Atlanta’s Future Depends on a Coalition

I am sharing my recent response to a reporter who asked me to describe my relationship with the state and Governor Perdue when I was mayor and what advice I would offer the next mayor.

We had a good relationship in the sense that we shared information and ideas from our first meeting. Our agreement was to talk directly to each other instead of using third parties to intercede. The Governor and state legislators were unfamiliar with how large water/sewer systems operate and are funded. After they were briefed, they offered to help with loans and ultimately with the MOST (municipal option sales tax) for water and sewer. Then Cobb Chairman Sam Olens was very helpful as was the Democratic leadership including States Senator Nan Orrock and State Representative Calvin Smyre. I urged the Governor to be aggressive in funding water infrastructure planning and to consider long-term water planning.  He started some of this work.

I offered to help find funding solutions to pay for the NASCAR museum but he declined the offer.

We had a generally good relationship for eight years.

It is hard to compare the types of relationships men and women have to same-sex relationships even in high levels of government. Models of leadership in most of American industries and in public/private sectors remain defined by how men relate to each other.

Now politics is much more complex at every level – Tea Party, establishment Republicans, Trump Republicans, loyal Democrats, AltRight, and newcomers. There are many new challenges with the added complication of social media and technology.

We have entered an era of Coalition, not party or race, politics in Atlanta. Leaders who succeed will be collaborators, good listeners, and honest brokers not merely charismatic and well-spoken politicians. Atlanta Maynard Jackson remains the best model of a superb coalition politician. His coalition of black and white voters, young professionals, neighborhood and faith leaders, when Atlanta’s population was predominantly white, catapulted the city and him to the national status. From here to tomorrow the prospect of the city’s future success depends on a coalition of committed engaged Atlantans.

Who you going to believe—me or your lying eyes?

If you want to know a person’s true character, pay attention to what they do not what they say. A person’s actions tell the real story of their values, their principles and their truth. Today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution story on Atlanta City Council members who received transportation campaign funds challenges the core principles public servants take the oath to honor.

The story is one of the most interesting of this local campaign season. The Citizens for Better Transportation 2016 was funded to advocate successfully for passage of the city’s T-SPLOST. Businesses large and small heeded the Mayor’s call for funding that ponied up $1.2 million. The Committee was established by a respectable Georgia lawyer, Robert Highsmith, who has close political ties to the Mayor and to the Georgia Republican Party. Highsmith served as the Committee’s treasurer. The Committee relied on seasoned campaign staff including the mayor’s brother, Tracy Reed, to manage the campaign. The referendum passed and all was well except instead of spending all of the $1.2 million, the team spent less than it raised. Now the integrity test is what do you do with the funds that were not spent. Should the Committee adhere to the law and return the funds on a prorated basis to the donors, donate to an IRS approved charity or create a slush fund? It seems as if the Committee decided on the latter.

Integrity is what you do, when no one is watching. The Committee decided the donors wouldn’t care if they returned the funds back to them. After all, big corporations have more than enough money to spare in the robust economy City Hall has created. And there aren’t any worthy charities that are struggling to fund their social or educational services for the sick, unemployed, students short of college funds or seniors in need of help to pay their utility bills. I guess the homeless are all sheltered and the hungry can do without a meal for the night. The Westside Future Fund must be fully funded. So is United Way of Greater Atlanta and Hosea Feed the Hungry. All the children who want to attend early learning centers and schools must be accounted for. Grady Hospital must have all the money they need for indigent patients and the Atlanta Police Foundation has funded all the houses necessary for police and firefighters.

According to today’s AJC, the Committee decided it was best to use the extra $700,000 for political campaigns and not the needs of Atlanta’s residents. That may be a moral dilemma but choosing to fill out the required state disclosure form in a way that indicates there were no remaining funds, is a question of character.

This case is similar to the actions of Councilmember Michael Julian Bond whom I have known for many years and I am an admirer of his parents and grandparents.

Bond accepted a contribution for the maximum amount allowable by the law from the Committee, and is rumored to be receiving additional financial help in the form of anonymous mailers and other campaign services. This shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone who’s paying attention, since Bond accepted $12,800 from a city contractor that has been ensnared in the ongoing federal corruption probe, and before that he racked up 300 ethics violations for which he promised to pay a $45,000 fine — the largest in Georgia history!

Bond has yet to make the first payment…and if he’s able to hold onto his council post, I wonder if the Citizens for Better Transportation committee can find a legal justification for covering his debt.

