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?”

Demographics haven’t shifted elections in Georgia, yet!

Vinson Institute-UGAAs more and more people become engaged in the presidential campaigns either as voters, caucus members or active campaigners, news articles and columns are speculating about which supporters are best positioned or angling for appointments and VIP statuses the new administration.

There is talk all over Atlanta about who will get the nod for which positions in which administration. Ambassadorships and Cabinet appointments are among the most mentioned. Hopes are high in political circles that at least a few Georgians will follow their predecessors – United Nations  Ambassador Andrew Young, White House staff person Rita Samuels, Director of Presidential Personnel Veronica Biggins, Ambassador Gordon Giffen or Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates are among the host of other Atlantans who have served among a President’s most respected and trusted advisors. Even as those considerations are being entertained, most voters and most polls expect Georgia to remain a red state in November. The growth of Georgia’s population over the last decades and the demographics – young, black, brown and international have changed the “color” and “culture”  of the state’s residents,  but we have yet to see a change from “conservative and right leaning” political philosophy in statewide or Congressional elections.

Last year Cabral reminded me about having thousands of qualified registered yet seemingly uninterested voters move to the state or the city doesn’t automatically change election outcomes. Even massive voter registration drives like Georgia House Minority Leader and State Representative for the 89th House District Stacey Abrams’ New Georgia Project in 2012 haven’t moved the needle much. The population of Georgia might be browner and more left leaning but so far election results haven’t shifted.

Before anyone starts packing for Washington, DC maybe we should ask them to focus on a few of the issues that face at least a million Georgians. Those who live on limited or fixed incomes have the greatest needs but all Georgians suffer when we “play politics” while Georgians face social and political obstacles to improve their everyday lives. From the LIMITED accessible, affordable, clean public transportation, affordable housing, healthcare and mental healthcare options, affordable post-secondary and higher education, funding for medical research, support for technology incubators, business retention and expansion incentives,  business opportunities for small, minority and female businesses to HIGH rates of incarceration and recidivism, high school, community college and college dropout rates, family and child poverty and persistent and growing high levels of homelessness in both cities and the suburbs, Georgia officials and civic leaders, all of us, have a lot of work to do at home before moving up the ladder to national leadership.

I count myself as responsible to do some of the hard work too. Whether Georgia is red, blue or purple in the November elections, we should choose the road less traveled and double down on getting Georgia on the right track for those who are most in need.

“If I Were Mayor”— A Young Student Explains the Job

Fifteen years ago in January 2001 a few friends, colleagues and I gathered in my living room to discuss whether my candidacy for mayor could be successful. We talked about the likely candidates, their years of public service and accomplishments; we had an honest discussion about whether I, as a first time candidate even with promised endorsements, could win a race against a seasoned politician and former City Council member. We talked very little about what I would or should do as mayor beyond continuing the legacy programs of previous mayors going back to William Hartsfield.ifIweremayor

Mine was a long shot candidacy and the voters proved the prediction true when the winning percentage of votes in the election barely tipped over the required 50 percentile.  At some level I longed to be in the public discussion about issues held dear to my heart as much as winning the race. Such is the value of democracy. Each of us can be in the public debate about issues we hold dear. Voting is only part of the equation.

During the campaign I found people had opinions about the city, what the mayor should or should not do. Time after time I was struck by the opinions of children.

Here is an essay  written by a Fernbank Elementary School student in August 2002 two months before the November election.

If I Were Mayor

If I were mayor, I would make bigger candy stores, more ice cream trucks, and better playgrounds. But wait a minute. What exactly is a mayor supposed to do? It sounds like a big job-so many things to be done, so many things to be fixed, so many expectations and responsibilities! Decisions, decisions, hmmm…what would I do?

I once heard a poem that said to put your big rocks in the jar first. Then you add the gravel, sand, and water. The big rocks symbolize one’s main priorities, and the gravel and sand symbolize other small projects. One big rock in Atlanta that needs to be put in first, is the task of decreasing air pollution and traffic. If I were mayor, I would change the minimum number of people in an H.O.V. lane to three instead of two; increasing carpool rates and reducing pollution. Then I would encourage the expanding of MARTA. Hopefully, this would reduce traffic. Finally, I’d develop highway clean up teams to keep our roads clean and safe.

