Atlanta Out Loud

Politics and rantings and just stuff that catches my attention.

Friday, January 30, 2004

|| 8:58:44 PM
We're Dumb.... And Let's Keep It That Way

Georgia School Superintendent, Kathy Cox, presides over what are arguably the worst government schools in the nation. We have the distinction of being dead last -- numero 50 -- in SAT scores for the past two years.

Now Kathy Cox has decided that the quality of education in Georgia government schools can be vastly improved if they will just remove the word "evolution" from classrooms and textbooks. Instead of "evolution," it will be "biological changes over time." In making her decision, Ms. Cox called "evolution" a "'buzzword' that causes a lot of negative reaction."

"This wasn't so much a religion vs. science, politics kind of issue," Cox said. "This was an issue of how do we ensure that our kids are getting a quality science education in every classroom across the state." Huh? We're going to ensure they get a quality science education by eliminating the very fundamental concepts of an entire body of science known as Biology?

According to the AJC, "The state based the biology curriculum on benchmarks put forward by a respected national source, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. But while Georgia educators copied many sections, such as the nature of cells and inherited characteristics, they deleted most of the standards relating to the origin of living things." That's because, in Georgia, we're just too smart for our own good.

It's a nice little victory for fundamentalists who think the Bible is a scientific textbook, and fodder for those around the rest of the country who like to portray the South as ignorant.

Speaking of Education.... Brains Need Not Apply

This item appeared in the libertarian focused newsletter, The Advocates for Self Government:

by James W. Harris

High Achiever Is "Too Intellectual" to Teach High School

Many Georgia public high schools have serious problems. The state has ranked 50th -- worst in the nation -- in SAT scores for two years in a row.

Given that, you would think aspiring high school teacher Marquis Harris of Atlanta would be a dream-come-true for some lucky school.

As he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

"I am a 22-year-old African-American male and recent graduate of a respectable liberal arts college in Kentucky. I acquired a 3.75 grade-point average with a double major in Social Studies Secondary Education and sociology.

"I was a Rhodes Scholar nominee, inducted into the Mensa society in May 2001, named to the National Dean's List for three consecutive years, successfully competed in intercollegiate forensics and served as student body president.

"While in college I was also privileged to serve on mission trips to Mexico, Guatemala and Jamaica. In the summer of 2002 I was granted the opportunity to intern with Saxby Chambliss, who was then a U.S. representative running for the U.S. Senate. I served for two years as a court-appointed special advocate for the state of Kentucky."

"These experiences have proved to be beyond memorable and life changing. I did not become another faceless statistic of a failed minority or foster care youth. I chose to take charge of my future rather than allow myself to fall prey to the alluring, though deceiving, clutches of victimhood."

With such an outstanding record of achievement, opportunities would seem to be limitless for Harris. At first he had planned to attend law school.

After some thought, however, he decided to pursue a career as a school teacher. "I came to realize that my true calling lay in inspiring, motivating, challenging and educating other young adults."

So he applied to numerous public (government) schools in and around Atlanta -- without success.

"Certification was not the issue. I am certified to teach in Kentucky and have applied for certification in Georgia."

So what *was* the issue? Why didn't some Georgia high school grab this high-achieving, highly-motivated young black man?

Could it be that he's... too successful, too smart?

"[I]t appears that my achievements have proved to be a liability rather than an asset," Harris says.

Case-in-point: after an interview at one school, he received the following email from the principal:

"Though your qualifications are quite impressive, I regret to inform you that we have selected another candidate. It was felt that your demeanor and therefore presence in the classroom would serve as an unrealistic expectation as to what high school students could strive to achieve or become. However, it is highly recommended that you seek employment at the collegiate level; there your intellectual comportment would be greatly appreciated. Good luck."

Harris says: "After reading the email several times over, I felt as if I had been slapped in the face. It is truly a sad day in the world of education when a 22-year-old aspiring educator is informed that he is too intellectual to teach high school."

How comforting it must be to Atlanta-area parents to realize that, while many schools are failing to teach basic skills, at least some are working hard to spare young people from having "unrealistic expectations" (as the principal put it) as to what they might achieve in life.

(Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Brains Can Hurt Job Applicants")

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

|| 11:16:28 PM
And... We're back...

After a week in New York, followed by some ugly e-mail and DSL problems, we're back! Apologies for the hiatus...

It All Makes Sense Now

The current race for Atlanta's nightlife elite to take over Underground Atlanta seems just a little too convenient. I'm usually opposed to most conspiracy theories, but isn't this all just perfect from the standpoint of the city?

The City owns Underground Atlanta, and thereby loses about $6 million per year servicing the bonds for the failed project. This will be the third, and perhaps final, attempt at a renaissance for what was always supposed to be the hub of the city's nightlife. During the last resucitation attempt, the City convinced the State of Georgia to designate Underground as a "Special Entertainment District," giving it leeway in adopting alcohol laws different from anyplace else in the state. As a result, the bars and restaurants located at Underground can serve alcohol until 4am and there is no open container restrictions. Those measures were intended to give Underground a raucous, "Mardi Gras"-like atmosphere to bolster Atlanta's struggling downtown.

It didn't work.

So, now Underground is all of a sudden the place to be for long-time Buckhead establishments like Mako's, Tongue and Groove, and psuedo-gay bars like the Chamber, Masquerade and Loco Luna. Going to Underground after dark is a life-threatening experience.

I am not convinced that Council Member H. Lamar Willis, who is the biggest backer of these moves, didn't have this all planned from the beginning. And, probably several other Councilmembers realized what could happen when they called and early lights out for the rest of the City. Perhaps we're giving them too much credit for brillance here, but it seems to me to be evidence of a ulterior motive to prop up a failing has-been sore spot of the city.

And in a city like ours, where everything is racially motivated, this seems to fit the bill just fine. Why wouldn't our City Council Members want to move the economic engine of the city out of the elite white neighborhoods of Buckhead and into the afro-centric areas of downtown?

The black members of the Council were very cleaver about this and they deserve kudows for the manuvering. They almost across the board allowed Mary Norwood to take this fight on alone.... how could a white woman from Buckhead be called a racist for wanting to clean up a white neighborhood? Then, once the dust settled, folks like H. Lamar Willis moved in for the kill to make sure that the black folks in this town took full advantage of an onscure loophole giving their neighborhoods an upper hand. Nice job, Mr. Willis.

From the AJC...

"It's a little weird, a little fishy," said Asa Fain, owner of the jazz/neo-soul spot Apache Cafe in Midtown. "The government is punishing those who have earned success and forcing success on those who have not, meaning Underground Atlanta. What does that say to the real competitive business owners?" (But he's not ruling out opening a place at Underground himself.)

More bluntly, Midtown's Halo Lounge co-owner Allen Godfrey says this move is all about Buckhead forces trying to get rid of the party scene there. "It's a matter of using political ties to screw people that have made the city a great place for people to enjoy themselves," he said. "I'm sick to my stomach."

Michael Chueh, a promoter for Buckhead club SPF-15, said this is clearly a way to encourage club owners to abandon Buckhead. "It's a scam," he said. "Who wants to go to Underground? I don't. I think these clubs are going to lose a lot of money."

So now we've chased the partiers out of Buckhead because of the dangerous activity, shootings, and drunk driving. It now apparently makes perfect sense to plop all that down in the middle of one of the most crime-ridden areas or the city. The panhandlers must be loving this!

An AJC reader's comment in Thursday's Vent: "Moving late-night bars to Underground Atlanta is a great idea. Stray bullets won't travel as far."


Thursday, January 08, 2004

|| 1:23:26 AM
North for the Winter

I'm leaving for a little vacation to New York, because 28 degrees is simply not cold enough for me! I'll return on January 15. More updates then.


Tuesday, January 06, 2004

|| 10:11:02 PM
City Council Meeting

Mayor Shirley Franklin delivered her annual "State of the City" address at the opening of today's City Council meeting. You can read it here. Really, no substance there. Lots of rhetoric with quotes from Jesus, Frederick Douglas, Grandma Moses and Johnetta Cole. Mayor Franklin outlined the kind of city she wants to leave to her children and her children's children. A utopia, of sorts.

