Miguel Southwell was terminated by Mayor Kasim Reed in May. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Hartsfield-Jackson manager Southwell settles with city over firing

The city announced late Monday it reached a settlement with dismissed airport leader Miguel Southwell for a little more than $85,000.

Southwell was fired as manager of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in May by Mayor Kasim Reed and the two initially sparred on the reasons why.

Yolanda Adrean, chair of the Atlanta city council transportation committee, said Monday evening the settlement was for benefits during a job transition including health care, adding, “I think it was appropriate…. He served the city well.”

Southwell was general manager of the world’s busiest airport for two years, tapped for the top job at the airport in May 2014. He took on the position then at the age of 58 for a $221,000 salary.

At the time, Reed called Southwell “the right executive to continue Hartsfield-Jackson’s dominance.”

But earlier this year, the airport was embroiled in controversy over long security screening lines; a battle over Uber regulations and jostling among companies for airport contracts.

Shortly after Southwell was fired in May, the mayor and Southwell’s attorneys exchanged legal threats.

Southwell hired a law firm known for wrongful termination suits and whistleblower cases. Southwell’s lawyers at Parks Chesin & Walbert launched an investigation into the termination and sought documents from the city.

A letter from attorney Lee Parks to the city said Southwell was told his dismissal was due to recent long lines at the airport, but suggested the mayor’s office wanted more control over airport contracts.

Reed in June told Channel 2 Action News, “I could have pressed charges against him if I had chosen to do so.”

Then in September, attorneys for the city and for Southwell announced they had agreed to drop their dispute and withdraw allegations of improper actions. But the mayor’s office also said at the time that no payment had been made to Southwell.

The attorneys’ joint statement three months ago said: “They both now agree that neither of them engaged in any civil or criminal wrongdoing, and any statements that could have been interpreted to the contrary are disavowed.”

“Mr. Southwell has recognized that neither the Mayor nor any other city official engaged in any improper activity,” the statement in September said. “They both now believe that their differences were more a matter of style than substance.”

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