Fulton Chairman John Eaves objects to Mayor’s pick of Keisha Lance Bottoms as new Recreation Authority head

By Maria Saporta

The Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority, apparently at the urging of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, has removed its executive director Violet Travis Ricks and replaced her with Atlanta City Councilperson Keisha Lance Bottoms.

At a specially-called meeting of the Authority on Tuesday, Chairman William K. Whitner – a city appointee, proposed a severance package for Ricks and the appointment of Bottoms. There were enough members for a quorum, and the proposals passed.

Not so fast, said Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves after finding out about the “unilateral” move by the Mayor and the City.

The Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority is supposed to be a partnership between the city and the county, but he said that under the Reed administration, the county has been forgotten and ignored. Because the City has six votes on the Authority and the County has three, the Mayor has not felt as though he has needed to consult with the County.

Turner Field

Turner Field is one of the properties that is under the control of the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority (Photo by Maria Saporta)

But Eaves problems with the latest actions by the authority go far deeper than a power play by the City.

“This clearly was not done in a transparent way,” Eaves said in a lengthy telephone conversation Friday morning. “First the removal of the current director was questionable. There was no evidence that her performace was not satisfactory.

“Then the process of finding a replacement is at best nebulous. There was no process. There was no search. The board members were in the dark. They didn’t know that Keisha Lance Bottoms was under consideration.

“Frankly a decision was made for the board by the Mayor. This was not a transparent selection process. This was a unilateral decision.”

When asked to respond to Eaves’ concerns, City of Atlanta spokeswoman Alnissa Ruiz-Craig sent over the following statement:

“Councilwoman Bottoms has served the residents of the City of Atlanta honorably for over five years.  Her distinguished career on the Atlanta City Council includes sponsoring legislation that addressed our city’s unfunded pension liability, established stronger enforcement on panhandling and ensured that women working for the city receive equal pay for equal work.

“While we disagree with Mr. Eaves’ comments, we appreciate him sharing his views.  The appointment is not only legal, it is ethical and received approval from the City’s ethics officer and recreation authority attorneys. I am confident that she will be able to continue her service with the Atlanta City Council and serve as executive director of the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority with integrity.”

But Eaves still believes that a search would have given the Authority an opportunity to find the most qualified individual to head the authority rather than have someone who was hand-picked by Mayor Reed.

Plus Eaves said there are several serious issues about having a City Council person serving AFCRA’s executive director while still being a city employee.

“You have a sitting city councilperson who is already being paid $60,000 a year being offered a position with a salary of $135,000 a year – both funded by taxpayers.” Eaves said. “That’s double-dipping, and to me that’s just wrong.”

That means Bottoms, who is considered to be one of the Mayor’s closest allies on Council, will be making a total of $195,300 a year when she starts her new job on June 1.

And Eaves is concerned about whether Bottoms can be a fair representative for the county after she echoed the mayor in criticizing Fulton County on various issues.

“She is a City of Atlanta elected official,” Eaves said. “She is being placed in an administrative position where she’s supposed to be neutral and represent the interests of the city and the county. There’s no way that I believe she’s going to be impartial to the interests of the city and county.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which first reported the news Thursday that Bottoms had been named the new executive director of the Authority.

It is a pivotal time for the Authority because there will be several key decisions on the horizon – the redevelopment of Turner Field, the negotiations with new owners of the Atlanta Hawks over the future of Philips Arena, Zoo Atlanta’s expansion and its need for a new parking deck as well as the ownership of the Olympic cauldron as Atlanta celebrates the 20th anniversary of hosting the Olympics next year.

Reporter Katie Leslie spoke to Bottoms, who told her:

“When you look at what’s happening with the city in relation to the Authority, it’s an incredible time,” Bottoms said. From a professional standpoint, it was “easy” to make the decision to have a role in that, Leslie wrote.

When asked about possible conflicts of interest, Bottoms told Leslie that as executive director, she will not have a vote in any board decisions. She said she will recuse herself from any potential votes that face the City Council involving authority-managed properties.

