Below is the full unedited transcript of the interview with mayoral candidate Peter Anan held on May 12, 2017, at the offices of Atlanta Black Star.
Present for interview from Atlanta Black Star: Neil Nelson, co-founder and Chairman of ABS; Tanasia Kenney, staff writer; Kamau Franklin, Political and Social Editor.
Jelani Nelson: The first question really that we ask the potential mayors that we’ve been talking to …
Peter Aman: It’s going to be me. Just saying.
Jelani Nelson: … is you obviously have a perspective looking at, talking to various communities and different issues across the city. The voters may not have that perspective, at least most won’t. What do you see as the top five issues that voters should be thinking about despite their personal issues, interests, agendas? What should they be thinking about for Atlanta looking forward five years from now?
Peter Aman: Sure. I guess the first thing I’d say is that, to your point, these are the five issues that I think about. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say anybody should be considering them their top five. In other words, I think depending on where you are and the range of issues you face, you may have a very different picture, right? To your point, these are the five that come across from a lot of different conversations. The first one, for me as a candidate, is public safety. We have to have a City of Atlanta where, wherever you are in the city, you feel, and are safe. You have both the perception of safety and you are in fact safe.
That requires a number of things. That requires that we have the appropriate staffing in the police department. It requires that we retain good police officers, and to do that, we got to pay them fairly. It also requires that we have a police department that is fully imbued with community-oriented policing. I think we have, and of course, I was chief operating officer of the city for two years. In that capacity, the police chief reported to me and the fire chief reported to me, general manager of the airport, and so forth. I would spend a lot of time on public safety issues.
Whether it’s spending a couple of hours at a homicide scene or doing ride-alongs with officers, I think we have a great police department, but there’s more we can do. Particularly around working with and in the community. Community-oriented policing is an approach that every officer should use. That goes to public safety as well, because you have to have a bond of trust between the officers and the community.
I guess, one other point I would make about that is that, one of my visions for the Atlanta Police Department is that we go through, and really every city department, ultimately that we go through a complete process of training people in implicit bias. You all will have read a lot about this I’m sure. There’s a lot of evidence that people don’t realize the degree of implicit bias they have until they get in some really immersive programs. I’m thinking on the order of Leadership Atlanta does a raise awareness program. A multi-day immersive thing and that’s the type of thing that we need ultimately every city employee to go through. That’s probably a fair amount on public safety but just because it’s so important.
For me, the second one is mobility. I think of mobility in two ways. There’s economic mobility and then there’s physical mobility. Underneath economic mobility, we need a City of Atlanta that works for everyone. That means that we have affordable housing. It means we have affordable housing at various different levels. You’re familiar probably with the way we do it. Most cities in the US just look at the percent of area median income. People usually talk about 80% or 60%. We need to also look at 40%. We need to look at how you afford housing if you’re making minimum wage.
We need a city that allows for everybody to live here comfortably. Beyond that, and I’ll come to this on one of my other priority points, we need a city that supports people as they move economically. You’ve probably read that we have some of the least, we have the greatest difference between rich and poor in Atlanta and we have the least economic mobility in the City of Atlanta from bottom up. We need to solve those problems.
In the other meaning of the word mobility, physical mobility, you need to be able to get from point A to point B with the minimum of hassles and discomfort. What that requires changes over time, but right now, it’s got to be top of mind for us. Particularly as the city is projected to either double or triple in population. If you think it’s bad now, if we don’t do something, it’s really going to suck. That includes all of the different ways people travel. Walking, biking, cars and then mass transit. We have to look across all those.
Specifically, we need to look at mass transit. We need to have more buses. Then we need to do experiments with buses. Some cities have started using small circulator buses, 20-person buses to get into the neighborhoods that you summon with an app on your phone, to your block. We need to look at those. We need to look at expansion of the bus frequency and bus routes. We need to look at light rail on the BeltLine down to Emory, and then across connecting town. We do need to work on the roads we can within the city to debottleneck intersections and centrally control traffic lights. Which is something that’s very important. It’s one step beyond synchronizing and we need to centralize them. A number of other cities have done that and allows you to respond. That’s the secondary that I focus on is mobility.
The third is education. I’m sure you’re wondering at this point, would we really be done in 45 minutes? That’s what Saab was wondering. Right. Okay. You said four and a half days right? The third one for me is education. I believe that the City of Atlanta, while it has made efforts on education, has long ways to go. This is not to take anything away from the school board or Meria Carstarphen, our superintendent. I think the next mayor needs to be the education mayor. That’s certainly what I want to do.
Really, not only focus on education but make sacrifices for the sake of education. One of the things I’ve said is that I’m willing to bet, whether I have a second term or not, on whether I can be a good partner to Atlanta public schools and whether I can help them move the needle on specific metrics. I don’t want to run the school system. I don’t want to get in their turf and in their business, but I do want to be there to be a good partner. Beyond that, I think the early childhood development is a critical need to the City of Atlanta. Birth to age three, we need to make significant investments as a community and that needs to be a top priority and will be a priority for me. The fourth area for me is all around jobs and economic development. We need to have a …
Jelani Nelson: That’s five actually.
