Mayor Andre Dickens on Atlanta Committee for Progress: ‘Atlanta is a group project’
By Maria Saporta
The Atlanta Committee for Progress has been a pivotal organization for every Atlanta mayor since Shirley Franklin in forging a relationship between City Hall and the Atlanta business and civic community.
After nearly a year of being in office, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens gave strong assurances that the relationship continues. Dickens sat down for an exclusive interview after the Dec. 9 quarterly meeting of the Atlanta Committee for Progress held at the King and Spalding law firm.
The meeting was the last one chaired by Ryan Marshall, CEO of Pulte Homes. The 2023 chair will be Colin Connolly, the CEO of Cousins Properties. ACP’s board members include many of the most important business and civic leaders in the city.
Unlike previous administrations, the leadership of ACP was not available to meet with SaportaReport after the meeting. But the mayor gracefully agreed to talk about his relationship with the business community and how they are instrumental in helping him with the city’s top priorities.
“ACP members were very complimentary of our efforts together,” Dickens said. “They felt we were headed in the right direction. We talked specifically around public safety and the positive movement we’ve made in that direction.”
Dickens said they also talked about housing, homelessness and the city’s Summer Youth Program, which business helped in the hiring of 3,007 students this past summer. Dickens said the business community is planning to continue the program next summer.
Dickens said ACP thanked Marshall for serving this past year and welcomed Connolly as the new chair. But the mayor said he was not involved in the selection of the new chair because he’s not an official member of ACP.
The organization was founded in 2003 by Franklin to help repair the strained relationship that the business community had had with her predecessor – Mayor Bill Campbell. During her tenure, ACP helped launch the Atlanta BeltLine Inc., made improvements to the water and sewer system and helped the city acquire the priceless collection of Martin Luther King Jr.’s papers that were about to be auctioned to the highest bidder.
Under Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration, ACP helped launch the Westside Future Fund aimed at revitalizing the neighborhoods west of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium that was being developed.
A couple of ACP members spoke highly of Dicken’s leadership.
“I think the mayor is doing a spectacular job,” said Martin Flanagan, Invesco’s president and CEO who served as ACP’s chair in 2015, after Friday’s ACP meeting. “He’s had an amazing first year. I’m looking forward to next year. He has his team in place, and it’s very focused. Next year, there will be more accomplishments than there were this year.”
Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines who chaired ACP in 2020, also complimented the mayor.
“I love what Andre Dickens is doing. He has reached out across the community,” said Bastian, who did not attend the last ACP meeting. “Delta has always had a close working relationship with all the mayors.”
Dickens was asked about the importance of ACP and having a good relationship with the business community.
“Atlanta does it better and differently than any other municipality that I’ve run into,” said Dickens, adding that several suburban cities and counties in Atlanta have asked him how they can get a similar group. “When I go to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, they don’t have this kind of situation. I mean, they have a chamber – everybody has a chamber of commerce but not dedicated folks that you meet with and you can share ideas with. It’s vital on some of my initiatives around homelessness, early childhood education and youth development.”
Dickens said it is unusual to have business leaders be involved in social and humanitarian issues.
“Atlanta is a group project, and the business community is a part of that group,” Dickens said. “If everybody doesn’t put into the group project, we’re going to fail.”
Dickens also added that workforce development and community building also are part of his priorities and areas where he’s working with the business community.
“We have these opportunities for us to connect these workers with jobs, but we have to make HR (human resources) be able to see everybody as a potential worker, and that these people are employable,” Dickens said of people who may have a hard time getting hired.
The issues related to housing affordability and gentrification also are important to Dickens, who admitted that he originally tried to have inclusionary zoning be citywide. When he realized it would be impossible to get that through the state legislature, they settled on having inclusionary zoning along the BeltLine and other developing areas, such as the neighborhoods around the new Westside Park.
