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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Reed's office responds to CL guest column on APS/Beltline dispute

Last week, Conor Sen, an investment manager who lives in Brookhaven, and Jarod Apperson, a Georgia State University graduate student who follows Atlanta Public Schools, opined on these pixels about the dispute over outstanding payments related to the Atlanta Beltline that are owed by the city to APS. The column by the 2013 Govathon winning team members critiqued Mayor Kasim Reed's approach to the issue and proposed that both sides could win. Last night, Carlos Campos, Reed's interim communications director, released a response to Atlanta media outlets. The mayor promptly spread the word as well. Out of fairness, we've published it in full below. Tell us what you think.

The authors of last week’s Creative Loafing column, “Can everyone win in the APS/BeltLine dispute?” sorely missed the mark in their analysis of Mayor Kasim Reed’s position on the future of the Atlanta BeltLine and funding for Atlanta Public Schools (APS). As a former journalist of 17 years at award-winning newspapers including The Times-Picayune and The Atlanta Journal Constitution, I remember that guest columns were reserved for experts on a given topic. It’s clear that CL has relaxed that standard somewhat. The authors of the BeltLine op-ed either don’t know the facts of the negotiations and this Administration’s record in support of both the BeltLine and Atlanta Public Schools, or were deliberately misleading.

In today’s hyper-digital age, anyone can post their opinion online attempting to cast themselves as somehow relevant on any given topic. We understand the current reality and welcome a fair and honest exchange. But for CL to dedicate any space on the future of the BeltLine to the musings of two individuals, neither of whom have experience running a complex organization or delivering concrete results for a major American city, merits a response from someone who has a bit more substantive insight. Simply put: not one of the ideas put forth by the authors is new. Not one of them. It is also disappointing and surprising that CL did not ask the city to provide a counter point of view in an interest to balance the simplistic assertions put forth by these authors.

There’s no shortage of blame to go around for the position we find ourselves in today regarding a deeply flawed 2005 agreement between the Atlanta BeltLine and APS. But as any first year attorney knows, only the most naïve take the position that “a contract is a contract.” Contracts are renegotiated every day. In fact, representatives for the Atlanta BeltLine and APS had made good progress on private contract renegotiations before some parties decided to handle the discussions through the press and create a manufactured crisis. This funding impasse can be solved, but Mayor Kasim Reed won’t back down from what he believes is best for the City of Atlanta —- both its students and its future prosperity.

As Mayor, he has repeatedly shown his deep commitment to a strong public school system and the education of this city’s children. During his first year in office, as APS reeled from allegations about widespread cheating on standardized tests, Mayor Reed played a pivotal role in making sure the system did not lose its accreditation. That would have been a disastrous outcome for this city’s children, its business community and the state of Georgia as a whole. Mayor Reed led the effort to reform the previous school board, supporting a bill to remove board members who fail to achieve accreditation on their watch, and then actively recruited Erroll Davis to serve as Superintendent to stabilize the system. More recently, he led the fundraising effort to raise $250,000 to fund new Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s transition into the position and give her a foundation upon which to build a much stronger Atlanta school system.

At the same time, no one has been a stronger proponent of economic development —- from recruiting Fortune 500 companies, bringing new tech jobs to the city and boosting tourism and transportation —- than Mayor Reed. And that includes his unwavering commitment to the rapid development of the Atlanta BeltLine, a project that has already made a tremendous positive impact on the value and vitality of every neighborhood it has touched.

It’s worth noting that the International Real Estate Federation recently recognized the Atlanta BeltLine as the best environmental rehabilitation project in the world during their conference focused on Building Humanity. The BeltLine is more than just another city project. It’s a transformational redevelopment of the city’s core and its success accrues to the bottom line of every partner at the negotiating table. And it’s fundamentally changing the fabric of our city, drawing families with children, retirees, entrepreneurs and others energized by the unprecedented connectivity of the city’s diverse communities.

Mayor Reed’s active and tangible support of the project began when he was a State Senator. He authored the bill putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot to approve the use of Tax Allocation Districts, thereby preserving the Atlanta BeltLine’s funding source. Over the past several years, the City of Atlanta kept its commitment to funding for the BeltLine during the worst economic downturn in 80 years and leveraged more than $41 million in private and philanthropic contributions. Mayor Reed directed his Administration to work together creatively to leverage funds from the Department of Watershed Management and Department of Parks and Recreation to build the Historic Fourth Ward Park and make additional park improvements along the BeltLine. And when concerns arose about safety on the Atlanta BeltLine, he worked to secure $1.8 million in federal funding to stand up the BeltLine PathForce, a team of sworn Atlanta police officers dedicated to fighting crime along the corridor. He also led the effort to win $18 million in TIGER V funds for the construction of the southwest corridor — the largest expansion of the BeltLine since its inception. Right now, Mayor Reed is co-chairing a $10 million capital campaign to raise private and philanthropic contributions for the BeltLine this summer, already raising $9.5 million in less than 100 days.

It’s clear Mayor Reed is deeply committed to APS and to the BeltLine. His administration is prepared to take any reasonable steps necessary to address the concerns of APS while ensuring that the City continues its positive financial trajectory. The fundamental answer to the question “Can everyone win?” is a resounding YES. Atlantans should have every confidence that Mayor Reed and his Administration will resolve the current roadblock. He’s kept every promise he made as a candidate, including re-opening the city’s recreation centers, reforming the city’s pension plan, standing up a force of 2,000 police officers and not raising property taxes. Doing hard things is hard. But Mayor Reed has shown that he will not give away all of the progress our city has made through hard work, sacrifice and determined effort because someone shows up and says “you can cut a check.” He loves the city too much for that.

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