Local government touches people individually, Atlanta official says

Profiles in Power highlights public officials nationwide who are improving their communities through their dedication, enthusiasm, creativity and experience. 

This week’s profile is Kenyatta Mitchell – Director of Intergovernmental Relations, City of Atlanta.

Public career highlights and education: I received an undergraduate and graduate degree from Clark Atlanta University. My undergraduate degree was in history and my graduate degree was in international affairs. I got started in the public arena through my family, who’ve always been very political. I’m actually named after a president.  I’ve been very active in politics. We used to protest apartheid, and my parents were very active in local labor unions, so I’ve just been very politically active my whole life. My first job was when I volunteered for a few mayoral campaigns in Detroit, where I’m from. I also worked on some governors’ campaigns and then came to Clark Atlanta University for college. My first paying political job was as an intern at the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.  

What I like best about public service: I will say that at the local level you’re really able to touch people individually in a way that you can’t do at the federal level. If there’s a pothole somewhere, you can immediately fix that pothole and a person’s quality of life is immediately better. It’s just how quick things happen, locally. It’s what I really like about government at the local level. Also, everybody, everybody knows their mayor. They may not know their City Council member or county commissioner or even their governor, but everybody knows their mayor, so you get to hear real-time people’s concerns. 

The best advice I’ve received: The best advice I ever received is, “What you can’t fix, you feature.” When I started out I was very young and I looked very young, and in politics looking and being very young is not always a benefit. So instead of trying to hide that I kind of played it up a lot more. For example, when people wanted to do things with younger people, I would always volunteer. Or when people asked about certain demographics or when they talked about the younger ones, I’d always volunteer. I became known for knowing what was happening with younger people. So, I was able to be a subject matter expert in a way that other people couldn’t.  That was very helpful very early in my career. 

People might be interested to know that: I actually never went to a public school.  My preschool was Lutheran and from kindergarten to 12th grade I went to Catholic school. And then the college I went to was United Methodist. The other thing people don’t know about me is that I’m a big muscle-car person. I’ve only driven manual transmission cars all my life. For example, I now drive a 6-speed manual Mustang 5.0, which is a very special car for me. I was very specific about choosing the size of the engine, how it sounded and so on. I was very keen about getting this 2014 car and I will keep it forever. 

One thing I wish more people knew about county government: I wish people would understand better what the different parts of government do. A lot of people are very interested in their president, but really, your mayor has a lot more control over your daily life than your president. And your City Council has a lot of control over your life. So, I’d just wish that people had a better understanding of local government.  I am not saying that you shouldn’t be concerned with your President. The President is very important. But, for example, your school board determines how good your schools are going to be. Your mayor determines a lot of things about your life, your zoning, whether that street is clean, fixing those potholes, all kinds of things are determined by your local official and usually people don’t understand what they do and the power they have. So, I wish more people knew that. 

Government Market News Staff

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