Monday, August 4, 2008

Questions For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Sent: Sunday, August 03, 2008 @ 9:08 PM

To: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATTN: Angela Tuck, Public Editor/Ombudsman
CC: AJC Staff Writer, Alan Judd
CC: AJC Staff Writer, David Bennett

Dear Angela,

As a engaged citizen who's deeply concerned about Greater Atlanta's legacy of cultural diversity, artistic excellence, sustainable "greenliness" and long-term economic success, I now write to you in the hopes of having a few rather vexing questions answered. The subject on which these questions are based pertains to The AJC's media coverage of Fulton County's recently drafted bond referendum for it's Library Facility Master Plan; a risky plan which may have grave consequences for the entire public library system, as well as specifically horrific consequence for the future of it's flagship library, The Atlanta-Fulton Central Branch. That building being a monumental structure designed by a creative genius of epic proportions, the late Marcel Breuer.

Nonetheless, before I ask these questions, allow me to state for the record, that I consider The AJC to be a respectable organization, which employs many a fine journalist. And because I have in the past, found the paper to be worthy of merit, I trust and believe that the paper's management takes the view that critical self-analysis is an asset and not a liability. And again, before I pose these questions, I also ask that one be mindful of the fact that the future of 30+ libraries is at stake as well as $275,000,000.00 taxpayer dollars.

Here are the questions:

The original Library Master Plan went through a 2-year public vetting process, but the last-minute, radically- amended plan did not. Why is this not emphasized and clearly stated by the AJC?

Recorded in FCC public documents (transcripts of meetings & video) is a procession of opposition to the Robb Pitts (amended) version of the Library Master Plan, but in reading several news articles by AJC writer, David Bennett, it occurred to me and some of my colleagues that while there are seven members on the FCC Board, one seems get his voice heard in every published piece, that person being none other than Commissioner Rob Pitts. Why is this? Why, I ask, has one individual been allowed to molest public dialog and shape the entire public debate for his own personal will, especially when that same person's voice grossly misrepresents the will of the people who had already made their intent very clear through the heavily documented two-year vetting process?

The 2 year public vetting process for the original Library Master Plan included input for every public library in the system and was unanimously supported by all parties involved, with not one single individual asking that the current Central Branch be demolished, sold or otherwise disposed of. Why is this not clearly stated by the AJC?

FCC Chair John Eaves, as well as Commissioners Bill Edwards and Lynn Riley, are on the record stating that they had received hundreds and hundreds of phone calls and emails voicing support for keeping and renovating the current Central Branch, and they also said that not a single person (absolutely no one) ever called or wrote for anything otherwise. In other words, in the last two years, there was never any desire expressed in the public process by any citizen to build a new Central Branch, but instead there was overwhelming consent of a desire to keep the iconic structure that we already have. Why then is this point not emphasized and/or clearly stated by the AJC?

Led by Commissioner Rob Pitts and the library system's executive director John Szabo, with the auspices of a few additional "self-will-run-riot" commissioners, a PR campaign is in full force. It is a PR campaign, which mentions none of the information I now inquire about, though I will say that some of these omissions were very beautifully written about by Cynthia Rogers, in an op-ed AJC piece entitled Progress In Preservation. Still however, the assigned writer(s) who are supposed to be reporting on all sides have never really confronted Pitts et all on all these omissions. Why is this?

Furthermore, while heading Clearwater/Tampa's Public Library System, John Szabo is credited with getting a new central branch library built there. Now the same thing appears to be happening here. Is this a coincidence? Or was he hired with the intention to work stealthily towards doing away with our current central branch, in exchange for Pitt's vision of a "bigger better" newer one? And keep in mind, whether being coincidence or deliberate action, shouldn't the public know about this bit of potent information?

FCC Chair John Eaves, as well as Commissioner Lynn Riley, expressed much dissent against Pitt's et all, with (at a later date) Lynn Riley, in response to an email that I had sent to her thanking her for voting to honor the people's will by supporting only the original Library Master Plan, she wrote back in her reply saying "It was disappointing that a comprehensive library facility master plan could be hijacked for an un-substantiated purpose". By any measure, that statement packs a punch. So, with the question being that if I, a private citizen with no special access to public officials, was able to learn this directly from the source, why could the infinitely more powerful staff at The AJC not gather this very important quote…and so much more?

Moving on.

