Mayor Andre Dickens was greeted with a standing ovation at the Buckhead Coalition’s luncheon on March 30. (Dyana Bagby)

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens pushed his talking points on fighting crime, boosting city services and repairing potholes and crumbling sidewalks at the Buckhead Coalition’s annual luncheon March 30.

But Sam Massell, former Atlanta mayor and founder of the Coalition, who died earlier this month, and his dedication to collaboration, also were key talking points.

“The late, great Sam Massell always said we could do more with a conference call than with a confrontation,” Dickens told the crowd of some 200 people gathered at the Flourish event venue on Maple Drive. “Sam would want us to go further, together, and that’s what I intend to do.”

His words were a tacit reminder of the controversial movement by some Buckhead residents and business owners to have the affluent north Atlanta neighborhood break off from the city of Atlanta. The secession movement appears to have died in the state legislature this year. Dickens, a vocal opponent of Buckhead becoming its own city, said at the luncheon how he worked with state lawmakers to kill the cityhood bill. Republicans will have a chance on the May ballot to answer a question about Buckhead City to gauge its support.

The Buckhead Coalition is an influential, invitation-only group of 120 CEOs and community leaders. Its annual luncheon is a who’s-who of political, business and civic leaders. The last time the group met was in 2020, when Massell announced he was retiring as president of the Coalition after 32 years at its helm. He died March 13 at age 94.

The Coalition is now headed up by Jim Durrett, who is also executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District.

Juanita Powell Baranco, executive vice president and chief operating officer of automotive company The Baran Company LLC, which includes Mercedes Benz of Buckhead and Mercedes Benz of Covington, La., is serving as the 2022 chair.

“I think if there was a theme for this event, and to this time, it would be collaboration,” Baranco said at the start of the meeting. “[Sam] would want us to carry on.”

Dickens on crime, TSPLOST

Dickens said 33 new police officers are on the streets since his term began in January and dozens of recruits are in training. He set a goal of 250 new officers hired by the end of the year.

“We are getting boots on the ground,” he said.

Another crime-fighting measure announced Tuesday is tracking repeat offenders. Dickens said 30% of arrests made by the Atlanta Police Department each week are repeat offenders who have already been convicted of at least three felonies. The mayor also said that 1,000 people are committing an estimated 40% of the city’s crime.

“We have to get these career criminals off the streets,” he said.

Dickens said he wants to take a balanced approach to crime through the city’s Policing Alternatives & Diversions Initiative and the planned Center for Diversion and Services.

Dickens also said support is needed in May when Atlanta voters go to the polls to decide if they want to renew a sales tax that would raise an estimated $350 million over five years to invest in city transportation infrastructure, including funding for streets, sidewalks and bridges.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.