Another big rock is the task of helping and caring for the homeless or needy. I, as mayor, would start a sort of “homeless hospital” which would provide good, reliable and cheap medical dental care for the needy. Also at the “hospital”, homeless could sign-up for job skills courses, where trainers would come in and teach certain skills they could use to get a job.

Now comes the gravel and sand. I would paint over graffiti, restore old buildings, improve schools, clean parks, and find good homes for the orphaned children. These and other small things help fill the jar.

Finally, another very important thing that every mayor should do is keep his or her promises. Citizens want an honest and trustworthy mayor who will make fair decisions and listen to the problems of the city. Our city deserves a good mayor. And who knows, one day, it could be me!

” Citizens want an honest and trustworthy mayor who will make fair decisions and listens to the problems of the city. Our city deserves a good mayor.” This young woman captures the expectations of nearly all the voters I’ve ever met.

 

 

Congratulations on the 10th Anniversary of the Gateway Center

This blog is a SHOUT OUT to some fearless Atlanta leaders – Jack Hardin, Debi Starnes, Bonni Ware, Protip Biswas and Horace Sibley and I am sure there are others I have missed. You made a believer out of me!GC

Atlanta’s most needy are better served because of your courageous and innovative leadership. When I was skeptical, they believed they could do the improbable, the impossible – turn an old jail into a vibrant live saving Gateway to a better life for thousands of Atlanta’s homeless people.

This small group of true blue, deeply committed Atlanta residents and seasoned professionals exemplify the best of humankind. They exemplify Margaret Mead’s quote about how and who changes the world – ” never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.

The Gateway has served thousands of men, women and children in some of their most needy hours as a shelter, as a place of refuge, as a service provider. Though the Gateway can’t and doesn’t do their work alone, Gateway serves as part of a larger network of organizations whose boards and staff tackle one of the toughest urban issues city leaders face. Every day dozens of families and search unsuccessfully for affordable housing in our city. They rely on the social service sector to provide a safety net, when they can’t do so for themselves. On the 10th anniversary of the Gateway, I offer my heartfelt congratulations to those who launched the organization, to the dozens of partners, donors and supporters who build on yesterday’s accomplishment to enhance the opportunities for some of Atlanta’s most vulnerable residents and most of all the brave clients who fight for a good life for themselves and their families.

THREE LOUD, BOISTEROUS AND DESERVING CHEERS!

The Legacy of Fort McPherson in 100 Years

LRAShortly after the start of my 2002 term as mayor, an influential Council member and I wrangled behind closed doors over an issue and we were unable to repair our relationship until years after I left office. The point of contention was whether the city should strongly encourage, almost insist, that a major retail development include a significant number of mixed income apartments and condominiums. Her argument was she didn’t want to lose the investment and the developer’s interest by insisting on the inclusion of mixed income housing.

In losing, I learned an important lesson as a leader. There are times when having the right answer means that public policy married with best practice may be illusive especially when a community has suffered years of disinvestment and disappointment.

Sometimes leaders and those they represent will accept less than the best answer because any answer seems better than the risk of no development at all. Best practice doesn’t always prevail. Fortunately, Atlanta has best practice economic and community development models for reference. Two key points are worth noting.

The transformation of City Hall East into Ponce City Market would not be possible without the public investments in the Old Fourth Ward Park, which in turn is accelerating the transformation of the Old Fourth Ward. The public investment in the Beltline is what is attracting the private investment in the adjacent commercial and residential real estate in neighborhoods around the 22-mile Beltline corridor. Public investments in infrastructure supporting Atlantic Station has generated investments and growth in West Midtown. Key to these success stories is that public investment is “unlocking the value” of properties that would otherwise not attract that type of investment.

Opportunities for public investments that can have transformative impacts on urban neighborhoods are rare. They should not be wasted. We now have general consensus on how these investments – when the opportunities arise – should be shaped and structured. The objective should be to make strategic public investments in infrastructure that will increase the quality of life in the surrounding neighborhoods and “unlock” the value of developable property in those neighborhoods. By attracting private investment in residential and commercial properties, those neighborhoods can put on a new trajectory.

The original plan for Fort McPherson followed this approach. The master plan as approved by the Board included a public investment in a 150 acre greenspace that would rival Piedmont Park in its size and amenities. The Board anticipated that this investment – combined with transportation and streetscapes – would attract private investment in residential and commercial properties yielding 4,600 units of mixed income housing (20% of it affordable and over 300 units of transition housing for homeless), and 4 million square feet of commercial property that could support nearly 5,000 new jobs.

