ARC board debates barring CID board members from ARC’s board as new rep from DeKalb County takes office

Competing visions of who can serve as a citizen member of the board of the Atlanta Regional Commission emerged Wednesday as the board works to update its bylaws.

Fayette County Chairman Steve Brown has asked the board to create two rules: Term limits for citizen members; and to bar citizen members from service on the ARC board if they serve on the board of a community improvement district – the self-taxing districts that have popped up around the region.

The ARC board’s bylaws working group agreed to consider Brown’s suggestions. The issue raises sensitive political issues, given that ARC Chairman Kerry Armstrong is a citizen member who serves as chairman of the North Fulton CID.

DeKalb church helped anchor Antoinette Tuff through the pain

Nine miles due east of the school where she became a worldwide hero for talking down a gunman who had fired at police, Antoinette Tuff  showed up Sunday at the church where she has said her pastor’s voice urged her to be “anchored.” It felt strangely reassuring to be in her presence. I was there because I wanted to find out more about how she pulled off such courage in the face of impending evil.

I live six miles north of Tuff’s school, and was horrified momentarily last week at the possibility that another Newtown shooting might be unfolding. Pretty much all the news out of our schools and government in DeKalb County, Georgia, has been terrible lately.

I could see from Sunday’s service how this community teaches members to expect the unexpected. I could see how Antoinette Tuff might get used to behavior that would unsettle the rest of us. It was also clear that this is a community that values deep preparation to counter life’s surprises.


Photo of Brandy Brown Rhodes cutting the ribbon dedicating the Derwin Brown Police Precinct on June 28.

After assassination, Brown family seeks peace and truth amid more loss

Brandy Brown Rhodes and her siblings lost their police captain father to a dramatic execution-style hit in the driveway of his home in a southeastern suburb of Atlanta. They lost their mom more privately, when she died of a stroke. There have been other losses, too.

Last week, as a new police precinct next to South DeKalb Mall was dedicated to their dad—sheriff-elect Derwin Brown—Rhodes and her siblings talked about weathering a series of emotional hits, after the violent one that claimed their dad. Unlike most adult children who have lost a parent, the Brown children have spent a dozen years sorting out their dad’s legacy amid lingering questions about how he died, while processing the deaths of other family members.

“I think the hard part about it is coming to peace that both of my parents are gone and I have to look at this world differently now,” Rhodes, 34, said.


Standing up for DeKalb’s homeless animals, they wear and see red

Fritz the rescue dog got shooed from last week’s DeKalb County Board of Commissioners meeting, marking yet another bad day for homeless animals in DeKalb and the humans who are rabid for an $8 million new county shelter.

Fritz was rescued by a group that helps find homes for animals from the existing shelter near I-285 and Memorial Drive.  A citizens task force in early 2012 called the facility a filthy, smelly, bug- and rat-infested, understaffed “chamber of horrors.” Out of every ten animals that go there, seven die. It has the highest “kill rate” of any animal shelter in metro Atlanta, the task force reported.

“Animals are suffering and dying in a horrible, horrible condition in our shelter,” said activist Heidi Pollyea to the board. “If you have a minute to go down there I think you’d say, ‘Let’s get busy. Let’s get this approved.” We have the opportunity today to make a difference. Please do not delay. This cannot wait.”

Dog Cleo sniffs a box turtle

For veteran journalist, neighborhood trail leads to a new beat

Note from Michelle: This week’s column is by guest writer Ben Smith, who happens to be my husband. Many of you know him from his days as an AJC political reporter.  

By Ben Smith

In my old life, hitting the trail meant following the money, traveling with a campaign or tracking down a criminal.

Today it simply means taking my dog for walks in the woods and keeping my eyes open.

Yet in the three years since I left the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and sought to reinvent myself in the digital age, I have discovered that my skills as a reporter easily translate to a “beat” that is much smaller, more isolated and surprisingly weird.

