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Thoughts from JP

We cover a lot of ground in this month’s newsletter, but we’ve put the most important story first. It’s an appeal for all Buckhead residents to turn out on November 2 to vote for an array of city races. If you don’t vote, you should think twice before you complain.

We’ll bring you up-to-date on the Buckhead Security Plan, why I support a new training center for police and firefighters, my position on the city’s once-every-five-year Comprehensive Development Plan Update with related proposed zoning changes, and my morning spent working with a yard waste collection crew.

I also want to share what I’ve learned after nearly four years as District 8’s representative on the City Council.  Let's get to it.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

  • First Things First: Vote November 2nd

  • Candidates on the November Ballot

  • What I've Learned After Nearly Four Years

  • Why We Need A Buckhead Security Plan

  • Why I Support A Police and Fire Training Facility

  • An Update on the Comprehensive Development Plan

  • My Day With A Yard Waste Crew

First Things First, Vote November 2nd, 

Sally Riker was stunned when she read in our newsletter about the low voter turnout in the 2017 Atlanta mayoral and City Council elections.

There were 29,210 District 8 residents registered to vote. Just under 11,400, or 39%, cast a ballot for mayor. In the race that I ran and won, 8,491 votes were cast; that’s only 29% of eligible voters.  

Six out of 10 in the mayor’s race (seven out of 10 in mine) did NOT vote.  

Sally, who is president of the Mt. Paran-Northside Citizens Association, is leading the charge to get ALL of Buckhead to vote this year. She has launched a campaign to register Buckhead residents, then to get them to the polls. Below is the flyer she is circulating. It contains QR codes for registration, absentee ballots, and voting sites.

So far, Sally has requests for 100-yard signs, and she’s hoping that will grow to 150 as other Buckhead neighborhoods embrace her cause.

“When we had J.P. on the coffee-and-connect (meeting with MPNCA members), and I heard how low our vote was, that’s when I decided we had to do something,” Sally recalls. “Hoping this will help.”

If you’re interested in hopping aboard Sally’s bandwagon, you can email her at sally.riker@loweengineers.com. I hope you will. 

Candidates on the November Ballot

August 20th was the deadline for candidates to officially register to be on the ballot in the November election. As I announced last spring, I have decided not to run for re-election. Mary Norwood, who announced her candidacy and has been campaigning since the spring, qualified and is the only person running for the District 8 city council seat. Congratulations Mary! Thank you for your willingness to serve, and I look forward to supporting you in whatever ways I can.

While there is only one name on your ballot for the District 8 seat, you will still have many choices in other city races. Fourteen people are qualified to run for mayor, including Councilmember Andre Dickens, Council President Felicia Moore, and former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. You can read more about the mayor race here in the AJC.

You will also have many choices in selecting the next City Council President and at-large City Council members. Five people are running for City Council President in a race thrown wide-open when current City Council President, Felicia Moore, decided to run for mayor. Those five candidates are as follows: Sam Manuel, Mike Russell, Courtney English, Doug Shipman, and Natalyn Mosby Archibong. Your vote for City Council Post-2 At Large will be between Matt Westmoreland, who currently holds this position and Sonya Russell-Ofchus.

In addition to the Atlanta city government races, you will also cast votes for Atlanta school board members, who control over fifty percent of your property taxes. Also, while District 8 voters can’t vote for her, our own Katie Howard is running for the District 1 Board of Education seat representing southeast Atlanta.

In other election news, there are several minor changes in polling places in D8:

Precinct 8J: at Sutton Middle School (2875 Northside Drive NW), will move across the street to Northside United Methodist Church (2799 Northside Drive NW).

Precinct 8H: also at Sutton, will not change.
 
Precinct  8C: at the Chastain Park Gym (140 Chastain Park Ave), will move to the Sutton Middle Six Grade Campus (4360 Powers Ferry Rd NW).

Precinct 8B: also at the Chastain Park Gym, will not change.

What I've Learned After Nearly Four Years

This is not my valedictory, far from it. I’ve still got four months left in office, and I intend to hit the finish line at a sprint.

