Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman came under heavy fire on Tuesday for not appointing Black women councilmembers to leadership roles as he made committee assignments for the 2023 year. He has since reconsidered the assignments under heated criticism for his lapse in judgment and announced moments before the council’s first meeting of the new year, that he was replacing Councilmember Matt Westmoreland with Councilmember Marci Collier Overstreet to chair the zoning committee.
Shipman, who is white, made the decision following an ad paid for by Councilmembers Andrea Boone and Overstreet, both Black women, that was published in the Sunday, Jan. 1, Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.
The women denounced Shipman’s decision to not appoint a Black woman to chair any of the council’s seven committees. They said it was the first time in 40 years a Black woman did not have a leadership position on the council.
Shipman responded on social media he was making changes.
“Given the concerns raised within Council and across the community, I am making a change in the Committee Chair assignments for 2023,” Shipman posted to Twitter. He said said Overstreet will continue to serve as chair of the zoning committee.
Westmoreland, who is gay, will serve as a committee member.
“The challenges and opportunities our city faces require us to work together and engage all parts of our communities,” Shipman said. “I believe the updated slate of committee assignments will allow us to work for all the residents of our city.”
Boone thanked the community for supporting her and Overstreet’s decision to go public with their concerns about Shipman’s committee chair appointments at the close of Tuesday’s meeting.
Boone was chair of the Committee on Council but Shipman appointed Liliani Bakhtiari to head the committee this year. Bakhtiari is the first Muslim, queer, nonbinary and non-monogamous person elected in Georgia.
“Because of the political pressure … we as Black women today have a seat at the table,” Boone said.
“To my colleagues, my younger ones — you must reject bias, you must reject sexism, you must reject bigotry. You must reject this at all costs,” Boone said.
Overstreet in her closing remarks said including Black women in leadership roles on the City Council is an important part of Atlanta history. She said she was compelled to speak out publicly on this issue because she feared having to face a Black girl or woman months from now asking why there were no Black women leaders on the council in 2023.
“It is never easy doing the right thing. But it’s even harder if you do nothing,” she said.
“There’s always been Black female leadership in the city of Atlanta, whether it would be the mayor’s office, or the presidential seat or on council in leadership, for decades,” Overstreet said.
“It was important to me to actually speak up for Black women. It was important to me to speak up for the heritage of the city of Atlanta,” Overstreet said. “What we cannot do is allow ourselves to be diluted slowly. Every ethnic and racial makeup of this city is unique.”