January 14, 2021
Zoom Meeting: 6:00 – 7:10 pm
6:00 – 6:05 Gordon Certain, Secretary – Adoption of Minutes
6:05 – 6:30 Dr. Mike Bell, Former CFO, City of Atlanta
6:30 – 6:40 Major Andrew Senzer – Zone 2 Commander
6:40 – 6:50 Robin Suggs – Manager – Lenox Square
6:50 – 7:00 Fani Willis – Fulton County District Attorney
7:00 – 7:10 Pat Labat – Fulton County Sheriff
This meeting was held on-line using the ZOOM app. 279 individuals (the most ever for BCN) participated in this meeting as shown on the next three pages of paticipant reports.
New Feature for BCN Minutes:
The recording is almost exactly an hour long.
Mary Norwood: Welcome to the January meeting of the Buckhead Council of neighborhoods I am delighted to have everybody here. We have five speakers tonight and we are going to go through our agenda expeditiously.
If you have not signed up for this meeting or if you’re not already on our email list and want to get our follow-up information, please go to Buckhead Council.org and just sign in and it’ll automatically add you to the list. I will be sending you information about an important meeting about the jail and several other meetings that are scheduled.
Please e-mail your questions so we can reply to you after the meeting if we aren’t able to respond tonight. All of our speakers will get back to you. So, if you have a question, please send it to Question@Buckhead Council.org.
Gordon Certain, Secretary – Adoption of Minutes
Gordon Certain: We had our last meeting on November the 12th, and we had about 215 participants. That was very strong turnout and they came from dozens of neighborhoods.
• Public Safety with Major Andrew Senzer, Captain Howard of Georgia State Patrol, and Jim Durrett, President of the Buckhead Coalition.
• Transportation and traffic discussion: Denise Starling of Livable Buckhead about commuter bus update and PATH400 update. And Josh Rowan who’s the City of Atlanta Transportation Commissioner.
• Public Officials – We had a great number of elected officials at the meeting: Fani Willis, Robb Pitts, Lee Morris, Howard Shook, JP Matzigkeit, Matt Westmoreland, and Andre Dickens.
Mary Norwood: So, we are adopting the minutes without objection and dispensing with the reading of the minutes.
Gordon Certain: Correct. If you want to read the minutes, they are on the BCN website. Also, we need to announce that this meeting is being recorded, both the video and the sound of those at the meeting.
BCN Officer Election
Debra Wathen: The slate was unanimously approved by all that voted. We would appreciate everyone who participated in that election. Mary Norwood will continue to be our chair. I will be your Vice chair. Gordon will be our secretary and Jeff Clark will be our Treasurer moving forward. Thank you so much.
Another Neighborhood Joins BCN
Mary Norwood: As of today we have another new member. Ridgedale Park is joining us. We are now up to 41 member neighborhoods. So, a great complement all the way from Brookhaven to the River. We are very delighted to represent so many wonderful neighborhoods and citizens in Buckhead.
Mary Norwood: Without further Ado we will start on our agenda. Our first speaker is Dr. Mike Bell. Mike has had an over 25-year career as the Chief Financial Officer for large cities, counties, and school systems including being the former CFO of our own City of Atlanta. He will be updating us and giving us good information on the 2019 fiscal year financial statement. He has documents he will share with us, and those are on the website so you can have a copy to take with you after this meeting. See TaxInfo-Pensions.pdf, FinancialReport-Bonds-Summary.pdf, and CompAnnualFinanReport-BW-OCR.pdf.
Dr. Mike Bell, Former CFO, City of Atlanta
Mike Bell: For a couple of weeks, we’ve been working from the fiscal year 2019 CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) which the City’s Finance Department posts. Then 36 hours ago the City posted the 2020 CAFR. What’s good about that is that even though we’re going to review the documentation based on 2019, we’ll be able to see from the 2020 CAFR is 3-4 months of the COVID-19 virus. It’s really not very good.
