Potential state takeover of Atlanta’s airport among issues raising concerns at City Hall

By David Pendered

Three measures approved by the state Legislature this year are triggering concerns among members of the Atlanta City Council – a study committee to evaluate the state takeover of Atlanta’s airport; a call for Atlanta to permanently close a portion of Mitchell Street adjacent to the Capitol; and carving out a piece of Stockbridge to create a City of Eagle’s Landing.

leed atlanta airport

A state Senate committee is to evaluate a potential state takeover of Atlanta’s airport. File/Credit: abl.internationalsales.com

The city government has long had a rocky relationship. But these measures seem like a poke in the eye to some council members who remember taking the heat to provide funding for the Mercedes Benz Stadium.

“When things went south at the state Capitol, we took on the Mercedes Benz Stadium,” Councilmember Cleta Winslow said. “There was a $200 million project, not even in our baliwick. The state was to provide for football and were to provide for baseball.”

Winslow spoke Wednesday during a meeting of the council’s Finance/Executive Committee. Winslow was referring to a 2013 deal that likely salvaged the funding package for the stadium.

At the time, most Republican lawmakers didn’t want to approve state funding for the stadium. Then Mayor Kasim Reed and Gov. Nathan Deal reached an agreement for the city to provide an amount that proved to be $200 million from the city’s hotel/motel tax to back bonds sold to help pay for construction.

Reed was an outspoken advocate for the proposed stadium. The measure moved so quickly that the Atlanta City Council approved the funding legislation while it remained pending before a council committee.

Here’s a look at the three measures causing concern:

hartsfield airport

Atlanta’s airport is a major development now undergoing a $6 billion expansion project as part of its 20-year effort to remain a leading international airport. File/Credit: skyvector.com

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Senate Resolution 882 creates the Senate Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Operations and Authority Creation Study Committee.

The resolution states, in part:

  • WHEREAS, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is an invaluable resource to the economy of the State of Georgia; and
  • WHEREAS, in the interest of pubic welfare, national security, and economic stability, the transfer of operations of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to an authority might best serve and protect the citizens of the State of Georgia; and
  • WHEREAS, study is needed to determine what federal laws and regulations must be complied with in order to accomplish a transfer of the airport to an authority and what financial obligations must be considered in making such a decision.

The resolution calls for the Senate president to appoint 13 senators to serve on the committee, including five Democrats. The committee has a Dec. 1 deadline to submit any recommendations for legislative action in the 2019 session.

The state Senate wants to close to vehicular traffic a block of Mitchell Street adjacent to the Capitol. Several Atlanta council members voiced objection to the plan. Credit: google earth, David Pendered

Closing Mitchell Street

Senate Resolution 537 was signed by the governor and concludes:

“BE IT RESOLVED AND ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY that the City of Atlanta property consisting of that portion of Mitchell Street between Washington Street and Capitol Avenue shall be closed to unauthorized vehicular traffic.”

The resolution states that two reports from Homeland Security recommend removing vehicular traffic from the portion of Mitchell Street that runs between the Capitol and the Coverdell Legislative Office Building. The closure would reduce the risk of terrorist attack, the resolution states. The resolution also states that the state Senate in 1953 passed SB 165 gave the state control of all four streets around the Capitol.

Stephanie Grant, a lawyer in the city’s Law Department who represents the Department of Public Works, told the committee that the city’s view of the 1953 legislation is different from the Senate’s view.

“They said back in 1953 [legislation] was introduced to give the state all property in Capitol Square,” Grant said. “Our review did not support that contention.”

Other issues Grant cited include SR 537 does not provide any compensation to the city for closing this portion of the street; it does not define “unauthorized vehicular traffic;” and the state has made no effort to list Mitchell Street among the roads under the jurisdiction of the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Carve up Stockbridge to create City of Eagle’s Landing

eagle's landing country club

The plantation-style clubhouse at Eagle’s Landing Country Club is a popular venue at the heart of the proposed File/City of Eagle’s Landing. Credit: elccprivateevents.blogspot.com

The governor signed the two relevant bills into law on May 8. Senate Bill 262 provides for the revision of Stockbridge’s city boundaries. Senate Bill 263 provides for the incorporation, boundaries and powers of the proposed City of Eagle’s Landing.

Moody’s Investors Service issued a report this week stating the credit quality of all cities in Georgia is threatened by the proposal to carve land out of Stockbridge to create a City of Eagle’s Landing, .

