bring efficiency, improve services and not raise taxes?” Reed asked rhetorically. “We need to make sure we can find out what we need to fund to be best in class.”

Coke and Tech connection

John Brock and Mary Brock invited family, friends and business associates to the Sept. 23 dedication of Georgia Tech’s new indoor football practice field.

The Brocks donated $3.5 million for the John and Mary Brock Football Facility, an 80,000-square-foot facility adjacent to Russ Chandler Stadium in the heart of the Georgia Tech campus.

Brock, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., graduated from Georgia Tech with a chemical engineering degree four decades ago. Brock and his wife, Mary, have become major donors to Georgia Tech, also contributing to an endowed chair for a Georgia Research Alliance eminent scholar.

Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson said that the new football facility provides greater “flexibility” and convenience for the university’s “student athletes” to practice. Up to now, in inclement weather, players had to practice at either the Georgia Dome or at the Atlanta Falcons’ facility in Flowery Branch.

The Coca-Cola Co. CEO Muhtar Kent came to honor Brock, saying he admired the gifts that the Brocks had made to Georgia Tech.

“There’s a remarkable connection between Coca-Cola and Georgia Tech,” Brock said, while acknowledging Kent. “Coca-Cola will celebrate its 125th birthday next year, and Georgia Tech celebrated its 125th birthday last year. The single-largest gift given in the history of Georgia Tech was given by the first woman board member of Coca-Cola — Lettie Pate Whitehead.”

Brock said Whitehead’s gift still generates about $8 million a year for Georgia Tech.

Also present were Jeffrey Sprecher, founder, chairman and CEO of Atlanta-based IntercontinentalExchange Inc.; and his wife, Kelly Loeffler, ICE’s vice president of investor relations and corporate communications. Loeffler and Mary Brock are now among the co-owners of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream basketball team.

Supporting working poor

For 25 years, the Midtown and downtown business communities have supported the Midtown Assistance Center — a nonprofit organization that provides emergency assistance to the working poor in the central city.

So in honor of its 25th anniversary, the Midtown Assistance Center has set a goal to raise $25,000 that will enable it to continue providing emergency assistance to those in need.

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta and the The Integral Group LLC have signed on as primary sponsors of a fundraising event on Oct. 1 to kick off donations for the center’s 25th Anniversary Fund.

“We are reaching out for support because in today’s economy, the needs are greater than ever,” said Dorothy Chandler, MAC’s executive director, in a statement.

Men Stopping Violence awards

At its annual awards dinner on Oct. 15, Men Stopping Violence will honor several activists. The Decatur-based nonprofit is dedicated to ending male violence against women.

Ann Stallard, a philanthropic business leader, will receive the Kathleen Carlin Justice Seekers Award (named for the founding director of the organization). Victor Rivas Rivers, an actor and author, will receive the Dick Bathrick Activist Award.

Also, the online magazine The Good Men Project will accept the True Ally Award.Co-chairs of the dinner are George McKerrow Jr. of Ted’s Montana Grill (a True Ally award recipient in 2009); and Richelle Carey, the weekday anchor of HLN.

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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