The first real business before the Council was to vote on overriding the Mayor's vetoes of the sewer plan passed by the City Council on December 1. Two of the three veto overrides failed: the increase in sewer rates and the $25 million budget reduction. The last one, granting a discount for senior citizens, was passed 10-5. Mayor Franklin had vetoed it under the advice of her legal department that the discount may be unconstitutional. The Council members correctly recognized that constitutionality is a matter for the courts, not the executive or legislative branches of government.

Next came a statement and letter by Council Member C.T Martin challenging the Mayor on her stance on the sewer issues. He accused the Mayor of giving the Atlanta business community carte blanche policy-making authority over the City.

Committee reports were generally uneventful, with the exception of Public Safety and Utilities as one might expect. For the record, the Council did NOT even once mention the bar closing issue.

C.T. Martin delivered is standard raking-over-the-coals to City Attorney Linda DiSantis during the Public Safety Report. Mr. Martin called Ms. DiSantis on the carpet for failing to inform the Council of the engagement of outside counsel to handle an EEOC charge against the City Attorney's office. The exchange was cold and hateful, to the amusement of the audience.

One of my favorite quotes of the meeting came when the Council had to approve the acceptance of $11 million in Homeland Security funds. Council Member Felicia Moore asked for further information on how the money would be spent. Among the lengthy list, was a robotic bomb detection device and a vehicle to carry the device. Council Member Boazman, as usual, provided some fun moments:

Mr. Boazman: "Wait. Did I hear that we need to purchase a bomb robot, or a vehicle to carry the robot?"
Mr. Willis (Chair of the Public Safety Committee): "Both."
Mr. Boazman: "Well, why can't it just be put in the trunk of a patrol car?"
Ms. Woolard: "It's a very fancy robot."
Mr. Boazman: "Well, I got a very fancy sister but when she need to go somewhere, she rides in the back seat of the car."

Legally Illegal

An additional item of note from the Public Safety Committee was Resolution 03-R-1970, "A Resolution by Councilmembers Derrick Boazman, Cleta Winslow, Felicia A. Moore, Natalyn M. Archibong, Ivory Lee Young, Jr., and Ceasar C. Mitchell for the protection of Citizens' Civil Liberties; instructing the Atlanta/Fulton County Library Board and the City Attorney to submit certain information to the City Council bi-annually; and for other purposes." That resolution looks harmless enough. Who doesn't want to protect civil liberties, right?

You can read the entire legislation here.

Look a little closer at this legislation. It is essentially the City's response to the U.S Patriot Act. There are about a gazillion reasons to be concerned about and opposed to the Patriot Act. It's a horrible package which provides way too much unrestricted authority to our government with no accountability to the public. This City Council bill is essectially an anti-profiling measure which has been adopted by over 225 other cities nationwide. It prevents the City of Atlanta Police Department from engaging in surveilence of groups or individuals based upon the exercise of First Amendment Rights and prohibits the collectgion of information of social views of our citizens and prohibits being stopped by police except for specific suspicion of criminal activity (i.e. driving while black). So far so good.

My problem with this legislation is that it prohibits our local police department from "the enforcement of federal immigration laws". This has been a hot issue, especially in places like California, where local politicians rely on the dependence of illegal immigrants to support their power base. This is merely the first step. There are already efforts underway for illegal immigrants to have drivers licenses and for them to be able to vote. So what separates them from citizens? This is a good question for policians. You see, elected officials derive their power and livelihood from citizens who are dependent upon those politicians for their quality of life. Illegal immigrants need more social services than your average citizen in order to establish themselves in this country. So, the politicians certainly don't want to upset those illegal immigrants.

Council Member Debi Starnes seemed to be legitimately confused by the inclusion of that provision and naively asked why it was there. "If they are not currently doing that, why are we asking them to refrain from it?" she asked. The liberals call this an "unfunded mandate" which is code for anything the imperial federal government asks us to do that we don't want to do. The bill actually argued that the APD has "no jurisdiction" in this matter. That may be technically true, but now they can't even pass that matter onto agencies who do have jurisdiction, which happens all the time in drug trafficking and other intrastate matters. Council Member Willis went so far as to call a spade a spade when he said, "In our post-September 11 world, these provisions are many times used to discriminate against Arabs and Muslims." I could write volumes on Islam, the religion of "peace," and the profiling issue. But in this case, we are actually asking our police to turn the other cheek and ignore illegal activity.

