By Maggie Lee
In the wake of three guilty pleas related to allegations of crooked contracting at City Hall and an FBI raid on a city contractor, mayoral candidate Peter Aman stepped up to a microphone in his own office and became the latest in a crowded pack of mayoral hopefuls to take a jab at City Hall — and each other — on ethics.
Late last month, the FBI raided the office of the PRAD Group, a company that’s worked on city contracts for years. Atlanta’s former chief procurement officer has admitted to a federal court that he took $30,000 from a city vendor who won city contracts worth millions of dollars. Two city contractors have pleaded guilty to conspiracy, in connection with trying to win city contracts in exchange for cash.
“We need a political culture in Atlanta … that goes above and beyond what is required. I’m running against a series of lifelong politicians that are part of a culture where you pick up the phone and help people,” Aman said on Wednesday.
He called a press conference to announce a policy proposal: to ban City Council employees from also working on their bosses’ campaigns for a campaign paycheck. He said that frontrunner Mary Norwood employs two of her Council staff as campaign staff.
It’s legal for someone to have two jobs, as long as public money isn’t used for private campaigning. But Aman said he didn’t know how the public could tell if those individuals’ daily activities were in the service of the taxpayer or the campaign.
That was the topic of the press conference. However, reporters quickly turned to the federal investigation now underway at City Hall, and asked Aman about his experience from his time as city COO in 2010 to late 2011.
Aman said that when he was COO, he held people to the highest ethical standards and did have people investigated — and fired —for lapses.
Just after the news of the raid on PRAD came out and the indictment of the former city procurement officer, mayoral candidates Cathy Woolard and Ceasar Mitchell took some jabs via press release. Woolard is a former City Council president, and Mitchell is its president now.
Woolard said both Aman and Mitchell “dropped the ball” on ethics.
Woolard said she would set up an independent task force to conduct a comprehensive review of city procurement practices, investigate the procurement and building permits offices, and recommend changes.
Mitchell also said the city needs a “full-scale, independent” audit of the procurement process, and said it appears there’s a culture of corruption at City Hall. But he also said that procurement is not now under his purview as Council president.
Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, also a mayoral candidate, said earlier this week said she’s returning campaign donations from PRAD Group and companies and people associated with it.
But the federal investigation, which is apparently ongoing, has already been a top topic in the race to replace term-limited Mayor Kasim Reed in this year’s elections.
As long ago as March, candidates were promising ethics reforms.
Reed and Mitchell have already sparred about ethics, even in dueling comments in two press conferences in one day at the end of August.
Mitchell has called for a freeze on awarding non-emergency city contracts that don’t expire until next year. Reed has said called that a “donor protection plan” for Mitchell.
Early voting begins Oct. 16. The election is on Nov. 7. It’s almost guaranteed to go to a Dec. 5 runoff.
One of the contractors who has plead guilty to conspiracy is E.R. Mitchell. He is no relation to Ceasar Mitchell.