By Maria Saporta and Maggie Lee
(Updated with comments from Mayor Kasim Reed)
After Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell said the city and Mayor Kasim Reed should not rush into multi-year contracts during Reed’s administration especially as a federal corruption investigation is underway, the mayor spent most of an afternoon press conference blasting Mitchell.
Reed said he was elected to an eight-year term, not for any time less than that. He said he would use his time in office to get as much done as he could. Reed also accused Mitchell, a candidate for mayor, of having his own ethics issues, and said that half of Mitchell’s major donors either had contracts or sought contracts with the City of Atlanta.
Mitchell held a press conference Thursday morning when he questioned Reed’s desire to move forward with several contracts. Mitchell said he has raised more than $1.7 million for his mayoral bid – more than any other candidate. Recent polls have placed Mitchell and several other candidates in something of a statistical dead heat behind mayoral frontrunner Mary Norwood.
The City Council President used the occasion to address Reed’s tweets that making “personal attacks against me” and making “false accusations” on Mitchell’s motives.
“Never have I tried to make this personal,” Mitchell said. “This is about what is in the best interest for the City of Atlanta.”
Reed, however, called Mitchell’s proposal “a donor protection plan.” He also pointed out that Mitchell has paid $8,000 in civil penalties regarding a failure to disclose campaign expenditures and debt as well as not filing personal disclosures on time.
The back-and-forth between Mitchell and Reed, who have often been on opposite sides of political and policy issues for the past eight years, reached its most heated level on Thursday.
Reed said Mitchell was attacking him because the City Council President has been slipping in the polls.
Reed was flanked by City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms and City Councilman Kwanza Hall, who also are running for mayor. Both of them have had a much closer relationship with the mayor than Mitchell.
Although Mitchell did not link the administration’s rush to enter into contracts to the federal corruption investigation, he urged journalists to ask questions.
Contractor E.R. Mitchell, no relation, as well as businessman Charles R. Richard Jr. have pled guilty to paying bribes to City Hall officials in return for lucrative contracts.
“What I know is that this administration is being investigated for corruption,” Mitchell said. “We don’t know who is involved. We don’t know what happened. And we don’t know where it’s going. We have to proceed with caution.”
Mitchell also questioned the administration’s desire to “dismantle the Ethics Board” and make it less independent, a move he described as misguided and not in the best interest of the citizens.
“These questions need to be answered,” Mitchell said.
But Reed responded that Mitchell was off base, and he said the same people would be reappointed to the board and confirmed by Council. The proposed changes were being made to make sure the board’s decisions were legal and valid.
Mayor Reed then submitted his own list of questions for Mitchell to answer, and he called for the City Council President to release his tax returns for the past eight years.
And in response to the corruption investigation, Reed said: “Let me be very clear. We have been cooperating with our federal partners for more than a year, and I have never been interviewed (by federal authorities).”
Mitchell has been holding the administration to task for reportedly trying to bid contracts for retail concessions at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport by the end of the year (while Reed is still mayor) even though they don’t expire until September 2018.
Mitchell said he was comfortable with the process starting this year, but said it should be up to the next mayor and council to award the contracts.
“It is my intention that we are more transparent on how we go through the procurement process,” said Mitchell, who said the administration should quit its mudslinging at him because that was “beneath the office of mayor.”
Instead, Mitchell said the city should institute policies on contracts that can withstand scrutiny.
When asked about the airport retail contracts, Reed showed no sign of backing down.
“I’m planning to do my job,” Reed said. “You run the city to the best of your ability.”
Mitchell, however, said it was a public policy issue.
“How can we put better policies in place, not only for this administration but for future administrations,” Mitchell said. “I’m not going to make this personal. I think it’s inappropriate to rush contracts that will not expire until September 2018.”
Later in the press conference in his Council office, Mitchell said he was “not trying to halt procurements that need to be done this year.”
When asked how he felt about Mayor Reed’s proposal to sell the Civic Center to the Atlanta Housing Authority, Mitchell said: “The Council should field any proposal the mayor moves forward, especially on multi-year million dollar contracts.”
Responding to the mayor’s press conference, Mitchell sent out an afternoon statement reading in part “I will continue to stand up to his personal attacks and fight for the people of Atlanta. He is, once again, trying to avoid the fact that he is mayor during one of the biggest unfolding corruption scandals in the history of Atlanta.”