Peter Aman: This is four, I think.
Peter Aman: Mobility was an A and a B. I thought about mobility in two ways.
Peter Aman: I would change it if you didn’t, so I appreciate the judge’s ruling. Thank you. Jobs and economic development. Clearly Atlanta is on an upswing now, but there’s no guarantee that will continue. What we need to do though is, we need to have more balance in job growth. We have parts of town where there are very few jobs. English Avenue and Vine City. We do not have large centers of employment there. There are areas in Southwest Atlanta where we have not seen economic development the way we’ve seen it in Midtown or Buckhead. We need to have more equity and evenness around both investment and job growth.
There’s a series of things associated with that including workforce training. Obviously it links back to education. There’s other programs that we can talk about to focus on job growth. The other thing I’d say about economic development that it also very much includes what makes a city vibrant. That’s arts and green space and community and parks. I mean, there’s a series of things that make a city have a feel and a culture to it that all, for me, fall under that heading of economic development.
Then the fifth thing that I hear about everywhere in the city is, basic city services. Is my street clean? Does my garbage get picked up on time? Is my water bill accurate? Can I get a building permit? If any of those things aren’t working, who do I call and will they get back to me? Then, will they fix the issue and tell me it’s been fixed? We’ve done a better job as a city on some of these areas than others and we’ve made improvements but we still have a long way to go.
My vision is that, ultimately for city services, we are so good in Atlanta that you call your friends in other cities, other countries even in the case of your readership, and brag about how good the City of Atlanta services are. That’s the fifth area for me. Let me stop there. That was way longer than Saab or Fred would have liked, but …
Jelani Nelson: That was great. It’s very comprehensive platform analysis.
Peter Aman: I’m nothing if not comprehensive.
Jelani Nelson: You talked about public safety and the police, and implicit bias training for example. Is that something that coming from the mayor, or is there someone else in administration that would handle that kind of responsibility in the event time?
Peter Aman: There are a couple of things. Ultimately, for any major training program, yes, you would do it through the police department, through the HR department, but for something so important it has to be top-down. You have to start with the mayor right? The mayor has to set the tone. An example I would give you is when I was chief operating officer, I was not happy with the behavior of our managers. People who managed other people. I talked to the HR department about training, but our training budget had been zeroed out because of the Great Recession. What I did was, we identified everybody in the city government who managed somebody else. It was about 1900 people. We broke them up into groups of one to 200. Then I personally did the training session for them. I’m sure we missed some people, but we tried to get everybody. We tried to keep track of it.
The idea was that, you, not only communicated some content in the training session. I did training for 90 minutes and it was on good management practices, sexual harassment, discrimination, et cetera. Beyond the content, you actually heard, in that case for me, as chief operating officer. As mayor, I would do the same thing, except I would expand it to all eight thousand employees and I would add ethics and integrity training as part of that. I think there’s an opening point that’s probably an hour long program, and then the intensive three-day program, obviously we’d have to deploy lots of resources to do that.
Jelani Nelson: Makes sense. Would you say that the primary reason it wasn’t done while you were the COO, was a funding issue?
Peter Aman: Yeah. The immersive three-day training is very expensive when you start looking at … At the time, I started as COO, we only had seven million dollars in reserve in our general fund. The other reserve accounts were actually negative. It had negative balances. When I started as COO, one of the first things I had to do was reopen the swimming pools, so they had been closed.
We had to find the money just to reopen the swimming pools in the community centers. Which I thought was very important with summer coming up. We had fire stations that were still on brownouts. Which means, the fire station occasionally closed in the community. I authorized overtime to reopen the fire station. We were in a place where we, as I said, we didn’t have any money for training, let alone implicit bias training that we ultimately need.
Kamau Franklin: Let me move on just a second, because I think we’re going to get deeper into some of these things. This is the first time you are running for public service. Obviously you’ve been in the private sector for a while. Why now? Particularly for mayor right? There’s a bunch of other positions you can run for, but you’re starting at the top position in the city. Why are you running for mayor right now?
Peter Aman: For me, it’s very simple. There are a series of things that I believe we can improve in Atlanta. We can make progress on all the things I mentioned. I firmly want to be in a position to make those improvements. I have a long history of being involved in Atlanta. Many years of leading pro bono projects with Mary Franklin from 2001 on. Then of course, so were years as chief operating officer and then more pro bono projects for the city after that.
I have a very clear vision for what we need to do, and I have a background and experience. There really is on parallel relative to the … Bless you. Relative to the other candidates. Experience, I have the experience, the private sector and the government sector. Ethics, I have a strong track record of ethics in business and government. Then, leadership. I have a strong background in leading and bringing together organizations, community, the philanthropic sector, private sector, government, to get things done. That’s why now. Having been the chief operating officer and the number two, effectively the number two position in the city, the next place to go to affect change is mayor.
