By John Schaffner

Declaring “water is one of our key issues of the century,” Shirley Franklin, delivering her final yearly talk as Atlanta’s mayor to the Buckhead Business Association (BBA), said, “The hardest thing I do is to think out 50 years and then to work back.”

Franklin told the group of about 200 business and civic leaders at the quarterly luncheon meeting that the question is: “What do we have to do today in order to ensure that we have a vibrant economy and a safe city and a clean city and a well-educated work force and acceptable health care 50 years from now?”

She said she is clear that her service the past eight years is largely determined by what people need 30, 40 or 50 years from now.

“The options that I have had as mayor — the programs, the initiatives, my ability to say that I have been mayor of a great city like Atlanta — had a lot less to do with what I have done in the last eight years, but a whole lot to do with what people did 50 years ago and 40 years ago and 30 years ago,” she said.

“So I would like people to look back in 50 years and believe that we have taken the right steps,” she said, “to ensure that our children’s children’s children have the same kind of options to invest in themselves and invest in their community and that their community will be in a position to give back.”

Franklin noted that she’s nearing the end of her term and said, “Some of you are saying hallelujah.”

She said her philosophy, ever since about her second week as mayor, has been “I can’t please all the people all the time. I do my best to be smart on the issues, to be fair, in the analysis to be broad and comprehensive, and we just go straight forward to get results on the things we think are important for Atlanta.”

She explained that the city is growing faster than its infrastructure. “That is not something we can stop or start on a dime.”

Since the early 2000s, there has been a 25 percent net increase in people living in the city — much of it in Buckhead. “We are one of the few cities in America that has experienced that,” she said. “At the same time, the region has been growing. The demand for inner-city services, recreation, jobs and education have increased at the same time.”

In 1975, metro Atlanta had a population of 1.7 million. Thirty years later, the number is nearing 6 million, she said. “The decisions we made in 1975 were good, solid decisions, but as we move forward, we need to recognize that we are continuing to grow even in a down economy.”

“The truth of the matter is they (people) are very likely to continue to come throughout our lives,” Franklin said. “So our job then becomes — as a city official, county official or private-sector person — to find those things that we can do to ensure that future generations are as fortunate as we have been to live in a city that had a strong economy … to live in a city that had the natural resources that it needed, to live in a city that had access to education and health care.”

Along that discussion, Franklin began the July 23 speech at 103 West in Buckhead by praising Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue for his leadership in working toward ensuring that water will be accessible for Georgians for years to come.

Franklin arrived at the BBA luncheon from a meeting the governor had called that day with local and statewide elected and business leaders to talk about the impact of a federal judge’s ruling that essentially gave Georgia three years to get the issue of drawing water from Lake Lanier for Atlanta resolved — either by Congress or through negotiations with Florida and Alabama — or lose the right to that water supply.

Franklin said Perdue “made it very clear this is not a partisan issue; it is not an Atlanta issue. This is an issue for all of Georgia.

“I applaud him for his leadership because it is indeed a very serious issue and one that will require all of us to tighten our belts and turn off our faucets — not because there is not enough water, but because we want to preserve the water that we have going forward.”