Reporter’s Notebook: First Amendment Foundation celebrates Mary Margaret Oliver, Southface Institute gets $5.87M to aid nonprofits’ energy-efficiency upgrades, Official Opening of Station Soccer at East Lake MARTA Station

Gun Rights

First Amendment Foundation celebrates Mary Margaret Oliver

DuBose Porter hugs Mary Margaret Oliver at the Georgia First Amendment Foundation dinner Oct. 26 (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

Transparency in government was on the menu at the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s 21st Charles L. Weltner Freedom of Information Celebration on Oct. 26 at the Emory Conference Center.

The highlight of the evening was Georgia Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver being honored with the 2023 Weltner Freedom of Information Award named after the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia who had championed freedom of information and ethics in state government.

Former Georgia Rep. DuBose Porter, chairman of the Dublin Courier Herald Publishing Co., introduced Oliver — whom he called by her nickname “MMO” — by saying her proudest achievement was getting an ‘F’ rating from the National Rifle Association.

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The two legislators sat next to each other until 2011 when Porter stepped down to run for governor.

“MMO has always been on the right side of history,” said Porter, who added it was wonderful that she still serves in the legislature. “MMO helped put the sunshine in Georgia’s sunshine laws.”

Upon receiving the award, Oliver said that in the spirit of Charles Weltner, everyone should raise a glass in honor of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. “She just makes me happy every single day,” Oliver said.

The dinner was on the same day U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled that Georgia’s congressional, state Senate, and House districts were drawn in a racially discriminatory manner. “We owe a debt of gratitude to him,” Oliver said.

The dinner also honored attorney Peter Canfield with the Founder’s Award and the Open Government Hero Award to the Georgia Library Media Association.

— Maria Saporta

Americans for Prosperity’s Georgia chapter names new state director

Tony West has been named the new state director for the Georgia chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP-GA), a libertarian-leaning conservative advocacy group.

West, who most recently served as AFP-GA’s deputy state director and chief lobbyist, replaces Kevin Cooke in the leadership role.

West joined AFP-GA in 2015 as its director of grassroots operations. He previously worked as a policy analyst at the Georgia Office of Planning and Budget under former Gov. Nathan Deal. West graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor’s in political science and Georgia State University with a master’s in public policy.

AFP’s founders included Charles and David Koch, the nationally known libertarian advocates. Among AFP-GA’s current policy efforts is a repeal of certificate-of-need laws that give the state review and control of major healthcare facility expansion, an issue that the Georgia General Assembly debated earlier this year.

— John Ruch

Southface Institute gets $5.87M to aid nonprofits’ energy-efficiency upgrades

The Atlanta-based nonprofit Southface Institute has received a $5.87 million federal grant to fund other Southeast nonprofits’ energy-efficiency improvements.

The funding goes to Southface’s High Impact Energy Efficiency Improvement Portfolio, which provides financial and technical assistance. Southface has previously aided similar work with metro Atlanta nonprofits such as Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Georgia Aquarium, Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, Atlanta Community Food Bank, and Atlanta History Center. 

Southface was one of nine nonprofits nationwide receiving a total of $45 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Renew America’s Nonprofits competitive grant program. One qualification is that the distribution of sub-grants must meet the Biden Administration’s “Justice40 Initiative,” meaning at least 40 percent of federal funding must benefit “disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.” The grant program is funded by Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

According to the DOE, the next step is for Southface and the other grant recipients to submit a portfolio by June 2024 that identifies sub-grant recipients, the project, and their demographic and geographic impacts.

— John Ruch

ARC’s State of the Region honors Joe Bankoff

Joe Bankoff is visibly touched upon receiving the Harry West Visionary Leadership Award on Oct. 27 as former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin (left) and ARC executive director Anna Roach applaud. Jim Jaquish holds the Phillip Moulthrop bowl that will be Bankoff’s for a year. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

The prestigious Harry West Visionary Leadership Award was presented to Joe Bankoff, a longtime Atlanta civic leader, at the annual State of the Region breakfast on Oct 27 at the Georgia World Congress Center. The late Harry West served as ARC’s director for 27 years until he retired in 2000.

Bankoff made his mark in Atlanta as an attorney with King & Spalding and as CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center. He also served as chair of the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech. Throughout his various careers, Bankoff also tackled numerous civic and community issues — from the arts transportation and telecommunications policy.

