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Maggie Lee

Atlanta City Council set to vote on inspector general legislation, amid doubts

Maggie Lee
Audience at Atlanta City Council's Finance Executive Committee Jan 17
Interest in Atlanta’s potential inspector general legislation was enough to fill up a committee room for a while on Friday. Credit: Maggie Lee

 

By Maggie Lee

Atlanta City Council is set for a Tuesday showdown over independent supervision of city government.

Council President Felicia Moore has called the legislation they’ll hear “a disaster.”

“I don’t understand what the goal is of this legislation. Are we trying to solve a problem, or now we’re convoluting everything else?” Moore said toward the end of a nearly three-hour Council committee hearing Friday on legislation endorsed by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

It’s a bad idea, Moore argues, to put the audit and ethics departments under a new Office of the Inspector General, which would also oversee compliance with city rules and laws.

The three need to be separate functions answerable to boards with specialist knowledge, according to Moore and to some of the folks who already do those functions.

The state of Georgia, for example, keeps those functions separate. At the state government level, auditors check spending on a set schedule and look out for any signs of fraud or misspending. Ethics registers lobbyists and investigates potential campaign finance hijinx. The state inspector general investigates things like allegations of waste, fraud, abuse and sexual harassment.

Moore said that she and other councilmembers have long depended on the city auditor’s independent view of the operations of city government, with reports on all kinds of things from water meters to missing property.

District 6 Councilmember Jennifer Ide worked with Bottoms on the new legislation and said that city staff could feel confident going to an inspector general with allegations about anyone at City Hall.

“We are giving the authority to the inspector general to deal with any allegations of violations of our personnel code, our procurement code and our transparency code, against the highest levels of people who work in this building,” Ide said.

Ide’s legislation would also guarantee funding for this Inspector General’s office. That means Council couldn’t just fail to fund it.

“Not every department in our city has that sort of protection in the charter,” Ide said.

But Moore argued that Atlanta already has provision for an inspector general, just under a different name: the independent compliance officer. Moore said that when she was working on the first draft of the ICO legislation, she drew on language from job descriptions of inspectors general in Georgia and other states.

City Council passed ICO legislation last year, but an officer has yet to be hired.

Ide said on Friday that the new legislation would not interfere with audit and would not interfere with ethics, but that it also definitely needs some tweaks that she anticipates on Tuesday.

The Tuesday full Council meeting would not be the final appearance of the legislation — because it’s a charter amendment, it would require more hearings.

But the legislation got a mixed review from Council’s Finance/Executive Committee.

Three members voted for it, three abstained and one was absent.

At-large Councilman Matt Westmoreland was one of the abstentions.

“I’m a strong supporter of an inspector general,” Westmoreland said. “At this point I still have additional thoughts, questions and concerns.”

Documents:

Draft legislation 19-O-1729 (This has been amended since filed in December)

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Maggie Lee
Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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1 Comment

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    Dan Valdes January 23, 2020 3:09 pm

    It would be additionally informative for this article to list how the council voted, member by member.

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