You decide. Is it a mere oversight and a lapse in judgement? Or is it an intentional illegal act to gain power and influence no matter the law?

It all reminds me of the punchline from comedian Richard Pryor’s joke about him getting caught cheating on his wife and he says, “baby who you going to believe—me or your lying eyes?”

You know you have crossed the ethics line when …

By Gary S. Cox

You know you have crossed the ethics line when you return to public office in 2009 and rack up over 300 ethics violations and $45,000 in ethics fines, the largest in state history according to the Government Transparency and Finance Commission. You have really crossed the line when the Democrat Commission Chairman says, “I think [with] this level of violation, you don’t belong in office.”

Just this week, Michael Julian Bond was up to his usual dirty tricks. Bond filed a campaign disclosure ( www.gaeasyfile.com ) that revealed only his total contributions, his total expenditures and total cash-on-hand. The entire form omitted who gave him money and how he spent the money he received. Knowingly filing an inaccurate financial disclosure is the basis for a new ethics violation.

Why would Bond resort to such tactics? Bond accepted money from Jeff Jafari and George Reynolds of The Prad Group, Airport Concessions Group and their cadre of relatives. The Prad Group is the firm recently raided by the FBI. WSB Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher confronted Michael Bond about accepting what could conceivably be tainted campaign cash. Bond publicly promised to return the money. However, since the financial disclosure contained blanks, he avoids the scrutiny of the press that was examining who contributed to his campaign and how those funds were spent. More importantly, Bond still has not returned the campaign cash as promised.

Michael Julian Bond exemplifies the current “culture of corruption” that permeates Atlanta City Hall and the Reed Administration. In a recent WSB poll, transparency in government and corruption was very important to 51% of the people surveyed. It should be important to 100% of Atlanta voters. It is time to vote unethical politicians like Michael Julian Bond out of office on November 7th. Remember, early voting starts Monday, October 16th. Monday is your first chance to say “No” to corruption at Atlanta City Hall.

Call Your Senators Today!! Vote No to Obamacare Repeal.

This week has offered us a contemplative and newsworthy glimpse into the challenging lives of America’s poor. A Yale study released on Monday sheds light on the economic gap between blacks and whites and misconceptions of racial economic equality in this country. Reverend William Barber the former President of North Carolina’s NAACP, and dynamic speaker at the National Democratic Convention declared in the Los Angeles Times this week that he is continuing his fight against poverty through his national Poor People’s Campaign. And finally, the announcement of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill designed to dismantle the current United States health care program by the September 30 deadline is the latest attack on America’s poor.

As the Senate prepares to make changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that could impact low-income patients with deep cuts to Medicaid, the debate is not merely a political one but a moral one. It doesn’t matter if you live in a red or blue state or you tout liberal or conservative, America has a poor people problem that can longer be blamed on poor people. The economic gap is real, it is statistically unquestionable and the response deserves our best, most thoughtful public policy and economic response if we are to become an America, as good as its promise.

This current proposed bill is just another Obamacare repeal bill. As a sister, aunt, and daughter and as a mother and grandmother whose ancestors were known for caring for others and believing in the goodness in all who need nurturing and care it is unfathomable that our great country would consider snatching away the much-needed medical care safety net from any one of God’s children. Unfathomable! Call your senators to urge them to vote NO.

History will Judge Atlanta Mayors

It isn’t true that I punch pillows or walls or smash mirrors when enraged by public pronouncements about my years in public service. It is true however, that I follow news about public policy at the local, state and national levels as I have done since my early teens in the 1950’s. I have learned along the way to stay focused on long term goals and to avoid the skirmishes.

As a student of public policy and government, I was an early adopter of the principle that I heard characterized in a saying frequently used by long time Georgia state representative Calvin Smyre. “When you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you know he didn’t get there by himself.”  You see I grew up in a duplex apartment located on a busy three lane street in the inner core of one of America’s big cities. The closest grass or fence was miles away and I saw my first turtle in a zoo exhibit. But the saying, “he didn’t get there by himself” is worth remembering no matter who you are.  The truth is all of us have benefitted from the expertise, hard and smart work and sacrifices of others whose names we may never know.

As I follow local politics now, I am amazed by the complete and utter dismissal of the contributions of others that I have seen recently in the press and other public announcements from the city’s communications office. It is as if no one – not Hartsfield, not Allen, not Massell, not Jackson, not Young, not Campbell or I ever contributed to the significant growth of the city, ever made a smart and visionary public policy decision or ever solved a tough problem on behalf of Atlanta’s residents, businesses, or visitors.  Atlanta mayors for a very long time have made some darn good decisions to move Atlanta to the forefront of American cities. Each had unique skills and talents to apply in tackling the challenges of their day. The best among us had an extra dose of humility and compassion for the people they served. Mayor Reed has his accomplishments which will be judged by history and not by press releases, official pronouncements or political polls. All of us have that same fate.

