APN Interview with Alex Wan, Council President Candidate
Previously, we interviewed Councilwoman Felicia Moore (District 9), who is also running for the seat.
Councilman C.T. Martin (District 10), a third candidate for the seat, has not responded to two interview requests made through his campaign.
This week, Councilman Wan added his name to Surplus Property Affordable Housing legislation that is now co-sponsored by nine members of Council.
And in an interview with Atlanta Progressive News, he committed to support allowing public comment in Work Sessions.
Councilwoman Moore did not support requiring that public comment be allowed in Work Sessions.
Wan, who joined the Council in 2010 and has served two terms, has a 47.1 out of 100 on the most recently published APN Scorecard, which scores dozens of votes and other actions going back to 2003.
At times during his tenure on the Council, Wan did not appear to be as supportive of public comment and transparency.
For example, in February 2010, he voted to create as a priority the establishment of a new public comment limit that would apply to all seven Committees. Councilwoman Moore conducted the vote at the urging of Wan and several newly elected Councilmembers at that time.
However, it took a 2012 Supreme Court of Georgia ruling for the citizens to learn how he voted, as he refused to disclose how he voted despite lengthy efforts by Atlanta Progressive News, which he described as “bullying.”
On May 11, 2010, he wrote the following to Peter Andrews in the City Law Department:
“I don’t appreciate this manner of bullying over a matter I believe he will have little or no grounds for any lawsuit… That said, I wanted to make sure that as our counsel, you’re comfortable with my position and that if he does end up filing the lawsuit as threatened that the City is prepared to defend me and any other Councilmembers that choose not to submit to his tactics,” Wan wrote at the time.
APN’s News Editor–the present writer–sued the City of Atlanta in 2010, and the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled in 2012 that the details of the vote should have been recorded in the minutes, which were amended soon after the ruling.
Wan also upset many in Atlanta’s gay community when he introduced legislation intended to force out adult entertainment businesses, including some gay clubs, on Cheshire Bridge Road through a zoning change. The legislation would have purported to end the grandfathered-in status of the existing establishments.
But now Mr. Wan is running to serve all of Atlanta, in a role that deals mostly with issues of Council process and public participation.
At one point, when Wan originally got on Council, he had the lowest score on the Scorecard, driven in part by his support for a pension reform proposal that would have made even worse cuts to existing City workers than the one that eventually passed.
Over the years, Wan seems to have become more progressive on certain issues and has shown more willingness to be independent from the Kasim Reed Administration.
For example, he opposed the new Falcons stadium in 2013, opposed the transfer of the Civic Center in 2014, opposed the privatization of streets surrounding Atlanta Underground in 2016, supported the decriminalization of cannabis in 2017, and supported the Turner Field Communities’ Trust Fund in 2017.
He tells Atlanta Progressive News that he has changed his views on public comment since when he first joined the Council.
“The first year, I wasn’t used to people calling me out like that,” Wan said.
Wan’s answers to APN’s questions regarding Council process issues are as follows:
SHOULD THE RULE LIMITING APPLAUSE AT COUNCIL MEETINGS BE AMENDED? CURRENTLY, THE COUNCIL PRESIDENT HAS INCONSISTENTLY ENFORCED THIS RULE, WHILE APPLAUSE REMAINS ALLOWED DURING PROCLAMATIONS.
“I think I’ve kind of mellowed out on that. I’m going to call the next speaker as if people are not applauding,” Wan said.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH PROTESTERS?
“I’m trying to find my path through it – I don’t receive information well that way. I try to sift through the package to get to the kernel. The process still needs to be respectful in terms of decorum and time,” Wan said.
“I get frustrated because I’m sitting there listening. When it comes time to explain my rationale, you can’t hear me when you’re talking as well, so I say, why bother?” Wan said.
“I try to establish ground rules. I hold anyone really strict to it – that is the approach you kind of have to take,” Wan said.
Wan said that he would not be a lenient as Council President Ceasar Mitchell has been, but that he would not necessarily have people arrested.
“We could have just recessed the meeting,” Wan said.
“If that’s the way that group wants to engage, they’ll have to find another way.”
“It starts cutting off paths forward. You start kind of burning bridges and you lose the space of having a conversation. Somebody said ‘I know where Ceasar lives,’” Wan said, referring to Haroun Wakil of Street Groomers, who frequently does, in fact, make such statements during public comment.
WHAT FACTORS WOULD YOU CONSIDER AS CRITERIA FOR COMMITTEE CHAIR?
Wan listed skill and interest in the topic of the committee.
THE COMMITTEE BRIEFINGS ARE NOW OPEN. DO YOU THINK THEY SHOULD BE VIDEOTAPED?
I don’t have a strong opinion about keeping them not videotaped.
The way I perceive Briefings is more procedural. Other Councilmembers do it differently, with more debate. I don’t think anybody would have an objection to it.
WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON PUBLIC COMMENT AT COMMITTEES? DO YOU STILL BELIEVE COMMITTEE CHAIR DISCRETION REGARDING PUBLIC COMMENT IS BEST? DO YOU HAVE A PREFERENCE AS TO WHETHER THERE SHOULD BE A TIME LIMIT, AND WHETHER PUBLIC COMMENT SHOULD BE ALLOWED PRIOR TO VOTES ON INDIVIDUAL ITEMS (RATHER THAN JUST AT THE BEGINNING OR END OF THE MEETING)?
“I support Chair discretion. I will firmly support a Committee Chair running the way as described. The first couple years I probably had a harder line on this than I do now,” Wan admitted.
“After two months of general meetings, I was stunned at what I thought were not professionally done. Start meetings on time,” Wan said.
“Being new to Committees and that public comment process, I thought public comment in certain instances felt obstructive… bogging down the process,” Wan said.
Yet, in Finance/Executive Committee, Wan said he thought the comments tended to be constructive.
“For three years, I chaired Finance/Executive Committee. People could talk at the beginning or the end without limit. There was appetite by Committee members to have the public comment be organic,” Wan said.
“I run my meeting very, very quickly,” Wan said.
Wan also said that as the former Chair of Zoning Committee he began allowing public comment on matters that did not also go before the Zoning Review Board. Previous Committee Chairs had erroneously not been allowing public comment on any matters in Zoning, and Wan ended that practice.
SHOULD PUBLIC COMMENT BE ALLOWED AT WORK SESSIONS?
“I would say yes,” Wan said.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2017)