Jelani Nelson: Follow up to that, the numbers, the poll numbers came out, I think, it was a few months ago? What was the plan at least to move your position up that ladder? Right now, you look at the numbers. You got Mary who, I think, is number one. Then Fort at number two. If you want to be in the run-off just because they make that, the top two positions.
Peter Aman: Absolutely right. I point to a couple of things. First, the overall plan is at its simplest, become known right? This is the first time I’ve run for office so it’s natural that people need to know I exist before they support me. That seems reasonable. To that end, we’ve had a TV commercial up for three or four weeks introducing me to the citizens of Atlanta. After you’re introduced, defining the issues and your relative strengths versus the other candidates will be part of the next phase without getting into specifics. As part of that comparison, holding other candidates accountable for their votes, for their actions, for their words through the campaign process. I’ll tell you that we’ve already moved up in our internal polling several positions. That process is underway and we believe there’s a very strong path.
Mary Norwood is the currently the most recognized and six months out, polls are dubious at best of course. She’s actually polling relatively weakly versus her position in 2009, when she got 49% of the vote. The winner of the poll was actually undecided, the WSB poll. Then, you have Mary coming in with about half the support she had last time. Then you have, after her you basically have a clump of loss ranging from nine or ten points down to two or three points. Most of us are in the other’s margin for error. This is a path of becoming introduced and then highlighting the differences.
Tanasia Kenney: In 1990, this city was 67% black and now it’s about 50%. What policies do you plan to enact to incentivize a reversal of black Americans leaving Atlanta?
Peter Aman: We need a city that works for everybody as I said before. We need a city that everybody can afford to live in. It starts with economic development and jobs and having jobs in the city that are attractive to all types of people at all income levels, all educational backgrounds. Continues to have on from there, to have affordable housing that works for everybody regardless of income. If we have a city with diverse housing, diverse jobs, we’ll have a city with a diverse population.
One of the things that’s affecting Atlanta right now is, everything is getting more and more expensive. Regardless of your race, that is creating problems. Affordable housing is something we need to work on and there’s several things we can do in that area. Community land trusts are one tool that promote and develop affordable housing. Another is working with developers to set aside affordable housing units in their projects by negotiating with zoning and other requirements around the projects. That’s a version of inclusionary zoning.
There are other things like the housing opportunity bonds that will drive affordable housing where you effectively provide developers with subsidies to create affordable units. It’s a lot of things need to be done around affordable housing. We then also emphasized what I talked about before, which is transit and transportation. If you’re going to have a city that works for everybody, not everybody is going to own a car. We need to have a transit system that works for everybody. There’s a series of policies that we need to make that will make Atlanta work for everybody.
Kamau Franklin: It’s a follow-up in anyhow, in the gentrification issue, I mean, this losing of the black population in Atlanta has been going on where now a couple of decades. The affordable housing has also been going on for a couple of decades. What do you think mayors prior to you have been missing on this issue that they’ve allowed this to happen for so long now? Why now do you think everybody is waiting on a stance so that they would be able to turn this around? Is this something that people should’ve seen or could not miss that’s been happening in the city for a long time now.
Peter Aman: It’s a great question. If you listen to Mary Franklin, I’ll paraphrase here, but my understanding in just having heard her in public speeches, she talks about how one of the things she wished she worked on more was equity in the City of Atlanta and these issues. They connect to transportation, jobs, education, et cetera. I think that there was, just having lived here for a couple of decades, there was a combination of not completely understanding the degree of what was going on.
Also, there were some, it’s like you come across an accident scene. There’s a patient in the road and you focus on the most critical things first. For Mayor Franklin, it was sewers. The sewers, we were under federal consent. Had to fix the sewers. We were faced with a situation where people weren’t going to be allowed to tie into the sewer system anymore. There’d be a virtual halt of all development which would have devastating impact on everybody in the city. She had to work on that.
Similarly for Mayor Reed and I, we face the pension crisis where we didn’t think the pension checks that we might write someday would be honored. Because the city wouldn’t be able to back those promises, so we had to work on that. I think it’s a combination of people … It’s a little bit of the boiling frog syndrome. I’ve never tried this obviously, but what the story goes is, if you raise the water, the frog doesn’t jump out, he dies. This has been going on for a while but it hasn’t been going on in a dramatic sense. I got in there but I hadn’t actually got it.
Kamau Franklin: I think, I might take another crack. I think, of course, mayors can juggle more than one thing at the same time, but there seems to be a particular emphasis on development by developers who are doing high-income, even mixed-income, which usually turns into, within a few years, all the low-income housing, people moved out of in this market rate. That seems to be the trend, and is allowing developers to do that kind of work without a lot of interference or without a lot of say, “Stop this now.” Or, the tax breaks continue the developments that are probably going to happen anyway. It seems like it’s not just a pattern of, I think, it was just something that was happening were ignored, but also part of a development plan around Atlanta. At least it feels like that to think that the people will be pushed out of the city right?
