Five Georgias: Atlanta’s Urban Core

This week’s Courier Herald Column. This is the third installment of this series. You can track back to the beginning starting with the previous installment here.

In this, the third in a series explaining the regions that make up Georgia’s political factions, we’re going begin to take a look at each region one by one, beginning today with Atlanta’s Urban Core. For purposes of review, the other regions are Suburban Atlanta, The Mountains, South Georgia, and Coastal Georgia. This is an exploration into the economic and cultural forces that enable each region to form political coalitions as no individual region has dominant power to stand alone on any legislative matter.

We’re going to start with Urban Atlanta to help illustrate what we’re not talking about with respect to dividing lines, in order to later help illustrate where those lines likely are. The Urban Core is a land of haves and have nots. It encompasses neighborhoods that are among the most prosperous in the state. It also has Georgians suffering from some of the state’s worst poverty. The majority of the region is non-white, but there are many neighborhoods that are mostly white.

Because of all of these differences, there was quite a bit of feedback from last week’s column suggesting that this region should be further divided. Such division may be in Urban Atlanta’s future. But for now, this region elects almost exclusively Democratic legislators in a state where Republicans are dominant. It remains one region not because of its political power, but for lack of it.

This is not to say that the Urban Core lacks political power. The political power in this region lies in the economic engines contained within, and the Republicans’ belief that local control is nearly infallible. Continue reading “Five Georgias: Atlanta’s Urban Core”

The Two Georgias Are Now Five Georgias

This week’s Courier Herald column:

This is the second in a series. The introductory column can be found here.

During the 1980’s, the Director of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension Service Tal DuVall published a study on “Two Georgias”, highlighting the growing disparity between a prosperous and growing metro Atlanta, and a mostly rural “other Georgia”. It was not well received by then Governor Joe Frank Harris. Enough so that Mr. DuVall wasn’t around long enough to publicize his ideas. That credit is generally given to Doug Bachtel.

It’s never been politically popular to acknowledge that there is more than one Georgia. Whether standing in downtown Atlanta on Peachtree Street, a farm outside of Dublin Georgia, a beach on Tybee Island, or tying up to a dock in Blue Ridge, we’re all presumed to be politically equal. From the perspective of those that govern us, we are all equal in the eyes of the state.

Economically and politically, the various regions of Georgia can only be considered equal when viewed through the distortion of a political lens. The economic disparity can be proven through statistical data of income and sales tax receipts, and through the distribution of Medicaid and SNAP dollars. The political disparities often change with the topic, depending on how the legislators within each region choose to caucus on an issue.

Georgia politics is not the same as it was thirty years ago when we debated and pretended to ignore that there were two Georgias. We’re now a state of ten million people and growing. We’re the eighth largest state in the country, and in less than a generation we’ll likely be the fifth. The political party in power in statewide offices and with near super-majorities in the legislature is different.

We’re no longer a state of two Georgias. In political and economic reality, there are at least five Georgias. Continue reading “The Two Georgias Are Now Five Georgias”

Jeremy Berry Named City Of Atlanta Attorney

Score one for the good guys.  Mayor Kasim Reed has named Jeremy Berry of Dentons to be the new City Attorney for the City of Atlanta.  Per Meridith Hobbs of the Fulton County Daily Report:

Dentons partner Jeremy Berry is the mayor’s pick for Atlanta city attorney. Mayor Kasim Reed announced today that he’s naming Berry as the new city attorney. Cathy Hampton, the current city attorney, announced April 18 that she will be stepping down on May 19. Reed said at the time that he’d name her successor by next week.

Other than that he’s an Emory grad, there’s not much wrong with this pick. While well established in Democratic political circles, Berry is also very active in the community, and I’ll state for the record he works quite well across party lines. The Mayor made a good pick.

Ex Atlanta Employee Claims City Improperly Diverted Grant Funds For Cars, Chauffeur

Kayla Goggin of Courthouse News brings word that the investigations swirling around Atlanta City Hall are growing. On top of the still unresolved bribery scandal, we now have a former employee of the City –
the business manager of the Atlanta Police Department – claiming she was fired after discovering the City was using federal grant money to supply the Mayor with cars and his personal driver.

In a complaint filed in Fulton County Superior Court, Tracy Woodard says she discovered the alleged illegal activity while investigating other purported improper fund allocations within the department.

Woodard claims that federal money earmarked for purchasing police patrol vehicles was being used to buy personal cars for the mayor and members of his family instead.

Woodard also alleges that Atlanta Police Department officers were driving and escorting Mayor Reed and his family on personal errands.

The April 5 complaint states that the department engaged in other illegal activity as well. According to the complaint, the department ran an “incentive” program to reward officers working overtime during the holidays with money from federal drug seizure programs. The money was never approved to be used for holiday overtime compensation, Woodard says.

