Inside City Hall: The mayor goes to Geneva

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

Mayor Andre Dickens’ last week started in the Atlanta City Council chambers and ended at the United Nations offices in Geneva, Switzerland.

Dickens was part of a delegation from the United States who presented to a U.N. committee focused on “the elimination of racial discrimination.” He was the only leader from the delegation representing a U.S. city.

Dickens’ brief address to the committee heralded Atlanta as the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement and a “Black tech Mecca,” but was also frank about the city’s struggles.

“Like all major cities, we face challenges of affordability, of inclusion, and of racial, economic and health disparities,” Dickens said. “In Atlanta we don’t claim to have all the answers; we are transparent on the challenges we face and take a collaborative approach to identifying and implementing innovative solutions.”

The city’s international affairs director, Vanessa Ibarra, also attended the committee hearings, which, according to Politico, focused partly on whether the U.S. is complying with its international human rights obligations in its prisons.

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Credit: Atlanta City Council Office of Communications

Credit: Atlanta City Council Office of Communications

Local activists, meanwhile, were quick to call out Dickens over what they view as human rights violations here at home — specifically, the proposal to lease 700 beds at the Atlanta City Detention Center to Fulton County.

The deal, aimed at alleviating overcrowding at the Fulton County Jail on Rice Street, is expected to be voted on by the City Council on Monday afternoon. The plan is controversial, in part because the city spent years looking at ways to decrease the population at its detention center, in the hopes of eventually closing it. A protest involving a number of local activist groups is planned for Monday morning outside City Hall, before the council meets.

Dickens supports the lease agreement, and says he supports eventually repurposing the city’s detention center. He said the city should act to address the “humanitarian crisis” caused by the conditions at Fulton’s jail.

ExploreCouncil committee advances deal to lease 700 Atlanta jail beds to Fulton

Opponents say there are better ways to reduce the jail population. Devin Franklin with the Southern Center for Human Rights went through one day of Fulton’s jail log — over 700 pages long — and identified over 650 people who had been given bonds under $20,000, but remain in custody because they’re not able to pay them.

A group of doctors and other medical professionals held a press conference near Grady Memorial Hospital on Friday to denounce the deal. And the Policing Alternatives and Diversion program, which works closely with the city to give folks treatment and services instead of arresting them for minor, non-violent offenses, also put out a lengthy statement opposing the proposal.

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Dickens made a rare appearance before a City Council committee on Monday to speak in support of the jail deal, and address the greater issue of public safety in Atlanta. In the wake of a deadly shooting at a city park, Dickens addressed crime data specifically related to parks, pushing back on the notion that Atlanta is unsafe.

“If you pull a gun in this town, you are going to jail,” Dickens said. We have a full recap of his remarks.

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Big changes are coming to the Five Points MARTA station, with help from the federal and state governments. The AJC’s David Wickert reports that MARTA plans to remove a concrete canopy over the plaza at the downtown station as part of the $200 million renovation. The agency also will improve bus bays, revitalize the station plaza and prepare for future transit-oriented development.

MARTA will receive a $25 million federal grant to help pay for the project, money coming from the bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year. The state will pitch in $13.8 million. Here’s an early concept rendering of the Five Points redesign:

Credit: Courtesy / MARTA

Credit: Courtesy / MARTA

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There’s new funding available to local organizations that serve Atlanta’s youth. The city announced last week it is partnering with the Urban League of Greater Atlanta to create a $1 million Youth Development Grant Program. Organizations that work to help students in the city are now able to apply for up to $50,000 in grant money. The program is funded by American Rescue Plan dollars.

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