King Williams didn't set out to make an epic documentary film about Atlanta's controversial 20-year effort to purge the city of its low-income housing projects. It just sorta happened.
Six years ago, he was a Georgia State University junior tasked with coming up with a project for an urban policy and sociology class on metropolitan Atlanta. So he chose to look into one of the great mysteries of his childhood by researching what happened to East Lake Meadows, the former housing project located on the edge of East Atlanta and Decatur, where many of his boyhood friends had lived. "I just remember it being there in Decatur as a child, and at one point it just wasn't there anymore. So I was like, I'm going to do a paper on it." That paper grew legs as he met other Atlanta natives in his class who liked the idea. They decided to get a camera with the idea of shooting enough footage for a two-to-three minute complementary doc. A month later, they had 15 hours of footage. "We were like, we should really try to make this an actual documentary."
Williams today is a 28-year-old graduate with a resume of production experience working under big dogs like Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese, yet he still doesn't consider himself a full-fledged filmmaker. After years of trial-and-error stops and starts, however, he and his original crew of GSU classmates are narrowing in on a release date for their full-length documentary. The Atlanta Way attempts to make sense of all the hairy issues of class, race and culture that have grown out of the Atlanta Housing Authority's nationally recognized model for decentralizing inner-city poverty. It includes interviews with residents of some of the last housing projects to be demolished in Atlanta (Herndon Homes, Bowen Homes, Palmer House, Roosevelt House, Hollywood Courts, Bankhead Courts), as well as interviews with journalists, social advocates, power brokers, and politicians, including former mayoral candidate Mary Norwood and Kasim Reed, a year before he decided to run for the city's top office.
With a tentative release scheduled for fall in Atlanta, Williams talked in advance about why he struggled to create an uncompromising look at the issue, why "gentrification" is still a dirty word to some, and why he feels Atlanta's sense of culture has taken the biggest hit in the wake of all the change.
This is a topic that inspires so many opposing views, in Atlanta and across the country. Did you set out to make a film that would speak to both sides or is that impossible?
The Marines' special umbrella brigade would've come in handy at Sunday's Morehouse College commencement. Not for President Obama, who remained dry onstage during his 30-minute address to the graduating class of 2013, but for more than 500 graduates with drooping graduation caps, hundreds of alumni, family members, and others lucky enough to procure tickets to the historic event.
The White House circulated word two days in advance of the event that no umbrellas would be allowed in the case of rain. Instead, transparent ponchos were passed out to the sea of onlookers that came hours in advance to get through security lines. Drenched but undaunted, they attempted to Ziploc themselves against the elements while waiting for the ceremony to begin.
The president apologized to the mothers and grandmothers forced to endure the rainy commencement at the cost of their hair. "Michelle would not be sitting in the rain" he said to knowing laughter. "She's taught me a lot about hair."
For Obama, it was a brief respite from the seemingly perfect storm of scandal that hit the White House last week. Unlike the past 14 commencement addresses he's given since becoming president, however, he chose to forego his typical State of the Union-style graduation speech for something much more focused on the State of Black America. And it wasn't just "Morehouse Men" he encouraged to be an example and forego excuses, but black men in general.
"I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down," he said, using his youthful outlook as a personal example. "But one of the things you've learned over the last four years is that there's no longer any room for excuses."
The former Fulton County Commission chairman, Georgia secretary of state, and gubernatorial candidate made her campaign official this morning, hours before the state's Republican convention kicked off today in Athens.
"Georgians want a conservative with the courage to take on the status quo, to fight for them and our constitutional ideals, to be accountable to them - and not Washington," Handel said in a statement.
Handel's name had been tossed around for months as a possible candidate, even long before Chambliss decided to call it quits in January. She's now the fourth official challenger vying for the Senate seat and will face off against U.S. Reps. Paul Broun of Athens, Phil Gingrey of Marietta, and Jack Kingston of Savannah, who have already entered the race.
As the AJC's Jim Galloway notes, Handel's campaign this week indicated that an official announcement wasn't imminent. But she likely decided it was time to enter the race with a 2014 Senate bid after former Dollar General CEO David Perdue decided he would explore a possible run and U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Alpharetta, bowed out of the contest.
Handel resigned from the Susan G. Komen Foundation in February 2012 after insisting that the nonprofit corporation pull its grant to Planned Parenthood. Last December, she went on the offensive and called Planned Parenthood "a bunch of schoolyard thugs" that wrapped themselves in a pink "cloak of legitimacy."
In addition to her pro-life stance, her platform will also focus on small business and smaller government. "Businesses, especially our small businesses, need government to get off their backs and out of the way, so that they can do what they do best: innovate and create jobs," said Handel.
Meanwhile, Georgia Democrats anxiously await HandsOn Atlanta co-founder and Points of Light CEO Michelle Nunn's decision as to whether she'll take on her Republican foes.
