Cascade resident Jeanne Atkins has had an encounter with what has become a reality for the area.
Recently, her Ashmel Estates home was almost broken into by a team of robbers until she screamed, scaring them away.
Her attempts to phone law enforcement were thwarted when she was given the run-around: 911 operators told her to call the precinct. The precinct told her to call 911. No one had answers and in the time that it took for her to make those calls, her door would have been kicked in completely had she not alarmed the robbers.
“(Think about what could have happened) in the time that was lost,” Atkins said to an empathetic audience.
Atkins was one of more than 250 District 11 residents who filled the pews of Ben Hill United Methodist Church Thursday night for a dialogue on neighborhood issues with Atlanta City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Overall, Atkins and other residents expressed a general satisfaction with the at-large progress made by the new city leadership but they also named what they saw as the most pressing and intolerable issues in their neighborhoods.
The need for sidewalks, and reductions in break-ins, auto theft, and drug related activity ranked high on the list of critical matters. While not all of the questions or comments were complaints and grievances, the overwhelming majority of them were.
Some grievances, like the need for more jobs in the area, were addressed by existing initiatives such as the efforts of the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency to provide job training and the City of Atlanta and State co-effort to make the Campbellton Road area a new opportunity zone with tax credits for businesses.
Other voiced concerns were met with the sobering reality that the amount of money determines the amount and oftentimes quality of services.
“Being brutally honest, the money is just not there,” Lance Bottoms said when a constituent raised a concern about sidewalks that have been on the books for over 10 years now but have never been installed. ”Buckhead has the Buckhead Coalition and other private groups with money that we simply do not have.”
Then there were the individual stories that serve as a clarion call to action. Personal accounts of legitimate grievances like burglaries made abstract concepts that are often represented by numbers and desensitization of the media readily relatable and sometimes downright alarming. These stories often highlighted areas where leadership and execution fall short.
The list of grievances seemed to have no end. Potholes. Water leakages and speeding on Barge Road. Uncut grass. Old cars with expired tags. Open recreation centers but no activity. Closed bridges. The looming questions of “Will this year be different from past ones?” and “When will we receive the same treatment as neighborhoods like Virginia Highlands?” The list goes on and many residents who have lived here for many—20 or 30—years were not hesitant to express their frustrations.
Lance Bottoms and other city officials, however, were more often than not well-equipped to take on the behemoth of neighborhood impatience that was every now and then short of rage. The councilwoman’s responses were often sobering for a crowd that needs answers, as she reminded constituents that she and many other officials live in the area, and have a vested interest in seeing it improve. She was never hesitant to remind residents of how they could better serve their communities, too.
“Remember that your Neighborhood Planning Units don’t work for you, they work with you,” she said in response to a concern raised about NPUs.
Lance Bottoms and other city officials at the meeting presented updates from the city and provided reports on various community service projects.
Ink pens dutifully bobbed on dozens of note pads as the officials proudly, yet cautiously, listed the progress of local initiatives and areas and distribute pertinent information.
Speakers included Chief of Police George Turner, Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, and officials in Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Constituent Services, and other city departments.
Notable gains such as the Neighborhood Stabilization Plan—which has invested $1.9 million in the district—the Cascade Road Bicycle Installation, the end of a fire-fighting hiring freeze in 2010, and a conviction rate of 80% in the past year were named, demonstrating how local government can work for its constituents.
In addition to the progress reports, officials introduced new community programming like Lance Bottoms’ Saturday Youth Financial Literacy Program and Court Watch—a program that allows neighborhood constituents observe court proceedings—report back to Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs), and decide if court procedures are in line with constituents’ values.
Including the fight against neighborhood crime, the trend seemed to be the unveiling of programs which cater to neighborhood constituent’s preferences.
“Now sentencing guidelines are in line with what community members have asked for,” explained Chief of Police George Turner when he unveiled the plan to reduce crime by 15% and make Atlanta the safest big city in America.
Such a goal would be accomplished by beat redesign the creation of Community Oriented Policing Section (COPS) that serves as a neighborhood resident liaison, and a video surveillance network that has the potential to reduce crime up to 40 percent in its first year of use. Beat redesign concerns the deployment numbers and trends of police offices around the city, and COPS will serve as a type of liaison between the ADP and community members. Turner suggested that the City is on the right track to reach its goal, given the 2010 10% drop in crime.
The panel of city officials was diligent in positive progress reporting, often creating a sense of optimism and serving as a reminder of what is getting done. Officials were energetic and ostensibly eager to engage constituents. In what seemed to be genuine displays of commitment, some even gave their direct office lines and sometimes cell phone numbers.
But positive progress reports, plans for well-adjusted new programming, and cell numbers were not going to stop residents from doing their job—reporting their own realities which often seem to be independent of, or having little regard for the aforementioned.
For more information about the meeting and District 11, contact the office of at 404-330-6054 or e-mail Lance Bottoms at firstname.lastname@example.org.