The Executive Director of American Institute of Architects Atlanta Chapter, Susan Ellis Proper, as well as the organization's president, Bruce McEvoy, are ardent supporters of the original Library Master Plan. I know this information as I have personally spoken with both of them. However they like I, do not support the Pitts/Szabo amended plan that has now become the stated bond referendum. Thus with both of these very knowledgeable architects and many of their architectural peers having expressed these same sentiments at FCC meeting(s) and through the AIA Atlanta website, why have neither they, nor young architect leader Newel Watkins, not been given, as respected cultural stewards of Greater Atlanta, a proper interview? Yes, why haven't any of these distinguished individuals been asked to weigh in on this issue via The AJC?

Too this, with an onslaught of daily news reports around the globe which speak of the collapsing state of the U.S. economy, with some economist essentially equating our current recession as fast approaching the very same dynamics and fallout of the 1929 Great Depression, why has Commissioner Rob Pitts and Library Director John Szabo been allowed to dramatically fatten the projected budget of the Library Master Plan by approximately almost 25% with virtually no public input, or rigorous scrutiny from your paper; a paper which itself is feeling the direct effect of the prior mentioned economic woes i.e. with the laying off of 200 of your own employees. Where is the objectivity and scrutiny that ought to be de rigueur, especially in such dire economic times?

And, another question…. with local and global concern for environmental preservation increasing daily, why hasn't The AJC thought to ask a LEED certified expert or some other knowledgeable individuals in the field of project sustainability and urban renewal, about the impact of the wholesale "junking" of a large civic structure? Wouldn't that have been an appropriate line of questioning for the commissioners, which may have shown a sign of sane, reflective, leadership on the behalf of the FCC Board?

And then there is this looming question, with Marcel Breuer having been such a phenomenal artist, architect and industrial engineer, and given the fact that Atlanta-Fulton has the very last public structure built by such a towering figure, why hasn't The AJC asked the same type of questions that one would expect to be asked if a structure of said significance had such historic value to African-Americans causes and the Civil Rights Movement. In other words, as an African-American myself, who is very proud of that fact and who prides himself of the legacy of equanimity and justice that our own Dr. King and Coretta Scott King left with us, why then has the AJC not inquired to the commissioners as to why that the same sensitivity of one subculture cultural value is not being given to another subculture. I make this point because as a fair-minded human being (that happens to be African-American) who can chew gum and walk at the same time, meaning that I understand the win/win of a multi-faceted system of just inclusion, I have a deep appreciation of civic equity where ever it may be. From this place of vision, it is a logical step that an awareness should exist, which facilitates that the Marcel Breuer building represents an easily seen parallel equation in the world of architecture and civic preservation to the civil rights world? Meaning that if one were to draw a direct comparison between the Civil Rights aesthetic and the Artistic aesthetic, Marcel Breuer would easily rank as an Andrew Young, Malcolm X, or Rosa Parks. So again, to rephrase, why wasn't The AJC able to parse the need for common sense wisdom, historical sensitivity and civic stewardship, when dealing with the legacy of ALL the great contributors to our society?

And what about the one off, site-specific monumental sculpture by famed African American sculpture Richard Hunt. It is a piece ironically titled "The Wisdom Bridge". What's to happen to that irreplaceable piece and doesn't such an epic work of art deserve to be thought of in advance? Why aren't we talking about this?

Jere Woods, mayor of one of Fulton's largest cities, The City of Roswell, spoke eloquently (with the endorsement of Sandy Springs Mayor, Eva Galambos) at the July 16th FCC meeting about why he stridently endorses the original Library Master plan and not the Pitts/Szabo amended one. Shouldn't some of his remarks have shown up in a subsequent AJC news article, given the fact that he represents such a huge populace in the metro area?

Through my own independent studies as a freelance artist and layman's intellectual, and through the engagement of a discourse with government officials, past and present library employees, a plethora of reputable architects, school teachers, urban "green" stewards and private citizens from all walks of life, more often than not, I have encountered a sheer befuddlement at the idea of ditching the ever fabulous current central branch, and that in effect doing so would essentially be tantamount to cultural genocide. Why then has this diversely held, public perception been utterly ignored in The AJC's ongoing reporting effort?

And about the money, with there being $275,000,000.00 at stake, shouldn't the "watchdog" element of The AJC's journalistic ethic, have automatically kick in…Isn't that appropriate, just as a natural response to the prospects of such a staggering amount of money being misappropriated; this being especially true when one considers that the county's largest city, Atlanta, is now (last time I checked) facing a class-action law suit for it's own misappropriations of public funds with the Percent for Art program?

And finally, what is The AJC's position when it comes to espousing a civic duty of holding public officials publicly accountable?

I look forward to your reply