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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reed talks education, recidivism at 2014 'State of the City'

Mayor Kasim Reed today outlined a broad second-term agenda that, among other issues, would focus on two major issues: recidivism and education.

At the mayor's annual "State of the City" address - one sponsored by Coca-Cola and billed in past years as a "business breakfast" - Reed shared with city officials, business leaders, and other local heavy hitters a brief look back at the city's progress during his first term. The biggest priorities weren't exciting issues, but the mayor said that they were pivotal to Atlanta's future.

"I've worked hard over the last four years to be a boring mayor," Reed said. "I think boring is cool."

Reed lauded City Hall for tackling tough issues such as pension reform, which he said will save Atlanta hundreds of millions of dollars in the long run, during the economic recession. He also said that the decision to invest cash into the city's police, fire, and corrections departments would continue to pay off in coming years - crime went down 18 percent during his first term, the mayor said, pointing to Atlanta Police figures.

Looking ahead, Reed said that tackling Atlanta's and Fulton County's repeat offender issue, in which convicted criminals with multiple offenses receive little or no jail time, would help improve the city's quality of life. He dismissed notions from critics that "the mayor just wants to lock people up," but insisted that the worst repeat offenders should be behind bars.

"If we get the issues of repeat offenders in the city of Atlanta right, we can have one of the safest cities in the United States of America," he said.

Two days after a high-profile plea deal related to the Atlanta Public Schools' indictments grabbed local headlines, Reed urged people to move past the 2009 cheating scandal and "move the needle" on academic results. Offering few specifics, he said that effort would begin with the selection of a new APS superintendent and could help improve the school system for years to come.

"It's time for us to shake off the challenges related to the APS scandal and to get back in the game for Atlanta schools," he said. "Everybody got burned over the last 10 years."

After his speech, Reed told reporters that the APS scandal has caused a certain sense of "disengagement." Despite damaged reputations for teachers and business leaders, he said a school board with many new faces and a soon-to-be-hired superintendent should help local leaders get back involved with APS once again.

Beyond that, Reed praised the metro region's growing economy - bigger than 27 states in America, he added - and promised to retain more graduating college students as well as focus on tech startups. He also briefly said that the city's 311 call center would open soon and that he's looking into ways to help the city's growing immigrant population.

As for the two recent snowstorms, Reed seemed to be in much better spirits this week, cracking jokes about Winter Storms Leon and Pax (or "Tupac," as he quipped!). To Reed at least, it seems like Atlanta's battered reputation has already become a fleeting memory.

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