Inside City Hall: Can Atlanta show voters it knows how to spend an extra $750M?

Much of the infrastructure money, if approved by voters, would go toward transportation projects. (AJC FILE PHOTO)

caption arrowCaption
Much of the infrastructure money, if approved by voters, would go toward transportation projects. (AJC FILE PHOTO)

A weekly roundup of the most important things you need to know about Atlanta City Hall

Early voting starts today for the statewide primaries in this year’s midterm elections. And in addition to the Democrat and Republican races on the ballot, Atlanta residents will have the choice to vote for or against what officials said would be the biggest infrastructure investment in the city’s history.

Three different ballot questions will ask voters if they want to approve the continuation of the T-SPLOST sales tax (an additional 4 cents on a $10 purchase) that would raise $350 million, and a separate $400 million revenue bond.

The money would fund improvements to public safety facilities, parks and recreation spaces and transportation infrastructure.

You can see a full project list on the city’s website.

caption arrowCaption
After some instructions, Mayor Andre Dickens (right) tries his hand at repairing a pothole. Dickens and ATLDOT Commissioner Josh Rowan joined the "pothole posse" ahead of Mayor Dickens' 100th day in office In Atlanta on Monday, April 11, 2022. Mayor Dickens announced at his April 4 State of the City that he was bringing back the pothole posse, a program started by former mayor Shirley Franklin in the early 2000s.(Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

After some instructions, Mayor Andre Dickens (right) tries his hand at repairing a pothole.  Dickens and ATLDOT Commissioner Josh Rowan joined the "pothole posse" ahead of Mayor Dickens' 100th day in office In Atlanta on Monday, April 11, 2022.  Mayor Dickens announced at his April 4 State of the City that he was bringing back the pothole posse, a program started by former mayor Shirley Franklin in the early 2000s.(Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

caption arrowCaption
After some instructions, Mayor Andre Dickens (right) tries his hand at repairing a pothole. Dickens and ATLDOT Commissioner Josh Rowan joined the "pothole posse" ahead of Mayor Dickens' 100th day in office In Atlanta on Monday, April 11, 2022. Mayor Dickens announced at his April 4 State of the City that he was bringing back the pothole posse, a program started by former mayor Shirley Franklin in the early 2000s.(Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Some residents and transportation advocates, though, have concerns. That’s because the city struggled with the rollout of the first T-SPLOST program, which was approved by voters in 2016. The total cost of the work ended up exceeding the budget, and projects were delayed for years.

Officials within the mayor’s office are hoping the new measures pass. A group called Moving Atlanta Forward sent out mailers to residents last week urging them to vote yes on the ballot questions, saying the money would support “badly needed improvements to Atlanta infrastructure.”

It’s part of a push to show residents in the next few weeks that the new administration at City Hall can be trusted to properly spend an additional $750M in tax dollars.

Asked during an Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial board meeting last month how he hopes to do that, Mayor Andre Dickens acknowledged that the city needs to get better at implementing transportation projects for which residents have spent years waiting.

The mayor stressed that when he helped put the project list together as a councilman last year, they made conservative estimates and adjusted for future inflation so they wouldn’t overbudget. He’s also promised to overhaul the city’s procurement process.

caption arrowCaption
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: robert.andres@ajc.com

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: robert.andres@ajc.com

caption arrowCaption
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: robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Now, your City Hall insiders have learned legislation is set to be introduced during Monday’s City Council meeting aimed at providing more accountability in the rollout of the new spending, if passed by voters. The ordinance as drafted would institute yearly financial audits, require quarterly updates from officials, make the project list binding and create a oversight committee.

---

Get excited, local government junkies! The formal city budget process starts this week at City Hall, with the Dickens administration expected to release its proposed budget to the City Council.

Later this week, starting Thursday, various city departments and unions are set to present to councilmembers their priorities for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Residents can chime in throughout the budget process, too: Public hearings are scheduled for June 7 and 15. We’ll keep you posted in the coming weeks with important updates about this budget cycle and how they could impact Atlantans.

---

A pair of city audits released last week scrutinized operations at City Hall. One took a deep dive into the city’s maintenance of its streetlights; the other looked at the city’s protocols for direct payments. This graphic provides a hint for what the streetlight audit showed:

---

We told you last week about the proposal to start a recurring “Streets Alive” program on Peachtree Street that would shut the road down to cars once a month starting next year.

The proposal went before the transportation committee on Wednesday, with stakeholders on both sides of the issue giving their thoughts during the public comment period.

Notably, the president and CEO of the Fox Theatre, Allan Vella, said the Fox is against the idea. He worries it would hurt theater attendance on Sundays — a popular day for shows — and impede patrons’ ability to get to the Fox if they can’t drive on Peachtree. He suggested making the event quarterly instead of monthly.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association, the residents’ organization for downtown, is in “total support” of the proposal, the group’s president told us.

caption arrowCaption
Fox Theatre President & CEO Allan Vella speaks at the Georgia Chamber’s “Eggs & Issues” breakfast at the Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta, Georgia on January 12th, 2022. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Fox Theatre President & CEO Allan Vella speaks at the Georgia Chamber’s “Eggs & Issues” breakfast at the Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta, Georgia on January 12th, 2022. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

caption arrowCaption
Fox Theatre President & CEO Allan Vella speaks at the Georgia Chamber’s “Eggs & Issues” breakfast at the Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta, Georgia on January 12th, 2022. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

---

Chauncey Alcorn at Capital B Atlanta has a piece looking at the latest updates in the longstanding legal dispute between the city and residents in the Peoplestown neighborhood.

---

Officials at the Atlanta Police Foundation aren’t disclosing the exact timeline for the groundbreaking and construction of the city’s new police and fire training center in DeKalb County because of fears of protests, John Ruch at Saporta Report reports. The project saw major public pushback when it was proposed and voted on last year; several people have since set up an encampment at the massive site and sabotaged construction equipment.

WILBORN NOBLES III

Wilborn P. Nobles III covers the Atlanta mayor's policies for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Wil (not "Willie" or "William") previously covered Baltimore County government at The Baltimore Sun, but he never finished "The Wire." He also covered education for the Times-Picayune in his hometown of New Orleans, so he tries to avoid discussions about football. Wil used to play tuba for his high school marching band, but he eventually put down his horn to intern at The Washington Post. The Louisiana State University graduate enjoys gardening, comedy, and music.

Wilborn.Nobles@ajc.com

J.D. CAPELOUTO

J.D. Capelouto is a local news reporter covering City Hall and all things intown Atlanta for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His work focuses the City Council, neighborhood issues, public safety, housing and transportation. J.D. was born and raised in Atlanta and has lived in the city all his life, except for four years at Boston University, where he studied journalism and learned how to dress for cold weather. He’s been with the AJC since 2018, and has previously written for The Boston Globe and the Thomson Reuters Foundation. When he’s not reporting or scrolling through Twitter, J.D. enjoys pop culture podcasts, “Survivor” and visiting various pools around Atlanta.

Joseph.Capelouto@ajc.com