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Former Atlanta councilman gets $25,000 payout from development agency

Removing former Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall from the city’s economic development agency payroll came at a high cost to the public, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.

A Jan. 3 separation agreement with Invest Atlanta calls for Hall to receive nearly $25,000 — a full two months of his $145,000 annual salary, while no longer reporting to work.

Hall’s departure from Invest Atlanta came after an AJC/Channel 2 Action News story in November raised questions about whether the former councilman’s work there violated a charter provision that prohibits elected officials from city employment for one year after leaving office.

The AJC’s reporting also revealed that Hall received six weeks pay as a $135,000-a-year senior advisor in Bottoms’ administration immediately after the new mayor took office in January 2018. The senior advisor job was a clear violation of the charter, the AJC investigation found.

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The separation agreement from the development agency, obtained by the AJC through the Georgia Open Records Act, was signed by Invest Atlanta CEO Eloisa Klementich on Jan. 3 and says Hall’s employment as director of the Proctor Creek development ended that same day. It specifies that Hall will receive his normal bi-weekly paychecks through Feb. 28, and also keep his health insurance through that date.

In return, the agency was supposed to receive two reports from Hall about his accomplishments in 10 months on the job, and a transition plan for the Proctor Creek project. Invest Atlanta has not received either report, despite the agreement saying Hall’s severance payments were “expressly conditioned upon the receipt of the … reports, deemed satisfactory and sufficient in the sole discretion of (Klementich).”

Invest Atlanta spokesman Matt Fogt said the agency expects to have the reports within two weeks — by which time Hall will have received the vast majority of his $24,538.40 severance. Fogt said there could be “implications” if the reports are not received or are not satisfactory, but he couldn’t say what those implications are.

“New in 2018, the Proctor Creek development position was an individual contributor role led solely by Kwanza Hall,” says a statement issued to the AJC by Fogt. “Invest Atlanta now recognizes that the role should be restructured within its Community Development department. As such, Invest Atlanta believed it was appropriate to offer separation pay to Mr. Hall contingent upon and to ensure completion and delivery of transition materials as outlined in a separation agreement.”

Former Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall received a nearly $25,000 severance package from Invest Atlanta, after working there for 10 months. Hall’s separation from the city’s economic development agency came after an AJC investigation that raised questions about whether his employment there violated the city charter. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Hall’s jobs with the city and then Invest Atlanta came in the wake of the 2017 mayor’s race, in which the former councilman placed fourth in a crowded field of 10 serious contenders. Hall was one of the only defeated mayoral candidates to endorse Bottoms in her December runoff against fellow council member Mary Norwood. He started being paid as an advisor to Bottoms as soon as she became mayor.

Joyce Kitchens, an employment law attorney who represents small municipalities, said severance agreements are common in government and are completely legal. In this case, Kitchens said it looks like Hall became “a political hot potato so they had to do something quick, and did this as a way to give him a soft landing.”

“Somebody really likes him,” Kitchens said.

Hall did not respond to text messages seeking comment for this story. He repaid the city $10,300 just before the AJC’s November story.

Bottoms said she wasn’t aware that Hall was hired to work as a senior advisor for her administration, and she retained two attorneys from an outside law firm to investigate how he obtained the position.

But Bottoms, who chairs Invest Atlanta’s board, defended Hall’s employment with the economic development agency. She said Invest Atlanta is a separate legal entity from the city — despite the agency’s financial reports describing it as a “component unit of the City of Atlanta.”

Former City Council member Kwanza Hall started drawing a $137,000 per year salary the day Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was sworn in as Atlanta’s new mayor, violating a charter provision requiring elected officials to wait a year before becoming employed by the city. Bottoms told the AJC she did not know how Hall, who endorsed her for mayor, came to be a special adviser in her administration. JEREMY REDMON / JREDMON@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The outside law firm delivered its investigative report on Hall’s position as senior advisor Jan. 1. The report reached no conclusion as to who was responsible for Hall being improperly placed on the mayor’s office payroll. Hall’s severance agreement with Invest Atlanta was executed two days after the report was issued.

Earlier this month, the AJC obtained a draft copy of the report that differed from the final version in a few significant ways.

For example, a footnote in the draft report said that all city employees interviewed by the attorneys were told the interviews were “being conducted in connection with an investigation by the United States Attorney’s Office … and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” Federal agents have been investigating City Hall corruption during Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration for at least three years.

All mention of the federal investigation was stripped from the final version of the report that was made public.

While the law firm’s investigation was unable to identify who was responsible for placing Hall on the mayor’s office payroll, the final version of the report stated emphatically: “We have not found any evidence that, after Mr. Hall was given the position at the end of former Mayor Reed’s administration, anyone in Mayor Bottoms’ administration approved Mr. Hall being on the City’s payroll.”

The draft version of the report makes no such statement.

The Bottoms’ administration paid $900 an hour each to two partners from the Los Angeles firm Browne George Ross LLP to conduct the investigation and produce the report. The attorneys concluded their investigation without interviewing Bottoms, her chief of staff, or former Mayor Reed.

Hall told the attorneys that he never did any work as a senior advisor to Bottoms. He said he did not notice that more than $15,000 was deposited into his bank account in January and February 2018, and he thinks someone “surreptitiously” put him on the city payroll to “damage his reputation.”

The draft version of the report says Hall compared himself “to a rape victim who is blamed for the rape occurring.” That statement was also removed from the final version of the report.

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