Continue reading “Ex Atlanta Employee Claims City Improperly Diverted Grant Funds For Cars, Chauffeur”

You’re Breathing Better Air

According to the Athens Banner-Herald, Georgia’s air quality has improved significantly over the past decade, largely due to shuttered coal-fired plants and lower emissions in newer automobiles and construction equipment.

Emissions of ozone-forming sulfur dioxide (SO2) declined from more than 700,000 tons a year in 2005 to less than 100,000 tons in 2015, according to EPD records.

In the same 10 years, emissions of nitrous oxide and nitrous dioxide (NOX) have also come down sharply, though not as steeply as SO2.

NOX emissions rose to around 650,000 tons per year in 2007, but by 2014 and 2015 had dipped below 400,000, according to EPD’s monitoring data.

It’s good enough that the state Environmental Protection Division sent a request to the Environmental Protection Agency last September that seven counties (Paulding, Douglas, Coweta, Fayette, Cherokee, Forsyth, and Newton) be dropped from the Atlanta non-attainment zone — a change that could take place as soon as this fall. That would leave eight metro counties within the non-attainment zone, which means these areas still do not meet the National Ambiant Air Quality Standards set by federal law. The ozone standard is currently .70 ppm.

Breathe easy, Doughnut-area friends: It could always be worse.

Snark aside, it isn’t that bad in Atlanta, though it could be better — and is predicted to become so. One slightly frustrating point for the metro area is that the eight counties that will continue to exist in a non-attainment area are either meeting or close to meeting the standard that existed prior to 2015. Georgia’s Air Protection Branch of the EPD has a fact sheet about what the current lower standard means for us Average Joes available on their website.

Even with only eight counties failing to meet the current standards, this is a far cry from the 28 that were failing to meet a much looser standard 20 years ago.

Ralston Puts “Other Georgia” In The Spotlight

This week’s Courier Herald column:

There was a time in recent Georgia history when it was impolite to talk about the concept of “Two Georgias”. There was the thriving and growing Atlanta – the economic engine of the state.

Then, there was everything else. The “Other Georgia”. The people that could see the writing on the wall. The people who knew their rural grip on power was slipping. The people who could see that economic and population trends were shifting against them. The people who liked things the way they were, but knew times were changing whether they liked it or not.

With the assistance of UGA professor and Georgia political master Dr. Charles Bullock, we believe the term was popularized during the administration of Governor Joe Frank Harris by the late Doug Bachtel. “Two Georgias” was not a term of endearment. It was, in essence, perceived as a threat to those at the Capitol that they were spending too much time courting the favor of the business interests of Atlanta, and not the greater population that lived outside the area.

The 80’s were several lifetimes ago in Georgia politics. Time did march on, and political and demographic trends did shift. Continue reading “Ralston Puts “Other Georgia” In The Spotlight”

Norwood Leads Crowded Field In Atlanta’s Mayor Race

Mary Norwood, attempting another try to becoming Atlanta Mayor after falling just short 8 years ago, leads a crowded field according to a WSB TV poll by Landmark Communications/Rosetta Stone. (i.e, Mark Rountree & John Garst)

Norwood leads the field of 8 with 28.6 percent, just edging out “undecided” at 28%.  No other named candidate is in double digits.

Several candidates are grouped in the high single digits, including Vincent Fort (9.3%), Keisha Lance Bottoms (8.6%), and Ceasar Mitchell (8.0%).  The next tier includes Cathy Woolard (6.1%), Kwanza Hall (5.8%). Further down, John Eaves is at 3.8%, and Peter Aman at 1.8%.

Also polled was the race for City Council President, which has almost half of those polled undecided (49.2%).  Of those having a preference, Felicia Moore is leading at 23.7% with C.T. Martin close behind at 21.8%.  Alex Wan is a distant third at 9.5%.

You can see the breakout of the poll here.

FBI Raids Atlanta City Hall As Bribery Probe Deepens

According to WSB TV, FBI agents have targeted the City of Atlanta’s procurement office this afternoon and are questioning the City’s procurement director Adam Smith.  Presumably, they’re looking for the invisible hands behind a pay for play bribery scheme that has already netted two guilty pleas by city contractors, but none for City of Atlanta officials.

Much of the attention media has given this case surrounds Mayor Reed’s former campaign official turned city employee Mitzi Bickers. The AJC had a team of reporters do a profile of Bickers’ recent personal and professional history that’s worth a read to understand the lay of the land here.

This is the same investigation that the City and Mayor Reed decided to be quite cute with open records requests, pretending that printing electronic records (many of which were illegible or blank pages) and putting them in bulk in a room would satisfy the public.  It only served to anger the press, who continues to ask “What is the city hiding”.

Now, the FBI is asking Adam Smith.  Hopefully he’ll be able to shed some light on to who, exactly, was involved in the city’s part of this division of labor to engineer payment from contractors to guarantee city business.