BREAKING: City, CAP Conspired to Sabotage Homeless Shelter–Part 1
(APN) ATLANTA — Email records and depositions of officials at Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) show that the City of Atlanta and CAP engaged in a multi-faceted conspiracy to sabotage the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless.
The efforts to destroy the shelter and drive it from existence included cutting off public funding, various lobbying efforts which resulted in loss of additional public funding, approaching private donors and partners of the Task Force, an extensive media campaign, and even working to push the Task Force into foreclosure.
Atlanta Progressive News–the first news agency to obtain just some of the many depositions and exhibits in the case–can reveal that Central Atlanta Progress lobbied the original lender for the several hundred thousand dollar mortgage to foreclose on the Task Force.
CAP first attempted to purchase the building through a shadow corporation, 477 Peachtree, which was created with the help of Troutman Sanders.
When that did not work, CAP approached one of its members, Manny Fialkow, to attempt to purchase the note on the building. Fialkow created a corporation called Ichthus which indeed purchased the note from Mercy Housing.
Ichthus immediately foreclosed on the property. An auction date for the building which houses over 700 homeless men per day was earlier this month. However, Fialkow extended the auction for 30 days after the Task Force threatened to include him in the lawsuit against the City of Atlanta.
Central Atlanta Progress is contracted to manage the affairs of the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID), which is funded by business property owners downtown who elect by majority vote every six years whether to pay five additional mills on property taxes towards the fund.
It is unclear whether the ADID taxpayers know their funds are being used to sabotage a homeless shelter.
Interestingly, CAP also pays all or a portion of the salary of Debi Starnes, former Mayor Shirley Franklin’s homelessness czar. CAP admitted that they wrote a check for forty thousand dollars earmarked for Starnes’s salary to the local United Way, which in turn paid Starnes. This means that Starnes is essentially working for both the City and CAP and that she is accountable to both.
ADMISSION OF INTENT
After trying to dodge the issue during their depositions, both A.J. Robinson, President of CAP, and Richard Orr, Senior Projects Manager of Communications and Membership of CAP, eventually admitted that they wanted to run the Task Force out of business.
Orr admitted that was CAP’s intent. “So the answer to my question is, yes, Central Atlanta Progress has tried to bring about removal of the Task Force from its location at Peachtree and Pine?” “Yes.”
After having to be asked the question 15 different ways, Orr also admitted CAP intended to cut off the shelter’s private funding.
Robinson insisted that was his hope but not his intent. However, it was not immediately clear how one does not have intent when they take steps towards the actualization of their hopes.
“Was it your hope that he [Dan Cathy] would stop giving money to the Task Force?” “It is my hope… It’s not my intent. It is my hope.”
“Do you understand what the word intent means?” “Intent is to influence behavior.”
“Did you intend to influence Mr. Cathy’s behavior?” “My hope was to educate him about the situation… If it influenced his behavior, then so be it.”
“And that’s what you wanted to have happen?” “Yes. I wanted to have happen.”
Robinson admitted CAP wants to reduce the number of homeless people sheltered downtown and that it was CAP’s strategy as early as 2003 to encourage new shelters be built away from downtown.
Later, regarding the lobbying campaign to the Tri-J Commission, the Task Force’s attorney asked, “You wanted them to stop funding the shelter?” “I mean, I’d say that’s a fair assessment,” Robinson said.
PRIVATE DONORS APPROACHED
CAP and the City worked together to approach private funders of the Task Force, including Dan Cathy of Chic-Fil-A, B. Wardlaw or the Gertrude Wardlaw Fund and the William Wardlaw Fund, and Whole Foods Market.
Horace Sibley, former head of former Mayor Franklin’s Commission on Homelessness, first suggested CAP meet with Dan Cathy of Chic-Fil-A because Cathy had been supporting the Task Force, Robinson said. Cathy had been one of the shelter’s largest funders until after a meeting with CAP and City officials in which said officials discouraged Cathy from continuing to fund the shelter.