At the insistence of then Governor Perdue, who some thought wanted to make the mixed use, mixed income, comprehensive revitalization of Fort McPherson part of his legacy, the implementation Authority was established by the Georgia legislature. Neither Governor Perdue nor the legislature ever adopted the policy or dedicated incentives to the development as expected then.  The Great Recession hit Atlanta housing industry hard, I left office in 2010 and Governor Perdue left the following year. ]

If the US Army wants to sell the base so be it, but this has been public land paid for and developed with public dollars for years. The base has been a stabilizing factor for this section of the city for decades and its’ purchase and redevelopment offers a rare opportunity for the surrounding neighborhoods to gain the amenities they have been without for decades.  It also allows the city to leverage the dollars spent on the purchase with the highest and best long term use of the 400 plus acres.

As a product of two mayoral terms before assuming office myself, changing course is not unfamiliar territory even when established best practice is documented. As one who embraced the concept of the Atlanta Beltline, the Atlanta Streetcar, the National Center of Civil and Human Rights, the name change of the airport, who championed the city and community’s $6 billion in water and airport infrastructure and who launched major initiatives to eliminate homelessness and human trafficking, I understand the power of a great new idea that shapes new policy and creates new economic development opportunities. I also understand the importance of balancing public interest with private interest and making sure the public benefit wins every time. As a student of Mayors Jackson and Young I learned underserved communities deserve the best investment of resources and talent and full access to the decision making process.

As a member of the Regional Commission on Homelessness I am equally concerned about the city’s and the Authority’s commitment to the spirit and letter of the Authority plan for addressing homelessness. This plan was negotiated in good faith, reviewed by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and vetted in numerous public meetings by the Atlanta City Council. Atlanta remains a city with many people who have so little income they qualify as living in poverty. Thousands are homeless. Some 39% of Atlanta’s children live in families whose income qualifies them as living below the poverty line. Homeless children and their families need our focused attention and renewed commitment to use every available, reasonable and sensible resource to offer them opportunities to improve their economic condition.

Imagine a homeless family that relocates to the new Fort McPherson community who is able to reunite as parents and children in a transformed and planned community with other families of diverse backgrounds within a few Marta stops of the tens of thousands of jobs at Hartsfield Jackson airport and downtown. This community would be few blocks from the colleges and universities of the Atlanta University Center, a few miles from Georgia Tech and Georgia State University, two Marta stations connecting them with jobs, commerce, Emory Midtown Hospital Healthcare, Grady Hospital AND a new private investment from one of America’s most innovative entertainment and businessmen. The new community should be nothing less than inclusive of the aspirations and dreams of the current residents and businesses, those who are most in need and those who have the power and resources to invest tens of millions of dollars into new ventures.

This property represents the most important economic development asset for south Atlanta that the city fathers and mothers will have for a hundred years. Limiting the development options to one or the other seems short sighted knowing what Atlanta has learned about the transformative power of public infrastructure investments

Honoring Veterans on this D-Day Anniversary

President Obama along with other world leaders commemorated the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing Normandy invasion in northern France.

USArmy“What more powerful manifestation of America’s commitment to human freedom than the sight of wave after wave after wave of young men boarding those boats to liberate people they had never met?” Mr. Obama asked. The president continued, “We say it now as if it couldn’t be any other way. But in the annals of history, the world had never seen anything like it.”

Millions throughout Europe and the United State are reminded of that day years ago when young men in service to their countries gave all they had for a more peaceful world. The American soldiers were on average just 24 years old and the graves of 9,387 Americans who died that day are marked in where they gave their lives, in France.

We are filled with emotion by the courage and fearless actions of those men on that day and are forever thankful for their sacrifice. As we remember D-Day, we can put into action our community will by supporting all of our veterans including recent veterans who are struggling to transition back to their lives at home. Some 57,000 veterans are homeless, many suffer mental fragility from trauma or need substance abuse treatment, 40% are African American and Hispanic. Homeless veterans are younger on average than the total veteran population. Approximately 9% are between the ages of 18 and 30, and 41% are between the ages of 31 and 50. America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. And it is reported that about 1.4 million other veterans are at risk of becoming homelessness because of poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.

