There are many qualities pertaining to great civic leaders, including experience, ambition, determination, compassion, commitment, initiative, innovation, and foresight. Though many leaders possess many or all of these qualities, no one stands out in my mind more than Shirley Franklin, mayor of the great city of Atlanta. Being born and raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, I have had a first hand experience with Mayor Shirley Franklin’s civic leadership skills and her role in the revival of Atlanta.
Mayor Franklin has been involved in Atlanta since being appointed Commissioner of Cultural Affairs by Mayor Maynard Jackson in late 1970s (Unknown Biography of Mayor Shirley Franklin). She has held positions on numerous boards and commissions in Atlanta for many years. Shirley Franklin’s involvement in many of Atlanta’s efforts to improve the city made her a natural candidate for the 2001 mayoral election. By winning the election, she became the first female mayor of Atlanta plus the first African-American female mayor of a major southern city (Unknown Biography of Mayor Shirley Franklin).
As mayor, Franklin gained deference for women in Atlanta politics. However, she was met with a deficit of more than $82 million (Unknown Biography of Mayor Shirley Franklin). The city also had a deteriorating sewer system, a problem with homelessness, and monumental traffic congestion among other issues. Mayor Franklin wasted no time. As soon as she came into office she went to work by strategizing methods to help Atlanta get back on its feet (Unknown Biography of Mayor Shirley Franklin).
Mayor Franklin began with the City of Atlanta’s water/sewer issue, a $3.2 million undertaking (Caminiti). She sought the aid of the president of the prestigious Georgia Institute of Technology, Dr. Wayne Clough (Caminiti). She asked him to chair a panel of nationwide environmental experts delegated with the task of designing the new sewer system. She also consulted CEOs of prominent southern businesses such as GE Power Systems, regarding the best ways to raise funds and receive aid for said project (Caminiti). Mayor Franklin persuaded the General Assembly to present a sales tax referendum to raise funds for the project. Not only was the referendum passed, but it also reduced the water rate increase from 45% to 1% (Unknown Biography of Mayor Shirley Franklin).
Mayor Franklin tackled the issue of homelessness in Atlanta head on. “She asked United Way and Horace Sibley to form a commission of city leaders to study the problem and create a Blueprint to End Homelessness in Atlanta in 10 years.” (Unknown Biography of Mayor Shirley Franklin). She supports the 24/7 Gateway Center, where 500 people a day could be served with places to sleep and shower, as well as offering mental health, career, drug and medical counseling (Unknown Biography of Mayor Shirley Franklin). The facility was opened in July 2005 and the effects are noticeable throughout the city.
As many Atlantans know, traffic has always been a problem for the Metro-Atlanta area, with or without the infamous MARTA system. In order to curb this dilemma that plagues the environment and the citizens, Franklin has proposed a few ideas. One is the continuation of projects like Atlantic Station, or “mixed-use developments” (Shipp). With a growth in mixed-use developments more people can live, work, and shop all in the same neighborhood, in effect, minimizing the use of cars for transportation (Shipp). Also, Mayor Franklin is supporting the Atlanta BeltLine project. This project plans to use the neglected railroads as a new medium of transportation (Shipp). The Atlanta BeltLine would cover more than 4,000 acres of land and connect more than 40 historic districts in Atlanta (Shipp). The Atlanta BeltLine project would greatly alleviate the traffic and environmental concerns of the city, if put into effect.
In addition to all of the feats previously discussed, Mayor Shirley Franklin also helped businesses in Atlanta flourish. All of the improvements supported by the mayor have made Atlanta very appealing to big businesses. Many Fortune 500 companies, such as Home Depot, UPS, and Coca Cola, call Atlanta their home. She is also very receptive to corporate managers playing a role in Atlanta’s well-being and often insists that they do so. She states, “…the CEOs want to stay involved. It’s a way for them to network but also to feel that they are a part of what happens here” (Caminiti). She reportedly personally calls new CEOs in the city asking them which committees or organizations they want to join (Caminiti). The influx of new businesses creates more jobs, which generate a greater source of tax revenue helping the city slowly get out of its deficit (Caminiti).
Mayor Franklin not only has shown the ability to fix what is broken, but also has the ability to foresee potential problems and how they can affect the city. In 2003, Shirley Franklin was a prominent figure in the debate over the Georgia state flag. Many Georgians felt that the state was loosing its history and some went so far as to believe the rebel flag should still be a part of the Georgia state flag (Gettleman). Mixed reactions came about; some claiming that the presence of the Confederate Cross was a simple expression of heritage (Gettleman). Others saw the rebel flag as a reminder of dark times, where oppression and slavery ran rampant in Georgia (Gettleman). To end the controversy, Governor Sunny Perdue proposed a referendum to the people with three options for a new state flag; one of the options included the symbol of the Confederacy (Unknown Georgia State Flag). Shirley Franklin, however, saw the dangers in such a flag being flown at the Georgia Capital. Mayor Franklin received many letters from businesses and organizations, including NCAA, threatening to move their events if the flag flown over the capital contained any reminder of the Confederacy (Galloway). Franklin advocated that not only would a Confederate symbol divide the state, but also “seriously injure the state’s tourism and convention business” impacting the economy of Atlanta and the state (Basinger). Because of the actions and words from Mayor Franklin, among others, the Confederate symbol was never incorporated in the non-binding referendum presented to the people or in the new state flag that flies over our capital today.
Mayor Shirley Franklin has done a fantastic job in Atlanta, and citizens of Atlanta feel the same way. In the last mayoral election, Shirley Franklin won reelection by over 90 percent of the vote, an astonishing majority (Associated Press). She has shown experience with her involvement in Atlanta government and demonstrated ambition by tackling all the problems presented to her. Mayor Franklin has determination, as illustrated by her contribution in the sewer project. She is also committed to the city, shown by her continual promotion of the Atlanta BeltLine to ease traffic congestion. Mayor Franklin has shown compassion in dealing with Atlanta’s homeless community. She has demonstrated her innovation by the way she handles business in Atlanta. Finally, she has been gifted with foresight as demonstrated though her actions and words concerning the Georgia state flag. Make no mistake; Mayor Shirley Franklin embodies what it is to be a great southern civic leader. Just look around, Atlanta is definitely a thriving city, thanks to the dedication of Mayor Shirley Franklin.