Cortez Carter. Source: Hartsfield-Jackson

Former airport executive says Reed’s brother involved in key meeting

A Hartsfield-Jackson International executive fired earlier this year because of his wife’s ties to a concessionaire says that before he was hired he met with former Mayor Kasim Reed’s brother who, along with the airport manager at the time, knew about the potential conflict.

Cortez Carter’s contention — that Tracy Reed was involved in one of his interviews for the job in 2015 — is contained in a report from Atlanta’s ethics officer. Also in the meeting were Carter’s wife, Charisse Works, and the owners of Hojeij Branded Foods, the company that does business with Works, the report says.

Carter, who was deputy general manager of commercial development and business ventures at Hartsfield-Jackson, was fired earlier this year after being put on leave due to revelations that his wife owns a company with connections to Hojeij in Washington, D.C.

According to the report this month from ethics officer Jabu Sengova, Carter stated that, when he began the interview process for the position at Hartsfield-Jackson, he participated in four interviews, including “a meeting he attended with Tracy Reed, brother of former Mayor Kasim Reed, on July 18, 2015.” Tracy Reed previously worked for the city’s Office of Contract Compliance, but resigned in 2011 after investigations were launched into his driving with a suspended license, sometimes in a city-owned vehicle.

According to a letter sent to Sengova from Carter’s attorney Lee Parks, “It became clear to Mr. Carter that (Tracy) Reed was acting as surrogate for the Mayor at the meeting and any offer of employment would be contingent on the approval of Mayor Reed after he consulted with his brother.”

Jeff Dickerson, a spokesman for Kasim Reed and for Hojeij Branded Foods, said Tracy Reed wasn’t involved in the vetting process.

“Wassim and Carol Hojeij never attended an ‘interview’ in which Cortez Carter was being vetted for a job. The ‘meeting’ in question was a social gathering. Neither Hojeij Branded Foods’ work at the airport, nor Mr. Carter’s impending employment at Hartsfield-Jackson, were part of the discussion.”

City council president Felicia Moore said “clearly to me, it wasn’t an interview in the traditional formal sense of the word.” But, she added, “The vendor being there as well as the brother of the mayor are both concerning, because neither should have any role to play in whether someone is hired.”

“I do think it paints a bigger picture of who all is influencing what goes on related to city government,” Moore said. “Obviously in this instance, you have people who are not members officially with city government, with some influence or perceived influence.”

Hojeij operates restaurants at Hartsfield-Jackson, got contract extensions during Carter’s tenure and late last year was picked to run other businesses in a number of commercial spaces at Hartsfield-Jackson. Approval of some of those contracts was put on hold after the revelations about the potential conflict. Hojeij is also a longtime political contributor and was a member of host committees for Kasim Reed campaign events.

The airport general manager when Carter was hired, Miguel Southwell, “determined that Carter’s job responsibilities would not include inside airport concessions due to his spouse’s business relationship with HBF.”

The following year, Southwell was fired by Mayor Reed.

The report also says Carter and his wife attended a conference in March 2017 along with current Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Roosevelt Council and Reed’s deputy chief of staff Katrina Taylor-Parks.

“During the conference, Carter introduced Works to Council and Taylor-Parks and advised them both of his spouse’s concessionaire background and company,” the report says. It says Council began assigning duties for commercial development, including overseeing concessions, to Carter in 2017 and officially promoted him to a broader role based on his experience in airport commercial development.

But according to airport spokeswoman Elise Durham on Monday evening, Council “said he absolutely did not know of the relationship, and had he known, he never would have promoted him.”

The ethics office report says Carter had a financial and personal interest in decisions on the award and extension of Hojeij Branded Foods contracts at the Atlanta airport “based on his spouse’s business relationship with HBF.”

It also says employees are required “to disclose any conflict of interest arising when they know or should know that they have a financial or personal interest in any decision pending before them or their agency.”

“Carter had a personal and financial interest due to AirWorks’ relationship with HBF, and he failed to properly disclose his interest,” the report says. It says the matter should be closed since Carter no longer works for the city.

But the report also says the airport should review its policies and procedures regarding conflicts of interest.

The city’s ethics board voted to adopt the recommendation and closed the matter.

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