Inside City Hall: Our takeaways from the first 2 weeks of Andre Dickens’ tenure

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens addresses the crowd during the unveiling of the new Buckhead mini-precinct on Thursday, January 13, 2022. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens addresses the crowd during the unveiling of the new Buckhead mini-precinct on Thursday, January 13, 2022. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens may still be in the “honeymoon phase” of his administration, as he said Monday at Ebenezer Baptist Church’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day memorial service. But it feels like he hasn’t had much time to breathe, given the number of immediate challenges facing the city, from solid waste staff shortages to a winter storm to, of course, the Buckhead cityhood movement.

We knew going into the new year that fighting the secession push would be a top priority for the new mayor. And that was perhaps never more evident than it was last week, which ended with a legislative victory for the anti-cityhood campaign. Our main takeaway: The second week of Dickens’ term showed how he is trying to attack the cityhood issue from all angles, with a number of public appearances made more symbolic in the context of the secession fight. A recap:

- From a governing and public safety perspective, Dickens is now able to cite that Atlanta police are opening a new precinct in Buckhead during his tenure. He was on hand Thursday with several other city officials, including the two council members who represent Buckhead, to unveil the new space, which the city is leasing from Cousins Properties for just $1 a year.

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Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens stands with Atlanta Chief Police Rodney Bryant during the unveiling of the new Buckhead mini-precinct. Thursday, January 13, 2022. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens stands with Atlanta Chief Police Rodney Bryant during the unveiling of the new Buckhead mini-precinct. Thursday, January 13, 2022. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens stands with Atlanta Chief Police Rodney Bryant during the unveiling of the new Buckhead mini-precinct. Thursday, January 13, 2022. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

- On a neighborhood level, he made time to join the virtual Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods meeting last week, telling the residents and neighborhood leaders to “please call on me and call on my team to show up early and often.”

- On perhaps the most important angle, the political front, Dickens again met with state political leaders last week, and spoke at the Eggs and Issues Breakfast that marks the beginning of the legislative session. His new intergovernmental affairs director and a deputy chief of staff plan to be at the Gold Dome often throughout the session.

The new mayor said he was “elated” to learn that Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan on Thursday assigned the Buckhead cityhood bill to a Senate committee made up only of Democrats, who are likely to bottle up the Senate bill for now.

ExploreDuncan deals a blow to Buckhead cityhood push

But the fight isn’t over for the Buckhead City Committee. As followers of the Georgia Legislature know, no bill is truly dead until the end of the session. And during his MLK Day speech, Dickens acknowledged the honeymoon phase won’t last forever, adding: “I’m not naïve.”

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While City Hall is closed to the public and City Council meetings are virtual, the building’s atrium is still playing host to a number of events.

Thursday night, Dickens hosted 75 nonprofits for a summit focused on supporting young men of color in Atlanta. He mentioned the program earlier in the day when asked about possible avenues to address concerns surrounding the young men who sell water at street corners, more commonly known as the “water boys.”

On Friday, the city hosted an employee vaccination event in the City Hall atrium to encourage city workers to get their COVID shots.

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Mayor Dickens talks with ATL DOT Commissioner Josh Rowan (right) about snow preparations at the ATL DOT North Avenue Facility in Atlanta on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Mayor Dickens talks with ATL DOT Commissioner Josh Rowan (right) about snow preparations at the ATL DOT North Avenue Facility in Atlanta on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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Mayor Dickens talks with ATL DOT Commissioner Josh Rowan (right) about snow preparations at the ATL DOT North Avenue Facility in Atlanta on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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The Council Corner: The City Council meets today at 1 p.m. and is expected to vote on legislation to create a Buckhead Public Safety Task Force, an idea spearheaded by Councilwoman Mary Norwood.

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We now have our hands on the campaign finance reports for the mayor’s race spanning the last few days of the runoff and the month of December.

Dickens’ campaign raised nearly $700,000 during that period, reporting a total of over $3 million in contributions throughout the campaign. It has about $91,000 on hand, with outstanding payments totaling $86,000, according to his report, due at the end of the year.

Felicia Moore ended the year with $14,000 in her campaign’s bank account, having received $280,000 since late November.

Former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also submitted her campaign’s end-of-year finance report; she has just under $150,000 still in the bank. We noticed she spent $42,000 on polling back in August.

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ICYMI: Dickens announced his new chief operating officer will be Atlanta Habitat for Humanity President and CEO Lisa Gordon. Her first day will be Feb. 7. This is a major appointment, given that the COO is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the city government.

Also, J.D. took a closer look at the laws surrounding cityhood movements in Georgia, and why we know so little about the money fueling behind the Buckhead cityhood movement.

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If you have any feedback, story ideas, tips or City Hall insider info, email us at wilborn.nobles@ajc.com and jdcapelouto@ajc.com. We’re also on Twitter, @jdcapelouto and @WilNobles.

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