Former Mayor Franklin shaping future leaders

Shirley Franklin

Shirley Franklin

The trademark flower on her lapel has been replaced by a pin. The large City Hall office has given way to a smaller one at Spelman College. And the 18-hour work days are down to 12.

But former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is passionate about what she’s been doing since leaving office three months ago — trying to shape the next generation of women leaders, who’ve surprised her.

“I have found them to be incredibly focused and intent on their work,” Franklin said. “They’re very well-read. … I’m very, very much encouraged by their breadth and intellect.”

While Franklin primarily is encouraging students at Spelman, a historically black women’s college, to make their contribution in the public arena, I reminded her to put in a good word for the business world, too. As far as I know, Atlanta’s major corporations are not teeming with women in their top ranks — far from it.

Franklin, 64, is spending a year at Spelman in an endowed professorship funded by Bill and Camille Cosby. She’s lecturing on a variety of topics. Among them, ethics, the budgeting process, conflict resolution in the workplace and images of women in the media.

On the last issue, she tells students: “Stereotypes about women abound in the media. … An assertive, take-charge style is described as feisty, aggressive and unfeminine. … The images of women in the media impact the economic and leadership opportunities women have in business and in public office because stereotypes influence every aspect of life.”

Franklin mixes plenty of doses of reality in her lectures with enthusiasm about the need to make a difference and serve the greater good.

“It’s really important that the smartest people are engaged, making an impact,” she said.

Franklin feels at home in the academic world, returning to what she did in the early 1970s when she taught sociology at Talladega College in Alabama.

Interestingly, despite the hundreds of speeches she made just during her tenure as mayor, Franklin said she “practices at home, standing and speaking aloud” before delivering her lectures. Each one takes about three to five hours to prepare.

“I have enjoyed talking about these subjects from arm’s length.” she said. “I enjoyed every day as mayor. … I couldn’t imagine that I’d enjoy my role with young people as much as I do.”

She added, however, that she does not think of herself as a teacher.

“Teaching is hard,” she said. “I do not call myself a teacher. I’m a guest lecturer.”

Will the guest lecturer return to politics?

No, she said. She does not plan to run for office again, although she will stay involved politically.

In her time away from Spelman, Franklin has a part-time consulting job with the Alliance for Digital Equality and sits on three non-profit boards.

Staying busy, however, has created an issue for her with the students. Franklin said she has been stumped when they ask, quite frequently, how to balance work and family life.

“I’m a workaholic,” she said. “I tell them I have not mastered work-life balance, although I’ve struggled to do it.”

Maybe someday the person who sits in the Cosby chair at Spelman will be able to handle that one.

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19 comments Add your comment

April 6th, 2010
7:11 am


When federal Judge Thomas Thrash signed two Consent Decrees in 1998 and 1999, Atlanta was required to stop violating the Clean Water Act. The city had been allowing sewage to pollute streams, spill from neglected sewer pipes, and back-up into residences and businesses. Atlanta’s plans to fix some of the problems included building large sewage tunnel systems.

In 2001, citizens became alarmed that the projects would pollute Atlanta’s aquifers with sewage, have adverse public-health consequences, and violate the Safe Drinking Water Act. They presented their concerns to the city, Environmental Protection Agency, Georgia Environmental Protection Division, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Before authorizing construction of the tunnels, EPA’s regional office in Atlanta prepared a memorandum. It explained that personnel in the Washington, D.C., Office of Water, numerous other EPA personnel, and independent contractors all agreed that tunnels have the potential to leak. The memo concluded that releases from Atlanta’s tunnels could not be quantified but were highly likely and that potential contamination of the water table should be considered.

Part of the Safe Drinking Water Act is designed to protect aquifers and human health. For Atlanta’s tunnel systems, the method for ensuring protection involves getting permits for the SHAFTS which fill the tunnels with sewage, and demonstrating that human health will not be jeopardized. This is supposed to occur prior to construction. Now, Atlanta is not only sending sewage into its aquifers but it never even applied for the shaft permits.

EPA’s memo was never released to citizens nor to Judge Thrash, and documents filed in 2003 show how the City, the Department of Justice, and the Georgia Attorneys General office misled the court. They told Judge Thrash that TUNNELS DO NOT NEED PERMITS but failed to disclose that the SHAFTS DO NEED PERMITS. They also failed to disclose a 1997 decision from the higher 11th Circuit Court of Appeals which establishes that aquifers must be protected and that permits for the shafts must be obtained before any fluid, such as sewage, is placed underground.

Beginning in October 2006, citizens assembled more documents showing that the Court was misled. After Judge Thrash offered to receive and review new information describing what had happened, a legal opinion prepared by Mr. Hal Wright was sent to the Court. It was based on the 1997 Appellate decision and it confirms that Atlanta needs, but does not have, the required permits. The Department of Justice responded with misleading information but did not address Mr. Wright’s legal opinion. The response also pointed to additional undiscovered information.