Barbecue boss leaves blueprint for leadership

Paul H. Taylor was one of those people who spark the best in a community, and kept that spirit lit. With the Oak Grove United Methodist Barbecue, the Taylor fire is real and smokin’.

For a half-century, this big church in northeast Atlanta has roasted three tons of pork to feed 5,000 people, which takes between 400 and 600 volunteers.

An event so large and significant needs a strong volunteer leader. For the past decade, Taylor served as “Boss Hog.”

Taylor will be missed at Saturday’s 51st barbecue, which takes place from 11 am to 6 pm. He died at age 53 in an April bicycle accident on North Decatur Road. His untimely death highlighted all that Taylor contributed to the barbecue, which serves as a template for anyone in management.

Coyotes: Wily, hungry and attracted to Atlanta’s buffet of outdoor cats

For those who link the ki-yotes’ plaintive howl to the romance of an old Western — the distant soundtrack as the cowpokes tell stories around the campfire – forget all that.

Coyotes’ story in urban Atlanta is about pests, pets and prevention.

Last week, Dr. Chris Mowry, a biologist from north Georgia who has studied coyotes, described their gritty survival skills to a crowd gathered at Fernbank Science Center for a forum titled, “How can humans and coyotes co-exist?”

Forums aim to help small firms win work as Legislature debates “small businesses”

Two upcoming forums will provide information to small and minority companies seeking contracts to design and build projects in Atlanta to be funded with proceeds of the proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation.

Presenters will talk about the procurement processes to be used to award contracts for planned transportation projects in Atlanta, MARTA, DeKalb and Fulton counties. Registration for the session Wednesday is closed, but openings remain for the March 6 event.

The forums occur as the state Legislature debates a proposal to redefine small business as it relates to state purchasing contracts. House Bill 863 would change the size of a small business, for purposes of competing for a state contract, from 100 employees to 500 employees.

Transportation sales tax: Proceeds could not pay for routine MARTA maintenance

Over the next year, MARTA expects to spend up to $700,000 maintaining its train tracks, grinding them into proper shape and otherwise ensuring they will safely carry trains.

The amount may not seem terribly huge for a system with a total annual budget this year of more than $740 million. The project also seems to be an expense that could be deferred in the expectation that it could be funded with MARTA’s portion of the proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation, which will be on the ballot July 31.

Except, proceeds of the sales tax could not be used for the rail maintenance project, a top MARTA official said. And the reality of the need for routine maintenance, in and of itself, speaks to the ongoing challenge of maintaining and operating the system – especially in an era of MARTA’s own declining local sales tax revenues and the uncertainty of federal funding for transit nationwide.

Atlanta region standing strong on regional transit governance and changes to MARTA Act

It should be so simple.

Establishing a regional transit governance structure and tweaking the MARTA Act to make the transit system more functional should be no brainers.

But when sound ideas are placed in the hands of some members of the General Assembly they somehow become distorted, convoluted and warped with political baggage.

Then when people and institutions object to proposed bills have been drafted with flawed thinking rather than common sense, those bills often just die on the vine and nothing gets done.

The Atlanta region is adrift without an elected captain

By Guest Columnist JERE WOOD, mayor of the City of Roswell

Metro Atlanta needs more than a one-cent transportation sales tax to recover from the recession and regain its position in a competitive world. We need to work together as a region, not independently, to meet our transportation, water and other regional challenges.

To act as a unified region, we need leaders with the authority to speak for the region.

Who has the authority to speak for metro Atlanta?

Georgia Rep. Stephanie Benfield to become GreenLaw’s executive director

By Maria Saporta

The environmentally-focused law firm — GreenLaw — has hired a new executive director.

Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, a DeKalb representative of Georgia General Assembly since 1999, will become GreenLaw’s executive on April 9.

The news was announced in an email to GreenLaw’s friends Wednesday by Greg Presmanes, who is chairman of GreenLaw’s board.

“I am so excited that Stephanie will be leading our team forward into its third decade of giving Georgia’s environment its day in court,” Presmanes said.