Ceasar Mitchell: Council “Made a Mockery” of Themselves
(APN) ATLANTA — Shortly after the Committee of the Whole of the City Council of Atlanta went into Executive Session on January 03, 2012, during the debate over concessions contracts at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Council President Ceasar Mitchell made the following remark about the Council: “They made a mockery… (inaudible)… I’m disappointed.”
From the video, it is clear the comments were not addressed to anyone in particular, as the Council Members had already gotten out of their seats to head for Executive Session. The comments appear to have been addressed to members of the public.
Later in the meeting, Mitchell made the following statements, chastising the Council:
“Council Members, I just want to express a certain degree of concern with this body and our work and how we do our work. In many ways, this was a defining moment whether we choose for it to be or not,” Mitchell said.
“It’s not a question of whether or not the Admistration has shown any level of respect or regard for this body, but it’s really about whether or not we have shown any respect or regard for ourselves,” Mitchell said.
“As a Council we have a process that we have set up that is in keeping with the citizens’ expectations of us and of our roles as Council Members: to represent, to deliberate, to be transparent, and to ensure accountability in city government,” Mitchell said.
“Unfortunately, I just don’t believe in this [airport bidding review] process we’ve been able to exercise those virtues and those responsibilities,” Mitchell said.
“Not because we received packets from the Administration the evening before the Transportation Cmte. Not because the Administration came to us and said, ‘Please vote on this now, we know we just gave this to you six or seven, eight hours ago,'” Mitchell said.
“We really have put ourselves in my opinion in harm’s way because we chose to put in place a process, or lack thereof, on our own volition, and we chose to do it when we had the power and the authority to put in place a process the citizens expect of us,” Mitchell said.
“And so, I don’t mean to make these comments to berate the Council. I’m technically not a Member of the Council; I don’t have a vote. But I certainly care about the integrity of this body, and I care about my colleagues, and I care about what it is that we all have committed to do every day,” Mitchell said.
“And so I think going forward we really need to take into consideration how we fulfill our role as a Council,” Mitchell said.
“There are questions that–colleagues who have proclaimed to have been deep into these documents over the last two weeks–that if I were to pose right now, they wouldn’t know the answer to,” Mitchell said.
“But some sound deliberation and consideration and back and forth and collective exchange as a body, literally, that’s why we have this round. So as a collective body we can ask questions in each other’s presence,” Mitchell said.
“And some of those questions that I know that many of us don’t even know to ask could have been asked and possibly answered,” Mitchell said.
“So I want to just share that… Some of you may not take it well, but that be it as it may,” Mitchell said.
There were, of course, many aspects of the January 03, 2012, Full Council meeting, that Mitchell could have been upset with, and it is not immediately clear what all of those aspects were.
However, it does appear, first, that Mitchell was upset with the Council’s debate over whether to allow William Perry, Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia, to respond to attacks unleashed upon him by Mayor Kasim Reed.
Reed had just critized CCG, among other things, for promoting pay-to-play legislation–which would prohibit City vendors from giving campaign contributions to Mayoral and City Council candidates–when he noted that Perry himself accepted campaign contributions when Perry previously ran for office that would have been prohibited under his own proposal.
The Full Council at the time had voted to go into Committee of the Whole, which was supposed to be the opportunity for Council Members to ask questions of the Administration or other parties in the audience.
After Reed criticized Perry, Perry came up to the microphone to respond, and was recognized by Mitchell, but was interrupted by CT Martin (District 10).
“This is not an opportunity, we’re in here about this issue, not about your rebutting the Mayor and what he said. He pointed out some facts, he’s gonna show us, the other side of that… You’re out of order because you want to rebut some information or conversations that have been put on the table,” Martin said.
“Perhaps if you had not done what you had done, then Mayor would not have done what he did. But this is his house, and I don’t know where your house is,” Martin said.
“And Sir, I don’t know who you are, but you just can’t up to the microphone like that. This isn’t a debating situation. The Mayor has a right to come up and to give us information of which he has. We’re not here to debate. We’re here to get information and, you know, to try to make a decision as to the issue this evening,” Councilwoman Cleta Winslow (District 4) said.
Perry said he thought Mitchell was recognizing him to speak.
“I was going to recognize Mr. Perry. I’ve been called out of order for recognizing him. The proper thing would probably be for a Council member to ask you a question,” Mitchell said.
“We’re in Cmte of Whole, and so this provides an opportunity for Members of the public to speak, that’s typically done if asked by Council Members,” Mitchell said.
“I think that there’s a due level of fairness. I think the Mayor made his point… and if Mr. Perry wants to say something, since most of it was directed to him, I think it’s only in an effort of fairness to allow him to have a comment,” Moore said.
“We weren’t discussing Common Cause; that is what the Mayor chose to speak on,” Moore said.
Moore then posed a question to Mr. Perry–“What is it you would have to say?”–so that he could respond.
However, some Council Members continued to oppose him having an opportunity to respond.
“Point of personal privilege. We were getting ready to finish the business at hand, and it was about questions that people wanted to raise to the public and/or to the staff about what is before us. Whoever this gentleman is is not before us. But what is before us is 11-R-1845,” Martin said.
“I don’t want to hear necessarily what he’s got to say at this point in time,” Martin said.
“That issue [CCG] has basically been opened. And we didn’t stop the Mayor, no, we’re not going to talk about Common Cause,” Moore said.
“If we’re going to go in this sort of three ring circus mode here… When we say the Mayor has opined or spoken in one direction, he is the duly elected Mayor of this City of over a half million people. Mr. Perry is not elected by any of us; he is elected by Common Cause,” Councilman Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large) said.
Councilman Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large) also opposed allowing Mr. Perry to speak until after breaking for dinner and Executive Session.
Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms (District 11) then made a motion to go into Executive Session.
Then, Mitchell basically issued a ruling that the Council would break for dinner and Executive Session, and that when the Council re-convened that Mr. Perry would have the chance to speak and all Council Members would have a chance to ask questions of whomever they wanted.
Mitchell told the Council that they would have to overrule Mitchell if they disagreed, which they did not.
Then, as the Council was heading into Executive Session, is when Mitchell said he was disappointed and that the Council had made a mockery of themselves.
As for the Council’s failure to take adequate time to review the airport concessions legislation, Councilwoman Moore in late December proposed holding a Work Session prior to voting.
However, in Transportation Cmte, Council Members Carla Smith (District 1), Bottoms, and Willis opposed holding a Work Session, while Moore, Martin, and Bond supported it. The motion failed three to three.
In addition, Moore had wanted to postpone the Full Council vote for two weeks, but the Council voted that motion down as well.