Atlanta’s Neighborhood Planning Unit system staff are now reporting directly to the City Planning commissioner’s office in a technical but significant change intended to improve communications and public participation, according to an internal memo.

Tim Keane, commissioner of Atlanta’s Department of City Planning.

“This strategic move will better position the newly centralized team to engage the community on issues of importance to you, keep you informed on citywide initiatives and increase public participation citywide,” wrote City Planning Commissioner Tim Keane in the May 3 memo to NPU chairs. The city’s “NPU Team” previously worked within the Office of Zoning and Development.

The change, which went into effect May 6, comes as a nonprofit called the Center for Civic Innovation is conducting a study of possible reforms of the NPU system, a group of citizen advisory councils that review zoning, planning and other big issues for city government. It is unclear whether the CCI’s work had an influence on the change. Spokespeople for the city and the Department of City Planning did not respond to questions, and CCI could not immediately be reached for comment.

At the May 7 meeting of Buckhead’s NPU-B, chair Nancy Bliwise announced the shift, calling it a “major change in the management of the NPU system.” She said that “hopefully we’ll be getting more information” and better training for NPU members.

Poor communications have been a regular complaint in cases discussed by NPU-B as well as NPU-A, which covers another part of Buckhead.

Keane’s memo said the change will cause no “disruptions” in NPU Team assistance to the NPUs. He also announced a new interim assistant director of the NPU Team, Leah LaRue. He said she will contact each NPU chair to introduce herself and “to learn more about how you think we can improve community engagement.”

LaRue will report to Janide Sidifall, who is deputy commissioner of operations within the City Planning department, the memo said.

Keane’s memo made no mention of the CCI review of the NPU system. An update on the CCI review was on NPU-B’s May 7 agenda, but the meet ran long and out of time, causing the item to be tabled.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.