Atlanta mayor, lawmakers continue to clash over deal to improve deadly road

Authorities work to clean up a wreck involving an SUV and a MARTA bus on Donald E. Hollowell Parkway on Wednesday morning. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM
Authorities work to clean up a wreck involving an SUV and a MARTA bus on Donald E. Hollowell Parkway on Wednesday morning. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has forbidden her staff from taking any action to enact an ordinance that the city council approved for safety improvements to a busy thoroughfare, despite a mayoral veto and historic council vote to override it.

Bottoms signed an administrative order late Friday calling the council’s ordinance “void and unenforceable” under the Georgia Constitution. The ordinance gives the state control of a short stretch of Mitchell Street at the southern edge of the Georgia Capitol after the state completes improvements to Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway.

“I have duty to ensure that my conduct and that of the members of the Executive Branch of the City of Atlanta and any Department thereunder shall not violate the law,” the order says.

The administrative order argues that the legislation violates the State Constitution’s gratuities clause, because the Georgia Department of Transportation has already committed to improving Hollowell to prevent further car accidents and pedestrian deaths.

The clause prohibits public agencies from giving donations, gratuities and extra compensation to any public officer, agent, or contractor after the service are rendered or a contract executed.

Councilman Michael Julian Bond, a co-sponsor of the Hollowell legislation, said no contract exists between the city and the state, so the gratuities law does not apply.

Bond also said the mayor lacks the authority to unilaterally interpret the council’s legislation, and that the mayor is abusing her power by directing her staff not to follow the ordinance.

“That was some of the worst lawyering I’ve ever seen during my time at City Hall,” Bond said of the order.

The battle over the ordinance appears to have evolved into a larger power struggle between the legislative and executive branches of city government.

“It’s become a tit for tat,” said Tobias Trapp, a resident of Grove Park, one of the neighborhoods along Hollowell. “It seems like it’s an ego thing at this point.”

Councilwoman Carla Smith said she voted for the original ordinance, but against overriding the mayor’s veto because it might set the stage for a conflict from which neither side could easily retreat.

“This thing has been messy since the beginning,” said Smith, a 20-year veteran of the council. “We have never been in a situation like this as far as I can remember.”

Some council members mentioned the possibility of a court battle, but could only guess as to how that might play out because of the seemingly unprecedented circumstances. The law department reports to both branches of city government.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” said Councilman Howard Shook, who voted for overriding the mayor’s veto. “The price of poker has gone up. It’s up to the council to decide to raise or fold.”

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