The Georgia Public Broadcasting Atlanta mayoral debate between runoff candidates Mary Norwood and Keisha Lance Bottoms began with a question of ethics from moderator Jim Galloway of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday, Nov. 28.
“Do you believe this administration has done enough to root out corruption in City Hall? And as longtime members of City Council, please point us to something you’ve done personally to address the problem of corruption.”
Galloway said Atlanta’s next mayor will have her hands on at least $12 billion in contracts through an expansion of MARTA, airport improvements, a special transportation sales tax and other money.
Bottoms’ ethics came into question when she accepted the position of executive director of the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority with a salary $135,000 a year while she served on the City Council, a part-time position with a $60,300 salary.
Bottoms said the most important thing we can do is say we don’t have any tolerance for corruption or unethical behavior inside City Hall.
“We have put too much focus on the people and not on the process,” she said. “Our chief procurement officer had been with the city for over 20 years, spanning multiple administrations. This was a man who had been at a major law firm and had other accolades. I think there was trust put in him.”
She called for a complete audit of the procurement department and a transfer from the paper-based process to an electronic system.
Bottoms, endorsed by term-limited Mayor Kasim Reed, has taken great strides to distance herself from the corruption that has resulted in three investigations and four guilty pleas during the Reed administration.
Her campaign this year returned $25,700 donated by engineering firm PRAD Group and former Senior Vice President Jeff Jafari after an FBI raid related to a bribery scandal involving the city’s former procurement director, Adam Smith. The PRAD Group had donated to Reed and was a city contractor for decades.
Bottoms’ proposed overhaul of city ethics includes a complete evaluation of campaign donors before they receive city contracts.
Norwood said, “The city has not done enough, and the corruption, as the state’s attorney said, has been prolific.”
She emphasized the City Council’s absence from the bidding process for city contracts. “I got thrown out of the procurement office when I was trying to investigate a contract that was given and understand what the bidding process was and what the scoring process was.”
Norwood presented a plan under which all procurements would be analyzed by management and shareholders.
Panelist Bill Nigut of Georgia Public Broadcasting referenced an article in the Journal-Constitution on Sunday, Nov. 26, that highlighted Bottoms’ lumping together of campaign workers without properly identifying them. After the article, Bottoms provided an itemized breakdown of each campaign worker and the person’s pay on her website.
“It was an error, and the person that did our disclosures has no campaign experience, so she put campaign staff on one line item,” Bottoms said. “It was a bookkeeping error that needed to be corrected.”
Bottoms said she is not being and has never been investigated by any ethics department.
But Nigut suggested that Bottoms, with her experience in city government, should have been aware of the problem.
The same AJC article revealed that Norwood hired workers who are still on the City Hall payroll, raising the question of whether her campaign has used city resources. Norwood said the two campaign workers mentioned in the article have kept meticulous records.
“When you have relationships that run 10, 20, 30 years deep, I want people who know them intimately, so we made that choice,” Norwood said. “We have been meticulous in making sure no city resources were used.”
On the question of transparency, Norwood has released her tax records from 2003 to 2011; Bottoms has not.