I. Welcome & Introductions
Tom Tidwell called the meeting to order at about 6:45 PM. A quorum was not present – probably
because it was public school spring break week.
II. Approval of Minutes
Minutes for the March meeting were not approved because of a lack of a quorum.
III. Admit New Member Neighborhoods
No new neighborhoods asked to be admitted to BCN.
IV. Committee and Liaison Updates
- No report.
- Tom Tidwell reported that the APS is hiring a new superintendent, Meria Carstarphen. Tom said she is impressive, very smart, and has “an incredible amount of energy”. The budget will be voted on next week. The Atlanta Classical Academy (ACA) charter school found a location, The Heiskell School site on Moore’s Mill. Debra Wathen said that while she was completely in favor of charter schools, when ACA briefed her neighborhood they said that they would absolutely go to the other side of Peachtree and would not add even more school traffic to her neighborhood. Tom said they have a five year lease and may ultimately move elsewhere – the site has very limited parking. Tom said neighborhoods in his immediate area are happy with the school’s new location. Debra is not happy.
- Did not meet. No report.
- Debra Wathen reported that 20 neighborhoods had renewed. She plans to contact the other neighborhoods who have not renewed yet.
- Gordon Certain reported the Park Pride Conference at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, held at the end of the March, had its highest attendance ever. The theme was creating greenspace from rainwater. They had speakers from states as far as Ohio and Arizona. The conference, held every year on the last Monday in March, is an excellent way to learn about parks and to meet the right people.
- No report.
Transportation, Development and Infrastructure
- Gordon Certain reported that the GA 400 ramps to I-85 had opened and that they were a wonderful improvement to area traffic flow. Yes, there will be more traffic on Lenox Road around GA40 but the surface streets will be much less congested when people learn to use the new ramps. Gordon also reported that North Buckhead will be the first Buckhead neighborhood to undertake the development of a neighborhood master plan. The neighborhood, Buckhead’s most populous, has experienced the conversion of its southern 20% from residential to high-traffic mixed use over the last 20 years. The neighborhood association plans to hire a planning firm and will work with the city’s Planning Department to prepare a formal plan for submission to and approval by the City Council. The plan covers a large range of topics ranging from transportation, land use, environment, parks, pedestrian issues, demographics, etc. He said there is an infrastructure bond issue which may be announced later this year, and hopefully projects that are outlined in the neighborhood plan can be in line for funding. (Loring Heights completed a similar plan in 2012.)
V. Special Guest Speakers:
Greg Chevalier was originally slated to speak to BCN about human trafficking but had a conflict and was unable to participate.
Special Guest Speaker: Joel Foster Communications/Grassroots Coordinator, Americans For Prosperity GA
Inasmuch as BCN is a non-partisan organization, when Joel Foster was enlisted at the last minute to speak to BCN it was expected that his presentation would provide a reasonably balanced presentation of the issues related to taxation. His presentation, however, seemed generally one-sided to many in the audience. The Americans for Prosperity GA describes itself as “the state’s premiere grassroots organization for economic freedom”. Its web site is at http://americansforprosperity.org/georgia/. The web site reports that “Americans For Prosperity Georgia was formed in 2006 to promote economic freedom, less taxation, spending and regulation at the local, state and federal level. AFP GA is one of the largest such grassroots organizations in the state with over 53,000 activists. AFP GA activists participate in rallies, petition campaigns, civic groups, as citizen lobbyists at the State Capitol, write letters to the editor and more. AFP hosts training events and task forces to educate and advocate for limited government and fiscal responsibility.” Among other things, Joel’s presentation explored the issue of the different levels of business and individual taxes in Georgia and adjacent states. These differences offer incentives and
disincentives to economic growth which can favor some states and hurt other states. He argued that the Georgia income tax should be considered for elimination/reduction so Georgia could better compete with states like Florida which has no income tax. He did not, however, provide details about how lost income tax revenue could be replaced by tax revenues from other sources. An audience member pointed out that Georgia lacks the tourist industry Florida taxes to raise its revenue. In summary, Joel’s presentation argued that tax levels were too high and should be reduced/eliminated and that regulation hampered economic and personal freedom. Some attendees took issue with some points Joel made in his presentation, repeatedly interrupted him, citing evidence they thought showed his arguments were flawed. Other attendees were more sympathetic to Joel’s arguments and commented that Joel, as an invited
guest speaker, had been treated disrespectfully during the BCN meeting.
Special Guest Speaker: Edward Lindsey House Representative District 54, Candidate for Congress, 11th District
Ed Lindsey has represented much of Buckhead in the Georgia House of Representatives for many years. He is now running for Congress and appeared at the meeting basically as “an exit interview”, to say goodbye as our state representative. In the discussion at the end of Joel’s presentation Ed offered to line up a conservative-oriented economist at Georgia Tech, [name was unintelligible — Michelle Reese?], and a representative from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, which Ed described as “more left-oriented”, to present both sides to BCN. He suggested it would be a “very interesting discussion” and recommended that it be done in the fall. He added that “as other states in the South seek to develop a competitive edge, it required Georgia to react, whether you like it or not. … We don’t want to be the outlier when we are seeking to have businesses come into the state.” He said that both would be good advocates for their sides and that it would be very interesting. He said tax policy is always evolving and that we always have to react to raise sufficient revenue while balancing the state’s competitive position. He pointed out the example of Georgia eliminating its once logical energy taxes. Surrounding states didn’t have an energy tax and manufacturers were enticed away from Georgia until the tax was eliminated here. Another example: Georgia setting up policies to entice the film industry to
come here. In 2007, the “film industry” (which includes video games) amounted to $350 million. In 2012/3, the industry grew to an annual $3.5 billion. Similar initiatives were taken with inventory taxes, which were made a local option. Then, reviewing what he considered our joint accomplishments over the past decade, Ed outlined the following:
- In 2005, the Legislature passed the “Sandy Springs bill”, creating that city. But, to ensure that the City of Atlanta continued to receive a fair share of revenue, he worked with members of BCN neighborhoods to make sure city revenues would be constant.