As we celebrate the service of our military men and women, we can’t just be satisfied with the personal commitments they have made without realizing the daunting challenges that face them when they return home.

What Difference Do Our Differences Make?

There but for the grace of God go I.

Creative Loafing photo credit

Creative Loafing photo credit

A recent Atlanta Journal Constitution article by Bill Torpy highlighted the funding crisis for homeless shelters in Fulton County. He points out that in spite of some incredible success stories of programs that have served thousands of homeless men, military veterans, women and children, and the work of the Gateway Center, there is still more work to do. Torpy adds homelessness to the running tally of Great 21st Century American Challenges, which include public education, job development, hunger, affordable housing, and affordable healthcare.

It appears from the article that Fulton County is having second thoughts about their responsibility for funding the human service needs of some of its residents. The same might be said about the State of Georgia as well. Whatever we were doing right for homelessness, we need to get back to doing. There is more hard work to do. Some of that work requires more money–not less. And it means a serious commitment to finding resources not just reordering priorities and shuffling line items in budgets.

A team of 25 civic minded, fully engaged volunteers had the nerve in 2003 to tackle homelessness in a different way. They forged a partnership with dozens of nonprofit organizations across the region to create the seven-county Atlanta Regional Commission on Homelessness. The group was under the awesome and committed leadership of retired attorney Horace Sibley in partnership with then United Way of Metro Atlanta CEO, Mark O’Connell. They along with Jack Hardin, Nancy Boxill, Debi Starnes, Bonnie Ware, Rev. Jim Milner, Bill Bolling, Elizabeth Omilami, and others set the region on a course to improve the lives of those who found themselves homeless. Many people were locked out of services, disenfranchised of their rightful benefits and completely isolated from any chance to get back on their feet. A few trusting foundations, some local and state government funding and individual donors resulted in an infusion of $60 million in seven years of new funding for substantive, reasonable programs to address the urgent needs of metro Atlanta’s most needy.

Talking about this in hindsight might give you the impression this was easy work, one grant or one speech and the work was done. No, this was hard work that took months of research, collaboration and planning. We had to put aside our differences, listen to the people we served, be attentive to the challenges of those organizations on the frontline and disregard our differences. This problem was bigger than any differences we might have had. We had to be flexible and respectable that in some cases those we wanted to serve didn’t want our intervention. A few organizations chose not to join the effort. And that was okay, they had every right to refuse assistance, because their specific mission was different and they didn’t want to get away from their purpose.

We can dwell on what didn’t happen but the more compelling stories are of those 7,000 people served by the Gateway Center last year, thousands of women and children served by City of Refuge and the dozens of families served by Odyssey Villas. None of these organizations existed in 2003. And there are the stories of dozens of veterans who have resettled into apartments with the help of federal grants and local donations.

I know and love an Atlanta that works to get things right. An Atlanta that cares as much about those in need as we do our own success, that can unite to raise $60 million for homelessness, and in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Maynard Jackson–doesn’t give up. As mayor, I often referenced the legacies of Mayors Allen and Young as examples of men who were willing to work through the City’s historic and cultural differences in order to make a difference. In tribute to their efforts and so many others, I know that Atlanta is smart enough to find answers to the tough questions surrounding homelessness.

Isn’t Being Poor Enough?

foostampsAs factions in Congress debate whether the federal government can afford to support needy Americans through extended unemployment benefits, food stamps, and social security benefits, millions of Americans live everyday in poverty. Researchers suggest that 1 in 5 American households need federal assistance for food security. Food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP at $80 billion a year it has doubled in five years.

And now those in the medical community are making the link between cutting food aid and higher medical costs. “If you’re interested in saving health care costs, the dumbest thing you can do is cut nutrition,” said Dr. Deborah Frank of Boston Medical Center, who founded the Children’s HealthWatch pediatric research.

Today, poverty is a painful reality for many Americans. States challenging expansion of Medicaid/Medicare, no unemployment insurance extension, minimum wages that are not living wages, a recovering economy with people who have given up looking for work and increasing empty shelves in food banks are logical explanations for why Americans live in poverty.

CBS News reported that Georgia State Representative Greg Morris introduced House Bill 772, which would force low income Georgians to pass drug tests to qualify for food stamps. According to Morris “it’s just fairness and protecting taxpayers’ dollars.” Georgia law currently mandates welfare applicants pass drug tests. Chances are House Bill 772 would be challenged as unconstitutional. Such details don’t seem to matter to some legislators.

