Canopy construction at Hartsfield-Jackson. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

City council members call for reforms in Atlanta airport contracting

After a scathing city audit found red flags in Atlanta airport construction contracting, city council members called the findings concerning and called for reforms.

The Atlanta city council transportation committee, which oversees Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, listened to a summary of the findings by city auditor Amanda Noble at a meeting Wednesday morning.

“The city’s procurement process is designed to be fair and transparent,” Noble said, “but red flags indicate elevated risk of fraud.” The audit was started before the federal bribery investigation into Atlanta City Hall came to light.

The audit found calculation errors in the contracting process, unclear reasons for the cancellation of contracts, and “what appears to be four incorrectly awarded contracts.”

Council transportation committee chair Andre Dickens called the revelations “horrible” and said he would push for the city’s procurement department to make changes more quickly than originally planned in response to the auditor’s recommendations. The changes were expected to be completed by September 2018.

“A lot can happen between now and September 2018. I’d like for all those to be corrected as soon as possible,” Dickens said, adding that he wants the city’s ethics officer to also be involved. “This audit has brought some things to light that causes grave concern.”

City council member Amir Farokhi called for the procurement department to look to third parties such as the Sunlight Foundation to improve the integrity of city procurement. “We’re under a magnifying glass,” he said.

At the council’s finance committee meeting Wednesday afternoon, committee chair Howard Shook said he has “read a lot of disturbing and alarming audits, and this one is one for the time capsule.”

Shook called for the procurement department to answer questions from council members. But among the dozens of people in attendance, no one from the procurement department was present and stepped forward to answer questions at the public meeting.

The committee then went into executive session to discuss the audit findings after city attorney Jeremy Berry said he felt “terribly uncomfortable talking about this in public session.”

“We need to be real careful with the words we throw around here when there are very specific legal implications and liability,” Berry said. If any contracts were improperly awarded by the city, the city could be liable and “basically we’re handing a playbook to any enterprising plaintiff’s lawyer.”

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