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Report: Former councilman’s job with Mayor Bottoms violated ATL charter

Former City Councilmember Kwanza Hall is losing his $145,000 per year job with Invest Atlanta, the city’s development authority, after a city investigation by an outside law firm concluded that his brief employment in the mayor’s office early last year violated Atlanta’s charter.

Before he took the job with Invest Atlanta last March, Hall was a member of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms administration during her first two months in office. His position in Bottoms’ office was the subject of an Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News story last fall that examined Hall’s quick transition from outgoing council member to high-ranking city employee.

That story prompted Bottoms to order an outside review by the Los Angeles-based law firm, Browne George Ross LLP, which issued a report made public on Friday that was inconclusive about who directed Hall’s hiring.

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The investigation concluded that the job in Bottoms administration violated the city’s charter provision that prohibits elected officials from holding “any compensated appointive office or employment with the city” for one year after leaving office, unless a super majority of the City Council waives the prohibition.

Mayor Bottoms has said that she was unaware that Hall held a job in her office.

“We have not found any evidence that, after Mr. Hall was given the position at the end of former Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration, anyone in Mayor Bottoms’ administration approved Mr. Hall being on the City’s payroll,” said the report from the Los Angeles based law firm Browne George Ross LLP.

The firm does not appear to have interviewed Bottoms or Reed. The mayor’s office did not answer questions about why Bottoms wasn’t interviewed.

Former Human Resource Commissioner Yvonne Yancy was a central player in the Hall’s hiring, but she wouldn’t agree to an interview with investigators. Yancy’s signature appears on paperwork dated January 2018, authorizing Hall’s $137,100-a-year job as a senior policy advisor to Bottoms.

But in a lengthy statement provided to the AJC through a public relations agency on Monday, Yancy said she signed the document in December and it was finalized by Bottoms’ staff in January, after she left city employment.

Yancy also said she received multiple requests to begin paperwork for new hires, employee transfers and pay increases in the final weeks of Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration, just days before Bottoms was sworn in. She said all of those requests “could only be made” by two people the investigators did not interview — Reed and Bottoms.

“Ms. Yancy executed these requests and directed her staff as she was directed,” the statement says. “As a result…there were more than 25 transactions completed at the end of the year, including the initiation of the hiring process for Kwanza Hall.”

In the aftermath of the law firm’s inquiry, Invest Atlanta seems to have re-evaluated Hall’s place in the agency. In a statement on Monday, an Invest Atlanta spokesperson said Hall would no longer work at the development agency.

“Kwanza Hall is closing out his duties as managing director of Proctor Creek initiatives,” the statement said. ‘Invest Atlanta has decided to go in a different direction to serve the Proctor Creek communities.”

Hall declined to comment when contacted Monday.

“Sorry, I can’t talk right now,” he said in a text.

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)

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Payroll records show that Hall received three paychecks in January and February of last year totaling about $15,000 for holding the job in the Bottoms administration before accepting the higher paying job with Invest Atlanta.

Hall, who served three terms on the council before an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2017, repaid the city $10,300 after the AJC questioned him last fall.

His employment as senior policy advisor in the mayor’s office started Jan. 2, 2018, the same day as her inauguration as the 60th mayor of Atlanta. Bottoms has said that she doesn’t know how he got the job.

But Yancy’s statement said she had left her city job and didn’t have access ot its payroll system when the paperwork for Hall’s employment was finalized.

“Ms. Yancy started this document in December before her departure and it would have been processed for completion by the new administration,” Yancy’s statement says.

Yancy also said she was not aware of the prohibition against elected officials being employed by the city for a year, and therefore “did not seek legal counsel on the direction she was given by mayoral leadership.”

Proctor Creek Greenway, a $4 million investment, connects 400 acres of green space between the Beltline Westside and Chattahoochee River. CONTRIBUTED (For the AJC)

The lawyer who conducted the investigation, Thomas P. O’Brien, a former federal prosecutor turned white collar criminal defense attorney, was hired by the Bottoms administration in October amid the AJC reporting.

O’Brien’s report concluded that Hall’s hiring started on Dec. 30, 2017, Reed’s last Saturday in office. O’Brien’s report mentions more than a dozen people interviewed for his investigation, but Bottoms and Reed are not on the list.

Two months into Bottoms’ administration, Hall switched jobs. In March, he took the job at Invest Atlanta to oversee the Proctor Creek development. Bottoms’ administration has argued that Hall’s employment with Invest Atlanta did not violate the one-year prohibition because Invest Atlanta is an entity separate from the city.

An Atlanta ordinance, however, describes several public agencies as being city entities, including Invest Atlanta.

Invest Atlanta’s financial reports also describe the organization as “A Component Unit of the City of Atlanta,” and the organization’s employees are subject to the city’s ethics rules.

In March, Hall took the job at Invest Atlanta to oversee the Proctor Creek development. Bottoms’ administration has argued that Hall’s employment with Invest Atlanta did not violate the one-year prohibition because Invest Atlanta is an entity separate from the city.

But an Atlanta ordinance that describes several organizations affiliated with the city and describes them as city agencies, includes Invest Atlanta that list.

Invest Atlanta’s financial reports also describe the organization as “A Component Unit of the City of Atlanta,” and the organization’s employees are subject to the city’s ethics rules.

The Proctor Creek Greenway project is one of the city’s most important redevelopment efforts. The city is investing millions to revitalize 400 acres in Northwest Atlanta, with intentions of turning it into seven miles of bike and pedestrian trails between Maddox Park to the Chattahoochee River.

Hall did not possess a key requirement listed in the job description: a college degree. Other candidates for the position had earned their masters and at least one had a doctorate.

Hall’s support of Bottoms came at a critical junction. He was one of the few candidates in the crowded 2017 mayor’s race to endorse Bottoms during her December 2017 runoff against Mary Norwood. He also contributed $1,400 to Bottoms during the runoff campaign.

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