News

Monday, March 30, 2015

Will Atlanta's annexation plans come to fruition?

Posted By on Mon, Mar 30, 2015 at 4:27 PM

Atlanta's efforts to annex Druid Hills and part of south Fulton County remain in play during the 2015 legislative session's final days. However, both measures face major hurdles amid political opposition and competing city-incorporation bills.

State Rep. Pat Gardner, D-Atlanta, has sponsored annexation bills for Druid Hills in DeKalb County and Sandtown in south Fulton. If the bills passed, residents would get to vote on the annexation on the November ballot.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has publicly backed both expansions of the city. But the two plans have triggered intense debate. For residents, it means weighing tax rates and public services. For county governments, it means responding to yet another move in metro Atlanta’s balkanization, carrying major implications for school systems and tax bases.

The proposed Sandtown annexation is complicated by a competing bill, which is also still alive, to create the city of South Fulton. The Reed administration recently flexed some muscle in the area, filing a lawsuit in an attempt to annex a piece of property the City of Atlanta owns there. State Rep. LaDawn Jones, D-Atlanta, has also cautioned some of her constituents about the unforeseen effects — such as a potential tax freeze and Fulton County schools acquisition — of annexation.

The Druid Hills situation is even more complicated as the DeKalb cityhood frenzy continues. Referendum bills for three new DeKalb cities — LaVista Hills, Stonecrest and Tucker — could be passed before the Gold Dome session ends on Thursday. The Druid Hills annexation map has some conflicting borders with the LaVista Hills city map. On the other hand, the LaVista Hills and Tucker maps also conflict, which could lead to a killing of both plans for now, the AJC speculates.

The unanswered questions have created anxiety on both sides. DeKalb CEO Lee May has questioned the legality of the Druid Hills annexation. Meanwhile, the pro-annexation group Together In Atlanta has sounded increasingly urgent calls for advocacy on its Facebook page.

Legislators might find a way to put these puzzle pieces together. It's more likely that they'll toss them back into the box for at least another year. Meanwhile, also still on the Gold Dome’s table: a proposal to better study how to deal with the high volume of cityhood and annexation plans.

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New Spelman College president makes great addition to Atlanta's arts community

Posted By on Mon, Mar 30, 2015 at 1:53 PM

Mary Schmidt Campbell, PhD - COURTESY SPELMAN COLLEGE
  • Courtesy Spelman College
  • Mary Schmidt Campbell, PhD

When Mary Schmidt Campbell got a call from Celeste Watkins-Hayes, the chair of Spelman College's presidential search committee, reentering academia was the furthest thing from her mind. She'd just retired last spring after serving 23 years as the dean of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and was ready to focus on completing her biography of Romare Bearden. 

But as the conversation with Watkins-Hayes continued, "I began to find myself really awakened to the idea that my background and my experience actually might be a perfect fit for Spelman at this particular time in its history," Campbell tells Monica Pearson in a taped YouTube interview housed on the school's website.

When Mary Schmidt Campbell, PhD, starts her new position on Aug. 1, she'll become the college's 10th president. In addition to her proven track record at institution building, her resumé is heady in the disciplines of fine art and the humanities. That background should make her an excellent fit within Atlanta's extended arts community.

As a Syracuse University grad sudent, she co-founded what is now the Community Folk Art Center. Early in her career, she transformed the Studio Museum of Harlem into the country's first accredited black fine arts museum with a permanent collection, publications, and artists-in-residence programs. (Atlanta-based artist Bethany Collins recently completed a 12-month residency there). After leaving the Studio in 1987, Campbell served as New York City's cultural affairs commissioner under Mayor Ed Koch. And for more than two decades, she served as dean of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, where she expanded the new media and tech programs and elevated the school's prestige. President Obama appointed her in 2009 as vice chair of the non-partisan President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. 

Her career aligns well with Spelman Museum of Art's ambitious mission. Under director Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, the 18-year-old museum has become a premier destination for the works of black women artists. 

