Kasim Reed faced a bank of television cameras Dec. 18, as the outgoing mayor answered hard questions about why he was largely silent during an embarrassing power outage that shut down Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport the previous weekend.
Later that Monday evening, there were no TV cameras present as Reed relaxed with his executive staff at one of Buckhead’s most expensive steakhouses for a five-course meal that included chili lobster rolls, filet mignon, sunchoked spinach and an assortment of desserts.
The American Cut bill came to just under $12,500, and taxpayers covered $8,100 of it.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News obtained the bill, which included the menu of food and wine served, through a Georgia Open Records Act request.
Former Atlanta Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard used his city-issued credit card to pay for two-thirds of the tab, and paid the balance with his personal credit card — enough to have covered the $1,100 in wine, and a bar tab of at least $2,464 from the cocktail reception. (A line item on the bill says "Discount 10% Alcohol Mayor," which reduced the bill by $354.)
To receive a city-issued credit card, the city’s chief financial officer had to sign a form acknowledging that it “shall be used for business purposes only.” All personal charges are “prohibited,” the form states.
In a statement to the AJC and Channel 2, Beard called the event a “working … off-site cabinet meeting,” and emphasized that no spouses attended. The bill from American Cut calls it a “Holiday Dinner for Mayor’s Cabinet” for 40 guests, which lasted from 6-10 p.m.
The dinner was held two weeks before Reed left office and came amid a flurry of year-end spending. The AJC has previously reported that Atlanta's former mayor handed out bonuses costing more than $811,000 to his senior staff, including most of the people attending the Buckhead banquet.
Reed’s holiday spending included $36,000 in raffle prizes for City Hall employees and another $31,000 for winners of lip sync and ugly sweater contests.
The dinner for Reed at American Cut featured a surprise gift for the mayor: a luxury watch paid for by the cabinet members.
Two former members of Reed’s cabinet, who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisal, told the AJC and Channel 2 that the dinner was organized by Beard as a party, during which Reed was surprised with the watch. One of the sources said the watch cost $17,000.
A statement from Reed’s spokesman said the former mayor “was not involved in the planning of this event in any way.” Reed called it “an employee recognition event,” but did not answer questions about the appropriateness of using taxpayer money or whether it should be paid back.
“This story is the continuation of an effort to smear and ignore the positive contributions of the Reed Administration over the last eight years,” the statement said.
The event began at 6 with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres of chili lobster roll, tuna tataki and goat cheese crostini. The main course included a choice of the filet, roasted garlic chicken and pan roasted salmon and a selection of five wines and champagne for toasting.
The sources speaking to the AJC and Channel 2 were astonished when told the amount of the restaurantbill, which came to about $312 per person for the 40 people in attendance. The sources said they didn’t know public money was used to pay for a portion of it. Each said cabinet members were asked to contribute toward the watch and dinner.
“Calling it a ‘cabinet meeting’ is a cover story,” said Vincent Fort, a former state senator who represented some of the poorest neighborhoods in Atlanta. “This was a party and the money should be paid back.”
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms did not attend the dinner, according to a spokesman. She declined to comment when asked if it was appropriate to use public money for it.
“Mayor Bottoms is not at liberty to speculate on the decisions made by the previous administration with regards to its expenditures,” the spokesman wrote in an email response to AJC questions.
Sara Henderson, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Georgia, said the bill makes it look like “a really good shindig.”
“So the taxpayers should be asking where’s their steak and bottle of wine,” Henderson said.
Previous reporting from the AJC and Channel 2 Action News revealed questionable spending on city of Atlanta-issued credit cards by former Mayor Kasim Reed and his executive protection unit, and resulted in refunds to taxpayers. Today’s story examines a banquet dinner thrown in Reed’s honor before he left office and paid for, in part, by taxpayers.