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Billboard on Atlanta's downtown connector: 'Danger, enter at your own risk.'

It's the latest in the war of words between the police and fire unions, and Atlanta's mayor, over pay, pensions and attrition of the rank-and-file.
Billboard on Atlanta's Downtown Connector

ATLANTA (WXIA) -- It's a sign of the times in Atlanta -- a new highway billboard that warns people they enter Atlanta at their own risk.

And there is rough-and-tumble politicking behind that provocative billboard.

The billboard is a public jab at Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and it is a new twist to the war of words between the police and fire unions on one side, and the mayor on the other -- over pay and pensions.

The messages on the billboard: "Mayor Kasim Reed does not care about public safety," and, "Danger. Enter at your own risk."

"We're trying to raise the public awareness," said Stephan Borders, president of Atlanta Professional Firefighters, "to let the citizens of Atlanta know that their police and fire departments are in a bad state [of staffing because of attrition]."

Borders said the police and fire unions shared the cost of the billboard. It is a one-month rental. It is posted on the downtown connector, southbound, at University Ave.

Police and firefighters have been demanding, for weeks, that the mayor change his mind, and support the same, three-and-a-half percent pay-raises for police and fire that other city employees received last month.

"We're not competitive with comparable cities, and it's causing firefighters to leave," Borders said.

Mayor Reed remains steadfast. He continues to insist that the police and fire unions first drop their multi-million dollar lawsuit against the city over their pensions, and then he will support pay raises for them.

And the mayor points out that police and fire received pay raises four years ago when other city employees did not.

"So it's entirely disingenuous when the rest of the employees, four years later, have received an increase, to say that it's politics," Mayor Reed told reporters on July 29. "It's not politics at all. They are grown women and men. If they want to withdraw their lawsuit, I'll meet 'em at the negotiating table tomorrow."

It will be up to the Atlanta City Council, perhaps in the next month or so, to decide whether to give raises to police and fire over the mayor's likely veto.

"The ultimate goal is to keep the experienced firefighters we have, here [in Atlanta]," Borders said, "because they're leaving at three times the rate they should be."

The police and fire unions may put up additional billboards, and yard signs -- a very visible, public campaign, versus the mayor who makes the case that he's already spent more and done more to improve public safety than any other Atlanta mayor.