Reed Administration Response to Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution Column by Bill Torpy
Mayor’s Office of Communications
55 Trinity Avenue, Suite 2500 • Atlanta, Georgia 30303
Anne Torres, Director
Jenna Garland, Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 24, 2017
Reed Administration Response to Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution Column by Bill Torpy
Statement and written responses from Press Secretary Jenna Garland, provided to Torpy on Thursday, July 20
ATLANTA – “Six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world today are found on the African continent. For the past two years, Mayor Reed and the Office of International Affairs have worked to advance a strategy to make Atlanta the preferred gateway to the Americas for African nations.
The strategy began with a trip to Johannesburg, followed by hosting Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille last year, then the Mayor’s trip to Cape Town this May, in addition to intentional person to person contact. The Mayor’s Office has hosted the exceptional young women and men of the Young African Leaders Initiative for the past three years, as an example.
Because of our history and our city’s civil rights legacy, Atlanta holds a special status for many people across the continent of Africa, especially in South Africa. When he was Mayor, Ambassador Andrew Young worked to deepen ties between Atlanta and Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa. We have decades of ground work to link the dominant city in the Southeast United States with the leading city on the entire continent of Africa. It’s likely that as an opinion columnist from Chicago you may not appreciate the inherent value of our ties with South Africa, but failing to maintain these ties, and failing to take advantage of opportunities to strengthen cross-continental relationships, would be an incalculable loss.
Currently, Delta has direct routes with Lagos, Nigeria, and Johannesburg, South Africa. Expanding the number of direct routes would afford Atlanta greater opportunities to grow ties with areas experiencing tremendous economic growth, in the same way the new direct route from Atlanta to Shanghai, announced earlier this week, offers new opportunities between our city and China.
FDI Intelligence Magazine recently ranked Atlanta a top city in the world for foreign direct investment in its 2016-17 Global Cities of the Future list. According to the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Metro Atlanta is already home to approximately 2,500 international facilities employing nearly 135,000 people. The entire metropolitan Atlanta region is a magnet for Foreign Direct Investment, bringing new jobs and capital – but this did not happen by accident. Mayor Reed believes in taking advantage of every opportunity to strengthen our global reputation because increasing our international ties and our global presence leads to a stronger, more vibrant economy and a thriving cultural community.
Contrast these facts with the AJC and WSB-TV’s focus on the cost of business-class travel for senior administration leaders. The itinerary for this trip was packed, and every participant was included because of their specific expertise. Every participant was asked to contribute to the agenda, which meant getting to work the moment the wheels hit the ground. The two flights to Cape Town add up to more than 18 hours in the air, with a substantial time zone change. It’s not only fair but in line with city policy for senior professionals and cabinet members to fly in business class for long-haul international travel. The cost difference between coach and business class will be covered by a non-governmental source, and to provide further context, the Mayor’s travel costs are routinely covered by host organizations or individuals when he is invited to speak or participate in a meeting.
Given these facts, it remains unclear why the AJC is attempting to portray this trip as anything other than an important part of an effort to boost Atlanta’s international connections and a special recognition of our city’s historic role as a civil rights leader.
Q. I know you have explained to other media about why these certain people went on the trip but I’d like to know specifically the reasons for each person travelling there, who they are and what they (and more specifically, the city) got out of the trip.
A. This has all been laid out multiple times. If you take a look at the itinerary, it’s easy to see which sessions correspond to which subject-matter expert.
All these questions have been asked and answered. I think it’s also telling that neither Fox 5 nor your colleague questioned the individuals attending, because it is obvious that each participant is a leader in their field and has valuable experience to share. And with our Office of Film and Entertainment, Resiliency and the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, there were also significant learning opportunities.
Q. Has anyone written up a summary of ideas/best practices/cool-stuff-they-noticed on the trip that can be – or has been - shared with others in city govt? If so, I’d like to see it.
A. The trip is already yielding results. Here are just a few examples:
The first stop on the trip itinerary was a visit to SnakeNation, a social and creative entrepreneurship hub hosted out of a Barclay’s innovation center in Cape Town. SnakeNation also has an Atlanta space, located in Castleberry Hill. It’s run by Karl Carter, a businessman who helps creative and socially conscious entrepreneurs develop their businesses. SnakeNation has designed a curriculum focused on teaching creative entrepreneurs to monetize and control their content.
The Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative (WEI) is in the final stages of formalizing an agreement with SnakeNation to mirror its curriculum for creative entrepreneurs who participate in our program. Additionally, the collaboration between WEI and SnakeNation hopes to define a creative entrepreneurs exchange pipeline between Atlanta and Cape Town, with a goal of supporting the development of trans-continental startups.
WEI’s conversations with SnakeNation began around the time of Mayor Patricia De Lille’s visit; Mayor De Lille also visited WEI as part of her trip itinerary. Conversations have continued since then, with multiple exchanges around goals for WEI-SnakeNation partnership, and which led to the visit to SnakeNation being included in the itinerary for the May trip.
A visit to the Bandwidth Barn incubator was also included in the itinerary, again after months of conversations back and forth; Bandwidth has a program called Girl Hype to teach girls how to code, with a focus on smart phone apps. WEI is in talks with Bandwidth and Girl Hype to replicate this curriculum with the Centers of Hope here in Atlanta. Even more exciting is the potential to work with Tiffany Ray, the entrepreneur behind Generation InFocus, a STEAM education start-up in the first WEI class. Ms. Ray was the first WEI entrepreneur to receive outside funding through the Sara Blakely Foundation. WEI is leading conversations with the Department of Parks and Recreation to contract with Generation InFocus to provide the Girls Hype programming at the Centers of Hope.
We have more examples with the Mayor’s Office of Film and Entertainment. Atlanta and Cape town face similar challenges in further developing our film and entertainment industries. In both cities, we have tremendous below-the-line opportunities, but the folks who greenlight movies and make funding decisions are still largely in Los Angeles and New York. For the long-term growth and stability of the industry in Atlanta, we need to support the expansion of above-the-line opportunities. Chris Hicks, Director of the Office of Film and Entertainment, has had extensive conversations with his counterparts in Cape Town about their strategies to accomplish this; the challenge is largely around developing the right tools for public agencies and meaningful criteria for public support.
We are also working with a group from Cape Town who are interested in establishing a media-focused innovation center in Atlanta, which is another tool to build above-the-line opportunities in Atlanta.
The Mayor’s Office of Resilience has been in conversations with their South African counterparts about establishing an Institute on Climate Change, with a special focus on city-scale solutions. Trip participants also visited a green business hub that has developed a unique approach to public-private partnerships for municipal solar projects. The Office of Resilience is working to use this model for future City solar projects, which will be essential to meeting the goals of the recently-passed clean energy ordinance.
Q. If the wear and tear on city officials is the reason for going first class, then why not break up their trip for a layover day in Amsterdam and you could save more than $6,000 a pop. Seems like few people’s time is worth more than $6,000 a day.
A. No one flew first class – these were business class tickets, but when you open your travel agency, please let us know. We’ll be happy to consider using your services.
Again, outside funds will cover the difference between coach and business class airfare. Taxpayer dollars will only be used for the cost of coach tickets, hotels and ground transportation. Meals were provided by our hosts in Cape Town. The total cost for this trip was budgeted for, and is entirely reasonable given the value of strengthening our ties with the leading city on the African continent.
Q. And if you want the officials spry when you get there, it seems the body guards should be rested and ready to go. Correct?
A. I wish I could believe your concern about Executive Protection officers was sincere, but experience tells me otherwise. Consider your insulting language. Calling POST-trained officers with years of experience in APD ‘body guards’ is inflammatory and demeaning. The brave officers of this unit are among the hardest-working, most dedicated officers in the entire Department. You owe them an apology.
Q. Who is the non-profit ponying up for the trip? And please send me some correspondence that they were ready to do so previous to the trip – or even previous to July 17.
A. Philanthropic gifts to the City must be accepted through the legislative process. We will share the details of the non-governmental donation to cover a portion of the expenses when it begins the legislative process. This is no different from any other case where the City has accepted a gift, despite the best efforts of Fox 5, WSB-TV and now yourself to claim otherwise.
Q. Records for Benfield, Angelle, Hampton and Hizzoner pointed out that reservations were settled in early April or March, long before the trip. So why were no records available April 20, when Belcher first started asking?
A. We assert that Mr. Belcher misrepresented the City’s position regarding these records, and likewise has an incorrect interpretation of GORA; his read of GORA does not even align with the First Amendment Foundation’s, which agrees with the City that agencies have three days to produce records or provide a timetable for the production of those records. The City has been consistent in its statements from WSB-TV’s first request for expense reports. Full expenses were not available prior or immediately following the trip; expense reports were shared with WSB-TV and Fox 5 once all records were available.”
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