“I’m deeply honored and frankly a little surprised,” Bankoff said when presented with the award. “I’m old enough to have known Harry West.”

Bankoff recently disclosed he’s been fighting cancer, and he attended the breakfast in a wheelchair.

The State of the Region breakfast also included the results of the latest Atlanta Speaks Survey. Respondents said the top three challenges in the Metro Atlanta area are crime, the economy and transportation.

Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave the keynote address. Landrieu is a senior advisor for the Biden administration for infrastructure.

Landrieu opened up his remarks by accusing Atlanta and the stadium of stealing the Mercedes Benz name from New Orleans. But then he described Atlanta as his second home, mentioning a host of Atlanta leaders from former Mayor Maynard Jackson and civil rights leaders John Lewis, Ralph David Abernathy and Andrew Young.

Landrieu then spoke of the need for strong partnerships between federal, state and local governments — especially following the passage of the Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act.

“You have a once-in-a-generation opportunity that might not come back to rebuild a new South,” Landrieu said. “We are not going back. We are moving forward to a South that can lead. You are proving here in Atlanta that all these pieces are working together.”

— Maria Saporta

“Operation Watchful Eye” conducted home visits of registered sex offenders in Henry County

On Tuesday, the Henry County Sheriff’s Office Sex Offender Unit launched its multi-jurisdictional collaboration called “Operation Watchful Eye,” which conducted visits to registered sex offenders’ homes. 

The unit knocked on almost 280 doors to verify accurate addresses on file and confirm that the registered sex offenders comply with Georgia guidelines. Their reason for executing this operation on the last day of October was to make sure that there were no Halloween decorations that would be enticing to children during trick-or-treating times. 

“Safety knows no bounds, and when it comes to our children during Halloween season and beyond, we must raise our collective levels of consciousness,” said Reginald Scandrett, Sheriff of Henry County. “Our duty to protect our children is paramount, and we will leave no stone unturned to ensure their safety.”

Warrants were issued for offenders who were non-compliant during the visits.

— Allison Joyner

New medical clinic in “healthcare desert” gives new resources in East Point

On Monday, Morehouse Healthcare, the clinical service arm of Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM), announced the soft opening of phase one of its new Morehouse Healthcare at East Point clinic. 

The clinic, located on Cleveland Ave., will offer primary care services with over 20 exam rooms, capacity for six providers to see patients across medical specialties and will operate with extended hours. 

The school, in partnership with Fulton County and nonprofit Atrium Health, opened its newest clinic to mitigate the critical lack of healthcare resources in the area. 

“As MSM continues to lead the creation and advancement of health equity to achieve health justice, we are committed to providing compassionate care and innovative medicine to the residents of south Fulton County,” said Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, President and CEO of MSM. 

Earlier this year, the Historically Black medical school presented research to the Fulton County Board of Commissioners that part of the county was a “healthcare desert” with no medical specialists in cardiology, pulmonology and infectious diseases for almost half a million residents. 

“Our community is facing a crisis in health access,” said Robb Pitts, Chairman of the Board. “This partnership with MSM and the opening of the new primary care clinic is an important step to getting our residents the care they need and deserve.” 

The clinic will also serve as a training facility for MSM’s Community Health Worker certification program, which will train residents to serve as health advisors to fellow citizens in the area to help address barriers, including access to insurance or lack thereof, transportation and childcare.

— Allison Joyner

Atlanta-Fulton Public Library Foundation names new executive director

The Atlanta-Fulton Public Library Foundation has named Erin Dreiling as its new executive director. 

Erin Dreiling.

She replaces interim executive director Peter Pearson, who served for 18 months prior to the Nov. 1 announcement.

The foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports programs and infrastructure for the state’s largest library system.

Dreiling previously served as senior marketing and communications manager for the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. She previously worked at the Alliance Theatre, the Center for Puppetry Arts and Actor’s Express. An East Atlanta resident, she also serves as president of the Parent Teacher Association at Atlanta Public Schools’ Burgess-Peterson Academy.

“I believe in the power of libraries to transform communities,” said Dreiling in a press release. “When people want to read a great book, research a topic, find a better job or learn about something new, the library is there for them. The Atlanta-Fulton Public Library Foundation works in partnership with the Library System to support this indispensable community resource through advocacy, fundraising and public awareness.”

