City Hires former Reporter, Ramage, as Citizen Advocate

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(APN) ATLANTA — In an interesting twist of events, the City of Atlanta has hired Stephanie Ramage, former reporter, editor, and columnist for the Sunday Paper magazine, as its first Citizen Advocate.

As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, Sunday Paper ceased covering news, let Ramage go, and went online-only.  Meanwhile, Ramage had started her own blog at stephanieramage.com.

When Ramage was first let to from the Sunday Paper, she questioned the timing of it, having been fired right after her boss received a phone call from the Mayor’s Office, upset with an article Ramage had written.

And so, Reed’s current move is either intended to co-opt and silence a critic; is a radical approach to improve City Hall; or both.

“Mayor Kasim Reed announced today that Stephanie Ramage, a longtime local journalist and blogger, has joined the City of Atlanta as Citizen Advocate, a new position that will help improve service delivery for residents and business owners across a broad spectrum, including water and sewer billing, permitting and licensing,” the Mayor’s Office said in a statement.

“The Office of the Citizen Advocate will provide residents and business owners with an identifiable point of contact within the City of Atlanta to help them resolve problems that have failed to be addressed through traditional channels in various departments,” the Mayor’s Office said.

“Mayor Reed invited Ramage to work on behalf of taxpayers in a manner that will have a more tangible impact on their lives than in her role as an investigative reporter and columnist,” the Mayor’s Office said.

“Stephanie Ramage’s track record as a reporter shows that she says what she thinks and she’s not afraid to critique anyone,” Mayor Reed said.

“As Citizen Advocate, I am certain she will work tirelessly on behalf of our residents and business owners and help make the city address problems in a manner that leads to better, faster and more efficient service,” Reed said.

“In her position, Ramage will ferret out problems on behalf of citizens and deliver an honest assessment of the City’s handling of the situation.  She will take citizens’ concerns to the involved parties — from front line workers up to department heads.  She will investigate the city’s response, assess its effectiveness and timeliness, determine exactly where breakdowns in communication or service are occurring, and make recommendations for resolution to the appropriate city leaders,” the Mayor’s Office said.

“The establishment of the Office of the Citizen Advocate is part of Mayor Reed’s goal to improve service in Atlanta and help keep government accountable.  Many cities, ranging in size from New York to Jacksonville, Fla., employ a person who serves as a citizen advocate, public advocate or ombudsman,” the Mayor’s Office said.

“Recently, I was presented with an opportunity to continue my mission of public advocacy in a dramatically different role,” Ramage wrote on her blog.

“On Monday, I became the City of Atlanta’s first ever Citizens Advocate, and while the title may be new, the work itself is something I have done with greater or lesser degrees of success as a journalist for many years,” Ramage wrote.

“Like most journalists, I have listened to the citizens, become acquainted with the problems they have encountered with their government, investigated the source of those problems and researched some solutions for them. As the city’s Citizens Advocate, I will still do that, but with a measure of authority that will allow the taxpayers more control over their government and ensure greater accountability,” Ramage wrote.

“No doubt some of you may be concerned about my future; you might even be shocked that I have chosen this path. I am grateful for your concern, but it’s important to note that Mayor Kasim Reed didn’t just ask me to join the team, he asked me to join the team and bring my criticisms with me,” Ramage wrote.

“I think that it would be very disingenuous of me not to take the job. After all, what kind of person would I be if I continue to offer criticism of the city, but I am not willing to do what I can to help solve its problems when given a perfect opportunity to do so?” Ramage wrote.

Ramage noted in comments posted on her blog that she expects the blog itself to change significantly.

“I can see the sense in continuing a public forum for things like announcements of meetings, new policies, developments in city programs, etc. Not sure. The mayor has not said a word about discontinuing the blog yet, but I can see problems arising. I don’t think it could continue in its present form. To Reed’s credit and the credit of his COO Peter Aman, the blog has not been a focal point of our discussions,” Ramage wrote.

The move is also significant because Reed is bringing someone who has been critical of him into his administration.  Ramage did endorse Reed for Mayor in 2009, but quickly began criticizing his Administration in the Sunday Paper, then later on her website.

(END / 2011)

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