The Home Depot co-founder and Atlanta Falcons owner will host President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., at a "special brunch reception" for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at the Arthur M. Blank Family Office on Howell Mill Road. The president will be in town to give the commencement speech at Morehouse College.
Mayor Kasim Reed, one of the president's most ardent supporters, and former Gov. Roy Barnes will also serve as the event's main hosts. Other hosts whose names you might recognize: airport concessionaires Dan Halpern and Mack Wilbourn, both of whom emerged victorious from a recent dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration over their firms' "disadvantaged" status; attorney and former Democratic Congressman Buddy Darden of Marietta; prominent Democratic fundraiser and consulant Kristin Oblander; Justin Tanner, a member of Reed's governmental affairs team; and local defense attorney Ken Canfield.
No word yet on how much a ticket to the fete will cost. Or the exact time it starts. (It's "TBA," the announcement says.) But the good news? It's on a Sunday, which means the traffic nightmare that's unleashed upon metro Atlanta every time the president visits might not be as bad this time.
UPDATE, 1:12 p.m. The mayor on Twitter says our post was a "cheapshot" because the main purpose of Obama's visit to Atlanta next month is to speak at Morehouse College. I had forgotten about that event and based my reporting on the fundraiser invitation, which makes no mention of the speech. Reed adds that "it is not a bad thing to raise money to help retain and elect more Democrats to the United States Senate."
UPDATE, 3:13 p.m.Penny McPhee, president of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, tells CL that the event will be held in the Arthur M. Blank Family Office, not the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, which is listed on the invitation we saw. That version was a draft, she says, which they've asked to be corrected. "While the Foundation resides in the building, we do not own it and are not the host of the luncheon," she says.
At first, Deal remained silent on the issue. When progressive advocacy group Better Georgia asked Deal and state lawmakers to "publicly support the students of Wilcox," Deal's spokesman Brian Robinson responded in an email to WMAZ-TV, "This is a leftist front group for the state Democratic party and we're not going to lend a hand to their silly publicity stunt." The comments caused an uproar.
On Monday, Deal's office released a statement to the AJC that the governor was "focused on reviewing ... legislation that was passed in the legislative session and bringing jobs to Georgia." It also said that Deal "trusts that local leaders will find a long-term solution that protects the equal rights of all students."
Today, Deal elaborated. The AJC's Greg Bluestein passed along these comments to his colleague Jim Galloway:
"I believe that anything that's associated with a school should not have the distinction or discrimination made based on race or gender or any other separation," he said. "But it appears to me that the parents and students have worked that out on their own, as they should."
When asked if there was anything he could do as the state's top leader to help prevent this issue from surfacing again, here's what he said:
"Probably stay out of their way. We've come a long way in the state of Georgia. We don't need things like this being divisive. We think we have put most of those issues behind us. None of us condone things that would send the wrong message about where we are with regard to race relations. But by the same token, I think that people understand that some of these are just local issues and private issues, and not something that the state government needs to have its finger involved in."
The integrated Wilcox County High School prom, which is funded by local families and contributors, is scheduled for April 27. The county's school board says it will explore the option of hosting a prom next year.
Marijuana legalization advocates have announced Georgia's first Southern Cannabis Reform Conference, scheduled to take place March 15-16. Organized by Peachtree NORML, a local affiliate of the national organization, the conference will mix entertainment and education, with workshops and panels planned to discuss "the how's and why's of cannabis reform in Georgia," according to the press release.
In recent years, longtime state legalization advocates have jumped on the medical-marijuana bandwagon by pushing to activate the little-known Medical Marijuana Necessities Act passed by the Georgia Legislature in 1981 but long since buried under bureaucracy.
But since last November's election brought legalized marijuana usage to Colorado and Washington, Georgia advocates have felt empowered enough to push for complete legalization.
"The dam has been broken, so to speak, with Colorado and Washington," says Sharon Ravert, the executive director of Peachtree NORML and head of Georgia Moms For Marijuana. "We feel like it's coming this way, and as a parent I want to make sure it's done right."
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Willis was accused by the State Bar of Georgia of several ethical violations, including allegedly depositing $30,000 meant for a client in a personal injury case into his own bank account. The bar said Willis violated rules against "dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation." The AJC also notes that Willis failed to respond to the Georgia bar's formal complaint on Nov. 4.
According to the report written by Joseph Szczecko, the lawyer who investigated for the bar, that meant the facts alleged and the violations charged were treated as if Willis admitted them.
"There are no mitigating factors in this case," Szczecko wrote.
Willis did not get an extension of time to respond, and did not provide an explanation or evidence of mitigating circumstances, according to the report.
Several factors made the case even more serious, according to Szczecko's eight-page report. Szczecko, a Decatur attorney, said aggravating factors included multiple offenses, obstruction of the disciplinary process by not answering the formal complaint, and "indifference to making restitution."
Willis, who has not been charged with any crime, told CL yesterday that his duties as an elected official, attorney, and a father, combined with the "emotional tumult" from his divorce caused him "to miss that and a lot of things that pertain to me personally."