Peter Aman: Yeah. I think that what we haven’t done in Atlanta is ask enough of developers and plan, and been intentional enough. I think some of that comes because of the history of Atlanta where we lost population right? You had a city that dropped from roughly 500 thousand to roughly 400 thousand from the late ’60s through the ’70s and ’80s. They were not spanning many mayors terms here, but the leadership either was or felt like it was in a position where it couldn’t either intentionally plan or couldn’t demand certain things. Whether those were design standards or affordability standards or other things. Especially when you’re faced with a 20% drop in population that’s really dramatic.
You’re doing, I could sympathize and visualize with people saying, “Well, we need any development we can get. If we can get anything downtown, let’s go for it and let’s try and get the private capital.” Because the city doesn’t have enough of its own capital obviously to do massive development like that. I think that’s somewhat what went on but it’s hard for me to say. It’s clear where we’ve ended up, which is a position where we don’t have enough affordable housing and we don’t have enough things in the pipeline at this point. We are back on our heels. We are behind.
Jelani Nelson: One of the things I want to add is that, I came to Atlanta as a college student in ’96 we’re having Olympics and I saw a massive amount homes that were primarily occupied by African-Americans completely demolished. It was knocked down. The question would be around college campus AUC and Georgia Tech, “Where’d all the black folks go?” That really is continuing. It’s a part of it. I think this one thing is that, to build houses that are affordable within the context of this common mention of really, hopefully making it market-rate eventually kind of thing.
The other piece of it that, I think, is not being addressed at least in these conversation is, the fact that when those areas are predominantly black, are being gentrified, when entire blocks are being wiped out and lands are laying bacon. Those folks have to go somewhere, oftentimes, there are not enough of those subsidized housing in the city where the constructions are happening. Primarily, they’re happening in Midtown. They’re happening in West Midtown. They happen in Buckhead, out in Buckhead you can’t turn without seeing the construction going on in that part of the city.
This is a two pronged approach. It’s making sure that there’s replacement homes for those folks who can’t afford to go get a market-rate apartment or housing, anywhere in the city. They have to go out to the city. Which then, oftentimes, they stay. They move to Decatur, they move to College Park, or East Point, move further south or further west because at least those places have much cheaper rent. Then, the jobs aren’t there, I didn’t think, so therefore coming back into the city.
This note, the issues that we’re talking about are all interconnected. I think it starts by actually, it’s recognizing that there is a equity component, but the equity component is actually tied to race in a way that, perhaps it’s not intentional, but the bias that you talked about, is built into how investors are allocating their fund, that the city is actually supporting.
Peter Aman: Right. Clearly historically, there was not only a correlation between income and race as there is today. There’s implicit what we’re talking about. Historically, there was redlining and policies that you go back a number of years. Some people, you still have effective redlining today, although it’s not embodied in public policy and corporate manuals the way it was before. Historically, that clearly did happen and was all that negative consequences that we’ve probably all seen.
I think that to your point about, the first thing you have to do is not displace people right? You have to keep communities intact. To do that, you do have to think about what incentives you’re providing. At the same time, if you go to English Avenue and Vine City where 52% of the homes are vacant and abandoned, that’s not a great situation either, for all the obvious reasons. It’s not a great environment for kids to live in or adults to live in.
At least I, as mayor, I don’t want to have lots of vacant and abandoned houses around. We need to figure out how to make the neighborhood safe enough and clean enough, and have good education so that people want to invest in those areas, but that we don’t frankly, in the case of the single-family units, we have these neighborhoods with single-family units, that’s a zoning issue. Let’s replace them with single-family units. In many cases, let’s have the land owned by community land trust so it’s a durable affordable housing in perpetuity so that it doesn’t become a flip to market-rate someday in the future. That we’ve replaced those with single-family units as opposed to just knocking everything down and putting up the three-story stucco expensive stuff.
That’s a city planning and a zoning function that we haven’t done enough of. Again, because people were desperate to get any type of investment. The big advantage of the growth of the city right now is that we shouldn’t feel desperate. We should feel like we can take a stand and we can protect communities, and we can protect people without damage. That’s how I think about it.
Kamau Franklin: Quick follow-up. The city has a land bank and another smaller land trust, but it seems like the land bank that the city has, again, mostly is used by developers. If you want to develop these projects by the larger developers, the land bank operates to help smooth that over, what is the property that’s not being used. It hasn’t been a position where it seems like the land bank itself is being used to help forward the initiative of …
Peter Aman: Right. That’s why we need community land trusts, which is a different version of a land bank although legally, you may use a similar structure or even that structure. This is where we need specific city-led efforts. We need a housing department at the city that focuses on this. The city really hasn’t had, I mean, the city has planning, and within that, has people that work on this, but we haven’t had a senior cabinet level person which I think we need, to focus on these issues and to drive specific plans. We do have private sector companies and individuals willing to invest in “non-profits” and donate to non-profits to support this type of development. We just need to have a plan and take advantage of it.
