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City Hall troubles could hike cost to attract new airport leader

Federal investigations into matters involving Atlanta City Hall and Hartsfield-Jackson International could make it harder to attract a new manager for the airport, possibly driving up the salary requirements.

An investigation into City Hall corruption has been ongoing since 2016 and has included a subpoena for records related to a number of airport contracts.

The Federal Aviation Administration also recently disclosed it would investigate the possible misuse of Hartsfield-Jackson funds, in response to an article by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms launched a search for a new airport manager earlier this year and moved airport manager Roosevelt Council to the city’s finance department as chief financial officer.

“People who are candidates who may want to come certainly are looking, I’m sure, at what’s going on in the city, and making decisions on whether they want to come to the city at at a challenging time like this,” said Atlanta City Council president Felicia Moore.

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She thinks compensation for the airport manager may cost the city more because of issues the city and airport face.

“It’s not just the day-to-day operations of the airport now. Now you’ve got the FAA investigating. You’ve got this whole cloud of corruption scandal going on,” Moore said.

The general manager of the city-run Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s busiest airport, has for years been paid $221,000 — which is less than some other smaller airports around the country.

City council transportation committee chair Andre Dickens said he thinks the city should consider hiring the airport manager with an employment contract so the person is not subject to “political whim.”

The manager of Hartsfield-Jackson had a a contract up until about eight years ago. But, when Kasim Reed took office as mayor, he did not grant employment contracts.

Dickens said a contract may keep an airport manager from being “under a particular administration’s thumb or a council’s thumb. [Instead], they do what the public asks and they do what’s in the best interest of airport and FAA rules and regulations and move us forward.”

Moore said an alternative may be to give city council a say over termination of the airport general manager, “so that the mayor doesn’t have that sole authority. That way, you have a balance. So if a mayor is pushing the general manager to do something that they don’t want to do, they can at least appeal to the council.”

Last week, the AJC reported a secret settlement agreement in 2016involving the termination of airport general manager Miguel Southwell.

Questions remain about who paid money on the city’s behalf in the settlement agreement related to Southwell’s termination.

The city council president said if the administration doesn’t have answers, she plans to call on the council to use its subpoena and investigative powers to “delve deeper and find out as much as we can” about the settlement agreement. Such a measure would require approval by a majority of city council members.

The revelations about City Hall ethics issues are “making the public very weary,” Moore said. “They’re ready for somebody to be held accountable.”

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