Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms waited until the end of her first State of the City speech on Wednesday to address her most significant and sensitive challenge: restoring public trust.
“Government cannot function for the people without the trust of the people,” Bottoms said.
She did not say how that trust had been broken, or mention the name of man who helped get her elected last year: former Mayor Kasim Reed.
Addressing the crowd gathered at the Hilton Atlanta, Bottoms touted a laundry list of accomplishments during her first 100 days; including eliminating cash bail at the municipal court, resolving a protracted dispute with Atlanta Public Schools over property deeds, and creating a re-entry program that provides jobs to men serving prison terms for non-violent offenses.
Within a couple of months of taking office, revelations of questionable dealings under Reed’s administration overshadowed Bottoms’ agenda.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News have recently exposed efforts under Reed’s administration to frustrate access to public records and provide misleading representations about city documents, prompting the first Georgia Bureau of Investigation into criminal violations of the state’s open records law.
The news outlets also published stories about extravagant expenses on Reed’s city issued credit card statements and potentially illegal bonuses he doled out days before leaving office.
Bottoms has responded to those events by unveiling a plan to create a website where residents can track all city expenses and she accepted the resignations from some of those seen as Reed’s staunchest loyalists at City Hall.
But members of Bottoms’ administration have been careful not to blame Reed, or to publicly bring up his name.
On Wednesday, Bottoms said she is the process of overhauling the city’s ethics policies and hopes to make Atlanta a model for other cities to follow.
She said she would require training for city employees on handling requests made under the Georgia Open Records Act.
“I thought it was a good speech,” said City Council President Felicia Moore. “It certainly laid out what has been accomplished and what she is working on. The transparency piece is exciting to me.”
Bottoms acknowledged that some of her ideas for ethics reform might have originated elsewhere.
“Some would say they heard similar ideas from others,” Bottoms said. “To the others… I say, ‘Thank you.’ A wise man once said: ‘It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.’ ”
Bottoms also thanked three former Atlanta mayors who attended Wednesday’s address Sam Massell, Andrew Young and Shirley Franklin.
Reed did not attend.
Reed’s absence from Wednesday’s event would have been difficult to imagine five months earlier when Reed took to the stage on election night to announce Bottoms’ victory.
Now his successor does not mention him directly, even though it appears that Bottoms’ most pressing tasks have become cleaning up problems created under Reed’s leadership.
“What has been broken must be fixed,” Bottoms said.
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