This is hard. Cities, if you just let, water find its own level if you will. If you just let things go the way the market will take you, these are the problems you end up with. You have to have an intentional planning effort to protect communities. You’re right. That’s the first part of it. Then you have to make sure that there’s also affordability constructed.
Kamau Franklin: Is that a major problem with the BeltLine as you think about all the gentrification?
Peter Aman: Yeah. Clearly, the BeltLine has had some wonderful impacts right? I mean, it’s great having a physical health, mental health, parks, green space, a mobility of the path. It has some wonderful attributes, and I very much want to continue and build out the BeltLine. We haven’t hit our affordable housing goals for a variety of reasons. I mean, we can’t continue to do that. We have to hit our …
Kamau Franklin: Give me the top two or three reasons why we haven’t hit the public …
Peter Aman: I think that the key reasons, number one, are the lack of funds available. In other words, housing affordability bonds that can be provided to developers to create units. The second is a lack of specific focus as projects are done by the city on looking at affordability. These discussions are had, especially now, but I think if you rolled back again coming out of the Great Recession, projects were done with a looser eye from the city on some of these issues.
Again, some of that was property values had tanked. We’d just come out of the Great Recession. If somebody wants to build something, this is terrific. There weren’t as many requirements and questions as we ultimately realized we need to have. I think it’s a matter of funding and will. The good news that, now is that you have mostly agreement among the candidates that this is an important issue. It’s definitely gotten everybody’s attention.
Jelani Nelson: Back to public thinking and some things were really a big deal. One thing that you talked about on your website is the staff in policing and doing community policing model. You talked specifically about what does that look like on the community policing model. How does your policy would be different in particular, from what’s happening today on the ground?
Peter Aman: There’s a couple of things. First we need the staff because right now, we have budget and authorization for two thousand officers. We’ve fallen below that. Several hundred below that because the officers are leaving. We do not pay them fairly at every level. The city has started to adjust pay rates. I understand in the next budget, they’re going to do some more. We have to keep the officers. We want people to stay. To do that, we have to pay them fairly. That’s the first thing we have to do.
The reason staffing is important is, a couple of things. One response times. Right now, if there’s a shooting, if there’s a major crime, we have very good response times. If your car is broken into, it’s not such good response times right? If there’s a suspicious person in your neighborhood, it may or may not be good response times. What that gives is a system where everybody is running from one 911 high-priority call to the other.
When you’re in that mode and in that situation running from one emergency to the other, you don’t have time or inclination to get out of your car or talk to a homeowner or a business owner. That’s the other reason why staffing is important. It’s not only to have the police to respond quickly, but to have the police having enough time to do community-oriented policing.
Ultimately, at its core, it’s pretty simple. It’s spending time in the community wherever you’re on your beep and getting out of your car and talking to people. You have to have the time and space to do that. The only way you have the time and space to do that while still answering all the high-priority calls is to have more officers. That’s why we need to look at that. It’s, to me, very important that we focus on that aspect of getting more officers and, as I said before, very consciously think about how the officers do their jobs, and advance our ability to have them do their jobs better with the citizens in mind.
Jelani Nelson: We recognize that as having enough people to feel the calls and to services of this city. The other part of that is, having the citizens have enough influence and really oversight in their own policing kind of thing? How far are you willing to go in citizen oversight of police force?
Peter Aman: I think that there’s models in several cities that have worked well around Citizen Review Boards. We have one in Atlanta. I think there’s a discussion to be had with the police department or with the citizens around the powers of the Citizen Review Board and whether it needs more power. A number of the police officers and I think the police union itself and historically the police department has objected to much broader powers. We really need to look at that and we need to look at what other cities have done.
I will say the technology is changing what oversight means, because as you know, we have body cameras in the City of Atlanta. As an aside, I was one of the founding members of the Police Foundation over a dozen years ago. We actually helped with the funding and planning for the body cameras and helping put that system in place. I think it’s tremendously important that we take advantage of these new technologies and work them into the process.
Part of citizen oversight is transparency. Under what circumstances can you get the footage of the body cameras? Now there’s privacy concerns too right? This is not straightforward. I do think that we need to use transparency as a tool in oversight as much as we can. My bias is, make things as transparent as possible. Make information as rapidly available as possible. Again, balancing privacy concerns and due process concerns.
