Mayor Reed Chooses Shadiness over Sunshine for Your Tax Dollars
By Ben Smith, Staff Writer
With additional reporting by Matthew Charles Cardinale
(APN) ATLANTA — In yet another vicious attack, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed accused City Councilwoman Felicia Moore (District 9) of a engaging in a “naked power grab” in her quest for access to the City’s Oracle database, which contains the financial transaction data for the City of Atlanta.
“Your request is nothing more than a naked power grab designed solely to advance your personal political purposes,” Reed wrote in a letter to Moore, dated October 15, 2014.
This is just the latest in an ongoing conflict regarding Reed’s controversial, apparently illegal series of payouts to as many as nine top Administration officials.
As previously reported by APN, and as first reported by Channel 2 WSBTV in early August 2014, Reed’s administration gave advances to only certain employees, including leave time that, per City Code, was only supposed to be paid when an employee concludes their employment with the City.
This included a payment of 80,000 dollars for unused vacation time provided last year, 2013, to Atlanta Police Chief George Turner on top of his already whopping 241,000 dollar per year annual salary.
Earlier this week, on October 19, Channel 2 reported on audio recordings they obtained of Chief Turner stating that Reed’s public statements about Turner having sought a hardship were not true. According to Turner, Reed instead approved the payments for Turner as an incentive to prevent him from retiring.
City Attorney Cathy Hampton has admitted that the program has put the City as legal risk.
Moore continued her efforts to pressure Reed to allow her to conduct a detailed review of the city’s financial records at a press conference held Wednesday morning, October 23, 2014, at Atlanta City Hall.
Moore’s immediate purpose for calling the conference was to respond to Reed’s scathing letter, which denied Moore’s request for direct access to the city’s accounts payable records.
When the story first broke, Moore denounced Reed’s payout policy as being apparently illegal.
By mid-August, the policy had drawn the ire of city employees and their union representatives who questioned the mayor’s decision to make this money available to a handful of already well-compensated city bosses without bothering to inform others of the existence of the program.
In the face of mounting criticism, Reed suspended the “hardship program” on August 27, admitting that the policy raised questions pertaining to “fairness.”
Within this context, Moore has pressed the mayor to provide her with direct access to city accounts payable records, which are maintained through the digital database system Oracle.
In denying Moore’s request, Reed cited a series of legal arguments in his letter.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Moore responded to each of these claims in detail.
Particularly notable in this regard was her rebuke of Reed’s assertion–cited in his letter–that providing Moore with direct access to financial records would “represent a breach of the separation of governmental powers.”
“We have an Executive Branch and we have a Legislative Branch and somehow my having direct access to public information breaches that separation,” Moore observed.
In other words, Mayor Reed seems to believe that a member of the City Council has no business conducting a comprehensive review of the Mayor’s handling of “the public’s money.”
In a telephone interview with APN, Moore analogized: “I am a shareholder. I’m on the Board of Directors.”
During the press conference, Moore also rejected Reed’s claim that her request was unprecedented since Atlanta City Council has never been “provided unilateral access” during previous mayoral Administrations.
As Moore implied during the press conference, this claim falsely represents the policies and practices of Reed’s predecessors.
“Under previous administrations… most things were done by paper,” explained Moore, who’s served on City Council for seventeen years. “And if a Council Member really wanted to see something, they could go up to [the Finance Department or other departments] and look at the files directly for themselves. And that had been done.”
Moore explained by phone that under the City Charter, the Finance Department has dual reporting to the Mayor and the Council; however, the Information Technology (IT) department is under the Mayor’s purview.
When Moore has gone to the Finance Department for access to the Oracle database–she seeks a username and password–they have referred her to IT, Moore told APN.
Essentially, the Administration’s position is that she is free to request specific information, and the Administration will provide it.
However, Moore pointed out that she wants the ability to browse the whole database at any point in time, seeing as how the information changes daily. She doesn’t necessarily know what information she is looking for, she said.
Atlanta Progressive News has pointed out to Moore that the records she is seeking are public records according to the Georgia Open Records Act.
O.C.G.A. 50-18-70(b) includes in the definition of a public record “all… computer based or generated information, data, data fields, or similar material…”
O.C.G.A. 50-18-71(f) adds: “[A]n agency’s use of electronic record-keeping systems must not erode the public’s right of access to records under this article. Agencies shall produce electronic copies of or, if the requester prefers, printouts of electronic records or data from data base fields that the agency maintains using the computer programs that the agency has in its possession.”
But Moore does not want to be pigeonholed into relying on the ORR for the records because her right to access is based on Legislative oversight, not open records; because she does not believe she should have to pay for the records; and because she does not want specific records; she wants ongoing access to the whole database.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, however, claims that they have requested certain records under the ORA but that the Administration has not provided them.
During the press conference, Moore also addressed Reed’s accusations that her inquiry was a “naked power grab” motivated by political ambition.
“I just got re-elected,” Moore insisted. “So I’m not seeking to run a reelection campaign at this point. Nor to run for anything else at this point. But I am going to be transparent and say I am on a campaign, and that campaign is for transparency in government. And I plan to run that campaign with every ounce of energy I have in my body, and I intend to win – one way or the other.”
“I will say to the Mayor, perhaps with my clothes on, I am seeking some power, because information is power,” she added.
According to at least one source familiar with the matter, Moore is considering a run for Council President in 2017.
Moore’s Facebook page is filled comments encouraging her to run for Mayor, and there is even a Facebook page, “FELICIA A MOORE for Mayor.”
When asked by APN if she were running for Mayor, she said no.
During the press conference, Moore was joined by a just one other Councilmember who openly expressed support for Moore.
“I’m here in support of Felicia Moore and in support of her position,” Mary Norwood (Post 2 at Large) said.
As previously reported by APN, Reed attacked Moore during a Finance/Executive Committee meeting for stating her belief that his administration broke the law. Reed said that Moore was incapable of understanding the law because she was not an attorney [an odd argument, seeing as how Councilmembers are in the business of creating laws].
Anne Torres, Reed’s Director of Communications, also issued a nasty attack against Moore, according to the AJC.
“Unlike Councilmember Moore, our staff is gainfully employed and has a broad range of responsibilities that are directly related to the day-to-day operations of running the capital city of Georgia,” Torres said.
“Unfortunately, our staff is not afforded the luxury of sitting around and thinking of ‘gotcha’ questions in hopes of getting three more minutes of fame,” she said.
Moore is asking taxpayers, if they believe Councilmembers should have ongoing electronic access to City financial records, to email Mayor Reed at email@example.com and carbon copy firstname.lastname@example.org.
Common Cause Georgia sent out an email today, October 23, 2014, asking their members and supporters to email Mayor Reed as well.