Across Atlanta’s boards and commissions, nearly 500 spots sit unfilled

Atlanta City Hall. (Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Credit: Tyson Horne / Tyson.Horne@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta City Hall. (Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Credit: Tyson Horne / Tyson.Horne@ajc.com

Over one third of city committee positions remain vacant, AJC review finds

Last May, as Atlanta city leaders faced calls from residents to do more to combat rising crime, the Atlanta City Council rolled out one possible solution: A new “Public Safety Commission” made up of over two dozen officials, experts and stakeholders.

Commission members would be tasked with providing the city with recommendations for making Atlanta safer.

Eight months later, the commission hasn’t met. Out of 30 total spots, only nine people have been appointed, meaning the group doesn’t have the necessarily quorum to even hold meetings or begin discussing possible solutions for reducing crime.

It’s a problem shared by dozens of the city’s boards, commissions and task forces.

As a new mayor and City Council begin their terms, 488 spots across 123 committees are currently unfilled. The groups include those created by the city and those affiliated with Atlanta to which elected leaders make appointments.

That’s over one third of all positions, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of city records that track appointments.

ExploreFull list of Atlanta task force and commission positions

The groups missing appointments include essential government bodies like the Zoning Review Board, as well as more specific committees like the Westside Affordable Housing Trust Fund Commission and Keep Atlanta Beautiful Commission. Many are designed to have citizen members who provide input and oversight for city agencies, such as the Code Enforcement Commission, which has six vacant spots.

In the most extreme cases, vacancies mean groups like the Public Safety Commission aren’t able to meet, though officials said last week they hope to get that group off the ground this year.

Another example, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Planning Commission was created by the City Council in 2016 to help find ways to make the city safer for walkers and cyclists. It has 16 spots, all of which are vacant, according to the city’s report.

In other cases, unfilled appointments can mean a smaller number of members make decisions on crucial city issues. For example, the Zoning Review Board, which makes critical recommendations on zoning cases facing the city, is built to have nine members. Right now, it only has six, meaning it only takes a handful of people to make a majority.

“It impedes their ability to have the full range of expertise and geographic diversity that should be on that board,” said Matthew Garbett, co-founder of urbanism advocacy organization ThreadATL and a close watcher of city business. “I think it just generally shows that maybe we have too many boards, but maybe just they’re not being taken seriously.”

ExploreMore Atlanta City Hall coverage from the AJC

Responsibilities for appointments fall on elected leaders like the mayor, council president and individual councilmembers, as well as entities like Neighborhood Planning Units, local business groups or the school board.

The slate of newly elected officials at City Hall have a chance to make a dent in the vacancies.

“It’s one of the first things I asked for when I walked in. I said, ‘Please give me the list ... of all the appointments the City Council president makes,’” said Doug Shipman, who was sworn into that role at the beginning of the year.

Shipman has served on a few city-created commissions himself in the past, and said they’re a good way to increase transparency and trust with the community.

“Maybe we have too many boards, but maybe just they're not being taken seriously."

- Matthew Garbett, co-founder of ThreadATL

“It’s a great opportunity to bring people into the workings of the city. It’s a great participation model who may not know as much,” Shipman said.

The council president is tasked with appointing nearly 70 spots — 21 of which aren’t filled, records show.

About 75 appointments that fall under the mayor’s purview are vacant.

A spokesman for Mayor Andre Dickens, who also began his term less than a month ago, said he “has already begun meeting with current mayoral appointees to city boards and commissions and looks forward to making appointments that are aligned with the administration’s priorities and reflect the rich diversity of Atlanta.”

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Many of the appointments fall to the mayor's office. A spokesman for Mayor Andre Dickens, pictured here with city of Atlanta DOT Commissioner Josh Rowan, said he hopes to make a dent in the vacancies. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Many of the appointments fall to the mayor's office. A spokesman for Mayor Andre Dickens, pictured here with city of Atlanta DOT Commissioner Josh Rowan, said he hopes to make a dent in the vacancies. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Many of the appointments fall to the mayor's office. A spokesman for Mayor Andre Dickens, pictured here with city of Atlanta DOT Commissioner Josh Rowan, said he hopes to make a dent in the vacancies. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

First-term Councilman Jason Dozier said he’s asked his team to look into the appointments his office is tasked with making. He said the city should have a better mechanism in place to make officials aware of open spots that need to be filled.

“It requires a more comprehensive review across the whole system so we have some accountability measures in place,” Dozier said. “That’s just good stewardship of the city.”

Councilman Dustin Hillis, who is tasked with having purview over the Public Safety Commission, said he hopes to get the body up and running this year.

“There are some (groups) that go back decades,” Hillis said, adding that officials should review the list of groups and sunset committees that haven’t been active for years. “Sometimes, councilmembers just introduce papers to stand up committees to make it look like they’re on top of something.”

But there’s no sign the pace of new committees will slow down any time soon. On Tuesday the council voted to create a new Buckhead Public Safety Task Force, and legislation was introduced to add members to the Public Safety Commission.


The full list of current positions and vacancies is available online. Anyone interested in serving on a city board can contact the appointing authority for more information.