Jelani Nelson: I think that one of the things that, I think you’re right about the fact that transparency is an important part of that oversight, but I think a part of it is really how much power that’s been a part of it, is really how much power the citizens have over the their “public servants” i.e., the police. You said that was a debate that can be held about that. Where do fall in that debate? Do you think there’s more power that the Citizen Review Board should have? Or you’d be with the police, I guess these are federation and …
Peter Aman: Yeah. I’m stating what I understand are positions from a little while ago, so I’m not sure what their current positions are. I think the city law department, the police department, the unions, all had a position against the substantial increase of power to include punishment powers on the part of the Citizen Review Board. Some of these were legal arguments that applied differently by states depending on your state law. The reason I think, we need to have a conversation about this is, it’s not simple.
Where I fall in it is, we need to have a conversation about it. I’m open at the discussion of broadening the powers of the Citizens Review Board, but it is complicated. We have to find a balance between citizen control but also having a police force that can feel like it can do its job, that it’s trusted. Again, transparency comes back to this in a really big way because if everything is on tape, there’s a lot less subjectivity involved.
Jelani Nelson: One of the things that is a big deal and at least in the black community that’s sitting across the country is that, the government of the city tends to be honestly in line with the police when there were issues. Especially around issues of police abuse. That goes across all racial lines. A lot of report research have shown that, there are biases against black men within the police force. Regardless of what the race of the police officer.
The challenge is not just about what’s visible, what’s transparent. You talked about earlier, it was advised that police officer comes to the table with, and at least the argument or the arguments with it for more power on the part of the Citizen Review Board to be able to have some kind of sanction and power is that, the police officer might think twice about the engagement for better or for worse.
A part of the argument for that again is, if I see an average black kid walking down the street, a police officer, you might not think that he has any relationships or influence but you respect him just on arrival, kind of thing. Whereas people walk in on a block and you see a kid dressed probably similarly, engaged with similar behavior let’s say you may think twice because this kid might know someone that knows someone. I think those are the kind of things that they are also part of that review board politics that needs to be teased out and that folks are really passionate about.
Peter Aman: I agree with that. A couple of things. One is, we have to find a way to have the police review board surface and raise those issues in a way that gets attention. Whether it gets the officer’s attention or the public’s attention. Whether it’s a matter of using direct sanctioning power or raising it to another level of adjudication, another level of review. We have to find a way to do that. I don’t know the exact mechanism that will work best, but I do agree with you that you have to have rules and consequences for everybody.
The other thing I would say just as an example of my track record on this. When I was chief operating officer, we had a unit called Red Dog. Which was a, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it. It was a, I don’t know if this was the technical term that was used, but it was an aggressive enforcement unit. They typically rode three to a car. They typically were deployed on high-crime areas.
After a series of incidents where at least in my opinion, the Red Dog Unit did not behave appropriately respectfully, I disbanded them. I actually went and met with Chief Turner and actually pulled them out of a meeting after the most recent incident. We disbanded Red Dog Unit. I think that’s the type of signal you need to send when you have either an individual or a group. Because sometimes this is a group dynamic. I felt that the group dynamic within Red Dog was a problem and that they were not respecting people. You have to have consequences for individuals and groups for sure.
Kamau Franklin: Two quick follow-ups. Public policy analysis that are suggesting now that if the police get three substantiated complaints against them, the police officer has three substantiated complaints against them, that they should be fired. Do you agree with that? Do you think that it’s something more expensive? Which would be, or something like that?
Peter Aman: I haven’t seen that research. Just as I’m leery of minimum sentences in courts, so I’m leery of black and white rules around three strikes and you’re out. I mean, I think that can be misapplied. I’d like there to be some judgment involved. Statistically, I think you’re right. The more sustained complaints you have against you, the more there’s indication of a problem. I would certainly look at something like that very closely. I do think that particularly if people agree and sign up to employment on certain terms and you know it going in, that that’s something we should look at and so people know that this is what happens.
Frankly, I think you do need to look at … all these things are judgments and there’s a risk line. There’s a way you need to, I think, look at it such that we have people think twice to your point. I don’t want anybody to be unsafe including the officers of course. There are people that do very bad things that you can only respond with force and we know that. I do think we need to look at some of the things that you just talked about, so that people have a thought process around that.
Kamau Franklin: Implicitly in the community-pleasing motto is the idea that there’s over-policing right? The police but it’s going on now, sort of the broken windows approach to policing needs to change right? In your formulation of your new policing, do you think things like decriminalization of marijuana or minor street offenses should not be gone after by the police or do you think there should be a ratcheted up of going after minor offenses in order to stop “the bigger crimes”? What’s your thinking on that?
Peter Aman: A couple of things. First, let me just observe that Michael Eric Dyson had an interesting point at a forum at The Carter Center about race that even the term, an approach like community-oriented policing has implicit bias in it. Which is the folks in Buckhead aren’t calling for community-oriented policing because they don’t see the problems, because they’re not infected by implicit bias in the same way as you just articulated. I just want to note that because I think it’s important that we think pretty deeply about these issues. Frankly, some of my opponents don’t think deeply about them at all.
