(Updated) Atlanta arborist fired, claims department is shirking duties

Tom Coffin, a senior field arborist for the city of Atlanta, was fired on July 29 and has released a letter in which he outlines his concerns for the program that has both generated controversy and praise for its efforts to maintain Atlanta's green canopy.

In a letter addressed to Mayor Shirley Franklin, the Atlanta City Council, the Tree Conservation Commission and citizens at large, Coffin says he was fired after he raised questions about the lack of accountability expected of the arborists and lack of enforcement of the tree ordinance on certain properties.

He also displays graphs that show he was one of the hardest workers the department had. Compared to his colleagues, Coffin conducted nearly double the number of property inspections. And according to graphs produced with information from the agency, his jurisdiction in the northeast quadrant of the city showed the highest number of ordinance enforcement and activities.

And, of course, in addition to enforcement activities I handle one-third of the total field workload in the arborist division. My firing will not increase either the efficiency or the effectiveness of service to the city. Both are likely to plummet.

Of what this all means in the big picture:

My job is certainly important, especially to me. The greater question, however, is the impact of my dismissal on the urban forest that defines Atlanta and greatly enhances the quality of our lives. If the Bureau of Buildings succeeds in this attempt to silence the demands I have been making for accountability to and enforcement of the law, the Tree Protection Ordinance becomes a dead letter, suitable for framing.

A bit of trivia: Coffin was one of the founders of The Great Speckled Bird, Atlanta's original alt-weekly.

CL is still waiting for a spokesperson from the city's department of public works, the agency that oversees the arborist's office, to return a call for comment.

A city spokesperson responded via e-mail:

Mr. Coffin’s termination is a personnel matter and not related to budget reduction. I assure you we have other arborists who are trained and knowledgeable in the tree ordinance who will handle and protect the City’s tree canopy as required by our codes. The Sr. Arborist position will be opened soon and we will hire the most qualified person for the job.

In a phone interview with CL, Coffin said he'll appeal his dismissal. His full letter is pasted below the jump. To view it as a document with graphs he says support his claims, click here.

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