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Bottoms’ budget reflects issues in campaign, early crises in office

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ first budget addressed issues raised in her campaign last year and also the crises she faced during her first few months in office.

There’s a $3.5 million to upgrade the city’s information technology systems, $1.6 million for pothole crews to fix the city’s pockmarked roads and an earmark of $100,000 in program resources to address the city’s HIV/AIDS crisis.

The city council approved the $661.4 million budget unanimously on Monday, but not before adding an item of its own that addressed another pressing issue: corruption at city hall.

An ordinance also approved Monday will establish a new city Division of Independent Procurement Review within the City Auditor’s office to scrutinize contracts of $1 million or more.

Council President Felicia Moore thanked Bottoms’ administration for collaborating with the council leading up to Monday’s vote.

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“This was one of the smoother budget processes that I’ve seen in 20 years,” Moore said.

It was so smooth that Bottoms learned the council members passed the budget before she had addressed them that afternoon.

“It passed while I was walking over,” the mayor said, a little surprised. “Okay, well.”

During Bottoms’ run for mayor, she often lamented that while the city had added buildings to its skyline, it had not been as successful at building up it’s people.

The $100,000 earmark for HIV program resources, along with another $400,000 for the Atlanta/Fulton County Pre-Arrest Diversion Initiative build on initiatives that eliminated the municipal court’s cash bond requirement for some low-level offenders who otherwise would sit in jail because they can’t afford bail, and a program that provides jobs in the city’s Watershed Department to incarcerated fathers.

Around Bottoms’ 90 day anniversary, a ransomware cyber attack crippled the city’s computer network. City employees were ordered to turn off their computers to stop a virus from spreading and encrypting data. A cyber criminal group demanded that the city pay it about $51,000 in bitcoins — a crypto currency that allows for anonymous transactions online.

The city refused to pay the ransom and incurred costs of at least $5 million to pay outside firms to help it respond to the attack. It took more than two months for the city to recover.

Police Chief Erika Shields recently acknowledged that the department permanently lost years of police dashboard camera video.

The $3.5 million in upgrades in Bottoms’ 2019 budget pays for new computer devices and long-term security management.

Bottoms has tasked a committee with reviewing ethics and procurement policies, but has yet to offer reforms. A permanent replacement to Adam Smith, the city’s former procurement chief who pleaded guilty to taking nearly $40,000 in bribes, is being sought but has not yet been named.

The new Division of Independent Procurement aims to protect the integrity of the legislative branch of city government by establishing review officers within the auditors office and giving them the authority to review all stages of the procurement process for all city departments, offices, boards and agencies in need of services that have a total value of $1 million or more.

The ordinance prohibits the council from approving legislation authorizing contracts of $1 million or more that aren’t accompanied by a independent procurement reports.

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