Wednesday, July 9, 2014

City Hall asks for public input on potential projects for $250 million bond package

Posted By on Wed, Jul 9, 2014 at 11:51 AM

Bike lanes for all! New bridges for some!
Atlantans will likely head to the polls next March to vote on whether the city should take on up to $250 million in debt to start repairing bridges, roads, sidewalks, and other needs that make up its $1 billion infrastructure backlog.

To help decide which projects should receive bond funding, city officials are asking residents what kinds of projects they want tackled first.

Last night, city officials held a public meeting about its plans to eventually pick the projects eligible for the forthcoming infrastructure bond package. The City Hall briefing, the sixth of eight meetings scheduled for this summer, enabled residents to provide input on what projects should be tackled by the city.

Tom Weyandt, the city’s deputy chief operating officer, emphasized that this bond package would be different than the unsuccessful 2012 T-SPLOST that would have raised sales taxes throughout the region. At Mayor Kasim Reed’s behest, Weyandt says, the $250 million bond package under consideration would not require hiking property or sales taxes.

Weyandt said another reason there would be no tax increase is because of the city's strong credit rating, which would allow for money to be borrowed at what his presentation referred to as "historically low rates." The estimated $17 million in debt service would be paid for by selling city-owned property, introducing parking or billboard taxes, and cutting spending, or other ways identified by the mayor's "efficiency" panel.

If voters approve the bond package - the referendum is tentatively scheduled for March 17, 2015 - it would be the first step toward chipping away at a $1 billion infrastructure backlog. Of that entire amount, about $725 million is needed to repair bridges, streets, sidewalks, and ADA-regulation ramps. According to one official, more than half of Atlanta’s roads are past their “life cycle,” a term used when considering how long a road (or another form of infrastructure) is expected to last before needing repairs. Another $129 million would go toward signals, streetlights, signs, and unpaved roads.

An estimated $130.8 million would be devoted to either the replacement or renovation of police precincts, fire stations, government buildings, and parks and recreation facilities. Billy Warren, the city’s director of facilities management, said the most urgent improvements for city-owned properties included the replacement of the Martin Luther King (North) Natatorium, APD precincts for Zones 3 and 4, and Atlanta Fire and Rescue Department Stations 23 and 25. In addition, approximately $42 million would fund several Transportation Investment Act projects that were a part of the failed 2012 T-SPLOST.

Weyandt told residents that City Hall wouldn’t simply tackle the worst problems first and work down the list. Reed, he said, wants to have a “broader conversation” about different community needs, plus the strategic placement of certain projects in high-traffic areas.

If voters end up passing the 2015 bond package, Richard Mendoza, the city’s public works commissioner, says construction would take between four to five years and use a combination of in-house crews and third-party contractors. He called the $250 million bond offering an “initial downpayment” for the entire $1 billion infrastructure backlog.

"Our hope is that if we're successful in this process, and we've demonstrated to the public that we’ve spent the money well, that in time we’ll be able to chip away [at the full backlog],” Weyandt said.

Public feedback received in the first round of eight meetings will inform an initial list of projects drafted by city officials. The several dozen people who attended the City Hall meeting last night were asked to either submit ideas on an index card or place red and green dot stickers onto poster boards including the potential kinds of projects. Judging by the dots placed on boards last night, residents at the public meeting emphasized street, sidewalk, and bicycle- and pedestrian-related projects.

Moving forward, two more rounds of public information meetings will be held in late 2014 and early 2015. Reed is hoping present a final list to Atlanta City Council for their approval in December prior to the scheduled referendum in March.

Take a look at the city's full infrastructure bond presentation after the jump:

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First Slice 7/9/14: Georgia moves one step closer to medical marijuana trials

Posted By on Wed, Jul 9, 2014 at 8:20 AM

Gov. Nathan Deal yesterday revealed that London-based company GW Pharmaceuticals will soon launch expanded trials of cannabis oil's effects on children suffering from seizures. With any luck, the governor says regulatory approval in Georgia could happen as soon as early 2015. “Time truly is of the essence,” Deal said. “We want to get it right and we want to make sure our protocols are properly approved … but we need to show progress.”

What's this? Jason Carter raised more campaign cash than Gov. Nathan Deal last quarter? That much is true, but not everyone agrees on what it means for both gubernatorial candidates in the long run.

Authorities shut down MARTA's Civic Center station for several hours yesterday morning because of a suspicious package. Train service was not interrupted, but the bomb scare forced an evacuation of the Peachtree Summit Federal Building.

Could the Atlanta Civic Center become a new high school? Mayor Kasim Reed says no, but that doesn't mean Atlanta's education board isn't eying the property as one potential way to settle the ongoing Beltline funding dispute.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has given the green light to $85 million in construction projects. "These are great improvements, interchange improvements, road widening, things that will really make a difference," GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale told WABE.