— John Ruch

Covenant House Georgia Calls on local businesses to light their buildings in blue to raise awareness for youth homelessness

Covenant House Georgia (CHGA), which serves youth experiencing homelessness and human trafficking, is rallying local businesses to raise awareness and support their mission by lighting their buildings blue during its annual Executive Sleep Out fundraiser.

On Nov. 16, almost 200 of Atlanta’s executives from companies like Delta Airlines, Arthur M. Blank Family Office, and Cox Enterprises will sleep outdoors to raise funds and awareness for the nonprofit. 

With blue being the color code for Human Trafficking Awareness, businesses will show their commitment to tackling this issue by shining blue lights.

“The Sleep Out is a powerful event raising critical awareness and support for the 3,300 young people fighting for their way out of homelessness,” said Dr. Alie Redd, CEO of CHGA.

Email the CHGA to register to sleep out. 

— Allison Joyner

YMCA of Metro Atlanta Partners with Latin American Association to Launch Onsite Early Learning Readiness Program

The YMCA of Metro Atlanta recently announced a partnership with the Latin American Association (LAA) to provide the Y’s Early Learning Readiness Program for local families onsite at the LAA. The free program prepares children five years old and younger with school-ready skills and supports caregivers in their roles as children’s first and most important teachers.

“Through the Y’s partnership with the Latin American Association, our organization is able to expand our reach and help children develop the skills they need to be prepared for kindergarten and beyond,” said Lauren Koontz, president and CEO of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta. “Through the Early Learning Readiness Program, we provide caregivers with information, resources, support and connections to promote the educational development of the children whom they are for. The Y remains committed to creating spaces and experiences that foster equity and inclusion.”

Early Learning Readiness, a nontraditional early learning program, provides a high-quality early learning experience for children in predominantly Hispanic Atlanta communities. Caregivers engage with children in their care in a dual-language learning environment that promotes active learning through play.

The program, which is available Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., is facilitated by bilingual Y staff that utilize learning stations designed to connect activities with the Georgia Early Learning Development Standards (GELDS), ensuring children start kindergarten with pre-literacy and numeracy skills needed to be successful in school. 

For additional information or to register a child for the Y’s Early Learning Program, please contact or call 678-728-1844.

— Derek Prall

Underground Atlanta welcomes visionary artist Dedren Snead as newest tenant

Underground Atlanta recently announced its latest addition to the creative landscape of downtown Atlanta — visionary artist Dedren Snead. Known for his educational technology designs and creativity through SUBSUME Media, Snead brings a unique and inspiring perspective to Underground Atlanta’s thriving arts center with the studio’s use of gaming as an educational tool to bridge the innovation gap in our community.

SUBSUME is a tech salon where access for Black and brown artists, creators, technologists and nonprofits are fostered to identify solutions for civil and social issues. The studio will operate an open lab with media materials and a think tank, solving questions Snead wants to answer, including, “How can we make the culture of Atlanta a resource to solve its own community problems?”

“Downtown Atlanta holds a special place in my heart, and I am thrilled to join the Underground Atlanta family,” said Dedren Snead. “The main component of this project is about connecting with the youth of Atlanta to bridge the gap for K through 12 and college students to focus on career paths opportunities within data science and engineering focused on gaming, AI and technology.”

— Derek Prall

The Water Tower Hosts Student Water Innovation and Leadership Summit Nov. 1

Students in the lab.

Over 150 north Georgia high school students attended a summit at The Water Tower campus in Buford on Wednesday, Nov. 1, to learn about careers in the water industry. Students from Lanier High School, Shiloh High School, Paul Duke STEM High School, North Gwinnett High School, Discovery High School, Mountain View High School and Grayson High School participated in the half-day event. 

Attendees learned about different roles, processes, technology, and innovations involved with water industry careers. They engaged with industry professionals during a career fair to strengthen their skills in leadership, communication, strategic thinking, team building and networking.

They also participated in hands-on activity stations covering topics in plant operations, microscopy, lab skills, GIS, smart technology, pipeline design, engineering, filtration, stream restoration, underwater robotics, wildlife assessment, scientific artwork, crisis communication, robots in water pipeline systems, and more.