Campbell tells Pearson how she intends to blend the focus on STEM education with a strong appreciation for the creative arts and humanities to create STEAM. Her tenure is also beginning at a time when funding for historically black colleges and universities is trending toward a steep decline and the continued relevance of HBCUs and same-sex colleges is increasingly being challenged. Campbell addresses such questions head-on in the interview below:

"Spelman produces more high-quality women who go on to get their PhDs in STEM subjects than any college in this country. That's not an accident. Why? Because if you come here, a black woman is the heart and soul of this college. everyone on this campus is dedicated to her success. And everyone is going to make sure that she graduates with self-knowledge, prepared and ready to take her place in the world. And that's a powerful statement at a time when everybody's wringing their hands about how do we close the gap for underrepresented minorities. Look at the places that have succeeded, look at a place like Spelman, and you'll see the argument for a single-sex college." 


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First Slice 3/30/15: Meeting to reconsider 'religious freedom' bill scrapped

Posted By on Mon, Mar 30, 2015 at 8:20 AM

A controversial bill pushed by State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, appears to be in doubt.
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • A controversial bill pushed by State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, appears to be in doubt.
A last-ditch effort to revive Georgia's "religious freedom" bill during a special-called committee, scheduled late Friday for 10 a.m. this morning, has been canceled. But Georgia Equality, still wary about the bill returning before the session's end on Thursday, is planning a rally tomorrow to oppose the bill.

When might a new owner purchase the Atlanta Hawks? CEO Steve Koonin says sometime this summer.

Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee has announced that he'll run for re-election in 2016. What's his pitch? The "homerun" that was convincing the Atlanta Braves to leave Turner Field.

Atlanta Police are looking for thieves who broke into 15 cars along Arizona Avenue and Rogers Street near the border of Kirkwood and Edgewood.

State lawmakers have voted in favor of reforming the state's probation system, limiting the fees offenders will have to pay private companies. “It certainly stops the financial trap that some individuals have found themselves in in pay-only probation cases,” Thomas Worthy, co-chair of the Council on Criminal Justice Reform, told WABE. Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to sign the legislation.

A Chicago store won't be stocking Sweetwater's Happy Ending because they found the label to be sexist and slightly racist. "This label is about a female Asian sex worker manually masturbating a man to orgasm and cleaning up the ejaculate with tissues," Binny's Beverage Depot manager Adam Vavrick told the Chicago Tribune. "Why is that appropriate on a beer label?" SweetWater founder Freddy Bensch said he'd look into the matter.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

First Slice 3/29/15: Mayor Kasim Reed wants no part of Nobel Peace Prize Summit

Posted By on Sun, Mar 29, 2015 at 10:00 AM

A Nobel Peace Prize Summit of former laureates, scheduled to take place in Atlanta this November, will not share any official affiliation with the city if Mayor Kasim Reed has anything to say about it. He sent a detailed letter to the organizer of the summit, Mohammad Bhuiyan, to express his concern over the planning and fundraising efforts. "Please discontinue the use of the City of Atlanta logo and website link, as well as my name and those of my staff members, in any Atlanta Nobel Summit materials," Reed wrote.

Georgia lawmakers have unanimously passed a bill that's expected spur the state's solar industry. Once the bill becomes law, home and business owners can secure third-party loans for the installation of solar panels. Solar panel buyers currently must pay the costs up front. The bill's next stop is Gov. Nathan Deal's desk.

T.I. held a ribbon cutting celebration for his new restaurant, Scales 925, on Friday. Reed and Councilman Kwanza Hall were some of the officials in attendance for the upscale Southern restaurant's opening.

An Atlanta man who has fathered 34 children with 17 different women is getting his own reality show. No, not the rapper Shawty Lo, whose planned show was canceled following public outrage and a petition in 2013. Neither will this show be appearing on VH1 or any affiliated Viacom network. Jay Williams, whose story was first featured on an episodes of "Iyanla: Fix My Life," will bring his full story to a spin-off on Oprah's network. The big difference between Williams and Lo being that Williams will continue to have life coach Iyanla Vanzant to help him work through his issues.

Somehow, despite having the fifth-highest number of new HIV cases among U.S. cities, metro Atlanta has five of the healthiest counties within the state of Georgia, according to rankings by the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute. Forsyth, Gwinnett, Fayette, Cobb are all near the top, and Fulton made the biggest leap from 2014 to make it into the top 15 percent.

