Cortez Carter. Source: Hartsfield-Jackson

Atlanta ethics probe: Promotion ‘flabbergasted’ former airport manager

It was widely known in the industry that an airport executive’s wife was in the concessions business, yet the official was still promoted to a job overseeing that part of commercial operations, the former manager of the airport told an Atlanta ethics officer who investigated the possible conflict of interest.

Responding to a open records request from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the ethics office earlier this week released documentation of the interviews conducted during its investigation of the airport executive, Cortez Carter.

Carter, who was deputy general manager at the airport, was fired earlier this year after revelations of his wife Charisse Works Carter’s ties to concessionaire Hojeij Branded Foods. Hojeij is one of the biggest operators of restaurants at Hartsfield-Jackson and a member of campaign event host committees for former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Charisse Works Carter’s company AirWorks is a partner of Hojeij’s with a 10 percent stake in a restaurant at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.

Former Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Miguel Southwell said in an interview that he was flabbergasted when he heard that Cortez Carter got a position overseeing concessions, according to the city ethics officer’s notes.

Southwell hired Carter as assistant general manager, but removed concessions from his responsibilities because of his wife’s business relationship with Hojeij, according to the ethics office’s report.

Southwell told ethics officer Jabu Sengova that “the entire industry knew his wife was involved in concessions,” according to the interview documents. Southwell, a longtime airport leader, was fired by Mayor Reed for unspecified reasons and replaced by Roosevelt Council.

Current managers at Hartsfield-Jackson say they didn’t know Charisse Carter was in business with Hojeij.

While Southwell knew many people in the business and is a regular at airport conferences, Council was newer to the airport industry when he took the helm at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Council promoted Carter to the deputy general manager position “based on his extensive experience in airport commercial development,” according to the city’s ethics office.

He told Sengova that Cortez Carter introduced his wife as an “IT professional for some concessionaires” and “never mentioned his wife having a concessions company.”

But Carter said people knew about his wife’s concessions business.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has also reported that Cortez Carter said he met with Tracy Reed, brother of then-mayor Reed’s brother, before he was hired. Carter contended Tracy Reed had a key role in the vetting process.

During Carter’s tenure, Hojeij got contract extensions for its restaurants on Concourse E and late last year was picked to win contracts for more restaurants and shops at the Atlanta airport.

But approval of the new contracts has been put on hold amid political turmoil, the federal bribery scandal and revelations of the potential conflict.

Airport concessions managers said they don’t believe Cortez Carter influenced who won concessions contracts.

“Mr. Carter has never, not even slightly suggested that I should or that we should consider someone…. it just has not happened,” said airport concessions director Chilly Ewing in an interview with Sengova. Ewing also said he did not know about Charisse Works Carter’s business in concessions.

Atlanta airport concessions business development manager Pat Armes said she had heard about Carter’s wife having a concessions business, but did not know specifics.

“Our process of selecting people for award of contracts, he doesn’t influence that,” she said.

“Nobody influences” the panels that evaluates the companies competing for concessions, Armes said.

The city’s ethics board determined there was probable cause to find that Carter violated the city’s code of ethics by failing to disclose his interests in his wife’s company. Employees are required to disclose their interests in a contract or decision pending before them or their agency. But the matter was closed since Carter no longer works for the city.

“It was clear to me that some of the people knew” about Carter’s wife, Sengova said. “But I couldn’t conclusively say that … Mr. Council knew.”

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