"Unfortunately, those administrative things that should not have fallen through the cracks, did," he said.
The complaint obtained by the AJC claims that Willis represented a minor in a 2009 personal injury lawsuit, which was filed after a fence "fell on and injured the young child." The lawsuit was reportedly settled for $30,000. But contrary to the standard practice of depositing settlement funds in an "attorney trust fund," Willis deposited them in his own bank account in July 2011.
Everything was "transparent to the client," Willis told CL. "I'm human, and we're just working to correct everything the best we can."
He added that "the insurance company that paid out the $30,000 has received its full $30,000 back, including what they paid me for my legal fees," Willis said. "That doesn't remove the violations as it relates to having made mistakes along the way. "
The recommendation must be approved by the Georgia Supreme Court.
Rinker, who moved to Atlanta in 2004 and has never run for public office before, made the announcement yesterday. From his announcement:
"I'm proud and honored today to officially announce my candidacy for Atlanta City Council, District 5. As the son of a Steamfitters Union worker and public school teacher, and as someone who has called Atlanta home the last 10 years, I can no longer stand by and watch from the sidelines as our families and businesses face the same challenges of the last 10 years for another 10 years," Rinker said today. "It is not too much to ask of City Council that our streets be safe, our children have parks to play in, and that we create a business friendly atmosphere that brings more good jobs with good pay to our city - but that's not what we've been getting from our incumbent politicians on City Council. It's time to make a change, and I hope over the next few months to earn the support, the prayers and the vote of the families and business owners in East Atlanta and South Atlanta.
District 5 includes East Atlanta, Reynoldstown, and Cabbagetown, among other neighborhoods. The Georgia Voice's Dyana Bagby, who chatted with Rinker, notes that the 35-year-old real estate professional would be the second openly gay City Councilmember if he's elected to office. In his spare time, Rinker says, he "volunteers and raises money for Hosea Feed The Hungry, Project Open Hand, CHRIS Kids, Georgia Safe Schools Coalition, and other groups." He's also active in kickball, dodgeball, and softball leagues.
Reed did take the opportunity to promote two others for the job: Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) and former Atlanta chief operating officer Peter Aman.
Aman's name hasn't been mentioned much, but given he was Reed's right-hand man, it seems pretty clear that he's interested in running.
Aman took leave from his job as a partner at Bain and Co. to be Reed's COO for two years. Bain and Co. is separate from Bain Capital, but Mitt Romney also worked at the former for a period.
Aman's City Hall days go back further than helping the Reed administration overhaul Atlanta's pension program and toy with the idea of selling the city jail (the deal never happened). When former Mayor Shirley Franklin took office in 2001, Aman volunteered to help streamline City Hall and ended up playing a key role in the so-called Bain Report, an often referenced guide to making Atlanta government more efficient.
It's safe to assume Aman would argue that his dual experience of reorganizing corporations and helping craft policy in City Hall could benefit Washington, D.C. And that he wouldn't have a problem raising cash. Plus, he'd probably have the support of the state's most well-connected Democrat.
Whether Aman could best one of the many Republicans eyeing the seat - especially Congressman Paul Broun, R-Darwin, a favorite of the GOP fringe - is another question.
So Heath has come up with a nifty form response to those pesky emails, which are sent by Better Georgia, a progressive advocacy group that launched the petition demanding Rogers' ouster.
In it, Heath informs the recipient that they might have been "conned." Signing Better Georgia's petition doesn't create a long list of signatures which is then delivered to lawmakers, he writes. It sends an email every single time. And he's a busy man!
From: Bill Heath <[redacted]@BillHeath.net>
Subject: Re: Fire Chip Rogers now. GA can't afford Deal's cronyism.
It appears that you may have been conned into signing an online petition concerning the hiring of Chip Rogers. I doubt that you even knew what you were allowing your contact information to be used for.
You may have been lured into signing a petition by Better Georgia, an organization headed by Bryan Long, thinking that a petition containing a list of all the signers would be provided to legislators. Instead, after obtaining your contact information the organization sends an email to every legislator each time someone enters their information. This poorly designed tactic wastes the limited time and resources that legislators have to conduct their jobs.
These childish tactics of Bryan Long and Don Weigel probably have the same effect with other legislators as it does with me, that is to view the emails as annoying, filter them out and credit Better Georgia as an irresponsible organization rather than considering them as having some benefit.
In order to serve the citizens of the 31st Senate District, all emails of this nature will receive an automated response so as to minimize the abuse of my limited resources and time by Better Georgia.
That being said, if you are a citizen of the 31st Senate District I want to hear from you. Please call my office so I can serve you to the best of my ability.
If you wish to share your thoughts on the tactics of Better Georgia, they can be reached at 706-410-1867. They don't share their email address in order to guard themselves from the very tactics they use.
Heath hasn't responded to an email asking for his opinion on Rogers' hiring and about the above text, which a few CL readers have sent us.
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