The meeting with Cathy occurred July 03, 2007, according to an email. Orr invited several individuals to the meeting. Those who confirmed their attendance were Al Blackwelder, former CEO of Emory Crawford Long; Tom Bell, former CEO of Cousins Properties and former CAP Chairman; Brad Currey of St. Luke’s Church; and Starnes.
Starnes wrote in an email she was trying to get former Mayor Franklin to attend, although Robinson later said no one from the City attended.
Ambassador vans, paid for by CAP, were used to pick up Bell, Robinson, and possibly others to provide transportation to the meeting with Cathy.
Robinson said the purpose of meeting with Cathy was to inform him of “the trouble that they [neighbors] had being in the same neighborhood with the Task Force.”
Robinson approached Currey to approach people who knew B. Wardlaw, another Task Force funder, according to Orr.
An email shows Robinson approached Starnes and Sibley to encourage them to approach Whole Foods the same way they did with Dan Cathy. Whole Foods almost canceled a fundraiser for the Task Force after being pressured, but reversed course.
“Perhaps there’s a way to now pull Whole Foods into your and Horace’s efforts, kind of like what we tried to do with Chick-Fil-A,” Robinson said.
CAP even approached clients of Baker Donelson, the Task Force’s pro bono attorneys, to apparently try to get the firm to stop representing the shelter.
Robinson first instructed Orr to find out more about Baker Donelson and who their big clients are. Then Robinson contacted S. Williams at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce to let them know their law firm was also representing the Task Force.
The Chamber of Commerce then contacted a managing partner at the law firm to attempt to convince them the Task Force was no good.
All of this is argued to be tortious interference with private business relationships, and the Task Force is seeking triple damages from the City.
PUBLIC FUNDERS LOBBIED
CAP and the City worked together to provide talking points to CAP members so they could lobby the Tri-J fund not to fund the Task Force. Orr requested in an email that Starnes provide CAP with the talking points for their members.
However, as noted below in further detail, neither Orr nor Robinson could substantiate any of the talking points.
“If your community is so up in arms about this Task Force as opposed to it being simply your organization that’s up in arms, why did you need to tell them talking points that they could say?” the Task Force’s attorney asked.
The Tri-J did cut of the Task Force’s funding for 2008 and CAP sent an email to members congratulating them. “Your letters had an impact in helping the evaluation committee understand the impact of the shelter’s lack of management and concern for the surrounding neighborhood. Thanks for your assistance.”
When Orr advised CAP leadership that Tri-J cut off the funding, it was in an email with the subject line “Hit for the Task Force.”
Starnes sent an email to CAP requesting they send a reminder to members about the Tri-J meeting.
In a separate instance, Councilman Kwanza Hall (District 2) forwarded a message from CAP to District 2 residents regarding public funding for the Task Force as well.
All of this is in addition to Franklin’s cutting off funding for the Task Force through the Department of Community Affairs, as previously reported by APN, and Franklin’s letter to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) urging them to do the same.
ATTEMPT TO INFLUENCE FORECLOSURE
Robinson, Fialkow, and others of CAP began discussing the possibility of purchasing the mortgage note on the Task Force from Mercy Housing as early as late 2008.
Tom Bell first suggested CAP purchase the note, according to Orr and an email dated November 12, 2008.
CAP first approached Mercy Housing in the first quarter of 2009, Robinson testified.
Originally, Mercy did not want to foreclose on the Task Force nor to sell the note, Robinson said. He then admitted he wanted Mercy Housing to foreclose.
“We continue in this conflict between the Task Force and the rest of the community and Mercy becomes a vehicle which to resolve the conflict because they have rights under their loan,” Robinson said.
When it appeared the person in charge of the loan at Mercy, was not interested in foreclosure, Robinson asked a colleague, Mr. Walker, in an email, how to encourage Mercy to do so.
“How about I invite Julie down here to meet with community leaders and mayor?” Walker replied. That meeting apparently did not happen.
