By Maria Saporta
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, in a wide-ranging interview Friday morning, said the priority in his second term will to get an infrastructure referendum passed by voters that will be between $150 million and $250 million.
But that initiative will have to be implemented without his top lieutenant — Duriya Farooqui, who has been serving as his chief operating officer for the last two years and as deputy COO from the beginning of his first term.
Farooqui has been his point person on virtually all major efforts in the Reed administration — handling the negotiations with the Atlanta Falcons, coordinating the city’s pension reform efforts, participating on the city’s new master plan of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as well as overseeing all the city’s departments.
Farooqui will be joining the consulting firm of Bain & Co. on Jan. 31, the same firm where her predecessor, Peter Aman, the city’s COO for Reed’s first two years in office, is a partner.
“Duriya was Peter’s right hand,” Reed said, adding that Farooqui would be involved in the search for her successor along with key members of the business community, including SunTrust Bank’s CEO Bill Rogers.
That is the second key opening that Reed will have in his second term following the announcement earlier this week that Louis Miller, the general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson, will be retiring on Jan. 3. Miguel Southwell, a deputy general manager, will serve as interim general manager.
Reed announced on Friday that the city will conduct another national search for a new airport general manager. But the mayor said the city will not offer the new general manager a contract, although that is a common practice among airports.
“I’m not going to change my philosophy regarding contracts,” Reed said, adding that the policy has worked for the city because it has not had a high turnover among its top executives.
The mayor also said that Southwell would be allowed to compete in the national search, and he had been one of the five finalists for the position during the original search when Miller was selected.
“Miguel has an excellent reputation from when he worked in Miami,” Reed said, adding that he is especially strong in building the air cargo business. ‘I have a deep interest in the cargo space.”
The mayor spoke after his quarterly meeting with the Atlanta Committee for Progress, the high-level group of business leaders who serve as a blue-ribbon cabinet for Reed.
During Friday morning’s meeting, Reed spent the meeting outlining his agenda for the next four years.
“We are going to spend the next 12 months on moving the city from surviving to financial health,” Reed said. “There are a series of steps that we believe can free up the cash.”
Once the city has figured out how much money it can save through efficiencies, Reed said that the city will decide how big of a bond referendum for infrastructure it will propose to voters without having to raise property taxes. The current estimates are that the bond referendum would be between $150 million and $250 million.
The mayor said that by giving a range does not mean the city is “wedded to scaling back” its infrastructure bond referendum. The decision on the dollar amount will depend on what the city can afford without having to raise taxes.
The city has estimated that it has a $900 million infrastructure backlog — maintaining and repairing its roads, bridges, sidewalks and public spaces.
Business leaders with the Atlanta Committee for Progress said the goal is to get the city to stop “lurching from budget to budget” and being able to be more strategic with its finances. ACP Chairman Rick Smith, the CEO of Equifax; and Richard Anderson, the CEO of Delta Air Lines, have been working helping on that initiative.
Smith said the business community was supportive of the mayor’s approach. It was his last meeting as chairman. SunTrust’s Rogers will chair the organization in 2014. And Martin Flanagan, CEO of Invesco, will the chair in 2015.
Farooqui, who attended the Atlanta Committee for Progress meeting, has worked for the city for six years.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” she said, mentioning several of the efforts that she has worked on. “I’m really looking forward to the next phase of my career.”
And when asked about how the city would fare without her, Farooqui answered: “I have a high confidence of leadership in the city department heads and the stability in the city.”