I first met Peggy in 2001 when I made a presentation about Atlanta's Consent Decree sewer program to NPU-V. Peggy already knew much about the information in the presentation and strongly urged those in attendance to accept what I had to say. At that time, I was chair of NPU-N and later became further involved with the sewer issue through APAB. When APAB began sponsoring regular meetings about the sewer program, Peggy attended and applied her sharp critical eye to the issues that were being raised.
In 2003, I was elected President of APAB and Peggy was elected Corresponding Secretary. This is where I really got to know Peggy. We often had daily (nightly) conversations about various Atlanta issues that arose and I learned about her history as a true activist representing many who did not understand the nature of politics.
When ~$50M of unspent Empowerment Zone funds were under consideration for conversion to the Renewal Communities program Peggy offered to became the point-person for helping with the transition. She brought her understanding of earlier corruption with the funds and her knowledge of the various persons/organizations to the table in an effort to prevent a repeat of history.
Few knew that Peggy and I were involved in teleconference calls with officials at HUD in Washington whom Peggy had met at meetings in earlier years. While I was simply an observer and aid in the conversations, Peggy gathered and provided information about HUD and Atlanta which later helped shaped the creation of the Atlanta Community Renewal Board -- much to the frustration of Atlanta's Executive Branch.
At one citizen-meeting which Peggy organized, a topic for discussion was selecting the outside-agency that would act as an independent organization for developing and implementing a strategic plan for the funds. The United Way, the Enterprise Foundation, and the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, Inc. (ANDP) were under consideration to be Atlanta's Coordinating Responsible Agency (ACoRA ). Stacey Abrams, an attorney with the Law Department (currently a Representative in the Georgia State Legislature) was explaining to the group that -- after talking with United Way, they were not available to take on the responsibility, -- after talking with the Enterprise Foundation, they were not interested in the responsibility, -- and after talking with ANDP, they wanted to be involved in the task. Peggy interrupted Abrams, "You spoke with the Enterprise Foundation and they weren't interested? But "Joe Smith" (I forget the man's name) is President of the organization and he's sitting right there (in the first row at the meeting)!" Peggy turned to Joe and asked, "Joe, did anyone talk with you"? Joe replied, "NO, and no one talked with my staff either!" Abrams mumbled something and created a quick excuse, but, the attendees saw first hand, that something was amiss.
To make a long story short, ACoRA was created and along with her involvement in Grady Hospital Board, NPU-V, and eventually becoming President of APAB, Peggy worked tirelessly as one of APAB's appointee's to the ACoRA Board. Few know that more than a year of political maneuvering at ANDP delayed getting down to the task of managing the available funds.
I moved out of Atlanta and Peggy's involvement as an activist grew. I learned to refine fearless activism skills from Peggy and I miss our daily conversations. She was a dedicated activist and committed to bringing moral justice to many who were pawns in "the system". Peggy Harper's death leaves a personal void as well as a community void.
Eventually, however, residents' reactions to their confrontational mayor will grow fainter, and we'll be left with the hard evidence of what got fixed and what didn't. Only then can Franklin's legacy be judged for real.
However, I agree with you no single decision or statement will make the difference in 25 or 50 years except to those who spend their time talking about what other people do.
We are left with the hard financial and environmental consequences of what a person with the full power of Mayor of Atlanta has done and who is determined to portray violation of state and federal law as noble. The former Mayor's leadership skills cannot be challenged - they are truly exceptional. Regrettably, the direction of leadership was toward darkness rather than light.
HERE'S WHAT SHIRLEY FRANKLIN AND SCOTT HENRY DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW:
ATLANTA POLLUTES AQUIFERS - VIOLATES THE SAFE DRINKING WATER ACT
When federal Judge Thomas Thrash signed two Consent Decrees in 1998 and 1999, Atlanta was required to stop violating the Clean Water Act. The city had been allowing sewage to pollute streams, spill from neglected sewer pipes, and back-up into residences and businesses. Atlanta's plans to fix some of the problems included building large sewage tunnel systems.
In 2001, citizens became alarmed that the projects would pollute Atlanta's aquifers with sewage, have adverse public-health consequences, and violate the Safe Drinking Water Act. They presented their concerns to the city, Environmental Protection Agency, Georgia Environmental Protection Division, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Before authorizing construction of the tunnels, EPA's regional office in Atlanta prepared a memorandum. It explained that personnel in the Washington, D.C., Office of Water, numerous other EPA personnel, and independent contractors all agreed that tunnels have the potential to leak. The memo concluded that releases from Atlanta's tunnels could not be quantified but were highly likely and that potential contamination of the water table should be considered.
Part of the Safe Drinking Water Act is designed to protect aquifers and human health. For Atlanta's tunnel systems, the method for ensuring protection involves getting permits for the shafts, which fill the tunnels with sewage, and demonstrating that human health will not be jeopardized. This is supposed to occur prior to construction. Now, Atlanta is not only sending sewage into its aquifers but it never even applied for the shaft permits.
EPA's memo was never released to citizens nor to Judge Thrash, and documents filed in 2003 show how the City, the Department of Justice, and the Georgia Attorneys General office misled the court. They told Judge Thrash that TUNNELS DO NOT NEED PERMITS but failed to disclose that THE SHAFTS DO NEED PERMITS. They also failed to disclose a 1997 decision from the higher 11th Circuit Court of Appeals which establishes that AQUIFERS MUST BE PROTECTED AND THAT PERMITS FOR THE SHAFTS MUST BE OBTAINED BEFORE ANY FLUID, such as SEWAGE, is PLACED UNDERGROUND.
Beginning in October 2006, citizens assembled more documents showing that the Court was misled. After Judge Thrash offered to receive and review new information describing what had happened, a legal opinion prepared by Mr. Hal Wright was sent to the Court. It was based on the 1997 Appellate decision and it confirms that Atlanta needs, but does not have, the required permits. The Department of Justice responded with misleading information but did not address Mr. Wright's legal opinion. The response also pointed to additional undiscovered information.
On July 14 of this year, 22 concerned citizens wrote to Judge Thrash requesting that he review Mr. Wright's legal opinion and Atlanta's non-compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Department of Justice's response introduced yet more misleading information, but again did not address Mr. Wright's legal opinion.
The City denies there are any problems but it relies on misleading information from the Department of Justice and others. In an e-mail from Aug. 27, 2009, Mayor Shirley Franklin, her Law Department, and private counsel chose to remain silent rather than address Mr. Wright's legal opinion. Atlanta might be complying with the Clean Water Act but water/sewer ratepayers are financing projects which violate the Safe Drinking Water Act and pollute aquifers.
Stay tuned for the next episode in this continuing saga.
Creative Loafing Atlanta
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