When we get to the first page behind the title page is the table of contents and what’s important about the structure of these CAFR’s and 25 years. I was the CFO for local governments in one city county school district Etc. It’s all based on GASB #34 “governmental standards accounting board” In the early 2000’s, all the local governments had to convert to a GASB format. It’s as of June 30 2019. So it’s in the middle of the Year 2019.
My comments about the GASB 34: You don’t really have a pure general fund–you have government-wide funds and you have business type funds. As we go through this, you’re going to see where government wide and business type are general reference points. The funny thing about it is they based GASB #34 on the financial reports of Enron, etc. private sector companies that ultimately blew up. Their financials were proved to be not very objective. But the all the local governments now have to follow GASB #34.
As we go through this you can see a prominent issue in the public sector is the net pension liability: The net pension unfunded liability. We know that the city has a general employees fund, a firefighters fund, and a police fund. Also over time, it was required that you had to book your unfunded liability against your net position and in the City it’s 1.1 billion. So for years, you didn’t have to book that liability.
But as of a number of years back, you have to, And you can also see OPEB, the highlighted open line that stands for “other post employment benefits” what that really is – is “medical coverage for retirees”. And so the net position that we’re going to talk about as we go through this road, it already has the unfunded pension liability hidden in it as liability and OPEB, the medical liability for employees.
Okay, the statistical section is very nice. You can see the changes in fund balance, and we’re going to talk a little bit about assessed and estimated actual taxable property values. And we do have a real good comparison now of the 2020 values because the city just posted it.
TADs – Tax Allocation Districts. Atlanta is the leading City for TADs. I’ve been told Atlanta has 11 TAD’s. The CAFR shows six of them. Where that’s important is when we get to the taxable values, the taxable value for the city of Atlanta is much lower than I would have thought and I’ve worked with these numbers for a number of years. And it’s worth inquiring about because the City’s 11 TAD’s push down the taxable value in its reports. The city is an aggressive developer-type of organization. And we all have heard the debate about tax abatements given by various authorities. That’s probably a big issue for the City of Atlanta.
insuranceOkay, this is an organization Chart of the City. In the early 1990s, I was the CFO for the city and I was dual reporting. You can see where the CFO and the City attorney report up to the Council and also the Mayor. What’s important about this is that the other big department heads are not dual reporting — i.e. The Airport General Manager, we all know the airport has a lot of issues that end up in the press.
We’ve all heard of these audits that governments get “being a clean audit.” The terminology today is “clean unmodified opinion.” I’m going to show you all where that’s embedded on this page. You can see at the top of the page and this is from KPMG. They say in our opinion based on our audit and the reports of other auditors. “The financial statements referred to above present fairly in all material respects respected financial position of the governmental activities (that’s the Gatsby term) the business type activities (that’s a GASB term) and the present discreetly presented component units for each major fund.”
That is what a clean opinion is. This is what a clean opinion means: “In other words. We’ve done enough. Made some recommended changes.”
(Mike Bell’s audio stopped. Mary Norwood then introduced Major Andrew Senzer to speak next)
Major Andrew Senzer – Zone 2 Commander
Mary Norwood: Major Senzer. Can you address this now? Let’s have your report and then we’ll go back to Mike to finish up.
Major Senzer: Excellent. I’m not going to take a lot of time. First and foremost, I just want to say thank you from the men and women of Zone 2. 2020 was an unreal year for us and for everybody and your support truly sustained us throughout this year, and we definitely look forward to that same push forward from you guys as we tackle what continue to be persistent issues that certainly didn’t end on December 31st. I always say one of the things no one can ever question is Buckhead is the Buckhead communities’ strong will and emphatic voice as it relates to engaging in solving problems. And one only has to look at the amount of people who are on this call right now to realize that…And this bodes well.
