Reed withdraws Atlanta’s support for Nobel summit

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Mohammad Bhuiyan, the chief executive of the World Nobel Peace Summit to be held here in November, have traded barbs in recent correspondence. Some excerpts:

“Unfortunately, given our inability to reach consensus regarding issues which are integral to the effective coordination of the event, I have reached the difficult decision that the City of Atlanta will no longer participate in the planning process or be a part of the event in any way.” Reed, March 19

"Apparently because (Yunus Creative Lab, which Bhuiyan co-founded) refused to award this contract to your friend, without competitive bidding, you flew to Rome for the 2014 Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates … and made false or reckless allegations concerning my handling of the 2015 summit." Bhuiyan, March 24

“Contrary to your false assertions, (the proposed contractor) is not a `friend’ … The company is highly regarded and has demonstrated its ability to organize a successful world summit in a major American city… Further, your own advisors …. proposed a new governance structure … Not surprisingly, you rejected this common sense recommendation in favor of continuing the current governance structure, in which you serve as the chief executive officer with your wife, Shamima Amin, as your chief operating officer. The potential for an actual conflict of interest, or the appearance of a conflict here, seems to be obvious to everyone but you.” Reed, March 26

An international peace summit that’s expected to draw Nobel Peace Prize recipients from around the globe to Atlanta in November will have to take place without the support of the city, officials said.

Citing concerns about the organization and planning of the event, Mayor Kasim Reed has notified the event's organizer, Mohammad Bhuiyan, and the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates that the city will not participate.

“The City has no intention of interfering with the preparation of your Event; the sole determination is that I will not remain involved in the preparation, nor will any member of my Administration,” Reed wrote in a letter dated Thursday.

Among other things, the mayor says Bhuiyan has a potential conflict of interest – a charge the organizer denies.

The summit is expected to draw numerous global leaders and thousands of students for three days of debates and workshops intended to promote democracy, freedom, human rights and peace. Many Nobel Peace Prize recipients have been invited to attend.

Bhuiyan said the summit will continue as planned.

“We look forward to continuing the momentum demonstrated by our current sponsors and partners to deliver a great summit for the Nobel Peace Laureates in Atlanta this November,” he said in an e-mail. “We hope the city will be a full partner in this great event as well.”

But the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, which selected Atlanta for the summit, seemed less certain.

“We fully respect the decision of Mayor Reed,” the agency said in a statement. “In case of the absence of the hosting city the Secretariat is unable to organize the (summit). Precisely for this reason we will organize a international working committee which includes representatives of Nobel Laureates in order to take the appropriate and final decisions about the 2015 summit.”

The summit has attracted the support of prominent Atlantans like honorary chairman Ted Turner and sponsorships from companies like Coca-Cola and United Parcel Service. When the summit was announced in 2013, Reed pledged the city’s support.

But in a March 19 letter to Bhuiyan, Reed said he’s heard “numerous concerns from stakeholders in the Atlanta community” about Bhuiyan’s ability to organize the event. In the Thursday letter, Reed cited the governance structure of the event as a concern. Bhuiyan serves as chief executive officer and his wife, Shamima Amin, as chief operating officer.

The letters do not go into specifics on the conflict, and the mayor’s office did not respond to a request to elaborate on Bhuiyan’s alleged conflict or Reed’s other concerns.

Bhuiyan and Amin are co-founders of the Yunus Creative Lab, an Atlanta nonprofit set up to combat poverty and other social problems around the world. They founded the agency with Muhammad Yunus, who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on microcredit, or small loans to poor people to help them start businesses.

In a brief interview, Bhuiyan said there is no conflict of interest because he and his wife are not paid to organize the Nobel summit and have no financial interests at stake.

“My wife and I, we don’t have any company (involved), we don’t have any pay, we don’t have any (financial) dealings,” he said.

In the most recent letter, Reed suggested hiring a Chicago firm to manage the summit, transferring funds to The Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta and restructuring the governance of the summit. The letters indicate Reed met with Bhuiyan several times to try to resolve the governance issues, without success.

Bhuiyan accused the mayor of trying to steer a contract to manage the summit to a friend –a charge the mayor denied.

“Your insinuations that my wife and I have mismanaged the process or done something wrong damages our good name in Atlanta and around the world and has caused us serious emotional distress,” Bhuiyan wrote to the mayor.

“We demand that these efforts cease immediately, and we reserve all our legal rights with respect to your actions to date,” Bhuiyan wrote.

Reed responded that Bhuiyan’s “decision to threaten litigation is unfortunate,” but the city “stands ready, willing and able to litigate should you choose to pursue that course of action.”

According to Bhuiyan, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport – at the mayor’s request – has asked that its $25,000 contribution to the event be refunded. He said the contribution is non-refundable.

Except for that, “we have not heard from any corporate sponsors about any change,” Bhuiyan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A spokesman for Coca-Cola confirmed the company is a sponsor of the summit but declined additional comment. A representative of Turner could not be reached for comment.