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Atlanta Mayor Bottoms outspends Reed on luxury car service, AJC finds

Carey Executive Limousine is one of the largest luxury car services in the world, with fleets of “distinctive Cadillac … sedans, limousines, SUVs, vans and mini buses” in more than 1,000 cities worldwide, according to the company’s website.

And the chauffeured car service has a big fan in Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

During her first five months in office, Bottoms has booked more than 27 rides with Carey at a cost to taxpayers of $11,651 — an average of $431 per trip, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News.

Bottoms made all of those charges to her city-issued credit card, and the statements show she has not used her card to buy any other type of ground transportation service during that time — including taxis, Uber and Lyft.

A spokesman for the mayor’s office said Bottoms has not chosen to use Carey exclusively.

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“However, in the initial few months after taking office, Mayor Bottoms relied heavily upon the procedures previously used, including the use of a secure and vetted car service,” the statement says. “It was an expedient solution, and had already been assessed for safety, reliability and professional utility.”

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Bottoms’ use of chauffeured rides in five months has cost taxpayers more than former mayor Kasim Reed spent on luxury car service in all of 2015 or 2017, and nearly matches the $13,000 in chauffeured service Reed spent in 2016.

But Reed occasionally charged taxis or ride sharing services on his card. During his last three years, Reed booked 51 such rides at an average cost of $17 per trip. Reed’s Carey charges during his last three years averaged $189 per ride.

Atlanta City Council President Felecia Moore says the public must decide if luxury car service for Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is excessive or not. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Excessive? Let public decide, says council head

Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore said the city’s legislative body is unlikely to pass rules disallowing the mayor from using luxury car services.

“I would say that, particularly in this environment where we’re talking about expenditures of the previous administration that may have been out of line, I think she may want to step back, look at that and see if there’s something she can do to curb it,” Moore said. “But I think she’s going to have to be the one to answer for that.

“I’m gonna leave it to her to make that decision and I’m going to leave it to the public to determine if it’s excessive, or not.”

The AJC has previously reported on lavish use of city-issued credit cards by Reed and other members of his administration. Reed made about $300,000 in charges during his last three years in office on things such as five-star hotels, expensive restaurant tabs and business-class airfare. Reed, who charged roughly half of that amount in 2017, repaid taxpayers $12,000 from his personal bank account days before his statements were released to the AJC.

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In addition, former Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard charged about two-thirds of a $12,000 dinner party for Reed at American Cut restaurant in Buckhead on his city-issued credit card. Beard also rang up a $10,000 Paris hotel bill on the card — a charge he repaid nearly a year later, after the AJC obtained his statements.

The police officers assigned to Bottoms’ executive protection unit began booking rides from Uber and Lyft during the past two months, a total of 11 rides since April 26, at an average cost of $39 per trip.

“As the use of the service was being examined by the Bottoms’ Administration, a significant increase in the trajectory of the costs over the course of those first few months was noted,” says the statement issued by Bottoms’ spokesman. “When the Mayor realized this, she immediately began to explore alternative methods of ground conveyance.

“That included, against the strong objections of her Executive Protection Unit, her decision to use ride-sharing services.”

City reviewing $3,900 charge

Jeff Brickman, a former federal prosecutor turned defense attorney who has been critical of the Reed administration’s spending, said Bottoms needs to do more than just talk about how her administration will be different than Reed’s. Bottoms promised residents during her State of the City address that her election signaled a “new day” for the city.

“If she wants her administration’s legacy to be ‘We’re too greedy to care,’ then they’re off to a great start,” Brickman said. “However, if you really want to be transparent, separate and distinguish yourself from the previous administrationshow us ways you’re really meaning what you’re saying. Do it — don’t just say it.”

>> COMPLETE COVERAGE: Latest Atlanta City Hall investigative content

When asked about a $3,900 Carey payment on April 5, the Bottoms’ administration said that the charge actually happened during the Super Bowl in February. The spokesman said that the charge could be a mistake.

“This is a charge that raised questions for us as well,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. “One possibility we are looking into is that the vehicle was inadvertently placed on stand-by status during a day-long event. But we are still trying to determine exactly what happened.”

While Bottoms’ use of Carey has outpaced her predecessor, the new mayor’s spending on restaurant tabs is comparatively low: $1,529 through May, or about $306 per month. Reed spent $20,000 on restaurant tabs during his final three years in office, or about $555 per month.

There is also no indication on the police officers’ credit cards that they have been picking up Bottoms’ meals or dry cleaning on a regular basis, as was the case when those officers worked for Reed.

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