APD’s Mission: If I haven’t told you before is to create a safer Atlanta by reducing crime and ensuring the safety of our residents and building trust. And this is the most important part–in partnership with our community. So to that effect, I’m looking forward to building on our already established relationships and partnerships that we have. My opinion is the Buckhead security plan I think is a really good example of community-Police partnership and one that will not just impact the Buckhead space but other areas of the city as well. And the reason why I say that is because many of the criminals who operate within the Buckhead footprint are transient. They come to do all their work here, but they go home to other parts of the city and lay their heads so, you know they’re members of their own respective communities and have strong ties to these areas.
So our problems are other Zones’ problems and as the Zone Commander, I spend a good portion of each week having conversations with other Zone commanders, other unit commanders, on strategies that we’re implementing to combat, the issues that we’re seeing here in our Zone as well as their Zones, so it truly takes a Citywide effort for us to be effective in crime-fighting. So as we begin 2021, I just want to affirm APD’s commitment and my precinct especially that we’re going to do everything we can to tackle the challenges that lie ahead and although we are facing many challenges here, we’re not going anywhere. We’re here and we’re going to be here for you guys. So I’d also like to introduce and I believe he’s on the meeting tonight Captain Williams. For those of you who don’t know Captain Tony Singh, who’s been a staple here in the Buckhead community in Zone 2 for many years, was recently appointed to the rank of Major and he’s now serving with our community oriented policing section. So I’m proud of Tony. He was instrumental in helping me build many relationships here over the past year in Buckhead and with people in this group especially so. I’m forever indebted to him and I really wish him success but Captain Williams brings with him over 28 years of law enforcement experience all with the city of Atlanta. I’ve had the pleasure of serving with him. We were both young officers together in Zone 6. He’s a great guy and best of all he’s a crimefighter first and foremost. So I am very excited to have him on board. So I know that and I believe Deputy Chief Timothy Peake is also on the meeting as well. He is our new Deputy Chief who was in charge of all the zones. He’s in charge of the field Operations Division.
Dr. Mike Bell, Former CFO, City of Atlanta – Presentation Resumes
Mike Bell overcame his technical problems and returned to the meeting.
Mike Bell: Okay, this again is the paragraph that’s in all these audits that refers to a report on internal control. This is the famous management letter. Associated with every one of these big audits the Auditors produce a nonpublic management letter that has a number of observations depending on the status of the organization and its efficiency in terms of internal control.
When I took over the CFO’s position in 90 or 91, The management letter for the city had 74 observations in it. By the time I left, it was worked down to the 20s or the 30s.
Okay, this is a standard section in a big audit that’s called Management’s Discussion and Analysis called the MD&A. It’s “unaudited”. This means the Auditors have reviewed it, but they didn’t subject it to auditing. This MD&A is a pretty extensive one for the city: they talk about the governmental activities. That’s pure government things like the general fund. Okay include General government police fire Corrections public works. That’s all in the governmental activity.
Mike Hall’s Connection and audio fade again.
Mary Norwood: Mike you’re breaking up. Go closer to the computer and say that again, please. Have to stop Mike’s presentation – frozen again.
Mary introduces Robin Suggs, General Manager of Lenox Square)
Robin Suggs – Manager – Lenox Square
Robin Suggs: Thank you for allowing us a few minutes on the agenda to talk about both security and safety as it relates to Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza. We thought it’d be easy to prepare a PowerPoint to review some of the initiatives. Lenox Square is and continues to be the Cornerstone of Buckhead for well over 60 years and as general manager for the past 25 plus years overseeing either Lenox Square and/or Phipps Plaza, an active member of the Board of both the Buckhead Community Improvement District and Livable Buckhead as well as an Atlanta native and a resident of the community, the unprecedented level of crime in the City including Buckhead is very unacceptable.
