Fulton County officials plan to address the spread of HIV/AIDS locally, the county’s transportation needs and criminal justice reform, the county commission’s chairman told a group of Buckhead businesspeople on March 24.

Fulton Commission Chairman John Eaves said 15,000 people in the county have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, giving the county one of the highest rates of the illness in the nation.

“We’re going to address HIV/AIDS in some aggressive ways,” Eaves told members of the Buckhead Business Association.

Eaves said county officials plan to expand testing for HIV/AIDS through county public health centers and Grady Hospital, which he said was the way many people discover they have contracted the virus.

“I believe HIV/AIDS can be eliminated in our county,” he said. “Right now, the medication is available.”

He also called for an end to school sex education programs based on teaching abstinence. “I think the day of having an abstinence-based sex education in our school system is over,” he said.

On transportation, Eaves said that a proposed transportation sales tax will, if approved, provide about $1 billion for projects spread “from Alpharetta to Palmetto.” About $500 million of that would go to the city of Atlanta and about $100 million to south Fulton. The rest would be divided among the cities within the county.

“We’re very, very excited about this,” he said.

But he also said “we believe transportation problems won’t be solved by roads alone,” and said future sales-tax votes proposed in Atlanta and in the county will allow MARTA to expand its system.

Eaves said criminal justice reform was needed to reduce the number of people in local jails. “We’re beginning to look at reform of our criminal justice system to make sure the people who drop out of school don’t end up in the criminal justice system,” he said.

Also, he said, 60 percent of the county’s prisoners suffer from some form of mental illness. “Jails can’t be the default system for how you house people who are mentally ill,” he said.

Eaves said that because of the diversity of Fulton’s county commissioners, they have been able to find ways to work together and to avoid the divisiveness shown in national and state politics. “It is working by forging a common agenda,” he said.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.