Atlanta City Council President revises committee list after racial criticism

Atlanta City Council president Doug Shipman speaks at the Council meeting after a five-minute break, prior to vote on a measure to lease Atlanta jail beds to Fulton County Jails on Monday, August 15, 2022. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Atlanta City Council president Doug Shipman speaks at the Council meeting after a five-minute break, prior to vote on a measure to lease Atlanta jail beds to Fulton County Jails on Monday, August 15, 2022. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman recently changed his committee chair assignments after his colleagues criticized his initial list for lacking Black women in leadership roles.

Atlanta’s council president assigns his 15 council members into seven groups of seven committees, which fine-tune legislation for everything ranging from public safety and utilities to zoning and infrastructure. The committees decide if legislation moves to the full council for approval.

Black women have served as Atlanta council committee chairs for the last 40 years. Shipman initially shattered that trend when he unveiled his 2023 appointments at last month’s council meeting. Two of Atlanta’s Black councilwomen — Andrea Boone and Marci Collier Overstreet — called Shipman’s decision an “egregious error” in a Sunday advertisement in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.

“It does not serve the public interest to mute the voices of every Black woman elected to the City Council,” the ad said.

Council member Marci Collier Overstreet sits on the dais as the Atlanta City Council held their first in person meeting since they were suspended at start of the pandemic In Atlanta on Monday, March 21, 2022.   (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: Bob Andres/AJC

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Credit: Bob Andres/AJC

On Monday morning, Shipman tweeted Overstreet will continue to serve as Zoning Committee chair given the concerns shared by his council and the community.

“The challenges and opportunities our city faces require us to work together and engage all parts of our communities,” Shipman tweeted. “I believe the updated slate of committee assignments will allow us to work for all the residents of our city.”

At Monday’s council meeting, two NAACP officials thanked Shipman for the changes. But resident Duwon Robinson criticized Shipman. Robinson didn’t mention Overstreet by name, but he criticized her and the other incumbent committee chairs for not urging Shipman to put new leaders in charge.

Councilmembers Antonio Lewis and Keisha Sean Waites told the public at the end of the meeting that they will continue to stand on the side of justice. Boone told the public to continue to call out bigotry and bias. Overstreet clarified that she thinks every councilmember is capable of being phenomenal committee chairs.

“My goal was just to make sure that our diversity and our demographics here in Atlanta would never be diluted, not even unintentionally,” Overstreet said.

Atlanta’s code states the council can reject any or all of the council president’s committee appointments with a majority vote. The council declined to take that action at Monday’s meeting.

There has been tension between Shipman and the council before. Last February, Shipman and Councilman Matt Westmoreland were both nominated by colleagues to represent the council on the Atlanta Regional Commission board. The council’s vote for who to select came out tied.

Shipman withdrew his name after the law department and Councilman Michael Julian Bond said the council president isn’t eligible because he’s technically not a “member” of council. The last two council presidents served on the ARC board.

Just under 50% of Atlanta’s population is listed as Black in the latest census from 2020. And Atlanta’s current council roster is historically diverse. It consists of eight Black members, five white members, two Iranian Americans and one Chinese American. Four of them are openly LGBTQ members.