Torpy at Large: City Council high jinks reflect roughshod Reed era

The Atlanta City Council’s last regular meeting during the reign of Mayor Kasim Reed demonstrated what Atlanta has become — confident, successful, chaotic and a bit of a bully.

When time is short, there’s a sense of urgency. Legislation must get rammed or even sneaked through.

First, though, the council had to endure the public comments section of the meeting. Monday’s meeting had it all, the usual theater of activists and provocateurs, put-upon city employees, Mary Norwood fans and even neighbors who felt they were being done wrong.

By neighbors, I mean three-sevenths of the DeKalb Board of Education who came to let Atlanta officials know they were getting screwed over.

Atlanta is annexing a 744-acre swath that includes Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Emory wanted to annex because Atlanta is on the upswing and has a pot of money to build a new light-rail line its way.

A few months ago, Atlanta negotiators said they’d let DeKalb County keep its school boundaries intact, meaning kids in that area would still attend DeKalb schools. At first glance, this didn’t mean much because it affected, like, 10 students. But DeKalb schools would lose $2.25 million in property tax if Atlanta schools took over the annexed area’s boundaries.

Don’t worry, Atlanta negotiators told DeKalb. You can keep the schools. That was until recently, when Atlanta’s school system told the City Council: Grab that land for us. And the tax money. Don’t forget the money!

The move threatens to destabilize DeKalb schools because any time a chunk of DeKalb goes to Atlanta now, so will students and tax money. Ultimately, Atlanta could even end up taking over schools, such as Druid Hills High across the street from Emory, if nearby neighborhoods eventually become part of the city.

Three DeKalb school board members missed their own board meeting to attend the Atlanta council’s. The threat of ruin will do that. I’m sure they thought, “We just got our act together the past couple of years and now this.”

“There’s something bothersome that you can have a decision like this imposed upon you,” said DeKalb board member Marshall Orson, after watching the Atlanta imposition. Orson was there with DeKalb board members Vickie Turner and Melvin Johnson, the chairman.

“It was represented to us the school boundaries would not change, but here at the 11th hour, they change,” Orson said.

The group of DeKalbites stood in silent protest several times during the meeting. The measure passed unanimously, without council comment.

Get lost! Next!

That would be the employees, who worry the city — read, the outgoing Mayor — is trying to take over control of three pension boards with assets of $3 billion.

Currently firefighters, cops and general employees each have pension boards they hold dear as if they were their nest eggs because, well, they are.

The city — meaning The Mayor — wants to create a Super Pension Board under the reasoning that consolidation is good and could create some savings. But another reason is that the city — once again, The Mayor — wants to pack the new Super Board with appointments. Currently the police and fire boards are evenly split with employee and city picks, meaning there must be consensus to pass something.

But the city — The Mayor — knows it’s a fine thing to plop friendly faces on pension boards because someone has to manage all that money. And why not bring in someone you know?

The council backed off when cops and firefighters started squawking. After much consultation and deliberation, the city’s law department drew up a new model for the new Super Board, one with fewer members but still favoring the city.

The measure was punted to a special meeting called for next week. There’s still stuff to ram through.

Part of that was tens of millions of dollars of airport contracts that had been a source of consternation throughout the tempestuous mayoral election. Airport contractors have donated thousands of dollars to campaigns and want the contracts to go through, even though there have been calls to slow down that process as the feds investigate corruption in the city’s procurement.

After eight hours of meeting, the contracts did not come up. Maybe next week.

And then there was the absolutely bizarre occurrence of the Recreation Authority executive director who was either fired or wasn’t.

The council’s agenda included a letter from Mayor Reed appointing a Mia M. Roberts to head the agency, saying Hizzoner was certain she’d serve with “integrity and dedication.”

But there was a little problem. The authority already had a director — Terry Wand, a lawyer who was appointed last summer so Reed’s pick for mayor, Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, could step down from the $135,000-a-year director’s job that Reed placed her in two years ago.

Wand got a call Monday morning from a colleague wondering what was up. Why was she leaving?

Huh? Wand said, before firing off a memo that said Reed wants to use the authority as a “political slush fund.”

Now, I always thought the authority was created to be a “political slush fund.” But a co-worker explained to me that it was established to issue bonds to build stadiums.

I called Wand, who said she had been trying to get a secured contract from the city but was continually put off.

Early into her tenure, she said she found that Bottoms had brought on her mentor, a lawyer named Alvin Kendall, and was paying him more than the $135,000 she was making.

Kendall, a lawyer who was once disbarred and then readmitted, was acting as Bottoms’ right-hand man doing the day-to-day work.

The authority’s board chairman told The AJC there was a lot going on recently and Bottoms needed help. The authority was selling Turner Field since the Braves had vamoosed, and were rebuilding Philips Arena with tax money to keep the Atlanta Hawks from doing the same.

Besides, Bottoms was running for mayor and still getting paid as a councilwoman. She was busy.

Wand told me, “I pushed back, asking ‘Why is he still here? Why is he being paid so much?’ I was pushing so much that he had to go.”

“Keisha was not pleased,” Wand added.

The Mayor says it’s all a mistake, she was not being replaced. Who knows how that memo appointing a new authority director got placed into the council agenda? There’s just so much to get done, so little time.

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