District 7’S 2018 Year In Review

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The first year of the Bottoms Administration closed with a substantially new line-up of key officials compared to the largely inherited cast that began the term.  The commissioners of Public Works, Law, Procurement, Human Resources, Fire, Parks, IT, and Finance, along with the Chief of Staff, Chief Operating Officer, and Airport General Manager, arrived as a well-credentialed group with much on their to-do lists.   

The acclimation of these department heads (and many new deputies), along with a nasty cyber-attack, indictments of several officials of the previous administration, and political drama surrounding the Gulch project, provided the City Council—with a new President and seven new Councilmembers—with an unusual supply of first-year navigational challenges.

Not that you’d know it from the media, but there were also some significant wins, including the saving of a local fire station, the largest police raise in City history, coming upgrade to the solid waste service, the first-ever Buckhead development moratorium, deployment of a state-of-the-art traffic signal network, more transparent municipal spending practices, stronger procurement oversight, fairer and more open pension fund management, an independent review of Fulton County’s commercial property valuations, and more stringent control of overtime pay.

These activities (and more) are covered in greater detail below.  Where applicable I have cited the referenced enabling legislation, which can be found at www.atlantaga.gov.

There’s a lot here.  It was a busy year.

Public Safety:

Sentencing accountability  

I co-sponsored a Resolution requesting the Superior & Magistrate courts of Fulton County to install cameras so that the public can see for themselves what happens in our courtrooms.  I firmly believe this will lead to more victim-friendly parole and sentencing outcomes, thus preventing hundreds of crimes from ever happening.         (18-R-4153)

APD’s camera network

The Atlanta Police Foundation manages the procurement, installation, maintenance, and operations of APD’s license plate reading and standard cameras on behalf of APD.  It is hard to overstate how important they are in not only making arrests but also, where densely installed, significantly reducing crime.  I funded dozens of them in a cordon around our single-family neighborhoods, and worked to ensure that the hundreds of private cameras watching over Phipps Plaza and Lenox Mall were integrated into APD’s network.  But why, after all these years, is the Police Foundation still married to units that cost $12,000 when better and cheaper alternatives are likely available?  After years of lobbying, the Foundation has committed to looking into what the marketplace has to offer.

Police pay

When the municipal budget was adopted in the spring, the entire police department received a 3.1% raise.  But that was only the beginning.  Through the summer & fall I participated in a collaboration that resulted in APD’s front-line officers receiving an unprecedented pay increase.  Starting salaries shot from $40K to $48.5, and the top tier rocketed from $52K to $71K.  Unsurprisingly, recruitment is up and attrition down.  (18-O-1629)

Buckhead’s fire protection

Here’s a serious public safety threat that, thanks to strong and swift action, was averted: the closure of Fire Station 21 at Phipps Plaza.  When I heard a rumor that the mall’s owner, Simon Properties, planned on throwing the station out and redeveloping that portion of their property, I went  straight to the Fire Chief, Chief Operating Officer, and Mayor.  They immediately engaged Simon’s, with the ultimate outcome that not only will 21 remain at this critical location for generations, but in a brand new, state-of-the-art firehouse. 

Traffic Congestion:

Best in class traffic signals

GDOT has recently completed testing its state-of-the-art traffic signals installed at 39 Peachtree Rd intersections (additional Buckhead locations will be added later).  Far superior to a standard chain of rigidly-timed lights, this virtually self-aware system relies on cameras, radios, and internet connectivity to communicate with each other and respond to the ebb and flow of real-time traffic conditions.

Commercial parking reductions

While court-tested constitutional laws prevent us from down-sizing Buckhead’s ludicrous zoning density, those protections don’t extend to the number of parking spaces that contribute to our congestion.  This ordinance, which I sponsored, ends the ability of developers to enjoy both Manhattan density and Alpharetta parking which, over time, will prevent tens of thousands of additional car trips from ever happening.  (18-O-1029/Z-18-88)

Buckhead Development Moratorium

I also co-sponsored this related ordinance establishing a first-ever moratorium on new development permits in Buckhead while the above legislation underwent appropriate review by officials and the public.  (18-O-1093)

Roundabout (Phipps/Wieuca)

Engineers from several private-sector firms as well as the City have been studying this mess of an ‘intersection’ for a long time.  They all agree that converting it into a roundabout creates the greatest improvement.  A lengthy dialogue with abutting property owners and other stakeholders resulted in an evolving design that is currently undergoing another round of public review.    

