This week Bill Torpy wrote a piece that chronicled his attempts to tell the story of brave Atlanta firefighters who went into a burning blaze to rescue children. Or he wrote a piece that’s part of a continuing series of attempting to chide the Mayor of Atlanta. Or both. It works because he’s writing as a columnist and not a journalist. Readers should understand that’s his take on the news of the day. They also need the history of the relationship between the Mayor and the columnist.
There is an ongoing saga between some firefighters and the Mayor that stems from the pension reforms of 2011. Nearly everyone agrees that pension reform was needed or the city would have been in dire financial straits. The firefighters then sued, and now the Mayor won’t give them pay raises until the lawsuit is concluded.
It’s clear that Torpy wanted to play the pension dispute against the heroism of the firefighters (and possibly some scantily clad photos taken in the firehouse) but he was thwarted by his inability to interview the firefighters involved. You can’t interview city employees without the City’s permission, and here it was not given, and the reasons why not were set forth in the City’s response. Both the column and the response are worth reading.
But is clear that the history is even more important than the present in evaluating what’s going on here. Cast your mind back to this spring, when the City was trying to hold absentee landlords accountable for the deplorable conditions of their property holdings (read burned out vacant homes) in Vine City and English Avenue (two impoverished neighborhoods near the new Falcons stadium). Rick Warren, no not the minister, held a ton of these properties, or maybe did, but the maze of shell corporations made that difficult to prove. He was on trial in municipal court in May and the Mayor took the afternoon (at least twice) to sit in the audience and watch the proceedings. (I’ve sat in those benches and they are none too comfortable). Torpy wrote a column on the proceedings, and though he accurately described the problem, he left the impression that the Mayor’s presence was there not to emphasize the importance of the case, but to affect its outcome.
Torpy’s columns carry weight in this city. And when he decides that the Mayor has overstepped his bounds, he is right to point that out (as he did in both columns). But the problem is that more people read Torpy than the actual news, so the characterization he gives becomes the truth, rather than an opinion. And in the case of Rick Warren and Vine City, he may well be wrong.
The article that really tells the tale of Rick Warren and English Avenue is elsewhere on the AJC’s website. It reveals Warren’s ownership of derelict properties that he refuses to fix and instead they become sites of prostitution and drugs. Neighbors trying to clean up the neighborhood hit a roadblock when they got to his houses. He owns 10% of the neighborhood. Consider that for a moment.
So Mayor Reed wanted the world to know that this day of code violations in municipal court was different than all other days. And instead he took the blame of subverting justice.
So when you read both pieces, Torpy’s and the Mayor’s keep in mind the historical context of that relationship.