There is certainly plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the response of Atlanta metro area and state of Georgia public officials to the snowstorm that occurred last week. In the rush to blame someone in the immediate aftermath of the storm, a large portion of the media coverage appeared to paint Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed as the scapegoat for local operations throughout the entire metropolitan area of Atlanta. Reed, as he admitted on numerous occasions, could have done a better job of coordinating the staggering the timing of the closing of public and private entities in the city of Atlanta. The widespread characterization of him as being responsible for various areas and functions that are outside of his jurisdiction is incredibly unfair and inaccurate.
To hold Kasim Reed accountable for the complex network of day-to-day interrelationships among the state and local governments of the entire Atlanta area is like holding the president of the United States accountable for the governmental operations of Canada and Mexico. The fact is that 80 percent of the priority roads and bridges that Reed has jurisdiction over were clear within 24 hours. The severe congestion on interstate highways that was shown repeatedly on major media outlets was under the jurisdiction of the state government and not the City of Atlanta. The city government is responsible for the streets within the Atlanta city limits. This does not include all the 10 to 28 counties that make up the Atlanta region (varies depending on metrics). It could be reasonably inferred from some media accounts that Reed was the mayor and had jurisdiction over the entire Atlanta metropolitan area.
There is no doubt that there was a breakdown in communication and coordination in the relationship between the state, varying levels of local government, and the mix of intermingling activities and jurisdictions there within. Reed, however, should not have been blamed for an extensively decentralized state and local government structure that suffered from a severe deficit of multi-jurisdictional coordination. Reed is accountable for what happens in his jurisdiction and not the entire network of school districts, municipal governments, state entities, and other agencies that comprise the governmental and public administrative framework of region.
Moving forward, there should be set of standard operating procedures and a centralized chain of command in the event of extreme weather conditions or other emergency scenarios. This system should put in place along with a detailed execution plan that is practiced with frequency. This should come, however, from a regional or state entity that has jurisdiction over the entire area. The attempt to make Kasim Reed the scapegoat for an entire region is shameful and for it to overshadow his sustained record of service and accomplishments for the city of Atlanta would be an even greater disgrace.
Marcus Bright, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Education for a Better America and an Adjunct Professor in the School of Public Administration at Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University.
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