Ms. Starnes ultimately got an amendment added, and after some wrangling over semantics, the final bill probitied enforcement of immigration law "unless enforcement relates to a criminal act."

There was a group of now-elderly 60's hippy types who were there in support of this legislation wearing stickers saying "I'm Here to Support the Bill of Rights". We do have provisions in our Constitution regarding citizenship, but no where do I see a "right" to be an illegal immigrant but still be treated as a citizen. What seems to be forgotten is that these people are here illegally.

From Slugfest to Lovefest

The marquee issue of the day was, of course, the sewer issue. With the vetoes not overruled, we were back at square one. And, with the holiday break allowing for some time to blow off steam, everyone -- the Mayor, the Council, and the Public -- seemed to be in a better mood.

Clair Muller, Chair of the Utilities Committee, attempted to grab some spotlight early by asking that a substitute measure be brought forward in response to the City's Finance Department finally providing an analysis of "over 50 diffrerent scenarios" which was delivered to Council Members late Saturday night. That attempt was denied by Council Members voting along the same lines as the original legislation.

Everyone knew the real spotlight belonged to H. Lamar Willis, on behalf of the eight Council members who opposed to Mayor's plan. There was about four hours of wrangling over this issue. Two 20-minute recesses turned into an hour and 40 minutes. The Willis plan included several important assumptions: (1) all aspects of the Mayor's capital improvement projects would be fully funded, (2) no specific budget reductions were mandated, (3) no federal, state, or additional tax revenues were assumed, and (4) no cost savings were predicted. The proposal would offer savings to average and below-average users immediately and place the major burden on high-volume users such as businesses. (Of course, those business costs will be passed on to customers and tenants of rental housing.) Then, any contribution by the state or federal government, or any additional sales tax revenue, would be used to further reduce those rates.

Ms. Muller again tried to grab a few extra dollars from rate payers by substituting rate increases originally proposed by Felicia Moore instead of those by Mr. Willis. Ms. Muller emphatically outlined that her two "most important priorities are adhering to the consent decrees and, secondly, raising our bond rating." Is anyone else surprised that there is no mention from Ms. Muller on the quality of life of our citizens or their ability to pay? Nope, those things aren't among her "most important priorities."

That substitution also failed, with a vote of 6-9, with two Council members changing sides.

The stumbling block came over bond ratings and their reaction to the City's ability to cover its debt. There were many predictions over what would happen if our debt coverage ratio remained bellow 1.2 (it is currently around 1.1). Mr. Boazman attempted to get people to jump on a bandwagon blasting the Finance Department. Both Finch and S&P have said their recent downgrades of our bonds are due to the City's failure to release its 2002 audit and the over-inflated costs the City assumed when taking the Water Department back from United Water. "What are we hiding in our 2002 books?" asked Mr. Boazman.

Later, Mr. Boazman challenged the predictions of doom and gloom from the bond markets. "This ain't nothing but soothsayin', crystal ball watchin', and fantasizin'. It's like being at a Miss Cleo convention. We can't even balance a check book, be we are all of a sudden expert financial forecasters."

Ms. Muller offered a classic comment: "Over the past several years, we have tried to turn things around from previous administrations." Clair Muller has been a part of those previous administrations and has been on the City Council for 14 years. She is as much responsible for this City's problems as anyone.

The City Council eventually sent the Finance Department upstairs to crunch numbers providing a tiered rate structure which will provide a debt coverage ratio above 1.2.

Ultimately, we ended up with a UNANIMOUS vote to approve the tiered rate structure which charges customers higher rates for higher consumption. Here is how it breaks down:

Sewer Rate Increases

0-3 CCFs4-6 CCFs7+ CCFsAvg. RateDebt Ratio
* The Average User uses 8 CCFs per Month

So in 2004, the average customer will pay a 10% increase on the first 3 CCFs (which, by the way, becomes the "minimum charge" per customer), then a 26% increase on the next 3 CCFs, and a 45% increase on every additional CCF.

