By Itoro Umontuen & Marshall Latimore
There are some people who love to bask in the spotlight. And, then, there are others that prefer to do their jobs from the comfort of working behind the scenes. Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore’s ascension to the gavel has been more of the latter.
After all, she began her civic service as the president of her Riverside neighborhood association. She then served as Chair of the Neighborhood Planning Unit-D, becoming a strong advocate for economic community development, which led to her election as City Councilmember for District 9, where she served 20 years before becoming President of the Atlanta City Council in January 2018.
She said that becoming Council President had been her goal and that it’s an honor to serve in this position.
“There have been few (challenges) along the way. One, I was the new president and a new president comes with their own way of wanting to do things,” said Moore candidly about a number of the challenges she has faced. “My vision for City Council comes from my love for rules, order and parliamentary procedure.”
“One challenge was trying to change the way things were done before I became President,” she continued. “Also, the council members have embraced having a Parliamentarian and operating with order and making sure the public is respected and welcomed to our meetings.”
With that in mind, Moore has asked for a forensic audit of former City of Atlanta Chief Financial Officer James “Jim” Beard, after it was reported by an Atlanta newspaper Beard spent $2,600 in city funds on two AR-15 assault rifles, spent $60,000 on business management courses at Harvard University, used a city-issued credit card for a $10,000 hotel stay in Paris and racked up an $8,000 tab for a going-away party for outgoing Mayor Kasim Reed in 2017.
“Findings from the ongoing investigations continue to be disturbing,” Moore said in a news release. “As it pertains to the most recent allegations against the former CFO, these revelations highlight the need for both the public and city council to fully understand the scope of actions taken by the former CFO wherein internal controls were overridden.
“This is the reasonable next step toward identifying where our processes are deficient and determining the corrective action needed to ensure fiscal responsibility,” her statement continued.
Beard served as the chief financial officer under Reed. He resigned when Keisha Lance Bottoms took over as mayor in early 2018. When Bottoms took office, she requested all of her cabinet members resign and reapply for their positions.
Beard was not hired back, but he was allowed to continue drawing his $274,000 salary while attending a six-week taxpayer-funded training class at Harvard University, according to local reports.
Last month, Moore and a number of fellow councilmembers supported an executive order from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms that would effectively ban the use of e-scooters after 9 p.m. in the city. Four people have died—three since May—as the result of collisions with vehicles under low visibility.
Similar to the sentiment expressed by Bottoms, Moore said the scooters do not have the visibility to be safely operated in the evening.
“The administration is looking at other ways to approach it and it’s not just the fact the unfortunate piece,” she explained. “We do send our hearts out to those that were affected, but you have injuries; you also have issues of pedestrian safety, being able to get around the scooters, how they’re being disposed of in our creeks and waterways and being recklessly placed.”
“There are even other issues when people rent them and making sure that if an accident occurs, the people who rent them have access to the information from these companies,” she continued.
Three days ago, Uber announced plans that it would be removing its e-bikes, but would retain the use of its scooters available through the app. The pedal-assist e-bikes will no longer be available beginning this Friday, Sept. 13. However, JUMP e-scooters will stay.
Uber started testing JUMP bikes in Atlanta just over a year ago, but officially launched in early 2019. In April, there were around 1,000 JUMP bikes in the market.
“We are winding down our current JUMP e-bike operations in Atlanta,” an Uber spokeswoman Evangeline George said. “We will continue to offer JUMP scooters and look forward to continuing conversations with city leaders on how we can work together to expand transportation options.”
But transportation was only one of Moore’s priorities.
The longtime councilwoman also issued kudos to District 3 Councilmember Antonio Brown, who in partnership with the Mayor’s office, was instrumental in the creation of a Community Loan Fund through Invest Atlanta.
In mid-July, Bottoms introduced legislation that requested Invest Atlanta to establish a new Community Loan Fund designed to encourage micro and small business development within the City of Atlanta. The fund is designed to target business development that has been unserved by Invest Atlanta’s small business loan tools.
“The community loan fund will help boost the economic and social fabric of our city,” Brown said. “When we work together, we see the kind of transformational change that revitalizes our neighborhoods and empowers our constituents. This initiative will help provide equitable access to resources and create more opportunities, which truly benefits our communities.”
The Community Loan Fund will develop policies and guidelines to prioritize direct lending to credit-disadvantaged entrepreneurs using non-traditional underwriting standards.
Essentially, it acts as a funding tool for Atlanta businesses that have experienced credit challenges in the past to still have access to capital, with the end goal of residents possessing the ability to live and work in one of the city’s most historic neighborhoods.
“This is the center people are looking at with regards to gentrification and affordable housing. We are able to reserve the neighborhood, increase its value at the same time, make sure we’re able to drive it forward,” Moore said.
Additionally, Moore doubled-down on her interest in ensuring that the City of Atlanta maintains control of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. She said that any threat to the city’s control of that asset becomes a top priority.
In February, State Senator Burt Jones (R-Jackson) introduced Senate Bill 131 (SB 131), legislation that would seek to create a state authority to oversee the City of Atlanta-controlled Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
John Selden, the general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson, said the passage of SB-131 would have posed a huge disruption to the airport and Georgia economy and also a huge distraction to the incredible reputation it enjoys among its peers.
“To disrupt this model, where we have this wonderful relationship with our airline stakeholders, our federal partners, the City of Atlanta, the region, our economic partners that we do business with, and all of the employees—the 63,000 employees that work here at this airport—I don’t know what they are trying to (accomplish),” he said. “The airport is a magnificent, efficient running, complex operation, and to almost capriciously make a ruling to take the entire thing over, is problematic.”
Selden wasn’t alone in his opposition. The mayor, as well as leaders from both the City of Atlanta, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and Delta Air Lines—the airport’s largest airline—vocally opposed the takeover discussions.
Moore joined the rest of the council in the adoption of a unanimous resolution, introduced by Council President Pro Tem Andre Dickens, that opposed any state action that would have changed the existing governance structure of the airport.
“The citizens of Georgia support local control over state regulation,” Dickens said. “The City of Atlanta and airport are excelling in terms of economic growth and opportunity for the region. We don’t need an extra layer of oversight.”
With transparency, ethics, and accountability as the pillars of Moore’s tenure, she continues to work towards building and maintaining the trust of Atlanta’s citizens, “because if there are more eyes on what we do, how we do and how we spend the money, causes leadership to do better.”
To that end, Moore said she is active on social media because she believes there’s no excuse for Atlanta to not be informed.
“We are focused on making our office to be a resource to the public,” Moore said. “We want to show individuals how to navigate City Hall, we want our small businesses to be heard. We want to give them the resources they need to be successful.”
This article originally appeared in The Atlanta Voice.