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Friday, June 10, 2011

Stare-down over pensions escalates between mayor and Council prez

On Wednesday, Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell sent out a curious press release "urging civility during pension reform debate" at the Council's retreat, which began Thursday.

But, frankly, if it weren't for Mitchell and Mayor Kasim Reed taking potshots at each other, there would be little need to plead for civility. Only two days earlier, the Council prez himself accused Reed of lying about Mitchell's motives in calling for the Council to take its time considering pension reform.

During Monday's Council meeting, Mitchell took a moment to publicly blast Hizzoner thusly:

"There's an accusation by the mayor…that I'm trying to kill pension reform," said Mitchell. "Now, that's a flat-out lie."

He went on to suggest that Reed is using "fear-mongering and scare tactics" to bully the Council into passing a pension plan by June 30, when the city budget must almost be approved.

"Don't get played," Mitchell advised.

The Council prez seemed to have gotten his dander up in part due to a statement that Reed had released only minutes before in which the mayor praised the pension plan advanced by Finance Committee Chairwoman Yolanda Adrean as a "detailed, thorough and exhaustive proposal that achieves fiscal goals similar to my proposal.”

But the mayor also used a little ink to rip Mitchell a new one:

This plan shows that leaders such as Councilwoman Adrean and Atlanta City Council members who are willing to actually do the hard work around pension reform can digest the data and develop options that complement the work done so far by my Administration and move the city forward. Their efforts stand in sharp contrast to the actions of the City Council President, who has repeatedly attempted to drag this process out until September under the guise of needing more time to study the issue. I believe his actions are not an attempt to devote more time for review, but rather an attempt to run out the clock and avoid reforming a broken system.

Now, I understand why Mitchell might be a little hurt by this characterization, which is certainly a tad mean-spirited and arguably disingenuous. It seems clear to me that Mitchell isn't trying to derail pension reform, only to claim the issue as his own so he can later take credit for having guided the Council to a solution.

But Mitchell must be more than a little politically naive if he imagined Reed would allow him to hijack one of the central issues of his mayoral campaign. And make no mistake, that's effectively what Mitchell tried to do when he first rolled out his plan to stretch pension deliberations out till September. (Why September? I've yet to hear why that month was chosen.) I acknowledge that there might be compelling reasons to keep studying the issue, but the mayor has made no secret that he wants it done sooner than later — as a position, that's a political winner, by the way — and if you step in his way you should expect a fight.

Actually, the fight is over and the mayor won. The proposal that bears Adrean's name is the product of a collaboration between 10 Council members and the mayor's office — one that Mitchell and some of the less agreeable Council members apparently knew nothing about until it was unveiled at a committee meeting. It may get tweaked slightly during today's retreat, but it's pretty much a done deal at this point.

Problem is, I'm not certain that Mitchell realizes that he's lost. If not, he should find out soon enough.

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