Atlanta Must Reads for the Week: Jesup’s war on waste, Kirby Smart’s law, and the rise of Metro Boomin

Plus, a look at Clarkston’s mayor and two local food businesses that bought their own farms
Coal Ash
Residents of Wayne County, Georgia at a meeting to discuss coal ash

Photo by Fred Bennett, courtesy of The Bitter Southerner

Janisse Ray for the Bitter Southerner on a small town fight against big industry waste

For this 9,200-word story, Ray headed down to Jesup, Georgia, to write about the town’s battle to stop highly toxic coal ash from being dumped in its backyard. Along the way, the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame inductee takes us into the lives of a lawyer, environmentalist, and newspaperman who aren’t just fighting a waste company, but to keep the town on the map:

The lawyer in the black suit is jumpy. Every eye in the house is trained on him, and there are lots of eyes, since every seat in the Coastal Pines Technical College auditorium is occupied. People kneel in the aisles, and more lean against the walls— more than 500 people. The lawyer steps toward the microphone then backs away, as if he’s too angry to speak. He twists for some papers in his briefcase, leans forward, and turns fierce dark eyes on the crowd. All these people have come to hate on coal ash, because what’s not to hate about coal ash? And coal ash is coming at them. It’s being fast-tracked at them, 10,000 tons of it a day poised to roll down the CSX tracks to Broadhurst, Georgia, a ghost settlement a few miles south of Jesup.

This is a public meeting about coal ash, and the town lawyer for Jesup, the closest municipality, is on stage. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Mike Connor is on hot coals up there, and if he doesn’t move, he’s gonna burn up. His whole body is fidgeting, shifting. He unbuttons his coat, closes it again. Now he leans again toward the microphone and starts to talk in an accent that is Southern but not insipidly so. He says he grew up in Wayne County, grew up poor. His people knew how to work hard. He invoked his 102-year-old grandmother who gardened at the corner of Ty Ty and South Macon streets on a little piece of dirt she loved. “I left a lucrative career as an attorney in Savannah to come home,” he said, “because I love this little piece of dirt, too.”

And now a toxic dump? He takes a stack of paper and tosses it on the podium. “This is the permit application,” he says. “I want to put it right here so that nobody forgets what’s in it.” He throws a dirty look at the two guys from Republic Services, a Fortune 500 waste-services corporation based in Arizona that owns the “extraordinary, beautiful” landfill at Broadhurst, which was built as a regional landfill but is speed-skating toward being a federal Superfund site if this permit goes through. “Because apparently somebody forgot,” continues Connor, “when they came here tonight and told you they have no plans to store coal ash at this landfill.”

Read: From Ashes such as these, what can rise?

Barry Petchesky for Deadspin on why Georgia is making it harder to access information on college sports teams

On April 11, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law a measure that would grant Georgia’s athletic departments an unprecedented 90-day window to simply acknowledge an open records request. Petchesky puts “Kirby’s law,” named after new UGA football coach Kirby Smart, into national context:

The new law passed as quietly as possible, and was easy to miss. (It was perhaps designed to be missed.) It was tacked on as an amendment to an entirely unrelated measure, then overwhelmingly passed by lawmakers after midnight on the next-to-last day of the legislative session. A spokesman for Deal said the governor signed the bill into law because “it simply levels the playing field with other states that also have strong athletic programs like Georgia.” This is not true.

Other SEC states give athletic programs between three and 15 days to respond to FOIA requests. (The exceptions are Florida and Alabama, which require athletic departments to respond in a “reasonable” amount of time.) The law is certainly welcomed by Kirby Smart, under whom the Bulldogs are ramping up spending (and will now be able to keep its spending secret for much longer). Smart visited the State Capitol to discuss the bill with lawmakers for four hours shortly before they passed it, and the chief of staff of one the bill’s co-sponsors said Smart was the prime mover behind the legislation.

