Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore on Wednesday called on her colleagues to create an independent compliance office to put teeth into enforcement of the city’s code and mete out disciplinary action for employees and elected officials for violations.
Her call for an independent agency, governed by its own board and with the power to investigate and render penalties for violations, comes as a federal corruption probe of City Hall delves into contracting, city travel and spending with city-issued credit cards.
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Last week, federal prosecutors subpoenaed the city, demanding calendars, credit card statements and expense reports dating back to 2010 for former Mayor Kasim Reed and all employees in the mayor’s office. The feds also sought credit card records for members of the mayor’s security detail during Reed’s two terms.
Moore said city credit cards or “p-cards” are one area rife for abuse where the city’s enforcement mechanisms are lacking.
As an example, the p-card spending of former chief financial officer Jim Beard has come under scrutiny in reports by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News. But the finance department, Beard’s department, holds enforcement responsibilities over such spending with no other direct oversight.
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The city has policies for p-card use and holders of city cards sign acknowledgements of the rules, Moore said, but the city lacks a fully independent office with the ability to punish or terminate employees for wrongdoing, or recommend cases for potential prosecution.
“The rules are there, but the problem is there is no one to enforce it, and when there’s a problem there’s no penalty for a violation,” Moore said. “We need a way to make people be held accountable.”
The city’s current compliance officer operates under the city’s law department, which answers to the council and mayor. The city also has an ethics officer and audit department.
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Under Moore’s plan, the compliance department would operate under its own board, with appointees recommended by community organizations and appointed by council and the mayor. The structure is similar to the city’s ethics board and office.
Moore said the compliance department would work with city auditors and ethics department to investigate and enforce all city codes.
At present, Moore said the U.S. Attorney’s Office is acting as the city’s enforcement office.
Moore introduced her plan at a council committee meeting Wednesday. As council president, Moore cannot introduce legislation, but asked her colleagues to sponsor the bill. She said she plans to offer draft legislation next month.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has proposed a new transparency officer and integrity department among other overhauls. But Moore said her proposal would go further, and provide independence to investigate all corners of city government.
Councilwoman Jennifer Ide said enforcement of city codes needs improvement.
“We don’t need the U.S. Attorney, or FBI, or IRS to be our chief compliance officer,” Ide said. “We need to do this ourselves.”
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On Wednesday, the city’s ethics and auditing offices issued a report finding that holiday bonuses given out by Reed last year violated city code and state law. The report also found fault with bonuses given out by City Council and ones given by former human resources commissioner Yvonne Yancy to her staffers.
The report found Beard abused his office in approving more than $500,000 in bonuses to executives under Reed. One bonus was for Beard himself. Beard denied any wrongdoing.
Moore said Wednesday’s report on the bonuses shows why a compliance officer is necessary to hold people accountable.
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