Atlanta City Council president Doug Shipman reversed himself on a decision regarding committee chairs just a few hours before the commencement of the council’s first meeting of 2023.
Shipman announced publicly that 11th district Councilmember Marci Collier Overstreet will keep her post as chair of the Zoning Committee. Shipman had removed Overstreet from the position, replacing her with at-large councilmember Matt Westmoreland.
Decisions on committee appointments are usually done behind chamber doors and out of purview from the general public. This time, however, Overstreet and her 10th district colleague Andrea L. Boone decided to make sure all of the city’s voting public were aware of Shipman’s decision to remove both of them from their leadership roles. Council member Andrea L. Boone was ousted from her post as chair of the Committee on Council. Boone and Overstreet put down over $3,000 of their personal money to place an ad of protest in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Nearly Four Decades of Black Female Leadership Ends Abruptly under Atlanta Council President Doug Shipman” was headlined on page A3 in the AJC’s heavily read Sunday edition of January 1, 2023. “When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, do something,” read the ad quoting words from the late U.S. Representative and Civil Rights activist John Lewis. “I think he (Shipman) was exposed,” Boone told The Atlanta Inquirer in a phone interview on Tuesday, January 3, 2023, in explaining reasons for their actions. “Our goal was to do that… letting the public know you still have this kind of conduct going on in 2023.” Boone also pointed to a recent report released by the U.S. Government’s General Accounting Office (GAO) which noted, among other things, that “women remained underrepresented in Management positions and continue to earn less than male managers.”
Shipman, in a statement picked up by most TV news media on the Monday after the ad-commentary hit the streets, said he was “surprised by their concerns which they hadn’t brought to me.” He further told longtime Atlanta’s FOX5 News reporter Morse Diggs that his actions “were not intended slights.” “This is not about any particular member, but to make sure that things are balanced.” Shipman is the second white city council president to serve since 1974 when Wyche Fowler was appointed to the post following the election of Maynard Jackson as the city’s first African-American mayor.
The City Council president position was once known as vice mayor until the change in administrative structure from a weak to strong mayor system. Though the role and responsibilities of the office didn’t change, the position did eventually convert from an appointed to an elected post.
Black women have served on the council since the appointment of fourth-generation Atlantan and Civil Rights leader Carolyn Long Banks in 1980. She, then, successfully won election to a full-term and served until 1997. Currently, three African-American women serve on the fifteen-member council. In addition to Boone and Collier Overstreet, native daughter Kiesha Sean Waites serves as Post 3 council member at-large.
Advertisement by Atlanta City Council members Andrea L. Boone and Marci Collier Overstreet
Nearly Four Decades of Black Female Leadership Ends Abruptly under Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman
Atlanta City Council members Andrea L. Boone and Marci Collier Overstreet
“When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something.” These are the words of John Lewis, the late Atlanta City Councilman, U.S. Congressman, and courageous civil rights leader. The spirit behind this quote compelled us to speak out against the recent action token by Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman which denies all Black women on the council a position of leadership chairing a City Council committee.
Beyond this, he has lowered overall diversity among committee chairs, particularly as Atlanta’s population is just under 50 percent African American. Along with the lack of Black women appointed to leadership positions, Shipman has decided to appoint only two Black men as chairs of the seven committees. The Council committees are where important work of the city occurs. The committees, led by chairpersons, drill down into matters pertaining to community development, Council, finance, public safety, transportation, utilities, and zoning.
They recommend to the full Council whether or not to approve important legislation. The absence of Black women as chairs is a definite insult to them and to the leadership provided over the decades. As Black women, we cannot afford to be silent.
To find a time when Block women were denied a committee chair, one would have to go back to more than four decades. Since then, African American women have provided adept leadership that has served the city well. It is inexcusable, unexplainable, and unacceptable what Shipman has done.
His action is made even worse given his prior commitment to ensure diversity among the Council’s committee chairs. Further, given the prominent role that Black women play in the Democratic Party, including in Shipman’s own election, along with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Horris, Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, and serving as its vanguard, it is perplexing why Shipman would so blatantly insult Black women. By doing this, he is disenfranchising their constituents as well.
This is why the public should care. Committees are first to hear and decide on intricate policy recommendations regarding zoning and land use matters, including policies to address negative effects of gentrification. Committee chairs decide how legislation regarding public safety is prioritized, including funding for police officers. Improvements to parks and recreation programs and which public works projects are funded,
In deciding these important matters, it does not serve the public interest to mute the voices of every Black woman elected to the City Council. Shipman’s actions are arrogant and dismissive of unique perspectives Black women bring to the table.
There is no doubt that the Council president has the right to select committee chairs. But he, like all elected officials, swear an oath to uphold the public interest. The public expects President Shipman to think about the diversity and demographics of our city and use these as guides when selecting committee choirs. The right choices can assist our city in moving forward. One wrong move can halt momentum and distort the public’s perception about the city’s stance on equality.
We expect more of Shipman, having served as the founding CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Despite this experience, Shipman seems politically tone deaf and someone in need of implicit bias training. He has been living in the birthplace of the civil rights movement long enough to know better.
The Government Accountability Office reported in 2022 that women of color not only earned considerably less than white men and white women but are also grossly underrepresented in leadership positions. We expect our Council president to do something to change this sad reality, not to add to the problem.
We could have pointed out President Shipman’s egregious error behind closed doors. But this issue hos long-term implications, and it must be exposed. If something happened to Mayor Andre Dickens and he could no longer discharge his duties, Shipman would become mayor. In so far as diversity, equity, and inclusion are concerned, he is not ready.
It is important that the right message be sent to newer members of City Council and to the community at large that bigotry of all persuasions is wrong and must be condemned. Black women have earned the right to lead in this notion, state, and city, including chairing the City Council committees.
The people of Atlanta have spoken about their desire for diversity, fairness, and justice. We recommend that President Shipman hear their voices and understand that public official ls hold a sacred trust that has been paid for by the blood of our ancestors.
We serve not our own egos but the needs of the people of our great city and the port that Atlanta has played in the rich civil rights history of the world.
PAID FOR BY ATLANTA CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS ANDREA L. BOONE AND MARCI COLLIER OVERSTREET.
Last updated on January 4, 2023