“The Water Tower is committed to assisting utilities in meeting their personnel and training needs with our various hands-on workforce development initiatives,” said Melissa Meeker, CEO of The Water Tower. “The Student Summit gives local high school students the opportunity to connect with industry professionals who are poised to recruit, train and place them in a variety of open positions, while showing students that a career in water can be fun.”

— Derek Prall

Find Help Georgia celebrates first year of connecting Georgians with resources

Just one year after its launch, Find Help Georgia has connected 25,679 people from across the state with financial assistance, food pantries, medical care, child care, job training and other free or reduced-cost services through its website and mobile app.

“We are so pleased with the first year of this vital initiative for Georgia families,” said Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse Georgia Jennifer Stein. “We look forward to continuing to expand its reach.” is a customized platform that serves residents via a user-friendly website and mobile app, and additional support is provided by resource specialists through an online chat feature or by phone at 1-800-244-5373. There are nearly 8,000 resources listed, and they can be found in each of Georgia’s 159 counties.

Find Help Georgia is a partnership among Prevent Child Abuse Georgia, the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, and the Technical College System of Georgia housed in the Georgia State University School of Public Health.

— Derek Prall

MARTA Police to hold first annual Fall Festival at Inman Park Station

The MARTA Police Department is inviting the community to its first annual Fall Festival, which will be held at the Inman Park MARTA Station in the north parking lot on Friday, Nov. 3, from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. 

Attendees will get a chance to connect with MPD Officers as well as representatives from the College Park Police Department, Atlanta Police Department, Georgia State University Police Department, Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, Atlanta Solicitor’s Office, Georgia Tech Police Department, Fulton County Marshall’s Office, and the Georgia Public Safety Training Center. 

The event will include free food, music, games, and activities for the entire family to enjoy. Attendees can also receive free health screenings, safety information, and giveaways from vendors in attendance. Additional vendors include the MARTA Market, HOPE Atlanta, AIDS Atlanta, and Piedmont Hospital.  

 “We are excited to host this event with our public safety partners for MARTA’s patrons, employees, family members and the surrounding community,” said MARTA Police Chief Scott Kreher. “Strengthening the bond between public safety officials and the individuals we serve is of utmost importance to MPD and is imperative in providing a safe and secure MARTA Transit System.”  

— Derek Prall

Franklin Street Promotes Monetha Cobb to chief marketing officer

Monetha Cobb.

Franklin Street, a full-service commercial real estate firm, announces the appointment of Monetha Cobb as the company’s first-ever chief marketing officer. Cobb, who joined the company in 2010 as a founding member of its Atlanta office, is now responsible for shaping and implementing Franklin Street’s national marketing strategy to support growth initiatives throughout all business lines. 

“The creation of the CMO position and anchoring it in the Capital of the South underscores the investment that Franklin Street is putting into the Atlanta market and beyond, as well as the force behind our pursuit of value-driven partnerships and transactions,” said Andrew Wright, CEO and Chairman of Franklin Street. “Monetha is the first executive team member to be planted in Atlanta rather than in the firm’s Tampa headquarters, which is intentional as we believe Atlanta will be our top growth market within the next few years – and quickly followed by several other targeted cities throughout the country.”

As Franklin Street’s CMO, Cobb is responsible for shaping the company’s marketing strategies and brand positioning to support business line growth and geographic expansion. Based in Atlanta, the current corporate marketing team includes four professionals with plans to add at least three additional team members. Cobb continues to serve on Franklin Street’s Board of Directors, which guides the company’s overall strategic growth.

 “Because of my extensive experience in the commercial real estate industry and my understanding of all of Franklin Street’s business lines and customer profiles, I am able to connect the needs of our stakeholders with the marketing resources that will best amplify our pursuit of growth and customer retention that ultimately builds revenue,” said Cobb. “There are so many opportunities for Franklin Street to expand its reach, not only in Atlanta but throughout the country, and I am dedicated to deploying the resources to support that growth.”

— Derek Prall

King Center announces list of events connected to the 2024 King Holiday Observance

The King Center is inviting the community to embrace the spirit, teachings and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in connection with the 2024 King Holiday Season.

 The calendar of events encompasses experiences to remind global citizens of our capacity to create the Beloved Community and to help us develop strategies for shifting the cultural climate in key areas of our lives.

Click here for a more detailed schedule of events.