Why, yes, that was a man carrying a "I cheated on my wife sign" up and down Peachtree Road.

U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, has voiced serious concerns about infectious diseases that undocumented children crossing the U.S. border are potentially bringing into the country. "As the unaccompanied children continue to be transported to shelters around the country on commercial airlines and other forms of transportation, I have serious concerns that the diseases carried by these children may begin to spread too rapidly to control," he wrote in a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Whistleblowers from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs have alleged that high-ranking managers threatened to punish staffers who revealed problems about lengthy patient wait times, mismanagement, and other problems. “VA leadership has repeatedly failed to respond to concerns raised by whistleblowers about patient care at VA,” V.A. whistleblower Scott Davis said in prepared testimony. “Despite the best efforts of truly committed employees at HEC and the Veterans Health Administration, who have risked their careers to stand up for veterans; management at all levels ignored or retaliated against them for exposing the truth.”

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Andrew Young helps raise $70K for financially strapped HBCU

Posted By on Tue, Jul 8, 2014 at 4:30 PM

Interdenominational Theological Center
  • Public Domain
  • Interdenominational Theological Center
When the Interdenominational Theological Center announced its "Saving the ITC" campaign with the hope of raising $2.5 million earlier this year, it sounded like another of Atlanta's historically black institutions might soon bite the dust.

But four of the ITC's six constituent seminaries have collectively pledged $1 million to bail the 56-year-old institution out of a budget deficit that threatened financial instability and accreditation woes. An additional $70,000 was raised on June 25, at a luncheon hosted by Andrew Young. Other prominent attendees included Civil Rights vets Rev. C.T. Vivian and Dr. Joseph Lowery. Though the $1.3 million total raised through member institutions, church congregations, and alumnae is still short of the campaign's overall goal, it's a strong start to recovery.

A few years ago, ITC spent $400,000 sprucing up the student center of the financially burdened Morris Brown to temporarily move classes to the adjacent campus while ITC underwent renovations. But that was before Morris Brown's creditors came a calling to the tune of $13 million in 2012, according to the AJC.

The center has long-established ties to Morris Brown by way of its constituent seminary, Turner Theological, which is also connected to the African Methodist Episcopal. The other five seminaries represent five additional Christian denominations (Gammon Theological Seminary, United Methodist; Morehouse School of Religion, Baptist; C.H. Mason Theological Seminary, Church of God in Christ; and Phillips School of theology, Christian Methodist Episcopal) while ITC's annual student enrollment of about 350 draws students from around the U.S., Africa, the Caribbean, and parts of Asia.

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First Slice 7/8/14: Cobb judge to decide whether nearly $400 million in Braves stadium bonds are legal

Posted By on Tue, Jul 8, 2014 at 8:31 AM

A Cobb County judge is expected to rule whether the approval of nearly $400 million in revenue bonds for the new Atlanta Braves stadium, which has been challenged in court by some local residents, is in fact legal. “The Braves have a 41,000 seat stadium with at least 6,000 parking spaces of their own. They have all the rights to the stadium property, the seats, everything," attorney Tucker Hobgood said in court yesterday. "They can rip it out. They have an option at the end to buy it at 50 percent of the fair market value. The thing is completely tied down, so we submit it’s not a public building, it’s not for public use.”

During the second quarter of 2014, Jason Carter's campaign raised more than $2 million in Democratic gubernatorial candidate's quest to unseat Gov. Nathan Deal. “While Jason is building his campaign from the grassroots, Gov. Deal is relying on secret national Republican money to bankroll his campaign," a press release sent out by his campaign said. The governor is expected to release his latest campaign figures sometime today.

The Atlanta City Council has approved new restrictions on the length of time allotted for individuals to make public comment during meetings.

Mayor Kasim Reed takes to the Wall Street Journal to make his case for (yep, you guessed it) cites.

Despite Atlanta Police's recent "Happy" video, not all officers with the department are pleased over their current salaries. "We're in it for the city of Atlanta, for the taxpayers to ensure their safety," Lt. Steve Zigaj told Atlanta City Council. "I am unhappy with the process of not getting paid."

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Monday, July 7, 2014

First Slice 7/7/14: We're guessing Tyler Perry doesn't want to turn Fort McPherson into a mixed-use bioscience hub

Posted By on Mon, Jul 7, 2014 at 8:26 AM

Fort McPherson
Long before Tyler Perry proposed turning much of Fort McPherson into a film production hub, the former military base was envisioned - through lots and lots of planning - as a bioscience center. What happens to those plans, which involved lots of community input, if Perry purchases the land?

One of the most cost-effective ways to bring rail service to Clayton County, MARTA officials say, involves using Norfolk Southern's freight line. David Pendered delves into why those tracks are so important to the transportation company.