Tuition Free College Offers More than Hope to Students

NY Governor Cuomo and Bernie Sanders at recent news conference

Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled a proposal to make public college tuition free for low and middle-income students. At a recent news conference he said, “New York state is going to start this year the Excelsior scholarship: if you come from any family earning $125,000 or less, you are going to get free tuition………It’s the first program like it in the US… and it should be a wake-up call to this nation.”

It would be a great kick off to 2017 if Georgia’s graduating high school seniors could get a similar deal. Georgia families deserve the same opportunities as New York students – the unfettered chance to advance their post secondary education to compete in a world economy. New York Governor Cuomo gets it. His initiative is worthy of state funding because the state budget reaps the benefits of the higher income of its residents and a highly educated workforce is the foundation of economic development.  While Georgia’s HOPE scholarship serves a record number of middle-income students, recent studies have found Georgia students from the lowest income families are underserved. Let’s improve education at every level simultaneously – improve K through 12 public education, fund research universities, and high performing students and invest in the children and the families who need it most- those with the lowest wages from working families who can support themselves but don’t earn enough to save for college. Let’s put hope and opportunity back into Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship program.

All I want for Georgia is bold leadership that sets high standards and seeks to support all Georgians especially our youth. Go Governor Cuomo! Cheers and good luck! Here in Georgia, we’re pulling for your success hoping that Governor Deal might follow your lead.

VOTE OR DIE

vote2As those of you who have not yet voted prepare to cast your ballot on Tuesday, let’s imagine our future.

Imagine a world where the President of the United States routinely stops his press conferences to shout at reporters, call a group of Americans demeaning names or encourages physical attacks on peaceful demonstrators. Well, if that seems impossible, then you have missed much of the last 18 months of political campaigning by GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump. He specializes in calling his opponent a liar and using hateful, evil speech to attack anyone who disagrees with him which isn’t hard to do since he offers few facts and little vision for the issues affecting our increasingly diverse, complex country.

We are diverse in opinion, experience, education, career, ethnicity, race, religion, and so many other ways. The best of our history has recognized our diversity as a strength. Most of us want an America where children are taught to love whom they want, achieve their dreams and use their talents to improve their world, their families and their communities. Most of us pay our fair share in taxes and sweat equity to support a strong country. Not dear old Donald Trump. He  avoids paying taxes, spouts hatred, meanness, lies, hyperbole and misinformation. His retort “believe me” is hollow and meaningless because believing him would mean you have to ignore the facts and forget the value of fairness, data or statesmanship.

Can Donald Trump be elected President? Yes.

Will America and many Americans suffer for such a foolish choice, if he is elected? A resounding Yes.

Only registered voters can stop Donald Trump’s climb to political power.

VOTE or DIE was an effective slogan to arouse voters in 2008. This is a VOTE or DIE moment. VOTE and be sure your friends and family vote too. It is time to reclaim our democracy from the mockery Donald Trump has made of it.

It is Time to Vote!

bwb65Early voting starts in seven days on October 17.

It is time to vote.

In the debate, last night Donald Trump said his lewd and sexually aggressive taped comments weren’t as bad as ISIS. Is that the best he can do?  Oh and if that isn’t bad enough Trump said he isn’t as bad as Bill Clinton. Really?

It is time to vote.

Hillary Clinton has years of public policy and legislative experience, she’s poised and she struggles to understand complex issues and address the issues in her answers.

As Georgian, as a woman, as a grandmother and mother, as a former mayor, as an African American, I will vote my conscience on November 8. I will cast my vote for Hillary Clinton for President and Jim Barksdale, the Democratic candidate for U. S.  Senate.

Barksdale is seeking elected office for the first time. He was born in Macon and has made his home in Atlanta for 61 years where he has built a successful business. He brings a deep love for his home state and a desire to support programs and policies to improve the lives of everyday folks.

It is time to vote.

There are also constitutional amendments on the ballot. The amendments include the Opportunity School District referendum, state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission, a fireworks sales tax and one that supports human trafficking victims. You should make your choice known on these amendments.

I will vote YES on Amendment #2 which will generate revenue for the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund and Amendment #4 which addresses the allocation of revenue from the sale of fireworks. Both Amendments have bipartisan support from legislators from across the state and broad-based community support.