The problem is that Stockbridge will remain obligated to pay its existing debt even though its tax base is substantially smaller than when the bonds were sold. And because this situation was created for Eagle’s Landing, the precedence is set for other cities to lose portions of their tax base to create new cities, analysts observed.

Councilmember Natalyn Archibong called on the city’s Law Department to monitor the situation and be prepared to file legal papers in any potential lawsuit. Archibong said she wants clarity on the question of whether it’s up to the mayor’s office or the council to initiate a potential intervention in any lawsuit.

Councilmember Andre Dickens observed that the city should consider the potential impact of filing a friend of the court brief in any possible litlgation.

“I don’t know if our involvement would help or hurt,” Dickens said.

 

 

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.

20 replies
  1. Chris Johnston says:

    Atlanta City might well have to relinquish the airport as the Federal and State corruption investigations and subsequent trials proceed. Atlanta City, and Fulton and DeKalb Counties have already been forced to give the State more control over transportation planning. The City can blame no other body.Report

    Reply
    • atlman says:

      1. ” Atlanta City, and Fulton and DeKalb Counties have already been forced to give the State more control over transportation planning.” Ummm, this is not true at all. In fact, MARTA has been begging for more assistance from the state since its inception. The bills that passed only increased state control for transportation in areas not in MARTA. Atlanta, (south) Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton have no oversight at all. Only Cobb and Gwinnett do, a fact that I am not happy about to be honest because I support local control.

      2. “Atlanta City might well have to relinquish the airport as the Federal and State corruption investigations and subsequent trials proceed.” Ummm, no. Even if the federal and state corruption investigations find that there is a ton of corruption involving the airport, the solution would be new leadership, not transfer of ownership from the government that built and maintained it for decades to another. So what you are describing is false and unprecedented. LOTS of city and state agencies have had mismanagement and corruption scandals and it almost never results in transferral of those agencies.Report

      Reply
  2. Darkeyah says:

    The State of Georgia would essentially be enacting imminent domain on the airport. Which would have to be overwhelmingly in the public’s interest. How will the State argue that simply transferring ownership from the CoA corporation to the State benefit the public.In a court challenge the State’s argument becomes even more difficult being the City has and is currently spending billions to improve the airport. It seems like a desperate grabe.at a large revenue stream. It seems the only argument the State would be making is the CoA leadership in mostly Black and State leadership is mostly White.Report

    Reply
    • Chris Johnston says:

      The money spent at the airport is funded by airport revenues, not City taxpayers.
      The airport has been immersed in political scandal and corruption ever since Maynard Jackson set the precedent of treating it as his private cookie jar. Jackson’s procedures have been followed by his successors. And now the City Hall is also under scrutiny. The City’s stewardship has become very unsteady and the State is a more stable body to control and manage the airport.Report

      Reply
      • atlman says:

        “Atlanta City might well have to relinquish the airport as the Federal and State corruption investigations and subsequent trials proceed.”

        1. Totally wrong.
        2. The airport sits on city land.
        3. Even if this were correct, as it is revenue generated by an asset that the city built and has maintained, the city is the legitimate and proper owners of the revenue, just as it would be were the airport a private business.Report

        Reply
    • A C Vitale says:

      It’s not black and white as the previous poster aludes to. It is not racism. It’s rampant corruption and fat cat city politicians endangering the entire state thru their nepotism and political patron systems of contract awards that concern the state. If there were no issues of concern the state would not be involved but things hit fever pitch under mayor Kassim and are only looking worse now.Report

      Reply
      • Darkeyah Reuven says:

        oh boy? We have another one.

        Reposted from below;
        4. Lastly, there would have to be overwhelming evidence presented in a court of law the State of GA declaring H.J. Airport “imminent domain” is overwhelming in the interest of the residents of the CoA and the Citizens of the State of GA.

        You do know this would be appealed in the Federal Courts, then to the US Supreme Court. Dude you need much more than vague claims of, “…endangering the entire state…” to justify taking a person’s assets. Especially, an asset/business that is growing and generating tons of revenue. Not only that one of the most successful businesses in the travel industry.

        Note: The CoA is a Corporation, and Corporations have been made legal persons by the US Supreme Court.

        Question:
        If; Via Nuclear Power Plant Vogtle, GA Power and State of GA Lawmaker’s shell companies were scamming Georgians out of $15 billion in fake ‘overages’.

        Then; would you then support the State of GA declaring “imminent domain” over GA Power/Southern Co. and seizing their assets.