Times are so tough people are robbing landscapers for leaf blowers at gunpoint.

"If We So Choose," a documentary short about the Civil Rights movement in Athens, Ga., and a protest at the college town's Varsity location is now online to enjoy.

"YOU get a fire truck and YOU get a fire truck and you do too! EVERYBODY GETS A FIRE TRUCK!"

What will happen to the White House's staff calligraphers?

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

First Slice 7/6/14: Drones and fireworks

Posted By on Sun, Jul 6, 2014 at 9:57 AM

Drone Flying Over Decatur Fireworks from Matt Sloane on Vimeo.

Unable to watch fireworks in Decatur? One person launched a drone to record the event. (H/T /r/atlanta)

East Point Police are searching for the man that they say shot and killed a popular restaurant owner.

The Marietta Redevelopment Corporation recently separated from the city government. Now the group says some transparency laws no longer apply to its meetings.

ICYMI: Clayton County commissioners reversed course yesterday and approved asking voters in November to support a 1-percent tax to fund MARTA service.

Everyday Internet users often scooped up when the National Security Agency tries to spy on surveillance targets, according to a review of files provided to the Washington Post by Edward Snowden.

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Atlanta Police: Bombs, explosive devices prohibited at Peachtree Road Race finish line but weapons, 'long guns' are OK

Posted By on Thu, Jul 3, 2014 at 12:06 PM

Just so there's no confusion at the finish line of tomorrow's Peachtree Road Race. From the Atlanta Police Department:


A police spokeswoman says the clarification was prompted by confusion about the so-called "guns everywhere" law that took effect on July 1.

APD officers are expected to have a visible presence at various Fourth of July events taking place throughout town, including the fireworks at Centennial Olympic Park and Lenox Park. People are urged to call 911 or notify a police officer if they notice any suspicious activity.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

First Slice 7/2/14: Georgia delays drug testing for some food stamp, welfare recipients

Posted By on Wed, Jul 2, 2014 at 8:28 AM

Georgia is postponing the enforcement of a new law that requires some welfare recipients to take a drug test. A spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal told the AJC that state officials plan to hold off on putting the law into effect until a legal challenge over a similar measure in Florida gets decided.

There might be more trouble out of DeKalb County: Sherriff Jeffery Mann is being sued by a former employee who says he made staffers work for his primary campaign while on the clock with the county. Mann is currently facing off against former CEO Vernon Jones in a runoff triggered by former Sheriff Thomas Brown's unsuccessful congressional run against U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson.

In response to Georgia's new gun law, which went into effect yesterday, Mayor Kasim Reed announced a series of extra "common-sense" security measures that would take effect in Atlanta-owned buildings. "The proliferation of guns in this country poses a serious threat to public safety," he said in a statement.

A pickup truck stuck and killed three people who were attempting to cross 12 I-85 lanes around 5 a.m. yesterday morning. DeKalb County Police spokeswoman Mekka Parish said that officers "do believe they were intoxicated."

The Atlanta Police Department, ignoring the laws of Internet, particularly the fact that videos don't tend to go viral three months after a trend begins, released its own rendition of Pharrell Williams' "Happy" featuring Police Chief George Turner and other officers.

Who's ready for an "unprecedented residential boom" in Midtown? Anyone? Anyone?

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that Southern states have the highest number of doctors who write the most prescriptions for painkillers.

President Barack Obama has announced that an executive order to prohibit job discrimination for federal employees because of gender identity is in the works.

ICYMI: GPB fires staffer for violating ethics with 'Fuck Cobb County' tee.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Georgia's Supreme Court declines to hear Atlanta vendor's appeal to sell goods outside Turner Field

Posted By on Tue, Jul 1, 2014 at 3:30 PM

An Atlanta vendor who took the city to court for its policy outlawing him and other salesmen from hawking t-shirts, hats, and an assortment of other goods outside Turner Field won't get a chance to argue his case in Georgia's highest court.

The Supreme Court of Georgia yesterday declined to hear an appeal from Atlanta street vendor Stanley Hambrick to overturn a city ordinance that currently banning vending outside Turner Field. The court's decision not to hear the case effectively ends Hambrick's legal challenge.

For years, vendors could set up sidewalk operations and hawk souvenirs to Atlanta Braves fans headed to or from Turner Field. But in December 2012, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua tore up the controversial vending contract inked years earlier between then-Mayor Shirley Franklin and General Growth Properties. The deal effectively outsourced vending to the private company.

During the Final Four in March 2013, just a few days before the Braves started its baseball season, Mayor Kasim Reed ordered Atlanta Police to arrest vendors who attempted to sell good at the Five Points MARTA station. That decision sparked a heated standoff between Mayor Kasim Reed and vendors that led to protests outside City Hall and dissenting public comments in Atlanta City Council meetings.