Kamau Franklin: Would you name any of those opponents?
Peter Aman: Yes. I think Mary Norwood does not think deeply about these issues whatsoever, if that’s clear an answer enough. I think when you look at the community-oriented policing model, yes, there is a sense that there is a different way to do things that would be better. I think in Atlanta, we’re better than a lot of cities, other cities on this. If the city police force matches the population to the closest degree of any major city from the latest data I saw. I think we’re better than a lot of those cities but we still need to improve. Yes, there’s an inherent flaw.
I do think that to your point about de-prioritization, I do think we should de-prioritize certain crimes. In fact, Chief Shields has already said in the reporting that I’ve seen that they do de-prioritize marijuana and other offenses. I think that is important. We’ve seen the statistic of 93% or 94% of the arrests are of African-American for marijuana possession or use. We know from other resource that the incidents of usage is similar across races. That clearly is a case of something askew in the system.
Tanasia Kenney: On your website,
Peter Aman: I’m glad you read the website. This is so great. You’re the only journalist who have actually read … I think, I am insulting all the rest of the journalists, so I’m just giving you the …(Laughter)
Jelani Nelson: We won’t print that. (Laughter)
Tanasia Kenney: On your website you speak about jobs and businesses. What are some specific plans do you have to support the growth and create further opportunities for growth for black businesses in Atlanta?
Peter Aman: There’s several things. First, I would say that, I very much, and I think I use this language on my website. I very much believe in both maintaining and improving the disadvantaged business enterprise. The equal business opportunity programs. The female and minority on business programs that the City of Atlanta has. We have a long history in Atlanta of innovation and obviously under Mayor Jackson, establishing and making these programs a success in Atlanta.
We absolutely need to continue those programs. I happen to think, and I manage them or at least I manage the contract compliance department as chief operating officer, I happen to think that we can make them better on several fronts. I think that there are specific things we can do to give more access to minority-owned businesses. For example, right now, because many of them are small businesses or mid-sized businesses, they can’t afford to bid on the city contract because they need a performance bond. Or they need a certain scale of a legal team to read through these massively thick requests for proposal. Or the contracts which are even thicker. I mean, they’re just unmanageable for many small and mid-sized businesses.
I think we need to enhance the powers of the city to have a simplified. Think about your 1040 form easy in the US. It’s a very short, simple form. We need to figure out how to do that for small businesses, minority-owned businesses so that we can lower the cost of doing business with the city. We’re too hard to do business with as a city. That’s one thing I think we can do.
The other thing we need to do is, we’ve had in the City of Atlanta, this approach where if we get business to minority contractors, they will then get capital, expertise, head count. Minority businesses are more likely to hire minority employees and promote minority employees. That they will then branch out from there into work for the private sector right? Because the government is just a small slice of overall spending. What’s happened is, I’ve talked to a lot of minority-owned businesses, is that has not happened in Atlanta. There’s still very much a sense that they’re shut-out from what is by far, a much larger stream of revenue, which is in the private sector.
We need to figure out with the local business system and with some great large companies here which have their own programs along these lines. We need to figure out how we extend the mindset of this to some of the private companies and get their help so that we have, whether it’s a development in Buckhead and the sole selection of a contractor. Whether where we can have some of these thought processes and access extended to the private sector that we create at the city. I think that’s very important.
The final thing I’d say is that, because you asked around specific plans is, we have not seen as much change on places like Cascade Road as we have in Midtown right? I mean, you drive down Cascade Road, Ralph David Abernathy, Metropolitan Parkway. I mean, there are areas where lots, that if they existed, a lot of other parts of the city, they would’ve had private capital, jobs, development. Now we have the issue of gentrification that we have to manage, but it clearly is unbalanced right? It’s just clearly unbalanced.
The way you do that is first, you stop incenting growth where it doesn’t need incentives. Let’s not provide incentives to another hotel in Buckhead or Midtown and let’s start providing incentives, tax abatements and other incentives to where we want development, which is Downtown and south of Downtown. The reason I mentioned Downtown is we need more people to live Downtown.
I walked across the street here and I think I almost took a picture and tweeted it because there’s nobody here and we’re right in the heart of Downtown. If the city population is going to double, and we’re not to suffocate on our own traffic, we need people living right there in that abandoned building over there, the medical arts building. We need to provide the planning and incentives to do that, both here and then south to like 20. Our campaign office is on Auburn Avenue quite intentionally in the Odd Fellows building, which is a historic African-owned and constructed structure, that there’s lots of office space around. We chose that for a reason because it’s at the heart of the city. It’s on Auburn Avenue, at the heart of what makes Atlanta, Atlanta.
Kamau Franklin: I was curious about something although, I have a schedule the next question but because you said something about development in the west end and tax breaks and so forth. My worry within that answer is, wouldn’t you be worried that it’ll lead to the same … You mentioned it, but the same gentrification, because you’re offering the same incentives that larger businesses take advantage of because they can. As opposed to something that’s more community-oriented in terms of what the developing could be.