We’re working with local businesses and Community groups to address this issue and we have a very strong working relationship with APD, but they’re obviously quite understaffed. We will do whatever it takes to keep the customer and employees safe and have posted our safety and security update on the Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza website. It’s currently on the screen now, and we’ve included the link address below should anyone be interested in obtaining a copy. That link is https://lenoxsqsafetysecurityupdate.splashthat.com/.
As part of the broader Buckhead Community, we’re concerned with crime in the area and working very closely with APD, the Coalition, the Community Improvement District and Livable Buckhead to address these issues. We’re committed to the safety of our employees, shoppers and retailers and have invested literally millions of dollars to support the largest private security program in Buckhead. During business hours, the property is continuously monitored by 14 or more hired off-duty police officers and this number surpasses the number of APD officers covering all the beats in Zone 2 coupled with more than 10 private security officers, all of which utilize patrol cars, UTVs, and Segways to patrol in and around the property. Lenox is one of the most surveilled environments in Atlanta and has 18 times more personnel by square acre than the city of Atlanta with security extending to off-hours when the property is closed, providing around-the-clock coverage. If you’ve been to the property recently, you’ll notice that we’ve invested significantly in security and will continue to do so to ensure the safety of our community who have worked in partnership with APD to place a substation on property and add police security towers. And we’ve linked all 200 of our CCTV cameras and provided APD with license plate readers positioned at all points of entry, both of which communicate directly to the Video Integration Center. These measures work to ensure that individuals that commit crime will be identified and arrested. In fact, apprehensions are very regularly made in incidents occurring at Lenox Square and our message to would-be criminals is simple: “Think twice before committing a crime at Lenox because you’ll get caught.” Both Lennox and Phipps have recently added specially trained canine patrols. These dogs are capable of detecting firearms, which are expressly prohibited on property. Additionally, we’ve begun testing several state-of-the-art metal detection technologies that monitor for firearms. The systems will go through an evaluation to determine efficiencies and operational Logistics to determine the best solutions for both Phipps Plaza and Lenox Square. These technologies have been implemented at other Atlanta destinations such as the National Civil Rights Museum, Six Flags, as well as the Smithsonian. Individuals flagged by the canine or the metal detection will be approached by APD and directed to immediately leave the property if they’re found to be carrying a firearm.
Finally, the on-property security team is supported by an Operations Intelligence Center located out of our corporate offices in Indianapolis which is staffed by a team of over a hundred and twenty trained specialists that provide real-time CCTV monitoring, dispatching, and local state and national intelligence gathering. We’re fully committed to ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone visiting our properties, but the challenge is obviously broader than our property and the critical work of keeping the broader Buckhead Community safe won’t be accomplished alone. We along with the community leaders are working on the Buckhead Security Plan: a collaborative plan that includes public and private support and leveraged heightened public sector police activity enhanced deterrent and enforcement measures will be put into place to prevent crime, hold criminals responsible, and restore public confidence that Buckhead is safe, a safe place to visit and enjoy.
Pat Labat – Fulton County Sheriff
Pat Labat: First of all, thank you for allowing me to come visit once again. It’s certainly an exciting time for me personally, but equally as important is for our Sheriff’s Office to be able to serve. To make sure people, we started on 1/ /1/21at 12:01 a.m. and we put 45 deputies out in the streets a little after midnight to really help assist everyone from Union City to APD as well as staging in different areas to make sure that we begin to do exactly what we said we were going to do and that was focuse on fighting crime. Shortly thereafter, this past Saturday, we sent several units out to focus on civil papers and that attention was given directly to Buckhead and we took out 87 civil papers which includes to TPO’s or temporary protection orders for domestic violence and we made several traffic stops up there. We will continue to focus on Fulton County as a whole, but again, making sure we meet our standards of increasing the numbers– the presence in the streets. I’ve talked to several of you and receive some really good feedback with respect to not just street racing, but crime and how we can help.
We have had a wonderful working relationship with APD along with the State Patrol. I just spoke with their Commander there and as everyone can imagine with the things that went on last week, we are preparing to help with some of the impending problems that may be coming between Saturday and Wednesday.