"For almost an entire month Atlanta's officials refused to follow an order requiring them to let the vendors return to work," Hambrick attorney Robert Frommer says in a statement. "It is unfortunate that the Georgia Supreme Court chose not to take this opportunity to protect both the vendors' constitutional rights and the rule of law."

City officials refused to let vendors operate for the better part of 2013. Last November, the Atlanta City Council approved sweeping changes to the city's public vending laws that allowed some vendors to get back to work. Under the new program, vendors are required to sell items from city-approved kiosks or carts and conduct transactions using a point-of sale system, among other rules. They also have to pay the city a $2,500 annual fee, which city officials said was lower than in past years. The new plan restricts the goods being sold to weather-related items, published reading materials, toiletries, cell-phone accessories, Atlanta-themed souvenirs, and other items. It also allowed for the sale of some packaged snacks, heated foods, and non-alcoholic drinks.

According to the Institute of Justice, the legal firm that launched the case, Reed's Deputy Chief of Staff Katrina Taylor-Parks told councilmembers that the executive office intended to bring vending back to Turner Field, but couldn't move forward because of the pending litigation. Larry Miller, president of the Atlanta Vendors Association, says that the group wants to keep working with city officials to "end this stalemate" over public vending near the stadium.

"For over a year, Atlanta's baseball vendors have been unable to provide for themselves and their families by working at their traditional locations," Miller said in a statement.

In a statement, Reed said he's "pleased" with court's decision and plans to keep rolling out the new public property vending program. In recent months, The new plan has allowed some vendors to return to selling goods inside official kiosks in Downtown and will soon include spots in South Downtown and West End. The city plans to eventually expand the vending program to include additional locations. But no specific plans have been announced to bring vending back to the Turner Field.

"We at the Institute for Justice believe that the Mayor should keep his promises, and now that the litigation is at an end, we will be working closely with the Atlanta Vendors Association and other Atlantans in order to get the vendors back to work," Frommer tells CL in an email.

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GPB fires staffer for violating ethics with 'Fuck Cobb County' tee

Posted By on Tue, Jul 1, 2014 at 2:00 PM

HOME OF THE BRAVE: One week before he was fired from GPB, Clay Bolton of ATL Tees sported the shirt that cost him his job.
  • joeff davis
  • HOME OF THE BRAVE: One week before he was fired from GPB, Clay Bolton of ATL Tees sported the shirt that cost him his job.

When it comes to questionable ethics, Georgia Public Broadcasting is no stranger to criticism. On the heels of last year's Chip Rogers' scandal at GPB Radio, the state network's privately negotiated appropriation of Georgia State University's WRAS-FM signal, which went into effect two days ago, has caused many to question the organization's integrity.

But the station acted on its own principles one week ago, by escorting an employee out the door.

Last Tuesday, GPB fired behind-the-scenes radio producer Clay Bolton for "impact[ing] the professional integrity and credibility" of the organization, he said. Bolton's dismissal followed the online publication of the Creative Loafing story "Atlanta nostalgia: It's the new style." In the story about the growing local trend of T-shirts designed to signify love for a fading Atlanta, Bolton talked about creating his "Fuck Cobb County" tee four months ago in reaction to the Atlanta Braves' decision to move the major league team outside the city limits to a future Cobb County stadium.

Apparently, Bolton's form of off-duty expression didn't sit well with GPB's higher-ups. Although the story did not mention Bolton's place of employment, he was fired hours after the story went live online.

"I told my colleagues I got Chip Roger'd," Bolton said in our follow-up interview. Of course, he was jokingly referring to the former Republican state senator whose January 2013 hiring as executive producer/host of GPB's economic development-focused radio show, "Georgia Works," was overshadowed by Rogers' controversial $150,000 salary. Rogers was fired in April 2014. Yet it did little to quell speculation of political cronyism, or the growing concern that GPB Radio is being used by state conservatives to propagate their gospel. Contrary to NPR's left-leaning reputation, GPB's statewide network of 20 NPR-member stations seems to be a red-state anomaly.

It makes Bolton's former employment there all the more ironic. Beyond critiquing the Braves' intended move, his Fuck Cobb County shirt symbolizes the ideological tension that often distinguishes the city from the suburbs, and Atlanta from the rest of the state. Bolton, who worked at GPB radio for two years, produced the local news breaks for nationally syndicated NPR shows "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered." Apparently his job was in good standing. He'd received a promotion the day before being fired for violating GPB's code of ethics, he said. Though GPB refused to comment on personnel matters, a spokesperson contacted by Creative Loafing said GPB "wish[es] him the best."

In the following Q&A, Bolton shares his interpretation of what happened and his hope that the firing can be a boon to he and his business partner Bill Pratt's new line of ATL Tees.

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