Before I pack my things and move from being a public servant to a citizen, I wanted to share some reflections.

I’ve aspired to be a public servant, not a politician, although the line between the two blurs.  I hate what the term “politician” has come to imply: incompetent, unethical, out for self, dishonest.  

All 15 of us on the City Council are politicians to some degree. First, we had to win the election.   I am eternally grateful to D8 residents who entrusted their representation to me. Then we needed to learn how to count to eight because nothing passes council unless it has eight of 15 votes. Even that’s not enough. Mayoral support is still needed. 

Once legislation passes, it’s up to the mayor’s office and staff to execute. As legislators, we become influencers and advocates, and my team and I have worked mightily to advocate on your behalf.  When we’ve succeeded, it’s been great; when we’ve failed, it’s been disheartening.

My fellow council members have taught me a lot. Depending upon the issues, they’ve been allies and foes; but they’ve NEVER been enemies. Friendships forged in foxholes lead to a common bond.  

The two most important votes I cast tipped the margin to 8-7. The first was to approve the development of a hole-in-the-ground known as the “Gulch,” now the massive Centennial Yards project.  

Where blight once existed, a $5-billion revitalization of downtown Atlanta has begun to emerge. The required public tax breaks made my decision difficult, but there would still be a hole in the ground had I not voted as I did. I’m proud of that vote.

Last summer, a move was made to hold back on the first six months of police funding for the fiscal year 2021 until critics were satisfied reform was coming. I joined the 8-7 majority in voting down that proposal. I’m proud of that vote, too. You cannot change anything for the better by crippling it.

Support for our first responders has always ranked at the top of my agenda.  That’s why I’ve worked so hard to get them the pay, equipment, and facilities they need.  I’d rate that as my most satisfying accomplishment, along with establishing an inspector general’s office. People need to have faith in the integrity of their city.

Regrets? Of course, I have a few. I wish we had a strong new tree ordinance, but time remains, and I’ve not given up hope. I wish every capital project and transportation improvement in D8 could be completed before I left office, especially those damned potholes. 

More than anything, I’ve come to learn and appreciate that our patch of Atlanta is part of a quilt that keeps us all covered. Regardless of who we are and where we live, we have so much in common. I’ve learned to look for the heart in each individual. It’s been quite an education.

Every local government and many private providers are dealing with the same COVID-driven staffing issue. In spite of the frustrations we all feel when yard waste doesn't get collected on schedule, Atlanta has a lot of passion for competent employees.  I respect and appreciate them.  

I’m incredibly grateful for Katie Howard and Jim Elgar, whose names you see along with mine at the end of each monthly newsletter. Jim and Katie are true professionals who know how to get things done. As a rookie council member, they guided me through this maze of nearly four years.  

I’ve learned a ton about our city and its people. I’ve tried to bring a business perspective to the job. I’ve gotten to know neighbors I might never have met in D8 and citywide.  

It’s been an honor to be part of getting things done for ordinary citizens. I’ve come to understand what it means to be a public servant.

Why We Need a Buckhead Security Plan

The map above shows the location of all serious reported Zone 2 (Buckhead) crimes in July and provides a vivid illustration of why the Buckhead Security Plan is so essential.  

According to this Atlanta Police map, most of the reported crimes were along the eastern edge of Zone 2, where Buckhead’s commercial corridor, Peachtree, Roswell, and Piedmont Roads runs. The cluster at the bottom is south of Moores Mill Road as I-75 approaches Midtown and downtown.

The Buckhead Community Improvement District (BCID) is helping combat crime by providing a program to Zone 2 that includes off-duty officers on bicycles that the CID purchased and in marked APD vehicles. They’ve also created a strategic grid of security cameras and license plate readers, made an investment in the Crime Stoppers program and support policy and procedural changes to improve enforcement of existing laws and ordinances. 

So far, $1.5 million has been committed, including $125,000 from my office and the offices of fellow council members Howard Shook and Matt Westmoreland.  

