Statement on Lance Bottoms Double Dipping

While Keisha Lance Bottoms says that the city’s ethics officer signed off on her double dipping–holding a Council seat and the executive director’s position for the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority-that is not completely true.

In fact, while the ethics officer says that there is no violation of the city code, she goes on to write:  “a complete ethical analysis of the issue requires the Council person as well as the AFCRA Board to evaluate whether this arrangement creates an appearance of impropriety or causes a reasonable taxpayer to question whether the interest of a Council Member serving in this position impairs that person’s ability to act in the best interest of the City. The Ethics Code does not specifically regulate “appearances of impropriety.”

The evaluation that the city’s ethics officer called for is just what state legislative counsel did: “…there may be conflicting duties due to the contractual and business relationships that could exist between the City of Atlanta and the authority.  In such cases, the sitting member of the Atlanta City Council could be put in a position of choosing between the duty of loyalty to the city and its interests and the authority and its interests.  Simply refusing to vote or disqualifying oneself from participating on issues involving the authority before the city council may not entirely correct the problem since doing so is, in essence, choosing one set of duties over another.  In such case, the duties of councilmember are rejected in favor of the duties of executive director of the authority.”

Bottoms’ having both positions robs her constituents of full representation or the Authority of full loyalty.  She should make a decision and choose between her council seat and the position as the Authority’s director.

Grant them a fair chance to participate

The Georgia Department of Transportation has a sorry history of exclusion when it comes to minority businesses. This became readily apparent in 2012, when GDOT itself commissioned a Transportation Disparity Study to examine its efforts in utilizing Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs), which included African-American and woman-owned DBEs.

The study showed that African-American businesses received just 2.4 percent of federally funded GDOT projects. Moreover, African-American businesses received an abysmal 1.1 percent of state-funded projects. At that time I said, “The study indicates that, if all things were equal, African-American businesses would receive 22 percent of GDOT’s contracts.”

Women-owned disadvantaged businesses did 8.7 percent of federally-funded GDOT projects and 3.7 percent of state-funded projects. Simply put: GDOT does not have a state DBE program.

For this reason, civil rights organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People opposed the T-SPLOST. Why? Because there was no substantive commitment to inclusion of disadvantaged businesses.

At the time the disparity study was issued, the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) campaign was going on. The T-SPLOST referenda were held in 12 regions throughout the state. The one-cent T-SPLOST would have raised $18 billion in revenue over 10 ears for transportation projects. The metro Atlanta T-SPLOST referendum failed along with eight of the other 11 referenda.

With the failure of the regional T-SPLOSTs, the need remained for money to repair and build the state’s roads, bridges and transit. But the commitment to inclusion in GDOT’s contracting was still lacking.

In 2014, a Joint Transportation Study Committee was created by the General Assembly to look at transportation funding options. That committee recommended raising as much as $1.5 billion per year.

This year, House Bill 170 was introduced in the General Assembly to put in place the revenues to fund the recommendation.

What HB-170 did not include was any consideration for ensuring African-Americans, women and other DBEs were treated fairly in the contracting process for the $1.5 billion of projects. The legislation passed the House of Representatives. The only thing done to promote minority contracting was a weak letter written by the House transportation committee chair that provided platitudes but no specific commitments.

Senate Democrats demanded the bill include language committing GDOT to the creation of a state DBE program along with policies that supported fair treatment of contractors in the awarding of contracts resulting from HB-170. The Republican leadership and its road-building allies refused to include such language.

When the bill came to the Senate floor, all 18 Democrats voted against the bill, which passed with only the bare minimum of votes necessary. Only after that show of unity did Republicans begin to earnestly negotiate with Senate Democrats. A compromise was reached.

While the DBE language was not included in the bill, there was a commitment by the DOT board that it would consider a resolution. Additionally, a fund to assist DBEs in obtaining bonding and funding of engineering scholarships for minority students were agreed upon.

HB-170, expected to raise $900 million of revenue in its final iteration, passed overwhelmingly in a bipartisan manner.

Last week, the GDOT board passed a resolution which called for the establishment of a “DBE program applicable to capital construction projects resulting from the additional state revenue generated by Transportation Act of 2015.”

The commitment on minority contracting reached during the 2015 legislative session was historic. Still, it is only one step in the movement toward ensuring sure all of those who desire to do business with the state of Georgia will have a fair chance to participate.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, a Democrat, represents District 39.

