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Atlanta’s next city council president will play bigger role than usual

May 16,2017

Source: Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Come November, after Atlantans go to the polls to elect their first new mayor in eight years and at least seven new city council members, the incoming president of the city council could have something that will be sorely needed: Experience.

That means whomever it is could play an out-sized role in determining which direction Atlanta takes in the coming years, acting as a bridge for a newbie administration and largely rookie council.

Three city council members are in the running: Felicia Moore, Alex Wan and C.T. Martin.

“The city council president will be an experienced hand because the candidates have been in government for quite some time,” said A.J. Robinson, president of downtown business group Central Atlanta Progress.

“In that case, it is somewhat of an insurance policy that there is experienced leadership,” he said.

That will be important to Atlanta. Reed, in the last few years, has presided over a city that has enjoyed robust job growth and $175 million in reserves. A transportation referendum approved last fall will bring in millions. But there are concerns about how those dollars will be spent, as well as nagging issues such as affordable housing.

The new mayor will be the face of the city in tackling these issues, but it will be the council — which holds the purse strings — that will put any plans in action, said Harvey Newman, professor emeritus from the Andrew Young School of Police Studies at Georgia State University.

“The relationship between the mayor’s office and the council president’s office hasn’t always been harmonious,” he said. “More often than not, there has been tension. Getting along would go a long way to achieving mutual goals.”

While the mayor’s office generally has a bigger bully pulpit and is the face of the city, the 16-member council approves the budget and signs off on big deals such as the sale of Underground Atlanta.

The job of the council president is to guide. The person in that position doesn’t vote unless there is a tie. More often than not, that means holding your tongue, said current president and mayoral candidate Ceasar Mitchell.

“I only got to vote three or four times,” he said.

At a Committee for a Better Tomorrow forum last week, Moore said that, while the council president often takes a step back, he or she can offer research and data when necessary.

“Because the council president does not vote does not mean the council president should not be intricately involved in all the issues that come before us,” she said.

Wan said a critical job for the president is matching the right people with the right committees, where most of the council work is done.

“You’re being a voice of council, representing the council and speaking out for council,” he said.

For Martin, the council president’s job is simple.

“I will use the concept of consensus building to make sure we are working together in a cooperative and collaborative way,” he said.