- In 2006, he took on the Buckhead bar situation: they imposed higher fines on bars that permitted under-age drinking.
- In 2007, working with North Buckhead, he addressed the allocation of impact fees. Previously, the impact may have been in one area but the fees were spent elsewhere. The law required that the fees be spent around the developments generating them.
- In 2008, neighborhoods complained about brownfields. Bill allowed “covenants to run with the land”, permitting land to be redeveloped rather than sitting idle.
- In 2009/10, property tax reassessments were frozen for a short period of time, and made changes to make the process fairer.
- In 2011, Georgia’s anti-human trafficking law was passed with the help of Buckhead neighborhoods and churches. He commented that until that law was passed, drug conviction penalties were harsher than those involving human trafficking, so drug dealers were switching lines of business.
- In 2012, the brownfield legislation, which provided tax incentives for just five years, was revisited, especially with the help of the Buckhead Coalition. The revised law let projects that had stopped because of the economic downturn to extend the incentives to recognize the years where work didn’t occur.
- In 2013, the Fulton County Commission was redistricted and tax changes were made so cities could take over services from the county.
He said these accomplishments were all suggestions of people in District 54. He says when we look at the candidates who seek to take Ed’s place, ask yourself if those candidates will be the kind who will continue that tradition of working together. In the Q&A session, many aspects of Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand’s long tenure were criticized, not just by one or two members of the audience, but many. Ed said for three years the House passed legislation about those aspects that stalled in the Senate. Ed and many attendees were outraged by the notion that a public official could use taxpayer-provided resources, contract with local governments to use those resources, and then personally pocket the proceeds. He thinks the solution is to void those contracts as being against public policy (the bill they tried to pass three times). Ed said, in addition to that issue, Ferdinand personally receives $0.50 for every tax lien sold by the county! In other words, he gets rewarded for not doing his job (collecting taxes). Ferdinand is the highest paid elected official in the State of Georgia.
In response to a questioner commenting about the Affordable Care Act, made the point that the ACA had many good features and asked Ed what would you do to improve it and not just try to appeal it, Ed responded that it did have some good features but shared a problem that also affects the existing employer-provided insurance system. Ed said, as long as you have a triangle where A (customer) gets services from B (doctor), and C (insurance company/government) pays for it, there is no incentive for A and B to control costs. He said until that triangle is changed, costs will continue to soar. In order to control costs, A and B must have “skin in the game”. In those few medical areas that are not covered by insurance or government, costs have been steady or have fallen: Lasik surgery, cosmetic surgery, etc. He added that Tom Price had ideas on how to improve ACA. (In response to a question, Ed said that basically Price’s proposal
would give the consumer more latitude to negotiate with the insurer.) Ed added that over the years he has learned that no matter how harmful, dysfunctional, or wasteful a policy is, there is always going to be someone who will defend it. He said you can see it in the medical system, in education, in energy policy, and any other policy that “we all know needs to have changes”, but there is always someone who will fight tooth and nail.
Special Guest Speakers: Alex Palacios Candidate for Fulton County Commission, Seat 3
Four candidates are running for the newly defined Third District for the Fulton County Commission. That district extends from Midtown into Sandy Springs and encompasses all of Buckhead. Three candidates participated in a forum at BCN’s March meeting. A fourth candidate in the same primary, Alex Palacios, was unknown to BCN when we were setting up the March candidates’ forum so he was invited to appear at the April meeting. There are no Democratic primary candidates or independents, so the winner of the Republican primary will serve on the commission. The discussion with candidate Palacios and his responses to the Q&A session were polite and informative and we appreciate getting to know him.
VI. Community Concerns/New Business
John Schaffner commented that the Mayor’s Commission on Efficiency in Government is looking for suggestions to reduce waste and to improve efficiency. He urged everyone to provide their insights to the commission. John also reported a problem his area on Peachtree has had for about ten years. About one hundred motorcycle drivers congregate every Thursday night at Fillini’s Pizza (Peachtree Road at Rumson Road). They illegally park their motorcycles on the sidewalk, blocking it and they spend hours inside Fillini’s, only to very loudly leave at around midnight. He said they do wheelies up and down Peachtree and do 70 to 80 MPH. And nothing is done. He has complained to the police and “nothing gets done”. He and his neighbors plan a sit-in at Fillini’s to take over the tables where the bikers normally sit.
Since Ron Grunwald could not attend the meeting he asked Tom Tidwell to have the BCN consider opposing Yolanda Adrean’s proposed legislation on public art. The issue was deferred until spokespeople for both sides could present their positions.
Jim Elgar of the City Council President’s office announced a free college entrance test preparation event at North Atlanta High School on March 29.
VIII. Next Meeting May 8, 2014 (Candidates for House District 54)
IX. Adjourn – The meeting adjourned at about 8:30 PM.
Note: The opinions expressed by the speakers and individual neighborhood representatives in these minutes do not necessarily represent those of BCN or its member neighborhoods.