In the wake of a federal investigation into corruption at Atlanta City Hall, lawmakers have announced plans to create a new task force to evaluate the city’s ethics and transparency.
The city said the new Task Force for the Promotion of Public Trust would expand transparency between the city council and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and assess the city’s current ethical and transparency guidelines. The legislation comes nearly four years after a federal bribery investigation was opened into Atlanta City Hall under former Mayor Kasim Reed.
Five members of the task force will be appointed by Bottoms and will include: A former prosecutor, a member of academia who specializes in government and corporate transparency, a former local government attorney, an Atlanta resident, and a former judge. The City Council will appoint the other five members from the same sectors.
The task force will meet four times a year and will issue recommendations to Bottoms and the City Council on transparency issues.
Greg Lisby, a Georgia State University professor who teaches communication law, said, “Transparency is always a step in the right direction, but I don’t know if I think this will work.”
While Lisby said he applauded City Hall’s efforts in transparency, he said they should consider what other cities have done regarding transparency. He also questioned the size of the task force, saying its size could hurt its effectiveness.
The task force announcement came Monday, the same day U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak suggested Bottoms’ administration has provided less than full cooperation in the federal probe of City Hall that began in 2015.
A grand jury issued several subpoenas last year, demanding information about credit card spending by former Mayor Reed and his office, as well as records related to city travel. Some of the subpoenas followed reports by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News about hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable purchases on city credit cards when Reed was mayor.
Pak previously credited Bottoms’ administration with being more open than that of Reed. But Monday Pak said “rough spots” are not uncommon for a new administration fielding a complex federal inquiry. Pak would not describe how the city had come up short of prosecutors’ expectations.
“We want to get this done as quickly as they do — the new administration does — but we’re not going to take shortcuts,” Pak said. “We’re going to do everything that we can. We look forward to talking to them about that.”
In a statement, the mayor’s office said: “This administration has and will continue to fully cooperate with the authorities in order to assist bringing the matter to a swift and fair conclusion.”
The latest task force is a step in eradicating what Lisby called “a pretty terrible reputation” with open records laws. In September, the city council passed a transparency ordinance, which reformed how the city responds to requests made under the Georgia Open Records Act. The Open Records Act gives the public the right to access government documents and records.
— Staff writer J. Scott Trubey contributed to this report.
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