Peter Aman: Yes, I am worried about that. When you design the incentives, you have to be willing to go patient and slow enough to do the smaller projects. Some of it is about scale. Implicit in your question is an interesting idea of creating programs that are limited in scale and scope to, I don’t know, some number of square feet or businesses and things like that. Yes, we do have to be careful then. I think limiting it in a way consistent with the zoning of the neighborhood and the plan for the neighborhood is really important.
One other thing I would say by the way, the city has a lot at stake in this election. Some of it’s obvious. Some of it’s not. One thing is, we’re going to deploy 14 billion dollars of infrastructure capital over the next several years. Program and deploy. The next mayor in partnership with some on the board, will be responsible for this. It’s the largest amount of money in the generation to be deployed.
In combination with that though is, what’s likely to be a complete rezoning of the city. When we talk about protecting neighborhoods and communities, that happens through the zoning code. If you don’t have a zoning code that is supportive of that, you’ve got a problem.
Kamau Franklin: What is your position on a 15-dollar or standard minimum wage in Atlanta? Are you for or against it? Do you see a middle ground?
Peter Aman: For, I think that this is something we need to look at for the City of Atlanta employees. We need to look at a living wage. In fact, the city has a living wage. I don’t know if it’s an ordinance or executive order. I think it started as an executive order by Mayor Franklin or the equivalent. It may that it have been put in an ordinance. I think we need to look at that. We need to look at having a living wage for city employees first. We have to get our own house in order. We have to figure out how we’re going to pay for that.
I think the most recent cost estimate I saw was something like six million dollars. That’s a lot of money in the scope of the city budget, but I think we have to clearly have to move in that direction. The state doesn’t give us the power to set a minimum wage outside the City of Atlanta employees. We don’t have that ability. I think we need to look at the signaling we’re doing by how we treat our own employees. We need to move in that direction.
Kamau Franklin: Do you have a number in mind though?
Peter Aman: I think the $15 number for City of Atlanta employees is probably the right number, but I want to look at, again, the cost. If you look at what The Economist say about living wage, it can get awfully complicated. I want to look at the City of Atlanta statistics and cost of living. I’m pretty sure we’re going to come out to the round number, but I haven’t seen enough analysis done by the fed or somebody else in the City of Atlanta’s case. I do know there are cases that are examples where there are towns where it’s just lower than that. I don’t think Atlanta is going to be one of them, but there are some very low cost of living places where that may be true.
Jelani Nelson: Final Question.
Peter Aman: Really? So soon?
Jelani Nelson: Yeah. In Black Star, and this is probably, we do about five to six million unique visitors per month
Peter Aman: Congratulations.
Jelani Nelson: Thank you so much. In the City of Atlanta alone, it’s about 150 thousand people. That’s a really big deal I think in the city. The question we’ll be asking others that have sat in that chair is, why should we, on the Black Star, endorse you and ask our folks to vote for you?
Peter Aman: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I have the best hair. No, just kidding.
Peter Aman: Not me. I’m not going to pick on specific names in this category. That’s a global statement. I’ll come back to three things I mentioned before, which is experience. I’m the only candidate running who’s actually managed the City of Atlanta government as chief operating officer. I also have 25 years experience in the private sector helping some of the world’s largest and most complex organizations become more successful. I have deep experience in those areas. Plus, I have spent over the last 15 years, many years, helping the City of Atlanta, but also the non-profit sector.
I helped fund the Police Foundation board. I helped a couple of years ago as the standing board chair of Partners for HOME which helps the homeless, helps coordinate the homeless services provision in the city. I’ve been on the board of the Woodruff Art Center. I have a deep appreciation for arts. There is nobody that has the level of experience that I have either with organizations and operations, or with city government and city philanthropic. There just is nobody. You look through everybody’s records and I have more experience in that area and more familiarity with policies and operations and having a vision and making it come to life.
The second thing I would mention is ethics. I have a long track record not just in government, of holding people accountable when I was COO. I held people accountable for ethics violations. People were fired in some cases when we found that to be necessary. In the private sector, I did the same thing. I have a long track record of ethics and holding people to high ethical standards.
Then third, leadership. Being mayor is not just about running the city of government. It’s about setting a vision. As I said a city that works for everybody, and then making that vision a reality. Some people are good at talking a good game about vision. Some people are good at executing them. I’m good at both. I’ve demonstrated that leadership in a variety of ways by bringing Atlanta together across government, private sector, non-profits and the community. Some people leave the community out in that listing of attributes. It’s really a four-legged stool, not a three-legged stool. Whether it’s helping the government or helping the non-profit sector, or working with the private sector, I’ve just done that in a variety of areas.
Jelani Nelson: Thank you. Thank you for coming.
Peter Aman: Thank you for having me.