Bill Torpy at Large: Mystery firings lead to a State of Kasim Address

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

ExploreWho's who among City Hall's departed

I knew we were in for an alternate version of reality when Mayor Kasim Reed kicked off his news conference concerning the firings of two department heads, saying he wanted to give “a briefing on two personnel decisions we made as a team.”

The term “we” was a giveaway that the full story might not be at hand. Who is this we? There is no “I” in team, but there sure is one in Kasim. I can imagine the team meeting — the mayor talking and several heads bobbing in agreement.

Last Friday, just in time for the weekend news doldrums, Hizzoner announced he was firing Jo Ann Macrina, the watershed commissioner, and Miguel Southwell, the general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Their replacements will be the fourth in each job during the mayor's six years and four months in office, including the two longtime department heads he inherited.

Might as well not even engrave their nameplates.

Turnover? There’s no turnover here, Reed insisted. He mentioned name after name of former officials who have jumped to high-paying private sector jobs, as if the city was an executive job incubator.

The room was packed with anticipation, with the media on one side of the room and the city officials he hasn’t fired yet on the other.

What started as a mayoral press conference to explain the firing of two vital department heads ended up becoming sort of a State of Kasim Address, a wide-ranging, 57-minute soliloquy on the philosophy of governing, ethics, dirty bathrooms and a report card on his term — he’s done damn good, thank you.

“If you check metric after metric, this city is moving in the right direction,” Reed said, adding that his personal approval is 69. He did not say if that was 69 percent or if it was the number of city employees standing trying to look supportive.

The mayor was boastful, testy, assertive and confident — per usual — no sense of emitting sensitivity or second thoughts. Humility isn’t his bag. He talks in manly ways, often using sporting imagery like “entering the fourth quarter” or “laying it all on the field.”

They are evocative terms, and after he announced he was jettisoning the ParkAtlanta contract, I chest bumped somebody in celebration.

“The message from my administration is this,” he said. “We are not slowing down. We are speeding up.”

So, folks, get out of his way!

We did learn that the mayor hates lines at airports, is thinking of privatizing airport security, believes his replacements are top notch and that he will not allow himself to become a lame duck.

But he would not discuss why he was getting rid of Macrina or Southwell, the reason a roomful of media folks gathered in the first place. When pressed, Reed said he did not want to discuss the firings and leave himself open to litigation.

That comment came seven minutes after he said, “Everyone who knows me knows I don’t fear litigation.

“At the end of the day, one thing I have learned as mayor is you’re never satisfied, folks. No matter how much litigation we have prevailed on, all of the people we have beaten, all of the folks who have said things proven to be false and inaccurate and the extraordinary amount of documents and discovery that we have produced that has never been done before in the history of any mayor whose had this job before.

“But I’ll tell you this. I’m not going to be ham-strung by threats. You have something to say about me? Put it up!”

The me-against-the-world harangue came from a question on whether oversight committees were needed for some big-ticket construction projects coming up at the airport and in the watershed department.

As for the departed execs, one might assume Macrina was in trouble because whoever heads watershed buys Pepto Bismol in bulk.

Through the years, the department has been privatized, unprivatized, the subject of damning audits, thefts, leaks, billing screwups, sewage spills and a terrible public perception. In fact, Macrina was nervous even during her introductory news conference in 2011, seemingly knowing what lay ahead.

The airport has seen meandering security lines in recent months, as have airports across the nation. More Americans are flying and TSA has fewer agents. Not long ago, Reed was out there and witnessed first-hand some shrill airport worker yelling at folks to line up. He didn’t like that. Nor does he like to see Hartsfield-Jackson on a national news show as a poster boy for what’s wrong.

Plus, I think he didn’t think Southwell was doing what he wanted, whatever that was.

The guy now in charge of the airport has a finance background, not one in operations. The top officials now in charge of watershed have transportation backgrounds.

Nevertheless, it really doesn’t matter, Councilman Howard Shook, who attended the press conference, told my colleague Dan Klepal.

“What they need is a manager, and kind of a shrink, until the new person shows up,” Shook said. “So I’d be willing to say if he’s a decent manager and knows what he’s doing, it’ll be OK for a month.”