By Maria Saporta
With less than six months remaining before he leaves office, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is working on all cylinders trying to accomplish as much as he can in the precious time he has left.
But all this activity has a downside.
The next mayor of Atlanta could inherit a City Hall where major policy moves, government contracts and personnel decisions will have been decided before he or she takes office.
For example, Mayor Reed is considering awarding employee contracts to key individuals on his team – possibly multiyear contracts.
Shortly after Reed took office in 2010, he was furious when he found out Renee Glover, then CEO of the Atlanta Housing Authority, had been awarded a five-year, $1.5 million employment contract. It was the fifth time her contract had been renewed.
At the time, Reed said he did not believe in employment contracts. Both times when he conducted a search for a new general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, he refused to offer prospective candidates a contract, which reduced the field of applicants.
Now Reed said he now is considering offering contracts.
“There’s been a shift in my thinking,” Reed said in a recent interview with a handful of reporters. “My position is evolving. At its core, it’s going to be limited. It’s just the sheer volume of capital projects going on at the city right now.”
Reed explained the city has so many projects in play – from Renew Atlanta to the $6 billion in construction work at Hartsfield-Jackson – that there could be problems if there was not continuity among the leaders who are overseeing those projects.
“There are no do-overs,” Reed said.
In almost the same breath, Reed seemed to contradict himself.
“I’m going to work really hard to make sure my successor’s hands are not tied,” said Reed, who remembered when he first became mayor. “You don’t know what you are doing for a year. That first year, you really are learning basic things.”
Reed said he kept his “predecessor’s team” during his first year in office, which is not totally true. For example, during his first month in office, Ben DeCosta stepped down as general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson, and the mayor said at the time that they had had a conversation about “moving in a new direction.”
Also, during that interview, Reed said: “I think the new leader should pick their new team.”
According to people close to City Hall, apparently Reed is considering giving employment contracts (possibly multiyear contracts) to those running the Atlanta airport, Invest Atlanta, the Department of Public Works and the Department of Watershed Management.
Reed also specifically mentioned Faye DiMassimo, the general manager of Renew Atlanta, which is coordinating city’s investments in roads, bridges and other public infrastructure.
But offering employment contracts could backfire.
A new mayor could resent the very people who were given contracts because he or she would not have had the ability to select them. And if the new mayor wanted to make a personnel change, then it likely would cost city taxpayers to buy out the employment contract.
On the other hand, if those people were doing a really good job, a new mayor likely would want to keep them with or without a contract.
There are other issues to consider.
If Reed gives several department heads employment contracts, then one could question whether they would continue to be loyal to Reed rather than the new mayor.
It becomes even more entangled when one considers that these are the department heads who are overseeing the overwhelming majority of the city’s contracts and concessions. The city already is under federal investigation involving bribery over the awarding of lucrative contracts.
The possibility that Reed would offer employment contracts for key team members is not sitting well with several mayoral candidates, who were interviewed for this column.
“It seems odd and contradictory based on his long-standing, strongly-felt position and policy,” said Ceasar Mitchell, president of the Atlanta City Council and one of the leading mayoral candidates.
There are several other issues at play.
Reed had said he would be making a decision on whether to move forward with a plan for the city-owned Civic Center property by the end of July. The mayor’s spokeswoman, Anne Torres, said there were no updates to report at of Monday afternoon.
Mayoral candidate Cathy Woolard’s campaign issued a statement last week urging City Council to “slow down the redevelopment process around the Civic Center so that there is time for thoughtful community input.”
Woolard also urged Council to not “lock-in airport concession contracts for seven years,” a move that she said would prevent the next mayor and the Atlanta City Council from having a say on how and to whom contracts are awarded.
“The consistent shadow of doubt over our procurement processes will continue if these contracts are rushed through,” Woolard wrote. “Let’s begin the discussion of how we do these contracts next term.”
For Reed, it could be as simple as wanting to exert as much power as he can while he’s still in office. It is clear he has loved being a forceful, decisive mayor.
At a Transform Westside Summit on July 21, Reed was interviewed by Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy. He disclosed that he has always had a series of five-year plans on 3×5 note cards with the ultimate goal to become mayor of Atlanta.
“It’s going to be weird for me not having a five-year plan,” Reed said. Then later in their conversation, Reed addressed the room of about 200 participants.
“I want to thank y’all for the opportunity to be mayor over the last eight years,” Reed said. “I have loved every minute of it. The best days of this city are absolutely ahead of us.”
It may be time for Reed to start letting go.