Mayor Jackson created the NPU System to make sure that citizens, particularly those who had been historically disenfranchised, would be in a position to comment on the structure of their communities. To assure that the citizens would not have this ability stripped of them by politicians who found an involved and engaged public inconvenient, Mayor Jackson had the NPU System placed within the City Charter, which can only be changed by the Georgia Legislature. That same section of the Charter also contains the Office of the Mayor as well as the Atlanta City Council.
Atlanta has had a Neighborhood Planning Unit System since 1974. There are 24 NPUs, lettered from A to Z, except Q and U. Each NPU represents the citizens in a specified geographic area. Each NPU meets once a month to review applications for rezoning properties, varying existing zoning ordinances for certain properties, applications for liquor licenses, applications for festivals and parades, any changes to fees charged by the City, any changes to the City's Comprehensive Development Plan, and any amendments to the City's Zoning Ordinances. Once an NPU has voted on an item, that vote is then submitted to the relevant body which makes the ultimate determination with regard to that issue as the official view of the community on a topic.
NPUs operate according to a varied set of guidelines. Each NPU is permitted to create its own bylaws and the only requirement is that once a year the bylaws are voted on and every resident and business owner is permitted to vote on those bylaws. Some NPUs permit anyone to vote while other NPUs operate in a representative governmental fashion with only elected representatives voting on the issues at hand. Given the variances of demography within the City of Atlanta, the idea that a one-size fits all system of community governance would successfully reflect each community's view is unrealistic. Therefore, NPUs are permitted to operate as the citizens see fit.
Each NPU is assigned a City of Atlanta Planner who attends the monthly meetings. Planners are charged with recording official votes, responding to questions about issues of Land Use & Zoning, to present the various items that are sent by the City government for NPU review, and to assure that meetings are reasonably orderly and moderately democratic. The NPUs are staffed entirely by citizen volunteers who receive no compensation for their efforts. NPUs are not given any funding by the City for supplies or other needs.
Each NPU sends a representative to the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board, which is a city-wide entity that was created contemporaneously with the NPU System. The Board addresses issues of city-wide concern and sends its recommendations to the City Council and/or the Mayor depending on the issue being addressed. The Board makes various appointments to City Commissions and Boards on behalf of the citizens.