Habersham/Roswell/Piedmont/Blackland intersection redesign

This confluence of roads—which may have worked fine in the horse-and-buggy days—is now an epic fail.  After soliciting an initial round of public input, the firm hired to redesign it has begun developing options.  

Piedmont Road widening (between Peachtree & Lenox Roads)

Piedmont Road has always suffered as Peachtree Road’s red-headed stepchild, but what better place to begin improving it than by widening this thoroughfare’s most agonizing stretch?  GDOT (this is a State route) has approved a concept report that stakeholders must now flesh out as a detailed design.

Property Taxes:

When questions were raised about whether Fulton County has been undervaluing commercial property, I wrote a resolution requesting that the Finance Department procure the services of an outside firm to review their findings.  (18-R-4430)

FY2019 Municipal Budget:

After months of careful review and dialogue, by the time the budget moved from the Finance Committee to the full Council it was only a few tweaks away from a rare unanimous adoption. Highlights include:

·         The Budget was structurally balanced (no reliance on reserve funds).

·         City reserves reached a record $200M.

·         The General Fund—which provides the majority of our everyday public services—totaled $667.32M (an increase of only 1% above the rate of inflation).

·         City Council operations (1.7% of the General Fund) were held to a 0.31% increase.

·         All City employees will earn a minimum of $14-per-hour.  (The prior year everyone was lifted to $13, and this spring we hope to get everyone to $15).

·         Atlanta Police Officers received a 3.1% raise (an additional, much larger raise would be granted months later).

·         The independent Audit & Ethics Boards were provided additional resources.

·         An additional $2.6M was earmarked for better parks maintenance.

·         Despite these and other funding initiatives (including setting money aside for the Super Bowl), your property tax rate was reduced—for the 6th consecutive year.

Parks, Trails & Greenspace:

10th anniversary of Little Nancy Creek Park

On a beautiful day in early October, Little Nancy Creek Park was packed with families enjoying this award-winning five-acre gem.  Among the throng was an appreciative group of neighbors and volunteers who recalled its rescue from a series of development attempts and a foreclosure sale, and then raised the money and did the grunt work that produced this truly community parkConvincing the Franklin Administration to purchase it ($2.7M) was difficult but boy was it worth it.

Indian Creek Park is officially born

This heavily wooded, largely undisturbed 4-acre parcel on Lenox Road is Buckhead’s latest acquisition to our park network.  In February the park was officially christened (Indian Creek Park), and this summer the dilapidated home was removed.  Thanks to the organization and passion of neighboring Pine Hills residents, the sky’s the limit as the visioning process begins in earnest.

PATH400 continues to grow

2018 saw another growth spurt for the popular multi-use trail.  Livable Buckhead broke ground on a segment bordering thick woods and a wetland (including a beaver dam) between E. Paces Ferry and the terminus of Miami Circle.

Rebuilding Atlanta’s Solid Waste Services:

Although much of Atlanta has seen dramatic density shifts over the years, garbage collection routes weren’t updated until July. (About half of us now get our trash picked up on Wednesdays instead of Mondays which, if you’re like me, has yet to become ingrained.)

The next step was much more difficult: devising a plan to rebuild a service delivery system that had steadily deteriorated over the years.  This happened largely because despite a significant increase in the amount of trash generated by a growing population, the fees hadn’t changed since 2004 and the ancient trucks can barely make it around the block.  By agreeing on a comprehensive rate restructuring, Council and the Administration positioned the department to begin making long overdue capital investments financed by a more equitable cost allocation formula.  Because owners of vacant lots and commercial properties will now shoulder a fairer share, the average annual increase for a single-family home is only $9.  I say ‘average’ because after years of protests by Buckhead councilmembers, the dreaded ‘front footage’ component of the bill has finally been eliminated, meaning that if you live on an R2 or R3 lot, you may actually end up paying less than you do now. Before passing unanimously, I added an amendment taking residents off the hook for having to pay for new bins damaged in the course of normal service.  The new program takes effect July 1, 2019.  (18-O-1300) 

