Ousted Hartsfield-Jackson airport manager strikes back against mayor

The ousted manager of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is striking back against accusations from his former boss, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and demanding a retraction from the mayor.

After Atlanta airport manager Miguel Southwell was fired last month, an attorney representing him from a law firm known for whistleblower cases sent a letter to Reed raising the possibility of a lawsuit.

Reed responded: “If he continues down this path, I’m going to make public why he was fired. And he knows that not only could I have fired him, I could have pressed charges against him,” in comments to Channel 2 Action News on Thursday. “Miguel Southwell is fortunate that I don’t destroy his career,” the mayor added.

One of Southwell’s attorneys, Matthew Maguire Jr. of Parks Chesin & Walbert, retorted: “The truth is that Mayor Reed fired Mr. Southwell because he was unwilling to bend the knee to the Mayor’s “Friends and Family” contracting program.”

And on Friday, Maguire sent a letter to Reed saying: “You are well aware that Mr. Southwell has not committed a crime, nor has he done anything that would justify termination for cause in Atlanta, Miami or anywhere else.”

The letter also demands that Reed “publicly retract these false and defamatory statements” within seven days. “Your failure to do so exposes you personally to punitive damages.”

A Reed spokeswoman on Friday indicated the mayor is not backing down. “His comments from yesterday still stand,” spokeswoman Anne Torres said in an e-mailed comment to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The reasons behind Southwell’s termination have varied widely in the weeks since it occurred.

Reed initially said problems with long security lines were among the issues that concerned him at the airport, but declined to give specific reasons for firing the head of the airport that he had appointed two years ago. He then briefed city council members on his termination of Southwell in a closed-door executive session meeting with additional information.

Then, Southwell’s attorney’s letter sought documents suggesting the mayor’s office wanted more control over contracts to be awarded in the airport’s massive expansion and remodeling.

Councilwoman Felicia Moore said the issues raised in the letter “are new issues to me, from Mr. Southwell’s perspective, as to what the issues were that led to termination. So his letter was to me a revelation of how he sees his termination.”