The Honorable Keisha Lance Bottoms, Mayor of Atlanta, speaks at the State Of The City Business Breakfast at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta on Tuesday March 14th, 2019. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
Photo: Phil Skinner
Photo: Phil Skinner

Mayor Bottoms: Council request to investigate her staff is unlawful

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a letter on Friday that the city council’s attempt to have her administration investigated for potentially misusing city funds to hire her campaign staff was itself unlawful.

Bottoms specifically pointed to a sentence in a resolution that the council approved on Monday that authorized the ethics officer and auditor to hire an outside law firm to assist with an investigation.

“A grant of authority to hire legal counsel, such as is contained in the Resolution, violates the City of Atlanta Charter,” Bottoms wrote. “The Charter designates the City Attorney as the chief legal advisor of the city.”

The letter represents an escalation of a power struggle over the mayor and city council’s respective roles to help restore public trust amid an ongoing federal probe into corruption at city hall.

The resolution requesting the investigation came in response to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article published last weekend. The article found that six Bottoms campaign staff members were issued payments for a pay period in December 2017, before the city had formally offered them jobs.

That article reported that political supporters of the mayor were given job titles based on desired salaries, not their job qualifications or responsibilities. And it found that Bottoms’ former campaign manager Marva Lewis was briefly made an Airport Deputy General Manager and received payments out of airport funds, in possible violation of FAA regulations.

The council resolution approved on Monday requested that the auditor and ethics office to determine if the manner in which campaign staff were hired violated city code, state law, the state constitution or Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

City Auditor Amanda Noble confirmed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday that she and the ethics office had initiated an investigation. Noble declined to address the contents of Bottoms’ letter.

Council President Felicia Moore said resolution was not a binding order, but an expression of the council’s will to see the matter reviewed by the city’s oversight officers. She said the auditor and ethics officer are independent and have the discretion to investigate matters of their choosing.

“The law department may have to assist in their getting outside counsel,” Moore said. “The reality is that neither the ethics officer nor the auditor need the council’s resolution to conduct a review.”

Moore said one could read the resolution’s call for the ability to hire outside counsel as an implied request for the city’s law department to cooperate with the investigation. The law department, at least in theory, reports to both the mayor and the council.

Bottoms has until early next week to decide if she will sign the proposal or veto it. If she doesn’t act eight days after it was passed, the resolution is automatically adopted. The mayor’s letter, which mentions a possible veto, was itself a veiled threat that she may take such action against a resolution that she claims violates the city’s charter.

The letter itself seemed to be a preemptive attempt to question an investigation, which she claims grew out of a resolution that violates the city’s charter, and whether it would be allowed to move forward. Bottoms said that because of the resolution the auditors and ethics officer’s findings “would be rendered useless due to their unlawful origin.”

Moore sees no reason why an investigation shouldn’t move forward.

“As far as them doing their review and having the access to all city records, there should be no reason why that would change,” Moore said. “They already have the authority.”

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