Two police cars were purchased, and a third is on the way. They’ll be used for patrols Tuesday through Sunday from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. and from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.  

The BCID also funds four off-duty officers certified as part of APD’s Bicycle Response Team to assist on-duty patrols from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. The four officers patrol parking garages and parking lots throughout the commercial district.

Additionally, more than two dozen security cameras and license plate readers have been installed, with another batch is on the way, making a total of 50.  

Is the plan working? Consider this mid-April report from an off-duty officer who was working for the Buckhead Security Plan. Click here for the WSB-TV report on the effort. It’s just a touch over two minutes and worth the time. 

“The VIC (video integration center) provided (information on a) vehicle that was used in an armed robbery at the Lenox Mall. The vehicle was seen in the area of GA 400 and Lenox, I canvassed the parking lot of One  Buckhead Loop and located the vehicle parked and occupied.”

Along with Zone 2 officers, “we coordinated a takedown plan and successfully apprehended the occupants, and . . . transported them to Headquarters Robbery Unit.”

Zone 2 Major Andrew Senzer, right, and officers pose next to one of three cars purchased by the Buckhead CID that off-duty officers use to patrol. 

Why I Support a Police and Fire Training Facility

Although it’s been tabled for a possible vote at the September 7 council meeting, I remain steadfast in my support of a $90-million state-of-the-art police and fire training site on 85 acres the city owns in Dekalb County.  

I also believe the balance of the 380 acres of the old Atlanta prison farm should be preserved as green space for future recreational use.  

At a time when the public is crying out for better-trained first responders, it’s essential that we find the facilities to do that. Right now, Atlanta’s training is antiquated and inadequate. That is unacceptable.  

If we want better police and fire personnel, we need to begin with a proper place to train them.  Unless we do, it’s akin to educating 21st-century students in one-room schoolhouses.

Because so much land is needed and Atlanta owns the property, the DeKalb site is affordable and adequate. To find another location would take precious time and likely cost considerably more. 
  
Some have protested the DeKalb location, saying it was chosen in a covert way and could harm the natural wildlife at the site, located east of Atlanta city limits. This brief delay by the council allows addressing those concerns.

The training facility would house academies for future Atlanta police officers and firefighters, It would also include classrooms, a shooting range, and a building for firefighters to practice fighting blazes.

The Atlanta Police Foundation would lease the 85 acres. According to an amendment made at the August 16th council meeting, the facility would follow state and federal environmental guidelines and protect historic landmarks on the old prison farm site. 

The $90-million center would be funded by a mix of private and public dollars involving the Atlanta Police Foundation and the city’s philanthropic community.

The police foundation would pay $10-a-year to lease the land. Police foundation officials have said that the city would contribute $30 million to the project through a 30-year, $1-million-a-year agreement beginning in 2024 or through a general obligation boid.

The police foundation has said it will follow environmental regulations and requirements during the planning and construction process. The amended version of the ordinance codifies a promise from the foundation to replace trees removed during construction.

An Update on the Comprehensive Development Plan

The Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) Update and separate but related zoning changes proposed by Councilmember Amir Farokh seem to have captured the most attention in District 8. I appreciate the feedback I have received and D8’s overall engagement on these critical issues.

While I respect the process of the CDP Update, I remain adamantly opposed to any change that would do away with single-family zoning, reduce minimum lot size, provide for zero-lot-line subdividing or allow for significant increases in density in areas that do not have the necessary transportation infrastructure to support such density.

While the need for affordable housing is clear, cutting up large lots, removing priority trees, and taking away the historic character of our residential neighborhoods are NOT the way to create truly affordable housing.

The good news is your voices are being heard. The Planning Department has committed to removing the zero-lot-line subdivision and reducing minimum lot size provisions from the proposed CDP update. There is more work to do, but these moves are encouraging. 

