Saturday, February 5, 2011

Reed sharpens his veto pen

After more than a year on the job, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has found another tool – his veto pen.

For the first time in his tenure, Reed has struck down legislation sent to his desk from the Atlanta City Council.

On Jan. 18, the council unanimously passed three resolutions that would have authorized Reed to enter into $9.4 million worth of deals with several solid waste contractors.

The resolutions came out of the department of public works and were introduced by Councilmember Carla Smith as a personal paper.

Reed firmly rejected the resolutions, writing that the contracts “did not follow proper protocol for submission of an administration-approved contract.”

But the vetoes were less of an attack on the council as they were an enforcement of rules Reed set in place upon his election.

As part of the city’s new fiscal guidelines, Reed put in place a policy that nearly every dollar spent has to be approved by Chief Operating Officer Peter Aman. Reed said that kind of detail has helped the city build its reserves from $7.4 million to $56 million.

“We created a process last year that requires all procurement run through our office, even when they are coming from our departments,” Reed said. “They all have to be vetted by the COO and Chief of Staff Candace Byrd, so that we know what we are procuring and how much money we are spending. Someone made a judgment that they were going to do it differently.”

In the past, individual departments were able to bypass the mayor’s office by “walking” through legislation directly to city council committees, where it was basically rubber-stamped and approved by the administration.

Reed said that method was chaotic and hard to control, allowing a dozen departments to send spending plans haphazardly and leaving the city with the bill at the end of the fiscal year.

At a city utilities committee meeting on Jan. 13, department of public works legislative liaison Rita Braswell presented the members with a series of three trash removal contracts up for renewal. Smith said because the resolutions needed a council member to sponsor it, she was approached.

The former head of the city utilities committee, Smith said that at least once over the last eight years, the city allowed those solid waste contracts to expire.

“So I thought, oh, this is a timely paper. Yes, I will be more than happy to introduce the paper and to help the administration save some time,” Smith said. “But I had no idea it had not gone through the proper channels.”

It took only six minutes for the committee to listen to the resolutions, ask a few questions and approve the contracts. The full council subsequently voted 12-0 to approve each of the three contracts.

But Reed said even though the contracts were set to soon expire, neither he, Aman, Byrd, Public Works Commissioner Richard Mendoza nor Interim Watershed Management Commissioner Dexter White knew anything about what Braswell was doing.

“When I learned about it, I was on my way to Washington, D.C., and I vetoed it,” Reed said. “I am not going to stand behind any contract that Peter, Candace or the commissioners don’t know about.”

Along with vetoing the bill, the city also suspended a public works employee, who Reed said was fully aware of the current policy.

City officials would not confirm or deny if it was Braswell who was suspended.

“In my veto letter [dated Jan. 26], I laid out exactly what my problem was, even though I am not required by law to do so," Reed said. "I regret that any member of the city council is frustrated by this. I enjoy my relationship with council and I know that some of them were upset. But we have proven that this system works.”

Reed said he is now awaiting an opinion from the city’s law department as to how to proceed. He said that he has no evidence that the process to secure the three vendors, who were existing contractors whose contracts were up for renewal, was anything other than “fair, open and honest.”

“But the process was inconsistent with how we do things now,” Reed said.

Council President Ceasar Mitchell said he has asked Reed to provide “a specific plan of action on how to handle these three procurements and when he plans to bring them back up” before Monday's full council meeting.

He said that will help determine whether the council overturns or sustains the vetoes, which is at the top of Monday's agenda.

Smith said she didn’t take the vetoes personally and agrees with the overall policy.

“My special interests are my constituents,” Smith said. “I just want the trash picked up.”

Pen in toes, ‘Christy’ in class

Sobha Majumdar’s story is no less touching than Christy Brown’s. The 32-year-old, who suffers from a rare congenital disease and is compelled to write with her toes, has joined a school here as a primary teacher.

The young woman’s determination and tenacity was rewarded for the first time in 2003 when at Sisir Mancha in Calcutta then Bengal governor Viren J. Shah projected her as a role model for physically challenged students. She was being felicitated after passing her Higher Secondary examinations.

Christy Brown, an Irish man born with cerebral palsy in a poor working class family, could control only his left foot but he became a writer and an artist. The story of his life was filmed in My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown in 1989 with Daniel Day-Lewis starring as Brown. The Academy Award- winning film was based on Brown’s autobiography, My Left Foot.

Sobha suffers from phocomelia that has deformed her arms. Phoco in Greek means seal and melia means limbs, indicating limbs like a seal’s flipper. She lives with her parents at Rangapukur village in Barua gram panchayat, 5km from Raiganj town. Her father Molin Majumder is a carpenter.

Yesterday, Majumder had taken leave from the shop where he works, to accompany his daughter to her Rangapukur primary school, barely 200 metres from her home. on her day of joining there as a teacher. Sobha was a student of this very school. The villagers had crowded the school premises when she arrived.

After formal introduction with the headmistress and colleagues she signed the attendance registrar by holding the pen in between the toes of her right foot and went straight to the classroom.

Curious students and teachers closely watched as she tried to write on black board hung from the wall. But when she found it uncomfortable, her colleagues brought another black board that could be placed on the floor of the classroom.

“I was born with crippled hands. My mother had encouraged me to practise writing with my toes. In the initial stage it gave me severe pain to write with a pencil held between the toes. My mother used to give me hot compresses to neutralise the pain,” Sobha said.

After primary education she had studied at Kashibati High School. She obtained first division in her Madhyamik examination. In 2002 she passed Higher Secondary examination in second division. She studied at Surendranath College in Raiganj with honours in history and did her post graduation in private from North Bengal University in 2010.

Sobha said she used to get free tuition and books in the schools and the college where she had studied. But her father had to work overtime to run their family.

“I shall not allow my old and feeble father to work any further after I get my salary next month,” Sobha said.

The Chairman of the District Primary School Council Utpal Dutta said they would showcase Shobha as a role model, as one who could surpass all difficulties with sheer mental strength and perseverance. “I believe her example will help us check dropouts at primary school level,” Dutta said.