Read: “Kirby’s Law” Will Make It Harder To Report On Georgia Athletics

Amos Barshad in Fader on how an Atlanta hip-hop producer came to work with Kanye

Metro Boomin, an Atlanta-based producer, spent his teenage years ascending the ranks of American hip-hop. Now, at age 22, he’s worked with everyone from Future to Kanye West. Barshad profiles the rising star:

This February in Toronto, during a mind-bogglingly frigid NBA All-Star Weekend, Metro Boomin brought out his famed confidante Future for a surprise appearance that turned a late night set at a small club into a spazzy, sweaty basement rave. Two weeks later, in East London on Metro’s first trip overseas, the crowd was so big that hundreds of kids were plowing through iron barriers and the cops had to shut down the bus lines outside the venue. The promoter, Hîm Mohamed, would later say, in lightly broken English: “It was so much a riot.”

At 22, Metro—slim, precocious, and prone to toothy smiles—is arguably the most in-demand producer in hip-hop. The success has made him increasingly itinerant, and nocturnal: when he’s not keeping rap hours with stars in studios, he’s on the road living out of Airbnb rentals and DJ’ing sold-out thousand-cap venues around the world.

But right now, in a corner suite at the downtown Atlanta W hotel, he’s just trying to decide where to buy pants. A few of his buddies, all gregarious young guys with music-industry affiliations that he’s known for years, are hanging out. They consider popping open the minibar Bombay Gin, but opt for the fancy gummy bears instead. Metro gets a phone call, and his eyes widen. He shows the pals the phone, and sings: “Can we get much higher?!” It’s Kanye. Gummy bears in mouth, they nod approvingly.

Read: Who Do You Trust?

The Economist on Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry

As Clarkston seeks to decriminalize marijuana, the Economist caught up with the mayor of the city commonly referred to as the “Ellis Island of the South:”

As to whether he has smoked marijuana, Ted Terry is frank. “I’m a millennial,” he says, “What do you think?” But his reasons for wanting to “deprioritise” possession of small quantities, making it punishable only by token fines, are impersonal and sound. More severe treatment distracts the courts and police, he argues, weighing unfairly on the poor. Unlike most millennials—Mr. Terry is 33, a youth his hipsterish beard underscores—he is, as Democratic mayor of Clarkston, outside Atlanta, well-placed to do something about it.

Mr. Terry hopes the measure will come up before the city council in May. He is confident that, unlike outright decriminalisation, varying drug punishments in this way falls within the city’s authority; anyway, he points out, issuing tickets for pot, rather than arresting people, is already widespread. First elected in 2013, he has flexed his municipality’s muscle—and irked Georgia’s conservatives—before. When, last year, the state’s governor, like many others, theatrically announced that it would not be accepting Syrian refugees (a position he was forced to reverse), Mr Terry said they were welcome in Clarkston. He mentors one Syrian family himself.

Read: Ted versus the machine

Brad Kaplan in Creative Loafing on two Atlanta businesses that bought the farm

In Creative Loafing’s spring dining guide, Kaplan writes about how King of Pops and Wrecking Bar each purchased farms in order to ensure their food is made from local ingredients:

Two five-year-old Atlanta businesses—King of Pops and Wrecking Bar Brewpub—are, to put it mildly, highly committed to the idea of growing their own ingredients. Both have launched full-fledged farms in the past year and a half. And we’re not talking mere garden plots, but vast expanses of land with diverse, year-round crop programs. Both the King of Pops’ and the Wrecking Bar’s farms have clever names that show strong ties to their founding businesses: one is the King of Crops farm, the other the Wrecking Barn. Both farms sit on the edges of suburbia: King of Crops roughly a 45-minute drive west of Atlanta, in Winston; the Wrecking Barn 40 minutes to the east in Loganville. And both farms have also started exploring farmers markets, other restaurants, and even CSA programs as additional outlets for their future produce.

Both businesses view their young farms as more than just a source of quality produce. They are platforms for business diversification, expansion, and pathways to community engagement. Whether it’s supplying a gourmet frozen pop empire and Ponce City Market bar with homegrown ingredients, or acting as a competitive advantage for a growing brewery operation, King of Crops and Wrecking Barn are taking farm-to-table to a whole ‘nother level.

Read: Seeds of change