Common Cause raises concerns over airport concessions and campaign contributions; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed responds

By David Pendered

Common Cause of Georgia has called upon Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to reform campaign finance rules as the city prepares to issue lucrative concessions contracts at the airport.

Common Cause contends that campaign contributors have a history of winning airport contracts. That practice should stop, according to a white paper by the good government group.

Reed issued a lengthy response that concludes: “It’s time to stop resurrecting ghosts from the past and focus on the present and the future.”

Read the mayor’s full response at the end of this story.

Common Cause timed its paper to coincide with the city’s review of airport concessions contracts for all the food and beverage sold at the airport. The contracts extend a decade and include three-year renewal options.

The 12-page white paper makes no allegations against Reed or his administration.

It does observe that Reed raised nearly $3 million for his 2009 mayoral campaign through a campaign finance system that is unchanged in the 30-plus years since ethical problems were first reported at the airport.

The paper reiterates a call Common Cause made two years ago:

“People can either contribute freely to the campaigns of candidates, or they can qualify to receive contract work with the City of Atlanta. They cannot do both.”

Reed’s statement addresses both his record on ethics reform and the current system of campaign fund raising. It states:

“As a state lawmaker for 11 years, I supported every ethics reform bill that came before me. The City of Atlanta has enacted ethics legislation that is as strong or stronger than any major government in the state of Georgia.

“However, without campaign contributions, candidates who are not wealthy would never be able to spend the time required to meet voters, communicate their ideas or develop their platforms.”

The Common Cause white paper was written by Kirwin Swint, a political scientist at Kennesaw State University. The paper is titled:

“Contracting at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport: The Need for Pay-to-Play Reform in Atlanta.”

Common Cause’s report begins with a statement concerning what it calls Atlanta’s “governance problem” and takes the matter straight to the airport:

  • “This struggle has been nowhere more apparent than with city contracts given to close associates, family members, and political contributors of Atlanta municipal government officials.
  • “Exhibit A: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.  The history of ethical lapses and breaches of public faith with regard to Atlanta Airport contracting is unfortunately quite long, and puts Atlanta in the same league as other large cities with similar patterns of corruption, i.e. Chicago, Newark, New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Miami. “

The mayor’s response noted that he and his team will “work to ensure” that problems do not recur under his watch:

“I am aware there have been concerns about procurement practices at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the past.

“As my administration moves forward with the airport concessions bid, we will work to ensure that it is conducted in a fair, ethical and transparent manner,” the statement reads.

The white paper includes a history of the alleged insider dealing that it says has been chronicled at the airport since 1980.

Some of the reports are mesmerizing, in part because they happened so long ago yet seem so contemporary.

Here’s an example that involves the airport’s two namesakes:

  • “Video arcade in the main terminal, 1980.
  • “Tollie Hartsfield, William B. Hartsfield’s second wife, opened a video arcade in the airport’s main terminal.
  • “One of her partners was Maynard Jackson’s ex-wife, Burnella “Bunnie” Jackson Ransom.
  • “The arcade operated for about two years and went out of business.
  • “’Why those two people got that contract is a mystery, and I don’t know to this day,’ said George A. Berry, Hartsfield’s general manager from 1978 to 1983.”

The white paper’s allegations of scandal conclude with the guilty verdict issued in 2010 against the city and a business entity comprised of two partners who ran the indoor advertising business at the airport. One partner is the godmother of one of Jackson’s children.

Reed decided to settle the city’s portion of the ruling won by the plaintiff in that case, Corey Airport Services. Atlanta agreed to pay its $3.9 million share of the $17.5 million verdict.

The white paper concludes with a call for Reed to issue an executive order regarding what the report calls “pay for play” regulations:

  • “The buck stops at the mayor and his operatives….
  • “Mayor Reed can make an executive decision to enact pay-for-play rules.”

The mayor’s statement ends with a call for onlookers to consider the work that has already gone into creating a “fair, ethical and transparent” culture for airport business:

“My administration’s track record and the unprecedented steps we have taken at the airport over the past 18 months should matter. The facts should matter. Our record should matter. It’s time to stop resurrecting ghosts from the past and focus on the present and the future.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed responds to the white paper issued by Common Cause of Georgia:

Response to call for Mayor Reed to enact pay-to-play reform:

“As a state lawmaker for 11 years, I supported every ethics reform bill that came before me,” said Mayor Kasim Reed.  “The City of Atlanta has enacted ethics legislation that is as strong or stronger than any major government in the state of Georgia. However, without campaign contributions, candidates who are not wealthy would never be able to spend the time required to meet voters, communicate their ideas or develop their platforms. They would have to focus solely on raising money, which I believe would put them at a fundamental disadvantage and severely limit the pool of qualified candidates for office at the expense of voters.”

Response to concerns about airport corruption:

“I am aware there have been concerns about procurement practices at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the past,” said Mayor Kasim Reed.  “As my administration moves forward with the airport concessions bid, we will work to ensure that it is conducted in a fair, ethical and transparent manner.  Shortly after my inauguration in January 2010, my administration issued a new request for proposals for the airport bond underwriters to ensure transparency and eliminate any hint of controversy for the issuance of $1.6 billion in bonds. My administration then managed the most open and competitive process ever for selecting new Aviation General Manager Louis Miller. We opened up the airport’s financial data, which caused Delta Air Lines to invest an additional $30M in the Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal. And, under the leadership of our new City Attorney, we brought the Corey advertising contract litigation to a close after more than a decade of legal wrangling.

The fact of the matter is that Hartsfield-Jackson is the world’s busiest passenger airport and the economic engine of metropolitan Atlanta. Those who continue to bring up references to corruption and cronyism should have the character and integrity to back up their allegations, or refrain from smearing the reputations of the dedicated employees who manage what is arguably the most successful airport in the nation.

My administration’s track record and the unprecedented steps we have taken at the airport over the past 18 months should matter. The facts should matter. Our record should matter. It’s time to stop resurrecting ghosts from the past and focus on the present and the future.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

4 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    His Honor said, “Those who continue to bring up references to corruption and cronyism should have the character and integrity to back up their allegations…”

    The AJC’s pages and multiple court records back up every allegation that is made or can be made, the Corey case being the latest.

    His Honor wants us to forget the words of Professor Marvel in “The Wizard of Oz”, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”Report

    Reply

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