By John Schaffner

“The purpose of government has gotten perverted here,” syndicated consumer advocate and potential Atlanta mayoral candidate Clark Howard told some 300 members of the business community attending the annual luncheon of the Buckhead Business Association Jan. 17 at the Atlanta History Center.

“As a native Atlantan, I want to tell you how much I love this city… how proud I am of what we have done both in the city and the metro area,” Howard said.

“When I look at Atlanta and the metro area, I always think of what business people, entrepreneurs, have done in Italy,” he explained. “Business people in Italy have shown such guts and entrepreneurial spirit that they have succeeded for decades in spite of some of the worst government you can find in western Europe.

“Atlanta is not the worst government in the United States,” he stated. “But, I think that culturally, internally the purpose of the city of Atlanta is to provide jobs for people who supported the right candidates. That is not the purpose of government the last time I checked.”

Howard said the purpose of government “is to provide services to the people, visitors and businesses that come into the city. That is what our city should be about.

“If I pay money to the city for any service, I should see a result at the other end,” he said. “That would be a big cultural shift for this city.”

He said if he does run for mayor — and he doesn’t plan to make that decision for a good while — “I would be beating my head against the wall for a long time. You don’t change a culture that is decades in the making in a day. It is a continuum, a gradual process.”

Compared to the prior mayor, Howard said that, “Shirley Franklin has done a phenomenal job. She is a fireball. She is a great woman. She has done so much to clean up the corruption in the city.

“But, as far as that next step — making the city mentality reflect that it is there to serve the people — that is not there yet,” Howard said. “I hope that every candidate for mayor will look at the city that way. How do we make this city serve the citizens?”

Ticking off what he sees as major agenda items for leaders in Atlanta, Howard said, “When I see challenges in the city of Atlanta, I think one of the things that cannot be first on any mayor’s agenda, but needs to be on the agenda, is how to get the schools functional.”

The second item he cited is the police and public safety. “Every mayor has promised that he or she would have full strength in the police department. But, they haven’t been able to get it done. Whoever the next mayor is has got to put that right up top on the agenda.

“I would split police functions in this city in two directions: One, police officers whose job it is to fight crime and a second force which is public safety officers. I love that system, because you have officers trained to deal with traffic flow and control, writing tickets and deal with accidents,” he said.

In terms of traffic, he said, “Traffic flow and how to get to and fro is really the most important thing we have to do to keep the economic engine of Atlanta going. We have to have an authority that has the teeth to tax, plan and build. We are not going to get the metro area transportation problem solved if we don’t have a unified metro-wide plan.”

In response to a question of what he would change about Buckhead, Howard said: “Buckhead, I think, is doing great. But, Peachtree is going to choke on its own traffic. Buckhead has to have a transit oriented solution that runs right up the spine of Peachtree. A streetcar may be fine. But I would actually blow the bucks to put it under some of the main thoroughfares instead of having it sit in the flow of traffic.”