— Derek Prall

City of Refuge Raises $1.3 Million at “The Gathering”

Last month, local Atlanta nonprofit City of Refuge hosted The Gathering, an annual fundraising event that highlights the impact the nonprofit has made on Atlanta’s Westside over the last 26 years and invites supporters to donate towards the organization’s mission. This year’s Gathering raised $1.3 million — $300,000 more than in 2022 — to fund day-to-day operations and launch new programs, initiatives and services for residents living on campus and the surrounding community.

“Each The Gathering event is even more special than the last one because we’re able to reflect the thousands of individuals who have already come to City of Refuge to find life transformation while creating opportunities for thousands of others to find pathways out of poverty,” said Bruce Deel, CEO and founder of City of Refuge. “We enjoyed fellowshipping with supporters new and old as we came together to bring lasting impact to individuals and families transitioning out of crisis.”

Held on Thursday, Oct. 19, at The Foundry at Puritan Mill on Atlanta’s Westside, The Gathering invited attendees to take part in food, fellowship and a special performance from six-time GRAMMY winner Amy Grant. The Gathering celebrated the achievements and growth sustained by the City of Refuge in the last year and announced what is to come in 2024 for the organization. Since the start of 2022, the City of Refuge has helped more than 3,000 individuals escape poverty and create opportunities for self-sustainment.

— Derek Prall

Marta, Soccer in the Streets Celebrate Official Opening of Station Soccer at East Lake Station

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) and Soccer in the Streets, along with the City of Atlanta, Atlanta United Community Fund, Georgia Power and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, held a community celebration and pickup soccer games to mark the official opening of StationSoccer at East Lake Station.  

“This new StationSoccer location will not only connect children through the love of soccer and refine their skills but cultivate friendships that extend far beyond the field, enriching lives and strengthening the bonds of our community,” said MARTA General Manager and CEO Collie Greenwood. “We want to thank our valued partners at Soccer in the Streets, the City of Atlanta, Atlanta United Community Fund, Amazon, Georgia Power and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Your dedication to this shared vision has made this endeavor a reality.”  

The East Lake location will be a focal point for the community serving students from the Global Village Project, Villages of East Lake and the Decatur Housing Authority. For the girls from the Global Village Project, StationSoccer at East Lake holds immense promise. The benefits they gain from this initiative are multifold. It provides them with a safe and supportive environment to hone their soccer skills, promoting an active lifestyle. This access to sports is not just about playing a game but also developing essential life skills that go beyond the boundaries of sportsmanship. 

— Derek Prall

Columbia Residential Celebrates Renovation of James Allen Jr. Place With Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Late last month, Columbia Residential hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the renovation of James Allen Jr. Place, formerly Hightower Manor Apartments.

This development delivers 129 units to Mayor Dickens’ goal of creating or preserving 20,000 units of affordable housing over eight years. It also provides affordable housing to minimize displacement of longtime residents as the cost to live in the neighborhood has steadily


James Allen Jr. Place has now been fully renovated and preserved, and new community

amenities have been added to enhance the residents’ living experience and meet resident needs. The new amenities include an arts and crafts room, a movie theater, and a package room. The existing common areas, community room, laundry room, computer room, meeting room, and fitness room have been either enlarged or reconfigured to provide more functionality for the residents and to meet the current standards. 

— Derek Prall

NPU-A to review Galloway School plan that involves historic demolition

The Galloway School is scheduled to go before Neighborhood Planning Unit A on Nov. 7 for a review of zoning requests related to a campus renovation that includes demolishing a historic, iconic building.

Located at 215 Chastain Park Ave. in Buckhead, the private school proposes the demolition of the 112-year-old Gresham Building as part of a plan that also involves a new Upper Learning Building and renovating another structure. 

The Gresham was previously the Fulton County Almshouse and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014 based on an application by the school. The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and the Atlanta Preservation Center are among those urging a rethink of the demolition plan.

The school is seeking City approval for a rezoning and a special use permit revision for the new building and site changes. The Zoning Board of Review is expected to hear the cases sometime next month. The school made the applications under the address 215 W. Wieuca Road, which was the street’s name prior to a 2019 name change. 

Meanwhile, NPU-A will weigh in as an advisory body to the City. The NPU-A meeting will be available via Zoom starting at 7 p.m. 

— John Ruch

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