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Atlanta City Council head: State push for airport control is overreach

After a state Senate study committee pushed for an authority to oversee Hartsfield-Jackson International, Atlanta City Council president Felicia Moore defended the city-run airport and said Atlanta already has its own reforms to address corruption in contracting.

Moore said in an interview Wednesday that she wasn’t surprised by the committee’s findings, but said: “I think this is an overreach. And changing to an authority does not necessarily absolve it of any of these influences that can go on.”

She said Hartsfield-Jackson is efficient and is the world’s busiest airport, and that changing governance “could be disruptive.”

“I’m very mindful of the fact that the state has perennially been looking at the airport,” Moore said. “I just think [an authority is] unnecessary. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the council-mayoral form of government and local control of our asset.”

The Atlanta airport has come under scrutiny amid a federal bribery investigation into Atlanta City Hall that resulted in Atlanta’s former chief procurement officer being sentenced to prison, red flags found in airport contracting, and a Federal Aviation Administration probe into the possible misuse of Hartsfield-Jackson revenue.

INTERACTIVE MAP: AIRPORT OWNERSHIP

The state Senate committee met over the last several months and last week approved its final report recommending that the state consider creating an authority to oversee Hartsfield-Jackson. The exact makeup of the authority and who would control it is unclear, but senate leaders have tried to soften the idea that they are trying to implement a state takeover of the airport.

The committee chair Burt Jones, a state Senator from Jackson, said at the committee’s final meeting: “You cannot continue to have indictments, investigations and things that have taken place that’s really, quite frankly, kind of embarrassing for the state as a whole.”

The state committee in its report said it “found no evidence of reform or safeguards to lead it to believe this pattern of allowable corruption could not continue on indefinitely.”

In response, Moore, who has attended some of the committee’s meetings, said she thinks a city measure passed in 2018 to establish independent procurement review officers is “a game changer” that will provide independent scrutiny of the contracting process for the city council to learn of problems before voting to approve contracts.

“I would hope that they would give the city an opportunity…. to institute some of these things and see how they work, and frankly I believe that they will,” Moore said. “Everybody is committed to doing what we can to gain and maintain the public trust, despite what’s going on.”

Atlanta officials have contended that a provision in bond and airline lease documents restricts any change of control of Hartsfield-Jackson, while the committee’s report says those issues are not “an insurmountable hurdle.”

Moore, who met with Jones to discuss the airport, said if the state continues to move forward on the matter, “the city will continue to move forward in its opposition in any way that we can.”

Another opportunity has captured the attention of some state legislators: Jones has said he thinks an authority would be in a better position to explore the idea of a second commercial airport, which the city of Atlanta and Delta Air Lines have long fought.

Moore retorted: “If that is an idea that they’re truly interested in, perhaps they can create an authority and open their own airport…. they don’t need the city of Atlanta to pursue it.”

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