AHA Quietly Passes Eviction Plan Amidst Shouting, Public Unaware
Photographs by Jonathan Springston, Atlanta Progressive News
(APN) ATLANTA — The Atlanta Housing Authority never called its Thursday, April 25, 2007, public hearing to order and appears to have passed the Consent Agenda–including mass evictions of public housing residents–while many in the audience were shouting “Let the people speak!”
AHA “was skating on the edges of the Georgia Open Meetings Act,” State Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas says of the incident.
No one is quite sure when the agenda items were passed, really, although Anita Beaty, Executive Director of the Task Force for the Homeless, says “I heard them say, All in favor say aye.”
No one knows what the vote was, or if there was any discussion, because the public proceeding was almost completely inaudible to the public.
The meeting was supposed to have begun at 4pm, following two hours of protests outside the AHA Office on John Wesley Dobbs Avenue by about 80 public housing advocates and residents.
The AHA Board came to the meeting about 10 minutes late, and advocates were shouting, “Where is the Board?” Atlanta Progressive News suspects the Board was deciding their plan of action during that time.
The AHA Board filed in through a side door and sat down, while advocates and residents shouted “Let the people speak!”
State Sen. Vincent Fort then said, “This is an issue of great public interest and importance.”
“Everybody’s making noise to agree to stop and let the public speak. But while we were making the noise that sneaky Aaron Watson was passing that Consent Agenda. We were asking for a chance to be heard on the front end. The whole point to have the public comment on the front end was to speak to the items on the Consent Agenda,” Beaty says.
Given the context of the public’s demands and the secretive manner in which the hearing was conducted, many believe AHA’s actions to have been not only inappropriate, but deceptive.
“They went ahead and did it [voted] and pretended to acquiesce to our request and did not,” Beaty says.
After speaking quietly with each other amidst the chanting for a few minutes, Mr. Watson said, “We’re prepared to go to public comment at this time.”
Most in attendance interviewed by Atlanta Progressive News believed until the end of the meeting that they had postponed the vote and decided to let the people speak first.
At the end of public comment, AHA Director Renee Glover made a presentation. Glover said she felt a lot of misinformation was out there about the public housing situation and requested a meeting with community leaders.
“At this point, there are not mass evictions being exercised. When we adopted the work policy in November 2004, about 24% of families were working. Today, 78% are working. During that time, only 18 families have been evicted since then,” Glover said.
“In terms of vouchers, vouchers are a very popular resource,” Glover said.
The meeting was then adjourned.
Adjourned? Atlanta Progressive News then asked Glover if the Catalyst Plan had passed and she said yes. At that point everyone was in shock.
Sen. Fort and others then specifically and repeatedly asked for a moratorium on the Catalyst Plan until the meeting occurs.
“We voted on the business plan for the year. You can’t put a moratorium on business. Everything would come to a screeching halt. I don’t think it is fair to the residents who followed the work requirements to have a moratorium,” Glover said.
Besides, the meeting is already adjourned, Glover then said.
Others asked questions and Glover refused to answer.
This reporter then interjected to say people had questions about her presentation. Then, AHA’s Spokesperson, who was sitting nearby, said, “Are you a reporter? Why don’t you act like one?”
This reporter replied, “Are you a press secretary? Why dont you act like one?”
According to the Georgia Open Meetings Act, the public is supposed to have access to public meetings. The very fact no one knows what happened in terms of the agenda–except at the end Renee Glover told APN the Catalyst Program [evictions] passed–raises serious questions about AHA’s compliance with the law.
Atlanta Progressive News is preparing a letter to the AHA and Georgia Attorney General concerning possible Open Meetings violations. One ACLU attorney tells APN that AHA at the very least did not follow the spirit of the law.
Other agenda items including “Committee Reports,” “Staff Reports,” “Report from the President and CEO,” and “Comments of Commissioners,” were also apparently skipped, seeing as how there’s no way they could have been accomplished during a few minutes of public chanting. It’s unclear who approved such deviations from the agenda, or why the public was never informed, as well.
MEETING FOLLOWS FIRST OF MANY MASS PROTESTS
“Glover must go!” was the leading chant of the afternoon, as Atlanta City Councilwoman Felicia Moore joined other politicians, advocates, and residents for a protest in front of AHA prior to their public hearing.
Organizations represented include public housing Resident Advocacy Boards, Jobs with Justice, the Task Force for the Homeless, Rainbow Push, the Nation of Islam, Concerned Black Clergy, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Movement to Redeem the Soul of Atlanta, and the Open Door Community. State Sen. Vincent Fort and State Reps. Able Mable Thomas, Tyrone Brooks, and Sheila Jones were in attendance.
“I certainly am sensitive. In my District, over 3,825 people could be evicted. I am concerned. I’m trying to find out the number of units they can take the vouchers to,” Councilwoman Moore told Atlanta Progressive News.
“I’m personally gonna intervene between me and the Housing Authority for people to be treated with dignity,” Moore said.
The protest had been called by former Atlanta City Councilman Derrick Boazman.
“All of them [City officials] ain’t Uncle Tom’s,” Boazman said when introducing Moore.
“Only hate could produce this kind of results. Thank God for the radical element who said, Let my people go!” Boazman said in his remarks.
“There’s no good reason our brothers and sisters are being turned away from their homes. Why create affordable housing when they already live in affordable housing?” Boazman observed.
“We need to call upon HUD to get an injunction against further demolition of public housing… I’m amazed [Mayor] Shirley Franklin would allow this to happen under her watch,” advocate Joe Beasley, with the Task Force, said.
“We’re gonna bring in the legal side and maybe we’ll have to do some civil disobedience,” Beasley said.
“Don’t send no Uncle Tom to me to tell me this is right,” State Sen. Vincent Fort said.
“Stop the evictions now. We don’t want a meeting like at City Hall last week where they talk down to the people,” Fort said.
“We’re scared our people won’t have a place to live. People with vouchers are being turned away,” Diane Wright, President of the Resident Advocacy Board of Hollywood Courts homes, said.
State Rep. Sheila Jones was also in attendance and she said there are 3 units in her District. She said she had been talking with AHA and Mayor Franklin about this issue and is trying to find out how to prevent eviction of those who are at least “trying to meet the [employment] criteria.”
“It’s been a long, long, long fight. They never gave us a chance. They never wanted to work with us. We put out a call. We met with Beasley. The Lord heard our cry. Look around and see us. You see, God is watching us,” RAB President Shirley Hightower of Bowen Homes said.
About the author:
Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor and National Correspondent for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.