When asked about the city’s agenda at the upcoming General Assembly meeting in January, Dickens said the city will continue to try to block the deannexation of Buckhead and any attempt by the state to takeover Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.
“That’s always standard fare for us – probably forever,” the mayor said.
When looking at what the city can do proactively, Dickens said he’s still trying to decide his top legislative priorities – raising the minimum wage, workforce training, housing or land use.
The mayor did say that as the city prepares to host the World Cup in 2026, he hopes to work with the Georgia Department of Transportation and Commissioner Russell McMurry to improve state routes, such as Northside Drive.
“We have a great relationship with Russell,” Dickens said. “But that’s relational – meaning we have to go ask.”
Dickens was even more forceful when he talked about MARTA and the two new people he has named to the transit agency’s board. At MARTA’s Dec. 8 board meeting, Robbie Ashe and Reggie Snyder both resigned as board members.
Jennifer Ide, a former Atlanta City Councilperson who has a family history with MARTA, is one of the new appointees. Her father, William Ide III, was instrumental in getting MARTA off the ground in 1971.
The second person Dickens has proposed is Jacob Tzegaegbe, a senior transportation advisor to former Atlanta Mayor Kiesha Lance Bottoms. Dickens said Tzegaegbe was one of his students at Georgia Tech. He also is a former consultant for McKinsey & Co.
“He’s a civil engineer. He has transportation knowledge,” Dickens said. “He got his master’s in Oxford, England, so he’s a very qualified guy. He’s a huge transit and walkability advocate. So, MARTA is going to get some progressiveness on its board with those two.”
Dickens did thank Ashe and Snyder. But it was clear the mayor is looking for a better response on the city’s More MARTA transportation plans from the transit agency. He said it was important for people to know of the city’s goals around transportation. City voters approved another half-penny sales tax in order to implement the More MARTA plans.
“I want more rail. I want more light rail,” Dickens said. “I want (them) to be muscular and pushy on MARTA’s administration to do more. They have to deliver, and that means board members have to be aggressive and intentional.”
Asked about MARTA’s decision to select bus rapid transit rather than light rail on Campbellton Road (which was the mode designated in the city’s More MARTA plan), Dickens made it clear he wasn’t a fan of that move.
“It took a long time to do something that we all voted on,” Dickens said.
At the end of the interview, Dickens reaffirmed his commitment to being a regionally-minded mayor. He already has committed to going on the 2023 LINK trip to Montreal, an annual three-day visit arranged by the Atlanta Regional Commission. LINK includes about 120 top business, civic and government leaders from throughout the region that go visit other cities to learn best practices.
Note to readers: As I was preparing this column, I decided to reconstruct the leadership history of the Atlanta Committee for Progress as best I could. I have had the privilege to cover ACP since its inception in 2003 through four mayoral administrations: Shirley Franklin, Kasim Reed, Keisha Lance Bottoms and Andre Dickens.
ACP has had four executive directors:
2022 to present: Kathy Waller
2019 – 2021: Shan Cooper
2016 – 2018: Duriya Farooqui
2004 to 2016: John Ahmann
The board chairs of ACP have been some of the top business leaders in Atlanta:
2023: Colin Connolly of Cousins
2022: Ryan Marshall of Pulte Homes
2021: Alex Taylor of Cox Enterprises
2020: Ed Bastian of Delta
2019: Doug Hertz of United Distributing
2018: Larry Gellerstedt of Cousins
2017: John Dyer of Cox
2016: Paul Bowers of Georgia Power
2015: Martin Flanagan
2014: Bill Rogers of SunTrust
2013: Rick Smith of Equifax
2012: Jim Hannan of Georgia Pacific
2011: Phil Kent of Turner Broadcasting
2010: Jim Wells of SunTrust/Phil Kent of Turner Broadcasting
2009: Jim Wells of SunTrust
2008: Neville Isdell of Coca-Cola
2007: Phil Humann of SunTrust
2003 through 2006: Pete Correll of Georgia Pacific