There is precedence, however, that when former City Councilmember Davetta Johnson Mitchell was selected to head the Authority, she was required to resign from City Council, Eaves said.

But Chairman Whitner said that Mitchell had already left City Council when  she became executive director of the Authority, so she had not been required to resign from office.

Nina Hickson, the Ethics Officer for the City of Atlanta, issued a ruling on behalf of Council member Bottoms, which summarized that “there is no per se conflict of interest under the City’s Ethics Code” to stop her from serving in both positions.

But Hickson went on to say:  “Although the Ethics Code may not prohibit a sitting Council member from serving as an executive director of AFCRA, a complete ethical analysis of the issue requires the Council person as well as the AFCRA board to evaluate whether the arrangement creates an appearance of impropriety or causes a reasonable taxpayer to question whether the interest of a Council member serving in this position impairs that person’s ability to act in the best interest of the City. The Ethics Code does not specifically regulate ‘appearance of impropriety.'”

In a statement that he released to the general media, Eaves said: “AFCRA is an entity charged with being a good, nonpartisan steward of taxpayers’ funds.  It is responsible for making facilities decisions in the public interest. Paying a political figure to oversee the board smacks of cronyism and is extraordinarily questionable. Neither I, nor our County Attorney, was consulted in advance and have not received any form of communication from AFCRA.”

AFCRA Chairman stood behind the choice of Bottoms.

“As we look at the myriad of policy and legal issues facing the Authority in the coming years, it is important that the new executive director be positioned to address these issues while enhancing our communications with the key stakeholders, including the City of Atlanta and Fulton County governments,” Chairman Whitner said in a statement. “With experience as both an elected official and attorney, Mrs. Bottoms is uniquely qualified to lead this organization, and we are thrilled that she has accepted the position.”

In the interview, Eaves expressed a sense of sadness that the relationship between the city and county had deteriorated to the point where there’s almost no communication between him and the Mayor..

“The relationship between the City of Atlanta and Fulton County when Shirley Franklin was mayor was cordial and respectful,” Eaves said. “We met together; we talked; we had a partnership. That has not existed under the Reed administration. This had been a historial alliance. But that partnership during this administration has been challenged.”

Eaves, who is not one to invite confrontation, said that this time the Mayor had gone too far.

“He’s gone well beyond the boundaries of what’s acceptable,” Eaves said.

 

 

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

4 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    Hizzoner wants one of his minions in charge as he cuts deals on Turner Field and Fanplex. The Authority’s income falls significantly after the Braves depart.Report

    Reply
  2. Pissed off taxpayer says:

    Commissioner Eaves…thank you for speaking up. Of course the Mayer is setting things up to go his way with Turner Field and his unilateral decision to sell to Georgia State. But what is the true highest and best use for the property? Allow a unbiased third party to do a study of the land. Who knows, maybe a large out of state tax paying company would want to relocate there, or maybe allow town homes, single family, retail and offices to be built there. Give Georgia Tech students a chance to explore other options for the land. No offense but if Georgia State got the turner field site it will not bring in property tax dollars (they are tax exemption). As citizens we should insist that King Reed not be allowed to do as he pleases.Report

    Reply
  3. atlman says:

    Pissed off taxpayer

    “Allow a unbiased third party to do a study of the land.”
    Do you always want leadership from unbiased third parties? Do you want unbiased third parties making decisions for Nathan Deal or the Cobb and Gwinnett County commissioners? Or do you only want this when it is a black Democratic official having the power to make decisions?

    “Who knows, maybe a large out of state tax paying company would want to relocate there”
    It is a large, out of state tax paying company that is abandoning the site due to the site’s many problems to begin with. 

    “or maybe allow town homes, single family, retail and offices to be built there”

    If you are going to second guess the duly – and twice – elected mayor, you need to be better informed. It is a mixed-use project. Half of it will be sold to Georgia State. The other half will be sold to private developers for housing, retail and office space. 

    “Give Georgia Tech students a chance to explore other options for the land.”
    Are Georgia Tech students going to actually pay for the land and manage its development?

