As of late last week, roughly 8% of the city’s workforce had either tested positive for COVID-19 or were quarantining due to exposure.
City employees last week were told to quarantine at home for five days if they test positive for COVID, and to quarantine beyond that period if they still have a fever, according to a memo from Human Resources Commissioner Jeffrey Norman that we got ahold of.
Mission-critical employees and those unable to telework are still asked to report to work in person, if they aren’t out due to COVID.
As Dickens takes office amid a new wave of the pandemic, his actions early on will be telling in terms of his philosophy on the city’s pandemic response.
He said during an AJC Community Conversation in October that he would use “carrots instead of sticks” to urge city employees to get vaccinated before instituting penalties or additional requirements, with a goal of a 100% vaccination rate within his first 100 days.
2. What will his administration look like?
We know that Atlanta’s current Chief Operating Officer Jon Keen is staying on for a few months to help with continuity as the Dickens administration takes over at City Hall. But we still know very little about the makeup of his Cabinet and close circle of advisors, including his chief of staff. And how many of Mayor Bottoms’ close advisors will stick around?
Dickens said at an Atlanta Press Club debate back in November that he already had ideas for who he wanted to replace and the few department heads he wanted to keep.
Of course, rumors have swirled about who that could apply to — without going into specifics, Mayor Bottoms recently told Wilborn that “there are several people who have already found new opportunities.”
“Some people are leaving on their own. Most people who want to leave are making plans or have made plans,” she said.
3. How will Dickens tackle the public safety issue?
In addition to the Buckhead cityhood movement, violent crime is among the top issues Dickens will face as soon as he takes office.
Last year, Atlanta nearly surpassed 2020’s homicide total of 157, which was the most in more than two decades. We’ll be watching to see what additional steps Dickens takes in hopes of reducing violent crime and meeting his ambitious goal of hiring 250 officers in his first year. The outcome could also determine whether he keeps police Chief Rodney Bryant on behind his 100-day contract.
4. Will city-state relations smooth over?
The day after Dickens was elected, some of his first calls were to Republican state leaders like Gov. Brian Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston — a signal that he would be willing to work with them and hoped to thaw the current relationship between city and state leaders.
In the first few months of his term, those relationships will be put to the test as the General Assembly considers bills that would let Buckhead residents vote on whether to carve out Atlanta’s northside into a new city.
Buckhead cityhood is quickly becoming a statewide, partisan issue, with Republican candidates like Gary Black and David Perdue publicly endorsing the secession movement. But several business titans (who have substantial lobbying power) are now lining up against the cityhood effort, which could lead to an expensive fight under the Gold Dome this spring.
5. Will city services improve?
Dickens has vowed to use his engineer’s wit to improve the functionality of Atlanta City Hall, and promised to do an audit of all customer-facing city departments, from public works to the 311 system.
He hasn’t said when that could kick off or how long it’ll take, but many residents we spoke to during the election are eager for quick improvements to the city’s bureaucracy and services, which have also become a point of frustration for Buckhead cityhood proponents.
Fresh out of COVID isolation, Dickens celebrated his upcoming inauguration over the weekend with a day of community service followed by a reception Saturday evening. On Sunday, he held a virtual interfaith prayer vigil for the city.
We spotted incoming Council President Doug Shipman and incoming councilmembers Liliana Bakhtiari and Antonio Lewis at the reception at Pullman Yards, which had a rapid COVID testing setup outside for all attendees.
“I think I speak for the entire new council when I say I could not be more excited and more honored to be in the position to serve under Mayor Dickens,” Bakhtiari told the crowd.
Dickens sported an “Atlanta Influence Everything” tee, while Shipman had a similar idea, wearing a shirt that said “Atlanta Includes Everybody.”
As the curtain falls on Mayor Bottoms’ administration, Wilborn has the must-read recap on her four years as mayor, including an exclusive video interview with the outgoing mayor that recounts her experiences leading Atlanta during what she said “will likely go down as one of our most difficult moments in history.”
Dickens solicited the public’s ideas for “quick fixes” he can implement in the first three months of his administration. You can read a roundup of those here.
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