You can read the entire text of the actual legislation here.

The unanimous passage of this plan with 15 votes, prompted Mayor Shirley Franklin to make a surrpise visit to the Council Chambers along with several of her staffers. She prompted the Council to congratulate themselves, which garnered a standing ovation. What has been a severely divisive issue for more than a year now was suddenly a lovefest. The cheering and pats on the back were infectious, and after a short press conference for the 11pm newscast, everyone left with a smile.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

|| 10:08:12 PM
Is Shirley Coming Around?

Tomorrow should be fun down at City Hall.

Mayor Franklin will deliver her "State of the City" addresss to the City Council. The Council will later again consider measures to raise water and sewer rates to comply with federal mandates. The Council will also no doubt hear an earful from citizens on this as well as the early bar closings.

But the standoff between the Mayor and City Council may be softening. Today, the AJC reports that the Mayor "is now willing to eliminate $290.6 million in construction projects from the 2004-2008 capital projects list, according to a memo from the city's Watershed Management Department to Renay Blumenthal, the city's budget director. A total of $24 million in projects would be cut and the rest deferred until between 2009 and 2014. That means rate increases to pay for that work could be delayed until 2009 or after."

The article goes on to say, "Franklin also has said she is willing to cut $6.9 million from the proposed $136.4 million Watershed Management operating budget." That's a far cry from the $25 million in savings wished for by the City Council, but it's also a long way from Franklin's stance that they can't cut another dime out of Watershed's budget.

One of the eight Council members who supported the alternative plan which Mayor Franklin vetoed last month has now put forth an alternative plan. "The Willis Plan" from H. Lamar Willis will place the majority of the burden for the sewer repairs on the heaviest users -- Atlanta's businesses. With corporations like Georgia Pacific aggressively supporting and lobbying for Mayor Franklin's original plan, it will be interesting to see their stance on this one. "They should have no problem with it," predicts an optimistic Mr. Willis.

Also, remember that memo sent to the EPA by the Department of Watershed management predicting doom and gloom for Atlanta if we missed the January 2 deadline to advertise for sewer project bids? I commented on it here. Now, the department has softened even its stance on that. Officials at the time predicted a chain reaction of missed deadlines. Last Friday came and went with no advertisements. But, now they point out that there is a 37-day "float" in the timeline. So, there's still time to prevent the sky from falling.

City Councilman Derrick Boazman calls that "a game by the administration to try to make their position appear more grave than it really is." True, the timeline was always public knowledge, but you can read the letter for yourself and see if you think there was any allusion to it in the City's December 16 letter to the EPA. On this one, I agree with Boazman.

I'll be at the meeting tomorrow, although a bit late. I'll write about it here afterwards.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

|| 1:33:11 PM
Police Brutality in Buckhead

Councilwoman Mary Norwood must be very pleased with herself. She got her wish last night (New Year's Eve), the biggest party night of the year. Last night also marked the end of an era for the City of Atlanta. It was the effective date of earlier bar closings city-wide.

When the bars closed and patrons refused to leave the area, a band of the city's finest -- 30 patrol cars in total -- parked themselves in Buckhead and turned their sirens on. Then, the left them on. Partiers fled from the area with their hands over their ears. I can only hope that at least a few of the members of the Buckhead Coalition were wakened by the screaming sirens.

That was a ridiculous move by the Atlanta Police Department which was completely unnecessary.

Other areas of the city abided by the new closing time with no significant incidents, underscoring the fact that nighttime shenanigans seem to be a problem specific to Buckhead.

The old standby of all late-night partiers -- Backstreet in Midtown -- was apparently caught by surprise by the APD's intent to enforce the new closing times even at "private clubs." Backstreet has been in a separate battle to remain open 24 hours. Their New Year's Eve advertisements listed several DJs scheduled to throughout the night in shifts of 1AM-5AM, 5AM-9AM, and 9AM-noon. But, the club shut abruptly at 2:30AM, not even allowing patrons to retrieve articles from the coat check.

Bar owners and others opposing the earlier closing times will ask the City Council to repeal the measure passed in early December at their first meeting of the new year on January 5. Good luck to them.