Atlanta’s Rising Murder Rate Poses Challenges

  New Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields declared last Friday at her first press conference that she is committed “to clean up this violent crime.” She is referring to the fact that in 2016 Atlanta’s murder rate soared to be the deadliest in a decade. The city recorded 111 murders – and that number, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, is a 39 percent increase from when Mayor Kasim Reed took office in 2009. In fact, Atlanta’s homicide rate has jumped 17 percent since 2015. “We’re developing new strategies to deal with the rise in murders, carjackings… crimes that shake the public’s confidence,” the mayor says. However, Shields was short on details. The new chief did say that “the current juvenile justice system is simply not working,” and noted that 1,100 juveniles were arrested in 2016. Five teenagers alone, she said, were arrested 101 times for their alleged roles in 120 crimes. Observers note, though, that Shields didn’t emphasize dealing with the growing criminal gang problem – all too many of them juveniles— plaguing Georgia’s capital city. Officials with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation estimate there are about 20,000 gang members in metro Atlanta. In fact, as early as 2003, federal reports recognized growing concern in Georgia over the increased presence of older and more experienced gang members from Chicago and Los Angeles. And it is reported that Georgia has one of the largest populations of the feared Los Angeles-born street gang MS 13. Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds, however, does provide specifics when it comes to the rising Atlanta area murders which are often gang-related. He says there are...

Atlanta’s Watershed Head Comes From Trouble

  When Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed named Kishia Powell to head the city’s troubled watershed department, eyebrows were raised because of her past record with the Jackson, Mississippi, city government. Now a lawsuit by Jackson’s former Equal Business Opportunity Manager Stephanie Coleman is tying troubling accusations back to Powell and the unfolding Atlanta city hall contracting scandal. Coleman alleges that “folks at the top were really upset with me” because she objected to the Jackson evaluation committee’s attempts to steer contracts to friends of Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber. The city fired Coleman shortly after that, according to her complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. One of the alleged schemes she objected to involved officials changing the evaluation scores of the proposals for a sludge-hauling contract which, in turn, favored one of Yarber’s campaign donors, Socrates Garrett. The alleged score changing was reported at the time by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger newspaper and other Mississippi news outlets. As the Clarion-Ledger stated: “After that, Coleman alleged, Yarber notified her that members of the evaluation committee said she was the one who changed the scores. Coleman said she responded by telling the mayor that only the engineering firm managing the proposals, CDM Smith, and then-Public Works Director Kishia Powell had access to the scores. “Mayor Yarber stated that he wanted me to state that I had changed the scoring sheets anyway. He said that I had nothing to lose by admitting this, but Kishia Powell could lose her license as a professional engineer if it was determined that she altered the scoring sheets” – at least, that’s what Coleman’s affidavit alleges. Coleman said...

The Sally Yates Firing

What do U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and President Donald Trump have in common? They both think Sally Yates is a second-rate lawyer. A lot of Georgia Democrats want to forget what happened in September 2009, when the prominent black congressman called then-White House counsel Greg Craig to try to block Yates from being appointed by the Obama administration as a U.S. attorney in Georgia. Why did Lewis attack her? As a federal prosecutor, she had won a corruption conviction against former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, a longtime friend and ally of Lewis. Of course, that was then and this is now. This week Yates was back in the news when, as the Obama-appointed acting attorney general, she told Justice Department lawyers not to defend Trump’s executive order temporarily banning people from seven countries that are terrorist havens. “It’s so easy to be a heroine when you’re not appointed by this president, and when you’re on the other side,” liberal Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz declared. “She made a serious mistake.” The professor especially noted she had no right to tell the other department lawyers to disobey a lawful order. (Yates was fired by Trump and succeeded by a place-holder until attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions is confirmed by the Senate.) Some Georgia Democrats are praising her as a “martyr” after the firing and are even encouraging her to return home and consider running for governor in 2018. A one-time Atlanta attorney and now a legal scholar with the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, however, says not so fast. “There is no doubt that Yates is going to be portrayed as a...

Atlanta mayoral candidates spar at Buckhead Coalition luncheon

  Transportation. Crime. Transparency. Race. These hot topics dominated the annual, invitation-only Buckhead Coalition luncheon yesterday featuring eight Atlanta mayoral candidates. (Qualifying for the office actually begins in September.) The mayoral hopefuls attending were former city official Peter Aman, City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, state Sen. Vincent Fort, City Councilman Kwanza Hall, City Council President Cesar Mitchell, City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, former Workforce Development Agency head Michael Sterling and former City Council president Cathy Woolard. Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell, a former Atlanta mayor, asked two questions of all the candidates: Why would they be a good mayor and what voter blocs/coalitions could they build in order to win. All gave a good accounting of their qualifications and campaign themes but Aman in particular dodged the second question. Norwood, who barely lost the 2009 mayor’s race, pointed to strengths in various black and white neighborhoods; Bottoms emphasized that she wins big in her vote-rich district; Hall pointed out that as an African-American he has won twice in a large majority white district. Mitchell pointed to black-white coalitions he has built and Woolard pointed out that she has won citywide before and knows how to do it again. Fort took a strident stand against criminal gangs and corruption— citing the developing E.R. Mitchell bribery scandal that is affecting the reputation of city governance. Norwood also pledged a tougher crime fight, as did Sterling. Bottom line from attendee reaction: All these candidates are qualified. But, with the exception of Norwood and Mitchell, the others don’t appear to have – as yet— an effective citywide grassroots...

‘Destination Resort’ Bill Elicits Governor’s reaction

  The re-tooled 28-page “Destination Resort” constitutional amendment by Sen. Brandon Beach– the word “casino” is never mentioned—is the talk of the Capitol and has elicited a gubernatorial response. In the bill, one site would be slated for the Atlanta area, with a minimum $2 billion investment stipulation; the second resort is allowed in an un-named location somewhere in Georgia with a minimum $450 million investment. There is no pari-mutuel horse race wagering component, and an identical companion resort bill will be introduced in the House by Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah. The legislation would create a gaming commission– Beach says its follows the “Nevada model”– with members appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House of Representatives. A payment of 20 percent in state taxes would be levied for these casino/hotel/restaurant/entertainment complexes. (Last year’s legislative version called for a 12 percent tax rate but allowed for six casino-centered resorts.) Seventy percent of revenues would go toward the popular HOPE college scholarship and 30 percent toward a new “needs-based” student scholarship fund. “No expenditure of taxpayer money is involved regarding this legislation,” Beach says. Gov. Nathan Deal, however, issued a cautionary note: “We need to be absolutely certain that if a casino bill passes, it doesn’t adversely impact a lottery program for the state. That is the first big marker – to make sure that we don’t devastate what is probably perceived as the most successful lottery program in the country.” A constitutional amendment requires two-thirds approval from each chamber of the General Assembly. If it passes, and proponents say sponsors would have to cobble together...

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