With the 2019 Super Bowl coming to Mercedes Benz Stadium, the city of Atlanta sent a delegation of 22 officials to Minneapolis in February to learn about the challenges that come with hosting one of the world’s biggest sporting events.
Included with the city’s Super Bowl delegation was newly elected Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and her husband, Derek.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News have obtained documents that show taxpayers wrongly covered the $2,610 first-class airfare to the big game for Derek Bottoms — who is a vice president for Home Depot, not a city employee.
Credit card statements for former Chief Operating Officer Dan Gordon’s city-issued card show Derek Bottoms’ ticket was purchased Jan. 26, nine days before the game. The statements were obtained through a request made under the Georgia Open Records Act.
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Keisha Bottoms’ city-issued card was used to buy her airfare on the same day and for the same price, according to documents obtained by the news organizations.
Gordon declined to comment Wednesday, instead referring all questions about Derek Bottoms’ plane ticket to the mayor’s office. A spokeswoman for Mayor Bottoms issued a statement saying Gordon’s card was used in error, and that the mayor was unaware that a city credit card was used to purchase her husband’s ticket. Bottoms’ reimbursed the city $1,434.42 on Feb. 15, according to records.
The spokeswoman also said Delta overcharged the city by roughly $1,000 for each of the Bottoms’ tickets because couple switched their seating from first-class to coach on the return flight home, and they are trying to resolve the issue with the airline, according to the spokeswoman.
“The transaction of this purchase was inadvertently made less than a month after Mayor Bottoms entered office, during the early days of the transition of the new Administration,” says a statement issued through a mayoral spokeswoman. “Immediately upon learning that a personal credit card had not been used, within 10 days of the trip, Mayor Bottoms issued a refund to the City.”
Gordon was chief operating officer for Atlanta from 2015 until earlier this year. The city’s credit card policy clearly states that only card holders are permitted to use the cards, and using them for personal expenses is prohibited, even when the expenses are repaid.
The mayor’s spokeswoman said Keisha Bottoms realized the family’s personal finances were not used to buy Derek Bottoms’ ticket after reviewing statements from her personal bank account.
John Gaffney, the city’s interim chief financial officer, said Wednesday he had no idea that Gordon’s card was used to buy airfare for the mayor’s husband. Gaffney’s Finance Department is supposed to check all credit card statements for inappropriate charges, and he previously told the AJC and Channel 2 that his department was powerless to stop former Mayor Kasim Reed and his bodyguards from making inappropriate charges and then reimbursing the city.
“I didn’t know about this until today,” Gaffney said.
The AJC and Channel 2 have previously reported on personal purchases made on Reed’s city-issued credit card, and those of police officers assigned to his Executive Protection Unit. Reed has repaid taxpayers more than $50,000.
“Here we go again,” said criminal defense attorney Jeff Brickman, who served as a federal prosecutor and DeKalb County District Attorney. “Putting aside how much it cost, why is the mayor’s husband getting a plane ticket from the city? It smells bad. It really does.”
Government watchdog Sara Henderson, executive director for Common Cause Georgia, said the city’s explanation of the charge being made in error isn’t much comfort. Henderson just said it’s proof that policy isn’t being followed.
“I think the biggest concern here is that people are using the credit cards and no senior management has any idea the credit cards are being used,” Henderson said. “Someone’s asleep at the wheel.”
Gordon did not go to Minneapolis for the game. Nevertheless, there is $9,100 in hotel room fees for the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis on Gordon’s credit card statements — apparently rooms rented for others in the Atlanta delegation.
Bottoms’ card also has a $626 charge from Murray’s Steakhouse in Minneapolis on Feb. 4 — the day of the game.