We are standing up–both jointly with the aforementioned departments and agencies–a really robust plan to help us remain safe and so to that end, we look forward to working together as we continue to focus on not just Buckhead but holistically what Fulton County looks like and how we can get back into a rhythm of being a full-service Sheriff’s Office and so even to that end, I want to take advantage of this.
We certainly have as a community done a good job of pointing our needs and requests toward the Atlanta City Council. But I will encourage you there are seven Board of Commissioners that deserve the same kind of attention because what I get when I have some of these conversations with the county leadership: “I’m hearing that people want less police on the street or less presence.” So I will encourage each of you all to reach out to our Board of Commissioners so we can support this mission of putting 200 deputies out on the street and being a little more thoughtful about really crime suppression.
So, another opportunity for us is we’re beginning to work with other sheriff’s offices: Metro Sheriff’s Office. We created a Viper team that is a crime suppression unit that partnered with the panther team from Clayton County and together, they apprehended a murder suspect. So we are focusing on crime suppression. And if there’s anything I can do, we want to be very thoughtful about that.
Mary Norwood: Well, and I’d like to interject Sheriff. Thank you so much. I think that one of the things that we can do and we will send out to everyone who’s attending this meeting tonight and our mailing list is the contact information for the Fulton County Commissioners. We have been distributing information on the City Council members because it’s just always good to hear from your citizens. So, in addition to the work session that is going to be next Tuesday at 1:00 o’clock on the jail, which is a major important part of getting us all safe, it also is important for our citizens to let our County Commissioners know that we want to be safe, and we would like the help of our sheriff and our Sheriff’s Department to be able to do that.
Rick Hamilton: There was one question in the chat: Sheriff Labat, I would like to know where we can submit feedback that counters the ones you received about needing less policing and go ahead no.
Pat Labat: I was just going to say I think Mary hit the nail on the head and let’s focus on our County Commissioners a couple of whom live in Buckhead. I’ve spoken with them and they understand the need, but we need to focus on making sure we hear that countywide and provide that information for other Commissioners as well.
Rick Hamilton: (Question in the Chat) “Please comment on your proposal about buying the city’s jail.”
Pat Labat: I’ve not been silent on this issue. And that is — I’m working on the proposal. Let me say that again while I certainly applaud the man for trying to create a center of equity. But I really have a different view on that and that is quite simply we have a perfectly good facility there that we can use to house those that choose to hurt, harm, or create havoc within our city. And so we agree to disagree, and so as you’ve seen in the AJC, made my point. I have reached out to council members. I do want to thank Council President Moore for her guidance. I don’t do politics. Well, I want to fight crime and so but there is a level that goes with being Sheriff and so certainly our relationship over the years has proven beneficial to me. So I do want to thank our Council President and her leadership.
Certainly, Madam D.A. and I have had lots of conversations about how we fight crime together. I think you all will enjoy our partnership as we continue to move the county forward and what that looks like. So again, I’m excited about where we are and the possibilities. So I’ll remain resolute and in my decision or my comments around that and then hopefully giving that County taxpayers as well as City taxpayers help provide funding for that building. Hopefully we can look into our crystal ball and take advantage of some opportunities that benefit both the city and the county.
Atlanta Council President Felicia Moore
Mary Norwood: Thank you. Thank you Sheriff. And we will do our part in getting information to County Commissioners and to the City Council and the City Administration. Dr. Bell, I think what we’re going to need to do is record your presentation and send it out. We’ll post it on the Buckhead Council website and send it out in an email. That will give you a better opportunity to explain some of this very complicated language. Everybody who has signed in and everybody who’s on our email will get your presentation. Now we’ll hear from Council President Felicia Moore.
Felicia Moore: I just wanted to say hello to everyone. Happy New Year. We’re in 2021. We made it. Of course. I put my information in the chat–all of my contact information. Please feel free if we can assist, other than your council members, to help you navigate City Hall, we’ll do that.
