Atlanta mayor taking playbook from business

Faced with a $48 million hole in his budget, the new CEO of Atlanta – aka Mayor Kasim Reed – asked his commissioners to identify “three dumb things” their departments do or don’t do.

Kasim Reed

Kasim Reed

“We’re doing too many things in Atlanta,” Reed said in an interview. “We’re going to run our government in a radically different fashion.”

The former corporate attorney said his biggest surprise since taking office at the beginning of the year is the drain being placed on limited resources because the city is not organized efficiently.

For example, some departments have their own IT and HR operations, which could be consolidated. On the revenue side, the city has not been collecting money from Uncle Sam for administering some federal programs.

The phrase he’s cringed at the most: “It’s always been done that way.”

While it’s too early in his tenure to draw any solid judgment on Reed’s management style, a preliminary glimpse indicates he’s trying to take a business approach to organizing City Hall and tackling big financial issues.

The biggest issue of all – employee pensions.

“Pensions are easily the most significant threat to the city of Atlanta remaining a viable institution,” Reed said. “It’s worse than I thought during the campaign.”

If the issue is left unchecked, he said, Atlanta will be insolvent by 2017 or 2018. The capital of the New South could be without capital.

Last year, the unfunded pension liability ballooned to $1.5 billion. In 2001, it was $321 million.

To tackle the impending disaster, Reed advocates lower pension benefits for new employees. And he also wants city employees to join the Social Security system, which they are not part of now.

In another nod to business, Reed appears to believe in investing money to make money.

For example, he wants to beef up the police department by 100 officers, partly to prevent “damage to [Atlanta’s] brand” if crime were to increase. I put “brand” in quotes to emphasize it’s from the mayor, not the business columnist.

He does not agree with critics who have urged him to wait to increase the police force until after the economy turns around. By then, he said, businesses looking to locate here or hold a convention in town may go elsewhere.

Speaking of conventions, panhandling is no friend to the tourism business, and Reed knows that. He wants more cops on the street so some can deal with Atlanta’s unenforced panhandling ordinance.

“The police force is too small and the officers are running from emergency to emergency … so issues of quality of life are not being addressed,” Reed said. “We need the capability to do both.”

To try to raise tax revenue, Reed plans to appoint “an economic development czar to quarterback job retention and job recruitment efforts.”

Small business will be especially targeted. Down the road a little, he plans to ask the City Council for between $7.5 million and $10 million to set up a fund that can be used to offer tax credits and cash incentives to firms bringing jobs to Atlanta.

And he’s trying to deal with the cumbersome permit and licensing maze that businesses have complained about as a deterrent to locating here.

He said his staff is studying Cobb County, the “gold standard,” hoping to streamline and simplify the process.

It sounds good. But will it happen? Businesses have complained about the city’s bureaucracy forever.

“I’m willing to be measured by the results I get,” Reed said.

Elections have a way of doing just that.

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20 comments Add your comment

Ms. Miller

March 26th, 2010
1:56 pm

Mayor Reed gets it. Let’s just hope the city can create the resources to get the desired results.

E-Roll

March 26th, 2010
4:05 pm

These are the type of ideas that persuaded me to vote for Kasim Reed twice. I think that I made a good choice; keep up the good work Mayor Reed. Reducing the cities property holdings and collecting the proceeds from their sales, trying to get the pension plan in order, improving the City’s license process and getting more police on the street, who would love these ideas?

E-Roll

March 26th, 2010
4:06 pm

Of course that should read “who wouldn’t love these ideas?”

Andrew G

March 26th, 2010
4:28 pm

All the violent crimes near Georgia State and Georgia Tech need to stop. These students pay for rent, tuition, dining, books, parking etc. I agree that the police forces need to be increased, especially since the gang bangers and hoodlums see these students as prey. If something is not done, no one will want to go to school down there anymore. And word travels quickly. My wife is a grad student at GSU, and she is often scared to go to class because of all the shootings, stabbings, muggings, kidnappings, and robberies near both campuses. Let’s put an end to this crime Reid.

outspoken1

March 26th, 2010
4:31 pm

I gotta say, I am impressed so far. I originally thought the new Mayor would be seen on every newscast. He has put his selflove aside for the good of the people he represents and works for.
He really wants change and is not crawling and begging from the Federal Gov he actually wants to take responsiblity for the misbehavings of our nasty, beloved, past Mayors .

Upper West Side

March 26th, 2010
4:41 pm

And let’s not forget improving the quality of city services. It’s one thing to consolidate redundant services. It’s another thing to improve service delivery (in quality and efficiency/cost). A renewed focus in this area would contribute greatly toward building a stronger Atlanta “brand.”

Beelzebubba - Demon of the South

March 26th, 2010
4:51 pm

3 dumb things that “Atlanta Housewife” Kim has done:
1) Rap song, Tardy for The Party.
2) Rap Song, Dumping Big Pappa for a Fuzzy Moppa.
3) Rap Song, Late Arriving Cause I’m Muffin Diving.

IC Atlanta

March 26th, 2010
7:03 pm

How about tax incentives for small businesses who are currently creating new jobs in Atlanta? You realize we don’t have to stay within the city limits?

