Atlanta Out Loud

Politics and rantings and just stuff that catches my attention.

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.


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