By Maria Saporta
People around town were shaking their heads Wednesday upon the news that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed had forced Craig Richard, the CEO of Invest Atlanta, to resign.
Richard, who has been with the city for less than 14 months, had put together a strong track record during his tenure, one he outlined in an email to his staff informing them of his resignation.
“By every measure, it was a stellar year, and I am extremely proud of our high level of success,” he wrote, mentioning creating a record number of jobs – 7,045 and $787 million in capital investment, also an all-time high.
But in the last week, Richard found himself on thin ice because he had hired a chief financial officer for Invest Atlanta without making sure the hire met with the mayor’s approval, according to people aware of what happened.
Invest Atlanta has been without a CFO for more than a year, and it had been searching for someone to fill that position for months.
It received a resume from Mitch Powell, who had been CFO of the Integral Group for a dozen years, but was no longer with the urban-oriented development company.
The resume, however, had come after Invest Atlanta had entered into negotiations with another candidate. When those negotiations fell through, Invest Atlanta officials reviewed Powell’s resume and realized that he was ideally qualified for the position.
The mayor and Richard had a meeting recently to review several issues, including the naming of Powell to the CFO position. But the mayor had to cut the meeting short because of another engagement before they had a chance to discuss the appointment. The mayor, however, had a copy of the information in his packet that he took with him.
After conversations with members of his board and his staff, Richard decided to offer Powell the job because he had the best qualifications. Powell was on the job less than two weeks when the mayor found out. The word came down. Powell had to go, and because Richard had made the hire without checking with the mayor, Reed decided to go in a different direction.
The city issued a press release Wednesday thanking Richard for his service and saying his last day would be Jan. 18.
So what was so wrong with Richard hiring a CFO for Invest Atlanta?
Powell had worked with Integral, which is headed by developer Egbert Perry, someone with whom the mayor has been at odds. Perry’s Atlanta-based firm has developments across the country, including the massive redevelopment of the GM plant in Doraville.
Perry also is chairman of Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest source of residential mortgage credit through the secondary market. It exists to provide access to affordable mortgage credit across the country so people can buy, refinance or rent homes.
When asked about Powell and the mayor, Perry refrained from speaking directly about that situation.
“I think Mitchell is a good guy,” Perry said. “I don’t think of Mitch as being a political person. But I don’t know about the particulars of this situation, therefore I can’t comment about something I know nothing about.”
In the city’s press release announcing Richard’s resignation, there was no explanation for the separation.
“Craig Richard has served the City of Atlanta ably during his tenure at Invest Atlanta,” said Mayor Reed. “Craig’s leadership played an important role in attracting and retaining businesses, and I thank him for his service. I wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
Other high points during Richard’s employment included getting 33 small businesses approved for financing; closed on $30.2 million of New Market Tax Credits for three projects; closed $8.1 million from the Advantage Loan Fund and the Catalyst Loan Fund to assist five small businesses; secured $500 million in PACE funding commitments; provided incentives for 530 housing unites; closed 14 Downtown Facade Improvement loans; acquired 11 properties in the English Avenue/Vine City community with 19 under contract; and closed development agreements on five Community Improvement Fund projects representing $5.7 million.
Richard’s last day with the city will be on Jan. 18.
Eloisa Klementich, managing director of business development, will serve as Interim president and CEO. Klementich was also one of the three finalists in the national search conducted by Jorgensen Consulting on behalf of Invest Atlanta