When the Atlanta City Council approved nearly $1.9 billion in public subsidies for a massive downtown development project, it was considered a big victory for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
It turns out the vote in favor of developing the Gulch helped Bottoms secure another major policy imitative: Restructuring the city's public safety hierarchy.
The council has scheduled a vote on Monday to name former police chief George Turner Atlanta's first public safety director since 1990. He'll hold the job for one year — overseeing the Atlanta Police Department and the city's Department of Corrections, Office of Emergency Preparedness and Fire Rescue Department — and will be compensated by his current employer, the Atlanta Hawks, as an executive on loan, just as Bottoms proposed in September.
Former Georgia ethics commission executive director Stacey Kalberman said the compensation arrangement was “extremely odd.”
“What is in it for the Hawks?” said Kalberman, now chief ethics officer for DeKalb County. “Can the City of Atlanta accept a gift like that? The Hawks aren’t doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. They must be getting something, or perceive they’re getting something.”
The council’s finance committee initially agreed with Kalberman, arguing that it would be a conflict of interest for the city to accept the proposal.
“Has anyone wondered how it might look to have the same people lobbying for the Gulch deal providing the city with a thing of value?” city councilman Howard Shook asked in September.
But with a deal in place, and the Super Bowl coming to Atlanta in less than three months, council members dropped their objections and unanimously agreed to schedule the vote on Turner’s appointment.
“No one made the argument that having a public safety director is bad public policy,” Shook said Wednesday. “And Turner is a logical choice.”
In addition to lingering ethics questions, Turner is having to respond to a nine-year-old controversy that resurfaced in a report Monday by Channel 2 Action News.
Turner acknowledged that, in 2009, he overruled a recommendation by APD's Office of Professional Standards to fire Sgt. Byron Rainey, accused of sexually assaulting two women in separate incidents just one week apart. Turner suspended Rainey for eight days instead.
Rainey has been suspended two more times since then and is currently on administrative leave pending an investigation into allegations he allowed his brother to use his gun and badge to make arrests on behalf of their private security company.
“If you look at the history of the Atlanta Police Department, I fired more police officers for (not being truthful) during my tenure than any other police chief in our history,” Turner told Channel 2 Action News. “There had to be a reason I did not sustain. I do not have access to the files to review it.”
Turner declined a request for comment on Thursday, directing inquiries to the mayor’s office.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reached out to the mayor but received no response to questions about whether that decision might affect Turner’s appointment.
Shook said the issue didn’t come up at Tuesday’s council meeting. Councilman Matt Westmoreland told The AJC he still supports Turner’s candidacy, directing a reporter to a statement on the flap from current APD Chief Erika Shields.
Shields said she “respects her predecessors who handled the files, and trusts that there was appropriate reasoning behind the disciplinary actions that were carried out.”