Atlanta councilmembers, mayor’s staff to discuss ‘honest government’ legislation
By David Pendered
The Atlanta City Council intends to repair breaches in the city government’s protocols on transparency and honesty, and on Wednesday a council committee agreed to meet with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ staff to work out the details. A meeting date was not set.
Melissa Mullinax, a senior advisor to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, said the administration wants to convene the work session with the council to discuss two pending pieces of legislation.
Howard Shook, who chairs the council’s Finance/Executive Committee, was receptive to meeting with the administration.
Shook said he wants to ensure the outcome doesn’t duplicate the city’s existing methods to promote a transparent and honest government. Shook asked if funding for any new positions has been included in the budget for Fiscal Year 2019, which is to be approved before June 30. No one answered.
Shook also observed the council is committed to passing such legislation. He said every council member has signed the two pending proposals.
The city’s ethics officer, Jabu Sengova, said members of the city’s independent Board of Ethics have their opinions they want to voice at the work session.
“We’re not opposed to transparency or integrity, by no means,” Sengova said.
Mullinax said council President Felicia Moore may be working on her own legislative package. Common Cause of Georgia has expressed interest in participating in the discussion, she said.
“We want to make certain this is a tight package,” Mullinax said.
The council is considering two proposals – Ordinance 1266 and Ordinance 1267.
The first measure creates the position of transparency officer, who is charged with handling all requests submitted to the city under Georgia’s Open Records Law.
The provision targets purported efforts by former Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration to hinder responses to requests for public information filed under the state’s Open Records Law. One such response has gained widespread attention. Former mayoral spokesperson Jenna Garland sent a text concerning one such request:
- “Be as unhelpful as possible … Drag this out as long as possible … And provide information in the most confusing format available.”
Such a response could lead to the respondent being fired, according to the pending legislation. It states:
- “All employees shall be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal, or termination of a contract, in conformance with the provisions of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Atlanta, Georgia for failure to comply with the requirements of this chapter. In addition, if applicable, violations of the requirements of this chapter by employees, vendors, or contractors may be referred to the appropriate authorities for criminal prosecution.”
The position is to appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council, and will report to both the mayor and council – as do other department heads including the city attorney and chief financial officer.
The second measure creates an Office of Integrity, to be placed in the mayor’s office. This position would have sweeping authority to investigate any and all financial transactions conducted by the city. The office is to:
- “Review, monitor and, if appropriate, investigate the advertising, consideration, and award of any and all City contracts for services, supplies, equipment, and concessions to ensure that all such contracts are awarded in accordance with the law and conducted in an open, honest and transparent manner.”