On July 14, 2009, 22 concerned citizens wrote to Judge Thrash requesting that he review Mr. Wright’s legal opinion and Atlanta’s non-compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Department of Justice’s response introduced yet more misleading information, but again did not address Mr. Wright’s legal opinion.

The City denies there are any problems but it relies on misleading information from the Department of Justice and others. In an e-mail from Aug. 27, 2009, Mayor Shirley Franklin, her Law Department, and private counsel chose to remain silent rather than address Mr. Wright’s legal opinion. Atlanta might be complying with the Clean Water Act but water/sewer ratepayers are financing projects which violate the Safe Drinking Water Act and pollute aquifers.

no name given

April 6th, 2010
7:43 am

This is the last thing we need. We don’t need Shirley training anyone. She’s nothing but a lowlife thug – what’s she gonna do? Train more thugs? Thanks for nothing.

Angry Taxpayer

April 6th, 2010
8:19 am

She illegally diverted funds, she left the City in a huge freakin financial hole…… and now she is teaching, great!

Citizen S

April 6th, 2010
8:27 am

I was just wondering what Mayor Franklin would be doing after leaving office. I am elated that she is influencing the lives of young women. I wish her much success in ths endeavor and others.

no name given 2

April 6th, 2010
8:28 am

Shirl girl can teach them how to “Go Philly” on folks. Its real popular today in politics. Come to think about it, I’m surprised Shirl girl is not up in Washington with the rest of the political thugs-I’m sure she could adapt to the “Chicago style” way of doing things!

Karen W.

April 6th, 2010
9:09 am

Good for Mayor Franklin. Spelman is a great institution and young people need positive role models.

no name given 3

April 6th, 2010
9:38 am

Great job Mayor Franklin! We applaud and admire your efforts to make Atlanta better despite it being a constant uphill battle and we applaud your efforts to mold tomorrow’s leaders.


April 6th, 2010
11:13 am

You all voted in no-show Kasim Reed. Has anyone heard a peep out of him since election day?


April 7th, 2010
4:00 am

Good for her. I hope she has refused any compensation or is donating it to charity.


April 8th, 2010
1:00 am

Henry, thanks for the plug about my post mayoral work, but the best part of the column is Spelman College. Spelman is an amazing school that has a nearly 130 year track record of producing incredible African American women leaders in every field.

The Dogfighter Returns

April 8th, 2010
8:24 am

Hey Henry what is billy campbell up tp these days?

Frank Simmons

April 9th, 2010
2:48 pm

Thank you former Mayor Franklin. You were an inspiration in your leadership of ATL especially when they needed it most. I didn’t live in ATL but I was involved in a business there during your reign. I am appalled at these negative comments about you in the AJC. I have found some of the most biased, negative and harsh commentors from this forum that are very much alike those of the “Tea Partiers” especially when it is african american leadership. These people don’t seem to be very christian-like and go out of their way to be insulting just to be discouraging to others not to seek politics but only let majority views be acceptable. It seems they actually reject the concept of too busy to hate. You are to be admired for being who you are and thank GOD for you.


April 9th, 2010
6:56 pm

Thanks, Frank. Over the years Atlanta has much to be proud of because hundreds of people have made contributions to the vibrancy, economic and cultural health of the city. Welcome to Atlanta.


April 10th, 2010
4:01 am

Frank –
You call lthat “leadership”?
Wow..sort of like calling the sinking of the Titannic a depth testing.
You really will abandon all standards as long as your so-called leader meets your skin color test.
Good luck with all that when you can not even walk the streets your leader and her cronies left you with.


April 10th, 2010
4:02 am

There goes Frank with another puff piece, feel good, chamber of commerce advertisement.

I think I’ll spew my coffee if I ever see him write an honest-to-goodness business article.

Frank Simmons

April 11th, 2010
2:04 pm

Hey BoyWonder! One man’s loss is another’s gain. Shirley Franklin is no different than any other public servant who does her best but still have some unaccomplishmnets. Overall she has been seen across the country as one of the best large city mayors (female or male) who took on big issues with much success and did not hide away things needing facing. I’m sure by your writing no one of my hue will please your expectations so why bring in a race card? I guess we don’t get an opinion per you?


April 13th, 2010
9:22 am

I feel bad for them. She’s nothing more than a hack. She kissed up the first few years, then ducked and ran the last part of her term. No respect for her.


April 15th, 2010
9:33 am

I agree with CJ where hasd this guy been? Oh yeah too busy letting Freaknik sneak back in the city, to cause more crime and destruction.

Ron De Loach

August 12th, 2010
12:43 pm

Most people don’t understand politics and the political process,although they have an opinion about every issue and a solution for every problem,as viewed from thier limited perpective.All I know for sure is that,each time I’ve met you,you’ve been a warm,kind,helpful,Christian human being,no matter how small the issue [i.e. office furniture or a five dollar loan.] and I rest assured that the same integrity was used at every level of decision making throughout your terms of office.
I for one,consider you a dynamic Atlanta leader and a friend of the people !