Even though the old solid waste program gave the City the authority to issue citations for improperly contained trash and other debris, this rarely if ever happened and the department would (eventually) come pick up virtually anything dumped at the curb.  I suspect the new plan will be more vigorously enforced.  As it will take some time for customers to adjust to the new regulations, I wrote a resolution urging Public Works to issue detailed warnings rather than citations for initial violations.  (18-R-4335)

Transparency Initiatives & Procurement Reform:

The mid-year implementation of a City search engine called ‘Open Checkbook’ allows anyone with access to a computer (including mobile devices) to peruse departmental budgets, expenditures, salaries, vendor contracts, and more.  This user-friendly treasure trove of information can be found at checkbook.atlantaga.gov.

I co-sponsored an ordinance bringing in a ‘Chief Transparency Officer’ with the responsibility to ensure compliance with all aspects of Georgia’s Open Records Act and sunshine laws, establish stringent penalties for non-compliance, design a mandatory training course for city employees, and implement a website on which open records requests and responses can be publicly posted.  (18-O-1266)

Thanks to this ordinance, a new unit of the (independent) City Auditor’s Office will review all contract proposals of a $1M or more to ensure that the Procurement Department (and user departments) correctly observed all applicable evaluation and scoring requirements.  (18-O-1189)

An ordinance that I co-sponsored requires proposed contract awards to include documentation certifying that the winning proponent doesn’t have any conflicts of interest with the City.  (18-O-1154)

After becoming concerned that officials within the previous administration may have inappropriately manipulated the funding and management of Renew Atlanta & TSPLOST public improvement projects, I co-sponsored this ordinance requesting an investigation by our Internal Auditors.  (18-R-3297)

I co-sponsored this ordinance directing the Municipal Clerk to make the campaign records and personal financial information of Atlanta’s elected officials more readily available through an upgraded web portal and, for citizens lacking access to the internet, a ready supply of hard copies.  (18-O-1244)

Other:

I sponsored a resolution requesting the Commissioner of Human Resources to confirm that female employees are receiving equal pay compared to their male counterparts.  (18-R-3776)

The Defined Benefit Pension Board manages close to $3B in assets.  I authored an ordinance reorganizing it so as to create a better balance between employees, the Administration, Council, and public. (18-O-1388)  

When overtime—particularly within a couple of key departments—was ballooning out of control, I was happy to support this ordinance requiring Council notification of why which City agencies were spending what. (18-O-1373)

Many pet store owners care genuinely about the sources of their puppies and kittens.  Unfortunately, evidence that many don’t is easy to find and impossible to ignore.  There is no room for this in a humane society; thus I joined a unanimous vote banning ‘puppy mils’.  (18-O-1655)

The Gulch:

While everyone on Council agreed that creating a thriving, mixed-use destination out of this commercial wasteland was a worthy goal—and that the unique engineering challenges justified a significant public incentive—we had a protracted disagreement over how much was too much.  Although key terms of the deal improved as the deadline approached, I remained convinced that the price far outweighed the benefit.    After months of drama the project and financing program were approved by a bare 8-6 majority.

Passing of Ivory Lee Young, Jr.:

The Honorable Ivory Lee Young Jr, who represented District 3 on the Atlanta City Council, passed away Nov 16 at the age of 56 after a long struggle with cancer.  He and I joined the Council at the same time, creating a bond that helped bridge our occasional policy disagreements.  But he was never hesitant to support the programs and projects that he knew were truly important to Buckhead, particularly as a longtime member and frequent Chair of the Zoning Committee. An architect, he infused his work with amazing creativity and passion.  As a deeply religious man, he was a tireless servant for the less fortunate.  He was a big man with a big heart and booming voice who did big things. He was peerlessly flamboyant, kind, and supportive of others, and never confused a Councilmember’s vote with his character—attributes not in oversupply in today’s political world.  The District 3 seat will be filled via a special election in March.  He is and will remain sorely missed.