 

My Statement on the APS Cheating Scandal

Often times the wants of adults override the needs of children. There is no better evidence

of this than what has occurred over the last several years since the public became aware of

the cheating that went on in the Atlanta Public Schools. While I and some others worked to

uncover the cheating scandal others, including the Metro Chamber of Commerce, some

members of the Atlanta Board of Education and, some in City Hall, worked to put a cover up

in place. While these individuals who participated in the cover up have escaped legal

responsibility they are morally responsible for this fiasco.

I have heard from constituents and community leaders who are dissatisfied with the

remediation provided to children who were victimized by the APS cheating scandal. They

have told me their children were given short term and ineffective tutoring and remediation.

APS has a responsibility to the children who sat in classrooms and were cheated out of an

education.

1. APS should report to the general public what has been done up to this point to

remediate students as a result of the cheating scandal. The public should know how

much extra tutoring and instruction has been given students cheated during the

testing scandal.

2. APS should put in place a specific, comprehensive, and thorough program targeted

at students whose test results and scores were changed. It is not enough to say that

all students will be offered or provided remediation. That kind of ineffective shotgun

approach has not been effective and does not acknowledge the grievous harm done

to so many of Atlanta’s most vulnerable children.

During the tenure of Beverly Hall, the Atlanta Board of Education exhibited a shocking lack

of oversight. That lack of oversight should not continue.

Cameras protect police, public

However one views what happened Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo., it is easy to agree with the call by Michael Brown’s parents for the use of body cameras by police as a positive outcome of the tragic death of their son.

An array of legislative proposals to reform law enforcement have developed in the aftermath of police killings of African-Americans such as Brown, Eric Garner, Tamar Rice, John Crawford and Atlanta’s Kathryn Johnston.

These proposals include limiting no-knock warrants; repealing the state’s stand-your-ground law; the demilitarization of police; and grand jury reform, among others. All of these issues will be debated during the upcoming legislative session, and that debate will likely be contentious.

A proposal for which there may be an emerging consensus is the adoption of police body cameras. A recent poll indicated 91 percent of the public agree police should wear body cameras as they patrol our streets. Increasingly, the public believes the use of body cameras will result in fewer instances of excessive use of force by law enforcement.

Research shows this is true. In a study of body cameras in Rialto, Calif., the use of force by that city’s police department dropped by 59 percent. But body cameras also affect the actions of citizens who come into contact with the police. In the Rialto study, there was an 88 percent decline in citizen complaints made against officers. False complaints are less likely when body cameras are used. Body cameras will protect both the public and the police.

I believe that, in the best of all worlds, Georgia ought to require all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras. At the same time, the cost and maintenance of the equipment is a valid concern that must be considered.

President Barack Obama’s law enforcement reform initiative includes $75 million to cover half the cost of body cameras for 50,000 officers. That program would provide equipment to only about 8 percent of the United States’ 630,000 law enforcement officers if Congress funds the initiative. Therefore, if the more-than 25,000 officers in Georgia are to be equipped, it will be the responsibility of state and local governments.

It has been gratifying that some Georgia law enforcement agencies have moved toward adopting body cameras.

The Atlanta Police Department began studying the use of cameras earlier this year. After the killing of Brown in Ferguson, Atlanta community groups such as the Gen Y Project and the United Youth Adult Conference implored the city to move quickly in adopting body cameras. Recently, the City Council approved issuing a request for proposal for 1,200 units. The Savannah Police Department is considering using body cameras after the September shooting death of a suspect. Other departments throughout the state are considering body cameras.

Ultimately, state and local governments should see these expenditures as well spent, in that they could save a city or county millions of dollars from huge civil settlements. Atlanta settled a civil suit for $4.9 million in the 2006 Kathryn Johnston killing. Habersham County settled for $2 million with the family of pastor Jonathan Ayers, who was wrongfully killed by a county drug task force in 2009.

Adopting body cameras by police is a complex process. Data storage, privacy concerns, training and protocols must be considered. And it is critical to keep in mind, as the discussion of body cameras evolves, that they are only one part of re-creating the relationship between police and the community.

True “community policing” has to be implemented so that African-American neighborhoods and other communities of color will see law enforcement not as an occupying force, but as partners in making neighborhoods safe. One of the casualties of recent police shootings is public trust. It is time for that trust to be restored.