Morris’ leadership is needed in Georgia to find ways to expand the economy, to support increased funding for every level of education from preschool through college and technical school, to adopt healthcare coverage for all needy Georgians. What a waste of taxpayer money to chase a bill that most believe is unconstitutional. Though democracy requires full participation from every quarter of the electorate, it is frustrating to have our legislators waste taxpayer money on such frivolous efforts.

 

Public Advocacy Gets A New Look in NYC

lJamesNYCThis post is more about the grave and distressing challenges facing homeless children and their families in American cities. But I confess it may sound more like a high-five for the first ever African American woman elected as New York City’s public advocate.

On the day that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took the oath of office, Councilwoman Letitia James was also sworn in as the City’s Public Advocate. The city’s watchdog position was previously held by the new mayor and has an enormous responsibility in addressing the services and concerns of New York’s more than 8.3 million residents.

Letitia James’ election would not be nearly as important here if we had not been introduced to one of her constituents, Dasani Coates, in a heartfelt and grisly feature in the New York Times in early December. As told through the life of just one of New York’s homeless children and her family, it is both riveting and heartbreaking. So I was elated in a progressive Democratic kind of way, when I saw James taking the oath of office with Dasani Coates holding the Bible during the ceremony. Cynics are questioning James’s motives and her exaggeration about arranging the New York Times feature—which she didn’t but that is a mere distraction to the people who benefit from someone whose responsibility is to have their back in City Hall. Segments of her remarks are posted here and the New York Times link to the series that give us a peek into the life of Dasani Coates is below.

Excerpts from New York City elected Public Advocate Letitia James Inaugural Remarks                                                                                “The wave of progressive victories our city has recently enjoyed, thanks to the City Council, was in some ways inevitable. The fabric of our city, of our nation, is made strong by the untold sacrifices of so many who are left defenseless, unrepresented, unspoken for. But at some point in history, the tide must turn. The policies that make them voiceless must give way to a government that works for them, that speaks for them, that cares more about a child going hungry than a new stadium or a new tax credit for a luxury development.

To live up to that challenge and to be morally centered in our decisions is the task before those of us who think of ourselves as the progressive wing of our city. Even as the tide turns towards progress, we do not have the luxury to rest.

If working people aren’t getting their fair share, if our government isn’t securing the reforms New Yorkers were promised, you better believe Dasani and I will stand up—that all of us will stand up—and call out anyone and anything that stands in the way of our progress.”

http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/invisible-child/#/?chapt=1

New Website Coming Soon

scf website

Blogging regularly on topics from national politics to aging as a baby boomer has made my acquaintance with social media and the Internet a lot smoother than I anticipated. In the very near future, I will launch www.Shirley-Franklin.com.

I am proud of the opportunity I was blessed to have as Atlanta’s mayor and the website will help tell the story of that service. When I left office in 2009, the following was true:

  • The city’s budget was balanced, furloughs were over, and City Hall was open 5 days a week
  • The city established its first real cash reserve in decades and a formula for calculating future revenue projections that would yield at least $100 million in cash reserves over four years – where it is today
  • The implementation of the $3 billion Clean Water program was nationally recognized and more importantly acknowledged for its accomplishment by the presiding federal judge
  • The Atlanta Beltline was launched to great fanfare
  • Nearly $4 billion in airport upgrades and a new International terminal was financed and under construction
  • The Regional Commission on Homelessness was underway and the city and private donors had raised $50 million to tackled chronic homelessness in the city by creating over 2000 new beds and vastly expanding regional cooperation and moving thousands from street and shelters to homes
  • Minority and female businesses benefited from record levels of business opportunities throughout government especially in the billions of dollars spent on water and airport infrastructure
  • Hundreds of the city’s lowest paid employees had their pay increased to living wage and hundreds of seasonal workers had pay increases and many were made permanent job offers

The majority of the Council and I did what it took to put the city on the course it is today. The city’s finances are faring better today because we took swift action when it was necessary and unpopular.

There are dozens of topics that will be covered on the website starting with the creation of the city’s public art program and the Atlanta Jazz Festival 30 years ago to story behind the acquisition of the Martin Luther King Papers, the development of the Atlanta Beltine and the creation of Office of Sustainability, the Mayors Youth Program, the Regional Commission on Homelessness and much more.  Stay tuned.