Impressed with Kasim so far – he hasn’t sought the publicity that some of his predecessors did and is getting down to business.

I hope he will consider privatizing the airport. The word was a few years ago it could be worth several billion dollars that could help cut back property tax, add fully funded police and fire department and finally once and for all get rid of all the potholes.

One other thing – DO NOT RAISE TAXES – to cover city employees pensions. You do that and this city property owner and business owner will regrettably looking to move the business and my residence to a more business friendly jurisdiction.

BUCKMASTER

March 26th, 2010
9:08 pm

My comment is awaiting moderation…… Just like the rest of the Nation…..PEACE

TnGelding

March 27th, 2010
8:26 am

The pension fund shortfall is temporary and can be rectified with smart investing and a little luck. Join Social Security? Surely you jest! Where is that 12.4% tax coming form? That was the mistake made in 1983 by Reagan and the Democrats in Congress. They should hve been shrinking the system, not expanding it.

As for the police, get them out from behind desks and onto the streets, and off the day shift. Most of the criminals are sleeping then.

TnGelding

March 27th, 2010
2:54 pm

BUCKMASTER

March 26th, 2010
9:08 pm

I’m sure it was profound. Isn’t it frustrating? Seems my most thuoghtful contributions end up there or disappear into cyberspace.

Frank Simmons

March 28th, 2010
2:05 pm

Mayor Kasim Reed may be just what the city of ATL needed. A really smart guy with strong business skills and instincts with political learning and community pride and strong cultural desires to make constant but incremental changes. He seems to attract positive reactions to him. I for one am planning a long delayed move to Atlanta and pleased to see him as the mayor for the future.

Frank Simmons

March 28th, 2010
2:05 pm

Enter your comments here

T.A.

March 29th, 2010
10:58 am

I love the fact that he is taking seriously the issue of efficiency. Counties such as Cobb have been efficient and have reaped benefits, such as becoming a business destination and having a decent quality of life. Atlanta, being the core of the metropolitan area, should be the hub of business, not the suburbs. The city’s current bureaucracy scares off business and sends them to suburbs such as Sandy Springs, Roswell, Alpharetta and Marietta. If he can streamline the bureaucracy and turn the city around, businesses will be willing to move into the city and some areas can be redeveloped and turned into viable, livable communities.

Intown

April 14th, 2010
11:17 am

I supported Reed because I thought he would consolidate improvements made by Franklin who did alot of hard work and unpopular things to be able to hand the City off to the next Mayor in its current state — a state that is far better than it would’ve been otherwise.

But, Reed needs to engage his bureaucracy more. He’s got alot of knowledge and talent at his fingertips that he is not really utilizing yet.

Intown

April 14th, 2010
11:20 am

Privatizing the airport is stupid. Atlanta is running the busiest airport in the WORLD and it is the most important cylander in the ATL economic engine. If it ain’t broke …

Justin

April 14th, 2010
4:21 pm

T.A.,
Cobb County’s quality of life is declining. Atlanta closed their housing projects and sent the residents with vouchers to the neighborhoods in Cobb. Thus, we are dealing with households who don’t control their children or understand the workings of a neighborhood environment.

Most Section 8 voucher families moving into suburban neighborhoods cause neighborhood deterioration and ghetto expansion.

Alton E. Drew

April 14th, 2010
6:18 pm

Atlanta should get rid of its pension system. Provide new employees the opportunity to put a portion of their pay into deferred comp. If they choose not to, they can find their own registered rep and invest in a mutual fund. For current recipients, buy them out with the amount the former employee put into the system. Paying people who no longer produce for you is waste …

http://www.altondrew.com

InformedAtlantan

April 15th, 2010
11:50 am

Justin,

Unfortunately your claims regarding Atlanta’s shuttered public housing project having correlative impact on Cobb’s declining quality of life is patently false. The Atlanta Housing Authority (where I am an employee) closed the housing projects near the Cobb border and 80%+ of those families remained in the corporate limits of Atlanta and last I checked there were no parts of Cobb County in Atlanta. Also, the bulk of the 80% remained in the 30318 zip code, with the remaining families moving to other zip codes in Atlanta and out of the state.

As a matter of fact, of the 2617 households that were moved only 22 moved to the Cobb zip codes of 30008, 30060, 30062,30067, 30106, 30126, 30122, 30127, 30152, 30168. It’s always easy to blame poor people for the problems in your community, but it’s just not logically possible for 22 families to be causing havoc across an entire county. The truth of the matter is, market rate renters have entered in to rental markets in some suburban communities that have not been accessed before due to higher rents. This economic downturn has made this possible.

Be more factual in your claims, besides this post was supposed to be about Mayor Reed.

KJ

July 11th, 2010
11:54 am

I think he should run for Governor of Georgia, He seems to be balanced in his views of things.
Trying to find a solution to fix Atlanta, unlike some who grandstand and talk about whats going on in Washington, when we need to worry about Georgia…(high crime rates, high unemployment, largest bank failures, last in education, this list can go on and on.)
We need to getoff of who’s a Republican and who’s a Democrat. Who can fix It? That’s why you VOTE.

Change is needed, You keeping looking in the past, and you will stay in the past, Left Behind!