An Atlanta meth-lab bust netted one of the largest seizures in the city's history, police announced last Thursday. Federal DEA agents and local police recovered drugs totaling $10.8 million in street value after raiding two southwest Atlanta homes. Walter White Armando Ayala was charged with trafficking. “This is a major win for our city," Atlanta police chief George Turner said. Dope on the damn table


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Friday, March 27, 2015

Morris Brown College emerging from bankruptcy

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2015 at 1:32 PM

MORRIS BROWN: Fountain Hall once housed the office of Civil Rights pioneer and former Atlanta University professor W.E.B. DuBois. Its one of the buildings Morris Brown will retain ownership of as it emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy
  • CL File/Joeff Davis
  • MORRIS BROWN: Fountain Hall once housed the office of Civil Rights pioneer and former Atlanta University professor W.E.B. DuBois. It's one of the buildings Morris Brown will retain ownership of as it emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy

The beleaguered Morris Brown College is in the process of emerging from three years of bankruptcy and $30 million of debt, according to Anne Aaronson, the Philadelphia-based lawyer with Dilworth Paxson LLP, who has represented the historically black Atlanta college in bankruptcy court.

"The court confirmed the college's plan of reorganization on Wednesday," Aaronson told Creative Loafing via email today. "We anticipate an order being entered shortly. Afterwards we will begin making distributions and file a notice of effective date, signaling the school's emergence from the chapter 11 process."

Once completed, this will bring an end an arduous process that involved proposed and rejected land deals before one was finally struck last year. Morris Brown sold 26 acres of property and buildings for approximately $14.7 million to the city's economic development arm, Invest Atlanta, and Friendship Baptist Church, one of two historic black churches sold to the city and demolished for the construction of the future Atlanta Falcons stadium.

The chairman of Morris Brown's board of trustees, Bishop Preston W. Williams II, PhD, called news of the school's emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy "a bittersweet ending to a long and complex process," he wrote to parishioners of the African Methodist Episcopal Church's sixth district, in the letter dated March 26. "Bitter, because we had to sell property that had historical significance to many people. Sweet, because we emerge from bankruptcy fully functional and current with all of our debt obligations. Thus, as is the case with much of life, we must accept the bitter with the sweet and keep pressing forward."

Today the college maintains ownership of "the Administration Building, the Griffin Hightower Classroom building and the historic Fountain Hall, on six acres of land," according to Williams. Fountain Hall, a registered national historic site, is where scholar and NAACP co-founder W.E.B. Du Bois kept an office during his time as a professor at Atlanta University.

The next step for the embattled school, whose financial woes began over a decade ago, will be retaining the accreditation it lost in 2002 due to mounting debt. While Morris Brown has remained in operation during throughout this time, its student body dwindled significantly. At the school's next annual commencement in May, 21 students are expected to graduate.

Bishop Williams was not available for additional direct comment at the time of this post. As further details emerge, we'll continue to update.


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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

First Slice 3/25/15: Georgia's medical marijuana bill headed toward final approval

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 9:26 AM

Clarksville, Ga., resident Sarabeth Fowler said that the states medical marijuana bill will help her eight-year-old daughter, Ava, gain access to a drug that completely takes away her seizures.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Clarksville, Ga., resident Sarabeth Fowler said that the state's medical marijuana bill will help her eight-year-old daughter, Ava, gain access to a drug that "completely takes away her seizures."

At long last, Georgia lawmakers are set to pass a law legalizing medical marijuana possession for eight different diagnoses. The Georgia Senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of the compromise bill. It now heads back to the House for a final vote.

A handful of potential candidates to be Atlanta's next mayor recently discussed design and development issues. Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell's advice? "Make it funky."

Who paid for Gov. Nathan Deal's fact-finding trip to visit Louisiana schools? A lobbyist.

Will Boeing be the next major corporation to relocate to Georgia? Maybe.

The AJC's subscription website, MyAJC.com, will be moving from a hard paywall to a metered paywall.

Charlottesville Police have found no evidence to back claims of sexual assault at the University of Virginia published in a controversial 2014 Rolling Stone piece.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

First Slice 3/24/15: Two city employees arrested for selling $60,000 in stolen watershed department equipment

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 9:07 AM

Watershed Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina, in happier times
It's been quiet for far too long over at Atlanta's Department of Watershed Management. Oh wait, scratch that: Atlanta Police have arrested two watershed employees and charged them with theft. The employees, William Spalding and Charles Edwards, had allegedly made more than $60,000 off stolen equipment.