City Hall is still closed. I post on my social media all of the meeting notices and I am going to get the meeting notice as soon as it’s released and we may have to call them and tell them to get it released. I’m gonna give it to Ms. Norwood about the work session on the jail. So you can call in and you can also listen live.
Fani Willis – Fulton County District Attorney
Fani Willis: I am just really happy to be here tonight with the Buckhead neighborhoods. You all supported me all through this race and I want to make sure that every step of the way, you know what is going on; what the District Attorney’s office is doing. One of the major changes that I think is going to make us more safe in all of our neighborhoods is that the Sheriff and the DA now have a relationship and are working together. I want to echo Sheriff Labat’s sentiment about “please contact the commissioners” that is crucial. I have been in meetings with Sheriff Labat now several times. I always echo what he says, I, as a citizen of Fulton County, I want 200 cars on the street and you know, he’s being polite. There’s some push back to that and they need to hear from you all that that is something that every citizen in this County–every Law Abiding Citizen in this County wants–and so when Ms. Norwood shares that information, please take a moment to send an e-mail or letter saying that you support that.
But as to the DA’s office specifically we are working really hard right now. What we have been doing since November very actively is recruiting the right staff for the office and I am now in my fourth week of interviews and hiring so that we are getting a qualified staff here because they were not here and you have to have a qualified staff as a foundation to do the work.
Some of the other things that we’re doing is we’re developing our units where we are really focusing on violent crime. One thing that is different from this office to your predecessor is the fact that we are working with the US attorney’s office. We have a brand-new US attorney for the Northern District, but I had actually already been in very, very detailed conversations with our former United States Attorney BJ Pak on how we were going to work with them with the gun issue and we fully participating together. That has been extended to our new US attorney. And so those things are all going to make us safer. I don’t want to talk too long because I want to allow people to ask questions. All those questions will have to be told to me plus since I can no longer see it on my screen.
Mary Norwood: Are there any questions for our District Attorney?
Well, Fani we are looking forward to your emphasis on violent criminals on the gangs that we know are out there and what I know from all the people who have talked with me is that you are a very thoughtful district attorney but a very strong district attorney and a very seasoned and reasoned district attorney and I am giving you that accolade because I know that you’re going to be up against a lot, but we will stand behind you to get us safe and we will do that for you and for the sheriff . No,
Fani Willis: I just want to say I appreciate you. The reality is some people want to pretend that in this county we do not have a gang problem or a violent crime problem. You know, I’m not in the position where I can sell roses. I have to tell the truth. And right now we are really suffering due to violent crime. We are also really, really suffering as it relates to this gang problem, which is leading to a lot of violent crime and I definitely plan to stand with Sheriff Labat as he fights to get us law enforcement officers on the street, but you’re also going to begin to see some very complex cases come out of this District Attorney office where we take gangs head on.
Gordon Certain: This question just came in through our meeting’s email questions link: “Should the neighborhood associations be doing anything to pressure the city for more policing in Buckhead?”
Mary Norwood: I don’t know the pressure is the right word but to encourage and certainly Major Senzer is aware of it. The new Buckhead Safety Plan which will be sent out to everyone with the annual report from the Buckhead Council of neighborhoods so everyone can see what we have come together as a business community along with all the neighborhood associations but yes certainly our being concerned about police and Dr. Bell has information of the police pensions and some of the retention issues. It is too important for it to be coming and going with audio issues tonight. So he will get that information that will be important information as the City Council and the administration look at the next budget.
Any other questions?
Well, I want to thank everyone for coming and for putting up with more technical challenges than the law ought to allow. Thank you. We had great speakers and we had technology challenges, but we all will prevail, and we will get all the information out to you over the next few days and other things.
Okay. Thank you all have a good night. Have a good January. Thank you very much. I thank you. See you in March.