They also contacted other individuals at Mercy to complain.
“Our strategy at this point is to nail the box closed on the single issue,” Orr wrote in an internal email.
When Mercy decided to sell the loan, CAP attempted to purchase it themselves. “Keep in mind we had had a three-month negotiation with Mercy which wasn’t successful,” Robinson said.
CAP worked through their attorneys at Troutman Sanders to create a corporation called 477 Peachtree, which wrote up a 25 page loan sale document for Mercy Housing, according to Orr’s testimony. However, Mercy Housing did not want to sell to CAP.
Then, Robinson suggested Fialkow buy the note. “I made Mr. Fialkow aware of the fact that perhaps he would have a better chance at buying the note than we did,” he said.
Robinson and Fialkow have spoken every few days to discuss the purchase of the note and Fialkow’s foreclosure on the Task Force, Robinson said.
Fialkow created a company called Ichthus, which eventually purchased the loan on January 29, 2010, and immediately foreclosed on the Task Force.
The City and CAP also engaged in a strategy to influence various Atlanta publications friendly to the business community to write negative stories about the Task Force. Fortunately for them, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Creative Loafing Atlanta magazine, and the Atlanta Business Chronicle were eager to participate.
Orr handled press communications for CAP. Orr at one point said he was going to give the name of the “hold-out” on the foreclosure at Mercy Housing to Rhonda Cook at the AJC. Robinson admitted the reason was to pressure Mercy into foreclosing.
Orr sent a December 2008 email to Cook with suggested questions she should ask, including questions about the Task Force being behind on bills.
When asked whether CAP also told Cook they had worked deprive the Task Force of funding in the first place, Orr replied, “I don’t tell the press everything I know.”
Orr also kept in touch with Starnes to report progress on his efforts to influence Cook.
When Cook’s article was published, Orr emailed Robinson to say, “We’re in!” He then sent a copy to Franklin’s communications director, Beverly Isom, asking whether the city could advise Cook on its contingency plans if the shelter closes.
At one point, Starnes sent an email to CAP asking them to find someone to write a negative letter to the editor to the AJC.
Despite the numerous negative statements Orr and Robinson have made about the Task Force, including calling it “Anita’s dysfunctional shelter,” when asked to back them up with facts, they were both unable to do so.
“It’s my understanding that the… Gateway as conceived is a gateway that folks… are encouraged with all the services that are provided there from different folks and 25 different entities, that it’s a chance to get out of being homeless and that there is a path that you have to commit to in order to receive those services. It’s my understanding that that’s not how the shelter at Peachtree-Pine operates,” Robinson said.
But when asked what services the Gateway provides that Peachtree-Pine does not, Robinson said, “I don’t know. I can speculate, but I don’t know for sure.”
“Are you aware that the Task Force has people available onsite that offer housing services?” the Task Force’s attorney asked. “I’m not aware,” Robinson said.
“People onsite that assist in medical issues?” “That I’m not aware of.”
“People onsite that assist in reunification services?” “I’m not aware of that.”
“Are you aware that the Task Force has onsite job training services?” “I’m not aware of that.”
“So when you say that the Gateway Center is different from the Task Force because it has folks [services] onsite, you’re just making an assumption, correct?” “Correct.”
“And you have no basis, no factual basis for that opinion?” “Correct.”
Robinson also admitted he had never visited the Task Force.
Robinson testified he believed Gateway was better than Task Force because it set requirements for homeless people to stay there. However, he said he did not know what those criteria should be, and nor did he know what should happen to homeless people who do not meet the unknown criteria.
Nor did Robinson have any data to back up his assertion there was criminal activity occurring in or around the Task Force.
“Does that seem a little irresponsible?” “Not irresponsible. Perhaps in the future we ought to be more specific about where this information — if this information is true.”
Orr said CAP supported the Gateway Center’s model as opposed to the Task Force’s model. “I’m not deeply familiar with it but as I understand it’s more away from warehousing and moving people up and out other than keeping them there,” Orr said.
