Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Announcement of Community Benefits Agreement Premature and in Bad Faith

Residents Marched to Turner Filed and set up a tent city on April 1st

Press conference with community leaders and elected officials supporting a real, binding Community Benefits agreement to be held Wednesday April 26th at #TentCityATL, 755 Hank Aaron drive at 10:30am.

GSU and Carter, doing business as Panther Holdings LLC prematurely and in bad faith released the terms of a deal it crafted with a selected group of community members and organizations to the exclusion of the Turner Field Benefits Coalition.  It highlights the heart of Atlanta’s gentrification problem.

In December of 2016 the City of Atlanta and Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority released an RFP for the sale of Turner Field and surrounding parking lots. Panther Holdings was created and awarded a sweetheart deal - for $30 million they got $300 million worth of real estate and tax abatements, too.

From the time of the sale of the Braves the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition - a democratically elected body of residents, community organizations, small businesses and churches - have been actively engaged in developing a community driven Community Benefits Agreement to counter gentrification and prevent displacement of residents.

Nearly two years ago a politically connected faction of the coalition led by Suzanne Mitchell broke away and began private negotiations with Panthers Holding. Mitchell is the sister-in-law of council president Ceasar Mitchell, who curries the favor of the developers Carter and GSU repeatedly stating she "could just pick up the phone and call them." Access denied to the democratically empowered Coalition representing broad stakeholders across five impacted neighborhoods.
Day 12 of #TentCityATL

Just an hour or so before news began to spread that a deal had been reached, Carla Smith, GSU, Oakwood and Carter presented a plan it developed with the selected group of individuals and organizations and without input from the community at-large. Council president Cesar Mitchell along with Council members Felicia Moore, Michael Julian Bond, and Deborah Scott with Partnership for Working Families Founding member & VP National CBA Network participated in the meeting.

The Coalition and its advisor, Maya Dillard Smith, former Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia, were allowed to see documents memorializing this "deal" for the first time. There are actually two deals - one with GSU and one with Cater.

The Coalition requested time to review these documents and a follow-up meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 1, 2017. The conversation centered on the importance of transparency, accountability, inclusion and honesty, which has been missing from the negotiations to date.

Sherise Brown, a long term resident of Peoplestown and core member of the coalition attended yesterday's meeting today and stated, “Although I think our meeting today with panthers holding LLC was productive and moving in the right direction, we have not received a commitment from them for a Community Benefits Agreement. We are looking forward to our follow up meeting with GSU and the developers. At this point we are beginning to build a partnership with Panthers holding LLC. We have not, I repeat we have not, reached any agreement. We are still in discussions.”

GSU student leader Asma Elhuni, who also attended the meeting stated, “Our meeting with Scott Taylor from Carter Developers, Bharath Parthasarathy from Georgia State University, Council members, and the Turner Field Benefits Coalition was productive with promises that the Developers will meet with the Turner field Benefits Coalition. It was made clear to GSU that the University foundation is allowed to sign a CBA. As a student, I am eager to see this happen in the near future so that we hold not only my University accountable to its promises, but also the developers.”

One might imagine The Coalitions surprise upon reading the AJC headline, “GSU-Turner Field Neighborhoods Strike Community Benefits Agreement”.

Tremendous misinformation has been miscommunicated by GSU and Carter in an already confusing environment of alternative facts.
Here are the facts:

1.         The Coalition was funded by the Casey Foundation, the Coalition worked with consultants and legal counsel paid for by Casey with a grant it provided of $90,000. Most of the money received went to consultants. Coalition members did not receive any money, and they participated in good faith to draft CBA defining investments, outcomes and protocols benefiting Peoplestown, Summerhill, Mechanicsville, and Pittsburgh. These neighborhoods were selected given the immediate and surrounding impact of the project in alignment with the Living Centers Initiative.
2.         As soon as the deal was inked (Purchase/”Closing” took place), Casey pulled its funding. Unbeknownst to the Coalition at the time, Casey provided its $90,000 in services to the coalition, it was simultaneously funding hundreds of thousands in donations to Georgia State University. A clear conflict of interest for an organization which says it's dedicated to neighborhood change. Change, the Casey foundation will benefit from as it owns 14 acres in the affected area of the Turner field project.
3.         Council member Carla Smith received the maximum political contribution of $2500 from Scott Taylor of Carter the day after the deal closed for the sale of Turner Field.  She also received donations from Carter development.
4.         Suzanne Mitchell is negotiating with GSU and Carter in her individual capacity and as a relative of the City Council President, Caesar Mitchell.  She is no longer the president of (ONS) Organized Neighbors of Summerhill.
5.         Mayoral candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms served on the City Council while also serving as the chairperson of the Fulton County Recreation Authority.  This represented a clear conflict of interest and the closing documents directed Bottoms to receive 5% of the sale price of Turner Field ($600,000).
The deal and its participants are ripe with conflicts and yet the Coalition continues to show up and engage in good faith. We ask only that the other people at the table do the same.

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