The City of Atlanta’s Open Checkbook site has finally been updated with new data. According to its own FAQ page, the data is supposed to be updated quarterly, but that hasn’t been the case. It’s been about 10 months.
But that doesn’t diminish the tool overall, which is an excellent way to keep track of how the city government is spending our public money. It’s really very easy to use. Here’s how it works…
1.) Go to: checkbook.atlantaga.gov
2.) In the search box, start typing a word and wait for the auto-fill feature to give you a list of spending items. When you type “Northside” for instance, you’ll get a list that includes “Northside Drive Pedestrian Bridge” – let’s click on that.
3.) The site will display a ledger that details every payment made for this spending item. At the top of the ledger you can see a total. For the Northside Drive Pedestrian Bridge, that total now exceeds $33 million damn dollars, making this bridge even more of a monument to the arrogance of certain local leaders than it was before.
4.) Have a complete fit over the bad news, then output the ledger as a spreadsheet using the Download button at the top, right. Then you can share the spreadsheet with the world, like so:
A couple of days after we posted about the newest total for the Mercedes-Benz stadium on Facebook, CBS 46 did an investigation and contacted the mayor’s office.
According to the city’s Open Checkbook data, the gleaming pedestrian bridge to the Mercedes-Benz stadium has cost the public over $33 million. That’s twice the cost of the repairs to the collapsed I-85 bridge, and it’s a higher dollar amount than what Tyler Perry paid for 330 acres of the former Fort Mac.
Incredibly, the city’s response to CBS 46 is that the Open Checkbook data is somehow wrong, and that they’re conducting an internal investigation about it.
Does ThreadATL need to offer a correction? Nope. We got our information from the city’s transparency website. If it provided the wrong data to us, the city needs to issue a correction – and it needs to do so with a *specific dollar amount*, not just a vague “the numbers are wrong” statement.
We look forward to seeing the auditor’s report.
Timeline of public spending on the Mercedes-Benz pedestrian bridge
July 2016: Atlanta City Council approved $12.8 million to build the bridge
March 2018: Council finds out that $23 million has been appropriated for the bridge, and approves that amount
September 2018: After the city’s Open Checkbook transparency site goes live, ThreadATL reports that bridge spending had reached $27 million. We also learned that the cost of this bridge is one of the reasons that the city’s Renew Atlanta projects, such as our much-needed Complete Streets redesigns, were short on cash and needed to be re-prioritized.
July 2019: After the city finally updates Open Checkbook with new data, many months late, ThreadATL reports spending has reached over $33 million.
This bridge was never needed in the first place
The fact that Atlanta leaders found it necessary to approve $12.8 million in 2016 on a bridge to remove people from a public road is frustrating enough. If you look at the Community Benefits Plan for the Vine City neighborhood, you’ll notice there’s no mention of a glitzy pedestrian bridge being needed. Instead you’ll find things like “high-density mixed use on Northside Drive,” Transit-Oriented-Developments at Ashby and Vine City MARTA Stations,” and “improved transportation connectivity.”
A street-level improvement for all pedestrians, no matter what their destination, would have better served the neighborhood and better adhered to the community plan. When the AJC asked Rev. Anthony A.W. Motley, one of the leaders helping create the Community Benefits Plan for the area, whether this project was for the neighborhoods, he responded strongly that it was not. The AJC quoted him as saying:
“To try and justify the bridge on the basis of a connection to poor people in the community is an insult to everything that we have proposed, particularly as it relates to the Community Benefits Plan. The bridge has nothing to do with the community, and to say that it does shows contempt for the community and a flagrant disregard for the truth.”
Nothing to do with the community. Everything to do with wasted money that could have been spent better in a city that has real, pressing needs for pedestrian safety.