City of Atlanta fires two employees over alleged ties to bribery scheme

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens speaks at a press conference on The Beltline on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens speaks at a press conference on The Beltline on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

The city of Atlanta has fired two longtime city employees whose names surfaced in the bribery trial of former political operative and city employee Mitzi Bickers.

Cotena P. Alexander, deputy commissioner in the city’s Department of Transportation, and Rita Braswell, an administrative program manager in Public Works, were named as participants in the bribery scheme during the federal trial in March. They have been on paid administrative leave ever since, although neither has been charged.

Braswell was fired Monday and Alexander was fired Friday, according to letters of termination obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Alexander’s and Braswell’s city benefits will continue through the end of April and May, respectively, according to the letters.

Combined ShapeCaption
Cotena Alexander (City Of Atlanta)

Credit: City of Atlanta

Cotena Alexander (City Of Atlanta)

Credit: City of Atlanta

Combined ShapeCaption
Cotena Alexander (City Of Atlanta)

Credit: City of Atlanta

Credit: City of Atlanta

“In accordance with Georgia law, your employment with the City of Atlanta is at-will and, therefore, may be terminated with or without cause,” the letters say.

For the past several weeks, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had been investigating questions about $113,000 in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans obtained through side businesses registered to Alexander’s home address in the city of South Fulton. The AJC published a story Wednesday morning about the questionable loans. The city released information about Alexander’s termination Wednesday afternoon.

ExploreAtlanta official accused of taking bribes also took pandemic bailout money

Alexander worked for the city for 22 years. She was promoted to deputy commissioner of the Department of Transportation in January, earning a salary of $170,000 a year, according to the city.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Alexander took tens of thousands of dollars from Bickers after Atlanta’s 2014 SnowJam storm, in exchange for steering contracts to Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr’s construction company.

Prosecutors didn’t give an exact amount, but said she used the funds Bickers paid her to purchase about $30,000 in money orders to pay off credit card debt.

Braswell was name-checked in Mitchell’s testimony as a conspirator in the bribery scheme. Braswell joined the city in 2005 and has been a city administrative program manager since July 2011. Her salary was $141,172.

Combined ShapeCaption
Rita Braswell. (City of Atlanta flyer)

Credit: City of Atlanta

Rita Braswell. (City of Atlanta flyer)

Credit: City of Atlanta

Combined ShapeCaption
Rita Braswell. (City of Atlanta flyer)

Credit: City of Atlanta

Credit: City of Atlanta

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has said federal authorities never told the city about the women’s alleged roles in the scheme, and that his office only learned of the allegations through the trial.

During his AJC editorial board meeting last month, the mayor suggested Alexander and Braswell may be under investigation from other agencies.

“As it relates to those two individuals, there’s an investigation going on by higher authorities than in the city,” Dickens said in April. “But we’re also dealing with that as a personnel issue.”

Dickens also brought up the women during a speech at the Rotary Club of Atlanta Monday afternoon, saying the bribery scheme occurred “two administrations back — not anything from me or the previous office holder.”

“Some current folks were named, so immediately we took action on those current folks,” Dickens said. “And...everybody that has Atlanta in their name got a letter from me that set the tone that we’re going to operate this government with integrity and the people depend on it. We are looking at every practice that we have to make sure that it’s done the right way.”


Our reporting:

Investigative reporting by the AJC in 2017 linked former city official Mitzi Bickers to contractor Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr., the first person to plead guilty in the Atlanta City Hall corruption probe. City employees Cotena Alexander and Rita Braswell were named as conspirators in the bribery scheme during Bickers federal corruption trial in March. An AJC investigation of side businesses linked to Alexander found the companies received $113,000 in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans during the pandemic. One of the loans was for $99,000 for a trucking company that had no public record of running trucks.