    “No offense but if Georgia State got the turner field site it will not bring in property tax dollars (they are tax exemption).”
    You really have no idea what you are talking about. It will allow Georgia State to enroll tens of thousands more students who will pay tuition and live and shop in the city, as well as hire more faculty and staff. Lots of the faculty and staff will live in the condos and such near they work, and lots of the graduates – from both Georgia State’s current campus downtown and this new second campus – will stay in condos in that area too. The large numbers of highly skilled graduates of a research university like Georgia State will cause more companies to relocate in that area, just as healthcare and tech companies are moving downtown and to Midtown because of Emory and Georgia Tech. And it will result in a blighted, economically depressed area of town getting an economic, social, cultural and demographic facelift. 

    This plus the Tyler Perry Studio deal and the (much smaller) Porsche relocation to the old auto parts factory site will be the biggest – and pretty much only – economic development projects for Atlanta south of I-20 in decades and will finally see economic growth in areas of the city other than North Atlanta, Buckhead and Midtown (and even Midtown was economically stagnant until a few years ago). If the Georgia State and Perry studios deals are done correctly, it would be huge for the city, meaning far more tax dollars being generated than it would be by just sitting around twiddling your thumbs because you don’t like who is calling the shots. 

    “As citizens we should insist that King Reed not be allowed to do as he pleases.”
    Yup. That is what it amounts to. Jim Crow type thinking where you still aren’t able to get over the fact that someone who doesn’t look like you has more power than you will ever possess. Look, I am sympathetic to the notions that more could have been done with Underground, the Turner Field area, the Fort McPherson area and the Civic Center. But Reed is only going to be mayor for 3 more years. And the next mayor is likely going to be a return to the same-old same-old from the Vincent Fort, Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young folks … people who won’t be anywhere near as pro-business or willing to make tough decisions, take on tough fights like pensions reforms, the MARTA mess and the Atlanta School Board (which Reed worked with Sonny Perdue to help reform when he was in the Georgia legislature before he became mayor, as it was obvious that Shirley Franklin wasn’t going to get involved as usual) and the (previously practically nonexistent) Atlanta police force as Reed is. So there is no time to sit around waiting just to try to get in the good graces of a bunch of seggers who will never endorse anything that he does (unless it is a massive layoff of the city’s largely black work force, starting with everyone in a managerial position or with a big salary) because their REAL PROBLEM is not the policy but the fact that they really don’t think that anyone who looks like him should be in office to begin with. 

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with everything that Reed has done. His firing the fire chief was total garbage, and I hope that he takes the city to the cleaners over it. Reed also hasn’t done a lick to promote charter schools … Andrew Young and Shirley Franklin were actually much bigger charter school supporters than he was. There are also more things that he could have done to get more money into the Beltline and other infrastructure projects, but he refused because he wants to be able to say that he never raised taxes as Atlanta mayor in case he decides to run for governor or senate down the line. But the guy could be Fiorello La Guardia or Rudy Giuliani and your ilk will always resent him because you don’t think that being a mayor is the guy’s place.

    Yes, he is an autocrat. So what. Have you actually looked at city hall and the county commission? You have 3 types: career politicians who literally have never done a single thing, professional life-long civil rights industry types and far-left wing radicals. Of course, many of them fit in 2 or more categories, some in all 3. It took an ideas guy with an autocratic leadership style to get ANYTHING done in that environment. If Reed had been the milque-toast pushover that you guys seem to want, the city would still be spiraling down the tubes with MARTA losing tens of millions annually, the pensions threatening to bankrupt the city, the Beltline being a pipe dream, crime rates spiraling out of control due to an understaffed underpaid and purposefully mismanaged police department, APS would have likely lost its accreditation, the city would still be stuck with white elephants like Underground and Fort McPherson, the Braves would have still left and the area would have been simply converted into Section 8 type housing,and oh yes the Falcons would be building a new stadium in Cobb County instead of downtown. That stuff and more would have happened were Kasim Reed the nonthreatening mushmouth that you and the other griping seggers obviously wish that he was.Report

    Reply

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