The CDP is updated every five years and is a guide for growth and development city-wide.  The following steps in the process for “Part A” of the plan are:
  • September 7: 1st City Council Full Meeting Legislation Reading (1 pm)
  • September 14: 2nd CD/HS Committee Meeting (1:30 pm)
  • September 20: 2nd City Council Meeting Legislation Reading (1 pm)
  • September 27: Final Virtual CD/HS Public Hearing for Plan A (6 pm)
  • September 28: 3rd CD/HS Committee Meeting (1:30 pm)
  • October 4 or October 18: Final City Council Full Meeting and Plan A Adoption Reading (1 pm)
The Planning Department has made a list of Plan A’s frequently asked questions, as well as Draft #2, available here at www.atlcitydesign.com/2021-cdp.

Along with my fellow council members, I’ve heard the overwhelming opposition to the rezoning changes proposed by Councilmember Farokhi that would apply to R-4 and R-5 and are focused on removing parking requirements and allowing for the increase in density around MARTA stations.  Due to this feedback, I do not see any of these proposals moving forward in their current form.

Thank you again for your feedback, and please continue to stay engaged.  My colleagues and I are listening.

My Day With a Yard Waste Crew

It’s no secret the city is struggling with its solid waste service due to worker shortages. We see leaf bags and limbs uncollected all over the city, including District 8. The problem is not unique to Atlanta. Worker shortages plague the metro area. 

To better understand the issues, I joined a collection crew in D8. It was my version of “Undercover Boss,” only there was nothing undercover about my role.

I reported for work on a Friday, the pick-up day in my neighborhood. I was hoping to swing by neighbors’ houses to get yard debris that had been out for five weeks. I spent the morning on the back of a truck picking up yard waste. It was my version of a “Dirty Jobs” episode.

What I found was interesting. Several workers were no-shows, reportedly due to COVID, so the supervisor had to spend the first 30 minutes realigning crews to prioritize garbage pick up. I was on yard waste pick up in District 8, so we headed out to Buckhead.

That gave me time to get to know my mates, Frank Ward and Anthony Smith. Both had worked for the Department of Public Works for ten years, and both welcomed me, the soft Buckhead council member, with open arms and a pitchfork. 

Many have asked me what has surprised me the most about working for the city, and I always say it’s the people. The city has some of the hardest-working, most experienced, knowledgeable, caring people - often doing challenging jobs - and Frank and Anthony reinforced that belief.

The job of a solid waste worker is not easy. It is hot, dirty, smelly, physically demanding and dangerous (more on that in a minute). But they do it, day-in and day-out, and have been doing it for over ten years.

Frank and Anthony had several requests they asked me to relay. They will help to make it easier for them to serve you:
  • If you use plastic bins for your yard waste, make sure they don’t fill with rainwater (they are heavy enough without the water!). Drill holes in the bottom or make sure the lids fit tight and stay on.
  • Don’t overstuff bags, and make sure there is room at the top to close the bag so rain stays out. Remember, people have to lift these bags waist high and put them into trucks.
  • Break up limbs and place them in bags or tie them in small piles. Do not leave large limbs out as they do not fit in the truck (you’ll have to schedule a bulk pick up) and are heavy to lift.
  • DO NOT pass solid waste trucks unless instructed to do so. It’s illegal and very dangerous for the workers. I almost got hit several times.
In addition to experiencing the situation firsthand, I also wanted to have a conversation with Commissioner Al Wiggins about efforts to address the worker shortage and what we could do to help. The good news is help is (supposedly) on the way. Thanks in part to a $500 sign-on bonus approved by the council and the mayor, the Department of Public Works has had several successful job fairs and over a dozen new hires start at the beginning of September. This will not “fix” the situation but should provide some relief.

One last request. If you do see a worker out, please say thank you. They are the ones who showed up for work and are hustling while the department operates short-staffed, making their jobs even more demanding. A little love goes a long way.

District 8 Contacts

 

J.P. Matzigkeit    

jpmatzigkeit@atlantaga.gov

404.330.6051

 

Katie Howard

jpmatzigkeit@atlantaga.gov

404.330.6051

 

Jim Elgar

jqelgar@atlantaga.gov

404.546.4911

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