By David Pendered
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin used her final State of the City speech to the City Council on Jan. 5 to outline her accomplishments over seven years in office.
Franklin touted ethics reform, more police officers and green space, the city’s first comprehensive transportation plan, efficiencies that reduced the cost of services, and upgrades to the sewage system.
“There is no question that our city is better today than it has been in years,” she said.
“While it may seem that the light is a little dimmer today due to the recession and financial challenges we face as a nation and as a city, Atlanta’s future is a bright one,” Franklin said. “Atlanta is on the threshold of greatness but has a long way to go.”
Franklin told the council she would not read her entire speech because it’s posted on the city’s Web site (www.atlanta.gov). She spoke for 11 minutes and paraphrased from a text that began with a quote from President John F. Kennedy and referenced Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., who presided during the 1960s.
Leaders of city worker organizations said they were shocked the mayor didn’t talk longer.
They wanted to hear Franklin’s goals for her last year in office and her thoughts about navigating a predicted budget shortfall of $50 million or more, even after layoffs and furloughs have been enacted, fire stations and recreation centers have been shuttered, and even City Hall is closed on Fridays.
“I was disappointed there weren’t some plans laid out or initiatives laid out for alleviating the fears of citizens over the cuts in city services, fire, police, water, sanitation,” said Chip Warren, a former Atlanta police officer who led the police union in the 1990s and is a regional representative for the Professional Association of City Employees, which says it represents about 350 of 2,500 eligible Atlanta employees.
Jim Daws, the president of the Atlanta Professional Fire Fighters Association, said the mayor “glossed over” the budget woes.
“The city is in dire financial straits and barely able to provide the basics of public safety,” Daws said. “To ignore that and talk about less significant achievements is — how should I say — less than candid.”
Councilman Howard Shook, who represents Buckhead, said Franklin’s speech was about what he expected.
“It was a predictable set of remarks winding up an eight-year term,” he said. “You can’t expect an outgoing mayor to set new initiatives. This was a recitation of accomplishments and an acknowledgment of perilous economic times.”
Shook said he wished Franklin had provided council members a written copy of her speech, as he said is the tradition. He said he was especially interested in the full speech because Franklin said at the outset she was truncating her remarks.
Councilwoman Mary Norwood said the speech was both a summation of what the mayor sees as her legacy and a nod to the future.
“The mayor said that we’re on the brink of greatness and the next mayor should be forward-thinking,” Norwood said. “If I’m fortunate enough to be the next mayor, I will certainly work hard toward having the city work for all of us.”
Franklin did not mention a $250 million bond referendum proposed for the ballot this November. The next mayor will be elected on the same ballot.
The spending plan was presented with little fanfare in a Dec. 17 report posted on the city’s Web page. The first mention of the proposed referendum appears on Page 27 of a 32-page report, “State of the City’s Infrastructure.” The report was compiled by the city’s Office of Program Management.
The referendum won’t appear unless the council approves it. The council also would have to approve the amount of borrowing and the projects to be funded. The report suggests spending the money on infrastructure projects that touch on public safety: “bridges, traffic signal systems, fleet and public safety facilities, streets and sidewalks.”
Franklin’s prepared text ran to 10 pages. An aide distributed copies with pages printed on the front and back, a tacit acknowledgment of the cost of paper and the city’s goal of being more environmentally friendly.