A Fulton County judge has sentenced a man to life behind bars for raping a woman in Buckhead two years ago.

“Why would you go directly to deadly force for someone who clearly does not have a weapon?”

Four Moral Monday Georgia protesters were arrested yesterday for refusing to leave state Sen. Josh McKoon's office in a protest against the "religious freedom" bill.

Welcome to the presidential campaign trail, Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

A Lufthansa Germanwings flight carrying 144 passengers and six crew members today crashed in the French Alps. "The conditions of the accident, which have not yet been clarified, lead us to think there are no survivors." French President Francois Hollande said."

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Monday, March 23, 2015

First Slice 3/23/15: MARTA buses start rolling in Clayton County

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 7:58 AM

Clayton County residents rejoiced yesterday as MARTA buses started serving the county. County voters last November approved a 1-percent sales tax to fund bus routes and future commuter rail service.

Protesters and #blacklivesmatter activists interrupted brunch in several Decatur restaurants to raise awareness about excessive police force and the killing of Anthony Hill.

Friends and businesses in Little Five Points helped raise cash for the families of Joe Hruska and "Chay" Kelsey, two men who were recently killed in a neighborhood parking lot after leaving a bar.

Don't worry, the new Atlanta Falcons and Braves stadiums won't be like other sports complexes that gobble up a bunch of public funding. Except...

C'mon, you've always wanted a palm tree in your living room.

Helene Gayle, the CEO of global humanitarian organization CARE, will lead a new nonprofit effort launched by consulting powerhouse McKinsey and Co. Gayle announced last year that she would be leaving CARE this summer.

That guy who starred in "Cocktail" is running for president! Now, will he release his birth certificate?

Remember the "Fuck it, I quit" TV reporter who left journalism to start a marijuana business? Alaska law enforcement officials on Friday raided her private medical marijuana club.

Finally, my apologies for no First Slice yesterday. CL's Wheatley Estate bureau experienced technical difficulties.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

First Slice 3/19/15: What will jurors in APS trial decide?

Posted By on Thu, Mar 19, 2015 at 8:02 AM

Fulton County Courthouse

Jurors have begun deliberations in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal trial.

Once upon a time, thousands of college students converged on Atlanta for Freaknik. What did Mayor Kasim Reed, former Atlanta Police Chief Eldrin Bell, and others think about the big party?

It's allergy season. Enjoy!

How can the Atlanta Streetcar improve? Here's what Rebecca Burns, who's been riding the transit line to work for several weeks, thinks.

The Atlanta Hawks last night faced off against the other best team in the NBA — and lost quite badly.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

First Slice 3/18/15: Georgia working to find a 'reliable source' for lethal injection drugs, Deal says

Posted By on Wed, Mar 18, 2015 at 9:15 AM

Gov. Nathan Deal promises that Georgia's lethal injection drug problems will be cleared up soon. “I am told [Department of Corrections officials] believe they are now on track to have a reliable source, one that will prevent the clouding of the drug, or any contamination or crystallization of the drug, which has also been a problem in the past,” he told the AJC. “That’s my only concern about it. That needs to be resolved, and hopefully they’ve found a way to do that.”

The Georgia Senate's transportation plan includes a lower gas tax, an annual "highway user impact fee" tax for vehicles, a rental car tax, $250 million in annual debt payments, and other goodies.

LGBT supporters yesterday staged a major rally against Georgia's proposed "religious freedom" bill. “Something is deeply wrong in this state that we would target and discriminate against a people in the name of religion," First Iconium Baptist Church Senior Pastor Rev. Tim McDonald said. "I thought there was no real need,” Macon Circuit District Attorney David Cooke added. “But what I also saw was a very real danger.

In local election news: Atlantans have approved the city's $250 million bond package to fix roads, bridges, and sidewalks. Avondale Estates residents also elected architect Jonathan Elmore to be the town's new mayor.

In international election news: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday won re-election, but only after promising right-wing supporters in a last-minute campaign effort that no Palestinian state would be formed while he was in office.

The White House was sent a letter that has tested positive for cyanide. The Secret Service is looking into who sent the letter and conducting further testing.

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