Last night, some of the public officials who arguably most affect your daily lives gathered with around 80 people in the auditorium of Benjamin Mays High School in southwest Atlanta.
The list of dignitaries at last night's meeting at the recently renovated high school was quite long. Among those in attendance: Mayor Kasim Reed, Council President Ceasar Mitchell, City Councilmembers C.T. Martin, H. Lamar Willis, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Michael Julian Bond, and Felicia Moore. The heads of the departments of parks, public works, watershed management, and Atlanta Police Chief George Turner were also on hand.
The "community forum" was related to Atlanta's budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1. Mayor Kasim Reed handed off his proposed spending plan to the Atlanta City Council last week for the usual vetting.
But as is often the case when elected officials open themselves to public inquiry, the event was more an opportunity for residents to air grievances and ask pointed questions about city services (or the lack thereof). Some takeaways from the evening:
* The city has not backed away from its plans to take on debt to pay for infrastructure fixes throughout the city - and start chipping away at its $922 million backlog of projects. "We're preparing to come forward with $250 million infrastructure bond," Reed told the audience. "The city is getting to a point financially where it's strong enough to float a quarter of billion dollars in debt." He said that cash would address "sidewalks, road improvements, then traffic light timing." We've heard in the past that some of the projects might be the same ones that would have received funding from the "local pot" of cash generated by the unsuccessful TSPLOST.
* Based on the audience's questions, the demand for sidewalks in Council Districts 10 and 11, whose representatives hosted the meeting, is huge. Bottoms told residents that sidewalks along Danforth Road, which have been on the books for many years, are finally on their way. One resident pushed for more bike trails, noting that Gwinnett County "has one at every park."
* The same goes for funding recreation centers. The mayor, who reminded the audience that he's reopened the city's rec centers and converted some into program-filled and specialized "Centers of Hope," teased a big announcement scheduled for "Monday or Tuesday" related to Atlanta's facilities.
* However, the mayor was unable to promise someone that the city could build a pool at Ben Hill Recreation Center. That's a $20 million item, he said.
* Reed told one resident who was angry about the lack of fresh food options in the area that the city's in negotiations - "we're very close," he said - to bring a "fresh food/farmers market concept" "to Cascade."
* If you have been struggling to get City Hall to crack down on speeding motorists, fine the owners of dilapidated homes, and fix broken streetlights, among other neighborhood woes, you need to go to these meetings. This is the second community meeting I've attended when Reed and his cabinet were there, and the answer to pretty much every question is either "Yes, we'll take care of that" or "Come talk to [insert commissioner's name], he/she is right here." Whether or not constituents' problems ultimately get solved, we don't know. But officials do listen and at least take down your name.
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