August 31, 2010: The City of Atlanta Needs an Overhaul

If the city of Atlanta is the engine that drives our state, may I suggest somebody get a mechanic on the double.  We have a wheezing, smoke-belching bucket of bolts in need of major repair.

This engine sputters because of a City Hall that plays race cards like gin rummy, a disengaged business community and a news media that have found it easier to cast Billy Payne as a villain than to do something substantive, like making the city get its act together.

Not that anyone in an official capacity would ever admit to problems in Atlanta.  That is not its culture.  Instead, the city likes to brag away its shortcomings with slogans like, “The Next Great International City” and a city “Too Busy To Hate.”  Atlanta is neither.  My mentor, the late Jasper Dorsey, said if Atlanta could “suck like it could blow, it would have the Atlantic Ocean at the city limits.”  As usual, he was right on the money.

Ask Sam Massell.  This inestimable man, a former mayor of Atlanta, has had it with the shenanigans of a City Hall that won’t close the bars in tony Buckhead before 4 AM.  (That is “A.M.”, folks, as in “just before sunrise.”)  I have not heard current Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell give a reasonable explanation as to why patrons need to fill their snoots until the roosters awaken but I’ll bet it is race-related.  His explanations usually are.

There was another killing in Buckhead last week.  That makes eight in that area this year. Coming within a year of the Ray Lewis episode after the Super Bowl, Massell, head of the Buckhead Coalition, decided to lower the boom.

In a letter to Campbell, Massell asked, “What will it take to convince you to take back your city from the hoodlums? We plead with you for leadership now!”  Good luck, Mr. Massell, if you are looking for leadership from Bill Campbell.  The mayor says he isn’t “going to put a police officer on every corner in Atlanta.”  Nobody is asking him to, but why doesn’t he fill the 400 vacant positions that currently exist in the police department?  More important, why aren’t business leaders and media raising holy hell about the shortage?  (The day after the most recent Buckhead murder, a local columnist who covers the Atlanta business community gave readers a half-page on why the city needs to save a local Merry-Go-Round.)

Enter now, Matt Glavin, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation.  A year ago, Glavin sued the city of Atlanta for its race-based Minority and Female Business Enterprise program.  His efforts exposed weaknesses in the city than even slogans can’t hide.  The mayor and his buddies hurled racial epithets and refused to discuss a settlement.  Glavin says the business leadership in town is “scared to death” to take on the mayor.  Not so, says Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.  In Williams’ opinion, the two sides want to settle this issue in the courts and aren’t interested in compromise.   That may be true but I doubt anybody in town has the ability, influence or fortitude to get the parties to talk to even each other.

Suffice it to say Glavin is undeterred by the lack of support from the business community and the media.  He believes he is going to beat the city of Atlanta and I do, too.  A similar minority set-aside program in Fulton County just lost in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with the US District Court that will hear Atlanta’s case.  Glavin is coy on what happens next in his lawsuit but does promise some “significant developments” in the near future.   I take that to mean he is going to clean Atlanta’s clock.  Good for him.

Atlanta desperately needs leadership.  There is no Robert Woodruff around anymore.  No William B. Hartsfield. No Benjamin Mays.  No Ralph McGill.  No Mills B. Lane.  The city’s current institutions – political, business and media – are living off the reputation of these individuals who put the greater good of Atlanta above their own self-interest. However, you can’t solve a problem until you admit you have one.  Atlanta seems unable to do that today.

This engine that supposedly drives the state of Georgia badly needs an overhaul.  Yet, everybody in town seems content to don a gas mask and ignore the fumes. Thank goodness, there are at least two mechanics willing to try and fix the problem: Sam Massell and Matt Glavin.