By John Schaffner
Canopy Keepers Atlanta might not survive as the name for a new grass-roots group organizing to protect Atlanta’s trees — thus its tree canopy — by insisting the city’s tree protection ordinance be enforced as intended, fairly, consistently and without exception.
The name was what the group of about 15 people — several longtime activists for trees — came up with for the organization at the end of a two-hour meeting May 11 at the home of Dr. Jeri Breiner on Woodhaven Road in Buckhead.
But the vote was not unanimous, and all agreed to consider it again at the next meeting, June 1 at the same location. Several in the group preferred the name The Tree Next Door.
While the group was not able to decide on a permanent name or a mission statement — those items were sent to committee for consideration at the next meeting — all of the participants understood they were there because they want to protect Atlanta’s healthy trees from being cut down willy-nilly.
During remarks welcoming the group to her home, Breiner said: “This is not just about reinstating Tom Coffin (Atlanta’s former chief field arborist, who was fired by the city last year), although that is part of it.
“Tom got squashed because he tried to help us save the trees.”
Breiner, who said her father was a developer and she is not what is thought of as a “tree hugger,” said: “House by house, we are losing our trees. Development by development, we are losing our trees.”
Apologizing for the absence of several people who had said they would attend the meeting, she said a pastor once gave a profound piece of advice: “Never underestimate the voice of one person.”
She challenged the group: “If we can all be one person together, what an important impact we can have.”
Coffin, who was at the meeting and is one of the group’s organizers, said his case against the city over his firing should not be the focus for creating the organization. “What we need in the city is a group like this that can work with people, informing them of the tree ordinance and insisting that the ordinance be enforced.”
The consensus was that the organization, whatever it is called, needs both a vision and a mission statement.
Faced with a meeting agenda suggested in advance and a two-hour time frame, the group elected as meeting chair Patti Jenkins, who is with Tree Climbers International and treeinspection.com.
Jenkins guided the discussion toward an organization that consists of three primary committees: legal and fundraising; education; and advocacy, which will include lobbying. Education was described as possibly the most important function the organization will perform.
It was suggested that the organization should be a resource for providing people to serve on the city’s Tree Commission, which is supposed to have at least 13 members but has never had more than eight or nine. Volunteer members to the Tree Commission are nominated by members of the City Council and the mayor.
City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, a Buckhead resident and candidate for mayor, attended more than half the meeting before having to leave for another engagement.