        Answer; (in White Guy Voice) …of course not, constitutional rights, government over reach, private property rights…blah, blah, blah
        In other word you would never advocate seizing White Peoples assets for ANY reason.

        Am I right?Report

        Reply
  3. Darkeyah Reuven says:

    Chris Johnston, you are using a lot of ‘Racial Coding’, “immersed in political scandal and corruption”. One or two people acting less than ethically does not negate the hard, honest work of thousands of CoA employees. If someone got caught stealing out of the Walmart cash register, that does not give the State the right to take over the corporation.

    But, of course for Black People we all know a different set of rules are used, Ie. ‘White Supremacy’. Just stop already!Report

    Reply
    • Chris Johnston says:

      Stealing and corruption have been going on at City Hall for decades. If the shoe fits, wear it. Your sensitivities don’t change facts.Report

      Reply
      • Darkeyah Reuven says:

        Stealing and corruption have been going on everywhere, including the State of Georgia Capitol building. For example, the GA State legislature are in the middle of a full blown $25 billion scam called Nuclear Plant Vogtle. Ga Electric rate payers have to pay tens of billions for this un-needed potential disaster. Nuclear Plant Vogtle is what I would call “Stealing and corruption”, and these are the thieving clowns you want to be put in charge of Atlanta. Terrible idea!Report

        Reply
        • Chris Johnston says:

          Government is always corrupt because it spends other people’s money. Under the old mayors (Massell and prior), City government was corrupt but it worked. Since the old mayors, City government is monumentally corrupt and little works.Report

          Reply
          • Darkeyah Reuven says:

            Come on dude, “City (of Atlanta) government is monumentally corrupt and little works.” Multiple Fortune 500 corporations and young educated people; and the largest employer in the state of Georgia, Emory University and surrounding neighborhoods all vote to be part of CoA life. Corporations are even choosing to relocate from the nice Atlanta suburbs to the CoA (ie. NCR…). Why do all of these intelligent people choose to pay much higher Atlanta taxes?

            Because, something very good is happening in Atlanta. That means the Atlanta leadership has to be doing something right, ie. a lot is working.

            So Chris, just stop already. Try using some facts!Report

          • Chris Johnston says:

            @ Darkeyah Reuven
            Fact 1. Bill Campbell and accompliances convicted and did hard time.
            Fact 2. Beverly Hall and accomplices convicted.
            Fact 3. Present and ongoing Federal and State investigations with indictments, sentences, and hard time, with more to come.
            It matters not that you choose to look the other way.Report

          • atlman says:

            @Chris Johnson:

            1. He was the only Atlanta mayor to ever have that happen to him. In contrast with a ton of Republians such as Linda Shrenko, Mitch Skandalakis etc. Do you want the same standard applied to those?

            2. You ignore that Kasim Reed and a bunch of other Atlanta politicians were heavily involved in forcing Hall out of power and reconstituting the Atlanta School Board. And that it is what gave the governor of Georgia the power to reconstitute the DeKalb School Board.

            3. “Present and ongoing Federal and State investigations with indictments, sentences, and hard time, with more to come.” While that is true, it has little to do with whether the state should be able to take over the airport or not.Report

  4. Darkeyah Reuven says:

    @Chris. A handle full of people act less than ethically, out of thousands of CoA employees. Really?
    The data clearly shows that CoA leadership is doing something right.
    Bottom line,
    1. CoA is a Corporation with assets held for the benefit of CoA residents;
    2. the CoA residents paid for these CoA assets and are still paying for these assets.
    3. The State of GA did not pay for CoA assets (GA taxes mostly come from the ATL Metro area)
    4. Lastly, there would have to be overwhelming evidence presented in a court of law the State of GA declaring “imminent domain” of the Airport is overwhelming in the interest of the residents of the CoA and the residents of the State of GA.

    Now Chris, where is the evidence for Airport Imminent Domain asset seizure? Hmm.
    Indictments and clouds of suspicion are insufficient evidence in a court of law.

    Oooor maybe, when it comes to Black People slander and gossip is more than enough?Report

    Reply
  5. atlman says:

    “and what financial obligations must be considered in making such a decision.”

    And that will end it right there. Republicans tried to raise the “take control of Hartsfield” issue back in the late 90s/00s. They even erected a “report airport corruption” billboard with a hotline. The city of Atlanta responded: “you can take it … so long as you pay us for what we spent to build it plus the cost of the land and facilities.” The not-particularly-informed people replied that they didn’t have to reimburse Atlanta for the airport because “the airport was built with state funds.” Once the city provided documents showing “no, the airport was built on city property with city funds” then the talk went away.

