Atlanta City Council members on Wednesday will unveil their own proposal to clean up corruption at City Hall.
The proposal would create an independent compliance office to police allegations of public corruption or other violations of city, state and federal law as it applies to city employees, elected officials and city vendors.
The office would have an initial budget of $1.4 million and a staff of six that includes a compliance officer, a deputy compliance officer, two executive assistants and two investigators. It marks the most sweeping effort to date by city leaders to address concerns that have swirled around City Hall for more than two years as federal prosecutors have investigated allegations of local corruption.
The plan would provide a new level of independent oversight of city government. The compliance office, which would have subpoena power, would be overseen by an independent seven-member board with a mix of lawyers, accountants and other professionals. The members would be recommended to the mayor by various local, state and national organizations such as the Atlanta Bar Association, National Association of State Auditors and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. The council would have final say to confirm the members.
Council President Felicia Moore authored the legislation and it is expected to be officially unveiled at a 10:30 a.m. press conference Wednesdsay. Ten other council members have put their names on the proposal as sponsors — J. P. Matzigkeit, Matt Westmoreland, Dustin Hillis, Andre Dickens, Jennifer Ide, Amir Farokhi, Howard Shook, Marci Overstreet, Natalyn Archibong and Carla Smith.
Over the past year, as new details emerged about allegations of corruption under former Mayor Kasim Reed, leaders on the the city council and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms have grappled with how to restore the public’s confidence in city government. The council’s proposal this week is the most stark example of the city’s legislative body exerting its authority on the issue.
Moore said the new office would fill a significant void in the city’s ability to stop fraud, corruption and abuse.
She cited a recent an example of the city’s law department hiring lawyers at $900 per hour to investigate how a former council member was put on the city’s payroll just after leaving office in violation of Atlanta’s charter. The attorneys did not determine who was ultimately responsible and some council members criticized their report for being incomplete.
“We would have someone who could have investigated it,” Moore said. “It wouldn’t have cost us $900 an hour.”
The Bottoms administration’s efforts to root out corruption have occasionally been questioned for a perceived lack of independence. Emails from City Attorney Nina Hickson showed her asking one of the $900-per-hour lawyers how to “finesse” an explanation to the city council about the why the city selected the firm.
When Bottoms’ created a transparency officer to help the city comply with the Georgia Open Records Act, the position still fell under the mayor’s authority.
A spokesperson for Bottoms’ administration on Tuesday said it was too soon to comment on the legislation from the council members.
“We just received the legislation and are in the process of evaluating it,” a spokesperson said in statement.
Under the proposal from the council, the compliance officer would initiate investigations after receiving complaints and provide reports with findings and recommendations. Moore said the reports would be provided to the council and the public.
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