Felicia Moore a thorn in the side of Atlanta’s mayors

Atlanta Councilwoman Felicia Moore stopped me dead when I noted that Mayor Kasim Reed supported her opponent last year.

"He didn't support my opponent," she corrected me. "He recruited my opponent. He paid for opposition research against me. He funded an organization to work against me. He stood on a corner with my opponent with his sign."

OK. It’s semantics. He really, really, really dislikes her.

In fact, the councilwoman has been a pain in the backside of not only Reed but his two predecessors. None of them appreciated her much. But she thinks Reed is the most thin-skinned she’s dealt with in the office, an opinion he did little to dispel when I got him on the phone.

But let me digress.

I spoke with Moore earlier this week when I was writing about government secrecy. The topic was the Smyrna Braves and the rush to move them to Cobb County. That reminded me that Moore had complained last year that Reed was pushing too hard, too fast for Atlanta to commit $200 million in hotel-motel taxes, plus other costs, to build a new Falcons palace.

This week, Moore was waging another battle for information from the Reed administration. This time, it was about so-called “hardship” payouts to some of the city’s top officials.

Police Chief George Turner, who has the city’s top salary at $241,000 per, got another $80,000 last year for nearly 700 hours in unused vacation time. That’s nearly twice the amount that city codes allow employees to carry over.

Two Reed deputies each got almost $30,000 for unused vacation, sick and comp time. Six other employees also got a total of $18,000 for unused vacation or loans. Moore, as council members often do, learned about the payouts by watching the news.

On Aug. 5, Moore sent the administration an email asking for information on the Turner payments and all others going back to 2010. On Aug. 20, Moore fired off at least her sixth email, complaining that “somehow, the media can get timely info, but I can not.”

The issue here, in her view, isn’t whether some insiders seem to be getting a sweet deal from the administration (although she thinks that’s the case). “It’s bigger than that,” she said. “It’s a question about checks and balances.”

Often she asks for info and gets dribs and drabs, summing up her relationship with the administration this way: “Sometimes I don’t know what I don’t know, but I want to know what I don’t know. But they don’t want me to know it.”

Moore, a former Neighborhood Planning Unit leader, has been shouting truth (as she sees it) to power for years. Before she beat an incumbent councilman in 1997, she was a council aide who spoke out against what turned out to be Mayor Bill Campbell’s disastrous effort to privatize the city’s sewer and water operations.

Moore criticized council members for blindly going along with the proposal. “Most of y’all don’t read what you get anyway,” she said.

In her first year in office, she fought the ouster of airport manger Angela Gittens. Moore smelled something foul. She was right. Years later, Gittens testified in federal court that Campbell refused to re-bid airport contracts held by his friends and asked her to violate city and federal laws. Campbell went to prison.

Moore then spent eight years bugging Mayor Shirley Franklin.

Meting out partial information was certainly not anything invented by Kasim Reed, she said.

“Every mayor has a little thin-skin, but he deals with it differently,” she said Monday. “It’s more personal with him. I think he gets more angry. He doesn’t like me calling the payouts illegal.”

No, he certainly doesn’t.

On Wednesday, he marched before the City Council and challenged her to name the two officials who OK’d the payments and say what they did was illegal. He also mentioned he thought that if she did, she’d be opening herself to a defamation lawsuit.

Moore didn’t call them out by name but again said she believed the payouts were illegal.

Reed, in a phone call Thursday, was miffed that an AJC story on the matter said Moore “stood her ground.”

According to him, the city codes say two opposing things on the payouts.

The mayor said his performance before the council was necessary to set the record straight because, despite Moore’s prescience on Campbell, “if you take a broad look at her career, she is often wrong.”

“Ms. Moore treats city employees horribly on camera,” he said. “I don’t have to take that.”

The mayor, in soft, even tones, brushed off conjecture about his epidermal thickness.

“This thin-skin stuff is garbage,” he said. “People don’t like it when folks in my position talk back to them the way you all speak to me.

“I believe in full engagement.”

Consider Councilwoman Moore fully engaged.