    This move is being emboldened by the state of North Carolina’s successful removal of the Charlotte airport from city control to state control. But there is a difference. Because of the way that the Charlotte airport is governed, the state was able to remove control in a way that allows the city of Charlotte nominally “controls” it in name only. That was why when Charlotte sued to get control of their airport back, they lost. But this cannot apply in this case. The city of Atlanta initiated, completed, maintained, operated, funded etc. its own airport on its own land entirely with no role whatsoever by any other outside government or entity: not the county, state, feds or any business.

    Now there is the eminent domain angle. Fine, but the state would have to prove that there is a compelling interest to do so. As Hartsfield is the #1 airport in the world, there is no compelling interest. No, corruption involving contracts to vendors, a tiny part of what the airport does yet is the only thing that the critics of the airport are concerned about, is not a compelling interest. If there was evidence of corruption or mismanagement concerning the airport’s actual operations – 99% of what airports actually do – then that would be a better case. But it wouldn’t be a good one because the normal remedy to such issues is to force the city to change its governance, not force the city to transfer a major asset to another entity. What is typically done in such instances would be to strip the authority of the airport from the mayor to the city council, or to a board appointed by the city council, and to require oversight by an outside agency until the corruption problems are fixed. That is what is always done even in cases of severe, pervasive longstanding corruption so there is no reason not to do it here. (Especially when the corruption is not severe, pervasive or longstanding.) Look, the state can’t even take control of a low-performing public school with chronic resource allocation problems. What makes you think that there is a vehicle in the law to allow them to take control of an airport?

    Also, eminent domain even if granted – and it won’t – requires compensating the current owners at its fair market value. Well Hartsfield is 4700 acres of land. Gwinnett County is going to have to pay $34 million for 100 acres of land (that is nearly vacant and undeveloped) so even using that as a starting point we are at $1.6 billion. Except that Hartsfield isn’t vacant or nearly vacant like that plot in Gwinnett. It contains buildings, equipment, extensive assets. So let’s lowball it and say $5 billion. And no, the state would not be able to come up with some funny business where they are able to pay that with bonds or with future airport revenue. (Oh yeah, the state would also have to compensate the city for lost revenue. See that’s the thing … normally eminent domain requests are for areas that are financially failing. Eminent domain for areas that are generating massive profits are exceedingly rare, so figuring out how to compensate Atlanta for a huge lost revenue stream wouldn’t be easy.)

    Again, this is only gaining traction because some folks think that they can get the airport without paying for it, or by paying pennies on the dollar. Once they figure out that they would have to pay billions of state money for it and do it in a relatively short amount of time, AND be responsible for ongoing maintenance and operations of a facility that hooks into MARTA and is vital to the whole region – I guess they are thinking that they can assume control of it while Atlanta continues to do things like operate it, pay for expansion etc.? – they will drop this again as they have in the past.Report

    Reply
  6. Darkeyah Reuven says:

    Excellent analysis. These types of Shenanigans by State of GA Lawmakers, closing Mitchell St with out compensation, greatly weakens the trust between the CoA and the Capital. The residents of the CoA have been paying the highest taxes in the State, FOREVER! We are happy to pay it because we like nice things, like CIVILIZATION, man!

    While you have surrounding counties that want high salary jobs, with ultra low taxes.
    The American Suburban Experiment, (code for: White Flight to avoid Civil Rights Legislation) worked for a while because it was subsidized by Federal Highway funds and low gas prices.
    But, at the end of the day “Civilization” requires infrastructure tens, tens and tens of billions of dollars of infrastructure.

    The surrounding county leadership would rather do all manner of contortions, then join forces with Atlanta and admit Atlanta Leadership has been making good decisions for a very long time. (“Sad”, Donald Trump voice LOL)Report

    Reply
  7. Michael Clarke says:

    I hope the state takes over, kicks out the racial biased people running it now and the APD who harasses every visitor I have coming into the city when trying to just pick them up.Report

    Reply
  8. Darkeyah Reuven says:

    Whoa Buddy! How about first getting your GA Republicans to stop robbing Ga electricity rate payers with that Nuclear Plant Vogtle boondoggle. I’m sure your “racial biased” GA Republicans have their front companies stealing our electricity over charges.Report

    Reply

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