Early voting begins October 17.  Please vote and take your neighbors and friends to the polls.

It is time to vote.

 

Women’s Equality Day-Friday, August 26th 2016

WDWhen passing a Resolution establishing Women’s Equality Day in 1970, the House of Representatives of the United States Congress acknowledged the fact that women, “have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens” over more than four decades women have made enormous strides and yet significant challenges remain.  Today Georgia ranks number one in the nation for the fastest growth in the number of women-owned firms contributing to a growing economy. Turning to the political front, the fact that there are no women holding statewide constitutional offices  suggests that there is more work needed to fully flatten the playing field.

Women are the majority of registered voters in Georgia but women have never experienced the full collective power of the women’s vote.  The standard assertion that gender should not matter seems to function as an invisible barrier for women preventing a much broader coalition that could result in leadership that prioritizes issues and solutions of concern to women and their families.  As women work to establish businesses access to capital and contracts remains limited.  As women run for office at the local level statewide offices remain out of reach.  Electing a woman president of the United States can break through the glass ceiling and usher in an era of equity for all women regardless of race, religion, orientation or even political affiliation.  As women pause to commemorate the signing of the 19th Amendment some 96 years ago let us come together realizing that we are not as different as we are disconnected.  Georgia women are stronger together.

Rita Samuels    

Women Flying High, LLC       

Women Flying High will join Georgia Democratic women lawmakers to host a Women’s Equality Day roundtable conversation at the Georgia Capitol on Friday, August 26, 2016. The event will commemorate the signing of the 19th amendment to the U. S. Constitution giving women the right to vote in 1920.

 

Why are Georgia GOP Officials Mum on Trump’s Bigotry?

GOPThe opposition to Donald Trump’s candidacy for the Presidency of the United States is growing every day.  First there was silence, then surprise and shock and now calls for action to oppose his candidacy from corporate leaders, national security experts and technology leaders. Each person who has signed open letters makes it clear they speak as individuals based on their experience and knowledge of their industry and public affairs. None of the open letters blasts Trump directly rather they allow the GOP nominee to speak for himself. And speak he does loosely and carelessly on nearly every subject of national concern. His callousness is not reserved for a few. He lashes out at crying babies, anyone who disagrees with him or any person or organization that represents the diversity of culture and tradition among Americans. His early attacks on Mexicans and immigrants and later Muslims and now common and regular attacks on President Obama, members of congress, the media, women, crying baby in a crowded room among others are unmatched in post-WWII American presidential politics.

In Georgia and in other parts of the South otherwise good, honest voters are expected to turnout to support the GOP nominee and GOP elected officials, for the most part, stand silent watching from the wings. In Georgia the Governor, the state House and Senate, the two United States Senators and the majority of the Congressional delegation are Republicans. Some work across the aisles on key issues, some are known for their good works and delivery of “pork” to fund state projects…. but all are mum when in comes to challenging the hatred Trump spews and statements he makes nearly every day. They know ISIS wasn’t founded by President Obama or Hillary Clinton. They know immigrants contribute positively to the Georgia economy. They know babies cry in public. They know women are legitimately concerned about their rights and most gun owners want to expand background checks. They know thousands of families benefit from healthcare unavailable to them in the recent past. They know America is great now and no amount of chanting from Trump will change that. They understand the racial overtones of many of the GOP nominee’s statements. After all many GOP elected officials in the South have witnessed the expansion of democracy with the Voting Rights Acts and the impact on their own political races. Some have made changes in more than their language (staff composition, number of black church visits) to stay on good terms with African American voters who, depending on the election, turnout in record numbers and can make their campaigns more costly. Some have enjoyed close relationships with African American organizations and political figures.

Following Rev Warnock’s lead… it is time to ask questions. Can Georgia Republican leaders enjoy “good relations” with African American and immigrant communities in the face of Donald Trump’s candidacy? Will voters give them a pass? Who are the Mayors William Hartsfield and Ivan Allen (who challenged the status quo of white dominance of Atlanta politics) among the current crop of established white political leadership? Deal? Cagle? Olens? Many African Americans seek to carry the Maynard Jackson banner. Who among the white Georgians, Georgia Republicans will take the moral, righteous stand against Donald Trump’s bigotry, hatred and ignorance?

Who Signed Silicon Valley’s Anti-Trump Open Letter (and Who Didn’t) http://www.inc.com/tess-townsend/silicon-valley-letter-to-trump.html