City of Atlanta Launches Task Force to Increase Transparency

Patrick Hickey

Friday, April 12th, 2019

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Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ first year started out smoothly. She stayed away from the investigations swirling around her predecessor (and endorser) Kasim Reed’s administration, she hand picked her own well-regarded GM for Hartsfield-Jackson International airport, instituted a procurement reform process, and even created a new position in her cabinet titled a “transparency officer” that has the power to investigate Bottoms herself.

But starting late in 2018 the wheels began to come off.

First it came to light that shortly after Bottoms’ inauguration former City Councilman Kwanza Hall was hired as a ‘senior policy advisor,’ a cushy position making over $100,000 per year.  That move violated the city charter, which bans elected officials from holding “any compensated appointive office or employment with the city” for one year after leaving office.  Bottoms claimed ignorance.

Then last month an investigation revealed that six of Bottoms’ former campaign aides had been improperly placed on city payroll, including Marva Lewis, who received a job as “deputy airport general manager” with an annual salary of $273,873 despite never having worked at any airport in her life.  The Atlanta City Council was alarmed enough to pass a resolution requesting an independent investigation – a request which Bottoms promptly vetoed.

Now forced to answer questions about the ethics of her transition at town hall meetings, Bottoms and her team have created the Task Force for the Promotion of Public Trust, a group made up of a roster of highly regarded ethics and law experts who will hopefully keep an eye on goings on at City Hall and restore in it some of the trust the public seems to have lost.

The 13-member panel, if approved by the City Council this month (as expected) will include:

  • Two former prosecutors, preferably federal, one appointed by the Atlanta City Council and one by the Mayor;

  • Two recognized professors or members of academia with emphasis in the areas of government or corporate transparency, compliance, or ethics, one appointed by the Atlanta City Council and one appointed by the Mayor;

  • Two former local government attorneys with experience in a City or County law department, one appointed by the Atlanta City Council and one by Mayor;

  • Two residents of the City of Atlanta, one appointed by the Atlanta City Council and one appointed by the Mayor;

  • Two former Judges, one appointed by the Atlanta City Council and one appointed by the Mayor; and

  • Two members appointed by the Council President from any of the five professional categories listed above; and

  • One former or current legislator in the Georgia General Assembly appointed by the Mayor

Over the course of several meetings the group will provide written recommendations on ways to improve the city’s ethics, transparency and compliance, with a deadline to report their findings no later than four months after the first meeting.

The six appointees announced so far by the mayor include high profile attorneys, judges, and former lawmakers, including retired Justice Leah Ward Sears, former Department of Justice prosecutor Joe Whitley, and longtime state Rep. and Ethics Committee chair Joe Wilkinson.

IAG caught up Wilkinson Monday to pick his brain for his thoughts on the bipartisan task force.

“I’m going in with an open mind, and a hope that we can make a positive difference for the city,” he told IAG.  “I’m going to bring that same mentality to this that I brought to the House – we’ve got so many resources, we can find out what other cities have done and find workable solutions.”

He said that he was pleased to see the pedigree of his fellow appointees, and that he thinks the four month limit should provide ample time to dig into the issues – and if not there is always the possibility of pushing for an extension.

The fifth generation Atlantan said he was glad to be able to bring his expertise and “by the book” mentality to his home town.

“Atlanta is an optimistic city, and I’m optimistic that we can make a difference.”