However, when questioned Orr couldn’t define or explain how the Task Force is different than Gateway, or to define the term warehousing, except to say a little bit bigger.
“So what you’re saying is you don’t have any idea what the particulars are of either one, but because you perceive community sentiment of supporting the Gateway and not the Task Force, you’re willing to throw your lot in with the Gateway; is that what you’re saying?”
“That’s pretty close to it.”
One of CAP’s talking points is that the Task Force contributes to crime in the area; however, CAP’s own internal crime statistics show Pine Street has the lowest arrest rates among all streets intersecting with Peachtree.
Orr also admitted CAP’s concern is also that Task Force advocates for the homeless, not only that it provides shelter. The Task Force has always believed it has been targeted not only because of the City’s desire to remove poor, Black men from Peachtree Street, but also because the shelter has lobbied against the panhandling ban of 2005, the demolitions of public housing, and other anti-homeless City policies dating back to the Olympics.
“I will tell you that the difference between the two organizations are that Task Force, from my perspective, is both — claims to be a service provider one day and an advocate the next day. Service provider, advocate. That’s very — trust me, it’s very schizophrenic and it’s used with purpose and intent,” Orr said.
“Okay. So that’s a new distinction that you have that’s different from the warehousing element is that they advocate for homelessness, too?”
“It’s all wrapped up in that whole ball of wax,” Orr said.
Race also factored into CAP’s thinking, Orr noted.
“Would it be fair to say that… having reviewed complaints… it is your impression that the existence of a group of homeless black males is threatening or potentially threatening to tourists?”
“I would say loads of people are afraid,” Orr replied.
“Would you agree with me that that is augmented by the fact that the group is predominantly African American?”
“I would say that has some bearing on it.”
At the request of the Candida Foundation, Robinson instructed Orr to research Task Force’s funders and sources of political support. Orr began researching the Task Force as early as 2007, emails show.
A 2006 email with notes from a CAP strategy session regarding the Task Force state, “Who is on the board of directors of the homeless Task Force? Want to go to the source of their resourcing and/or political support.”
Steve Tedder, an employee of real estate companies according to Orr, did research on the Task Force’s loans for CAP.
COLLABORATION BETWEEN CITY AND CAP
There are various indicators the City and CAP worked together. First, as previously noted, CAP paid Starnes’s salary through the United Way. Starnes and other city officials participated in, planned to participate in, or organized meetings with Task Force funders.
Starnes, for example, wrote an email to Sibley, stating “I asked A.J. Robinson to send you a more detailed message describing the meeting, where he thinks they left off with Dan [Cathy], what they perceived he was responsive to.”
In addition, CAP funds paid for the Ambassador van used to pick people up and provide transportation to the meeting with Cathy. CAP met with City Officials to discuss the Task Force at CAP offices. One such meeting occurred on October 30 [year unclear], and included city officials Bonni Ware and Camile Johnson.
And City officials were involved in or at least copied on several email exchanges with CAP regarding the Task Force.
NUMEROUS FALSE STATEMENTS BY CAP
On pages 233 and 234 of Robinson’s transcript, he is caught in a lie. First, he says he never intended to get Mercy to put the Task Force into default. Then he is shown an email he wrote which reads, “How do I get Julie [loan officer] to put them in default?”
“It was false,” Robinson says about his own statement.
On page 49 of Orr’s transcript he says he does not know where CAP’s donation to the United Way was supposed to go. However, an email from Orr to CAP’s Board shows he personally recorded the Board’s approval of the payment, which was intended for Starnes’s salary.
On pages 88 and 89 of Orr’s transcript: “So previously when I asked you if there had been any meetings between CAP and private donors and you said you didn’t know, that was not a correct response to my question, was it?” “That would have to be, yes… I’m sorry. I misspoke.”
On pages 118 and 119, Orr first said he did not know the reason for meeting with Dan Cathy, then admitted it was to cut off funding.
About the author:
Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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