Atlanta City Attorney Misled Council on Comcast Reports
(APN) ATLANTA — City Attorney Nina R. Hickson for the City of Atlanta admitted in an email response to an inquiry from Atlanta Progressive News that her statement to City Utilities Committee on November 26, 2019, regarding the availability of Comcast reports was “incomplete.”
Hickson admitted her misleading statements, after it was revealed through an open records request that the City of Atlanta does not have in its custody several of the reports that Comcast Cable Communications, LLC, is required to file with the City.
At stake was the Council’s approval of a seven year franchise agreement with Comcast, worth an estimated one billion dollars in revenue to Comcast and approximately fifty million dollars in fee revenue to the City.
Hickson copied the entire Atlanta City Council on the email.
Adrian Coleman, an advocate for public access television, had requested access to several reports that Comcast was required to file with the City of Atlanta, on Nov. 26.
Per Code of Ordinances, Part II, Chapter 34 (“Cable Communications Regulations”), Sec. 34-18(b) (“Reports required”), Comcast is required to file the following reports regularly with the City of Atlanta:
(a) Regulatory communications; (b) Constructions reports; (c) Proof of performance tests; (d) Tests required by city; (e) Change in service; (f) Franchise rules; (g) Customer service reports; (h) Financial Reports; (i) Proof of insurance; (j) Operational reports; (k) Future projections; (l) Equal Employment Opportunity and Equal Business Opportunity; and (m) Additional reports.
First, Coleman had inquired about the reports in an email to then-Chairman JP Matzigkeit of the City Utilities Committee, while the Committee was considering the contract.
Mr. Matzigkeit failed to respond.
Then, Coleman made public comments inquiring about the reports in the Nov. 26 Cmte Meeting.
City Attorney Hickson responded that she had the reports in her possession:
“As it relates to the questions about the reporting, that reporting has been done by Comcast. I have the actual documents, so the questions that Ms. Coleman asked earlier this morning about that, we do have reporting that has been done on a regular basis,” Hickson told the Committee.
Naturally, Coleman made an open records request for the records, also on Nov. 26, to the Law Department.
Per the City’s new open records policy, Ms. Hickson, as department head, is the custodian of all records for the Law Department. Kristen Denius is listed as open records coordinator for the department.
After more than two weeks, Coleman did not receive a reply.
As previously reported by APN, Coleman filed a lawsuit against the City under the Georgia Open Records Act, seeking civil penalties against the City for failing to provide a response within three business days and failing to provide the records.
Following the filing of the lawsuit, the City provided three pages of records–three quarterly fee statements–and recently revealed that was all the relevant records of which the City had custody.
Senior City Attorney Amber A. Robinson, who apparently worked on the matter on behalf of Ms. Hickson, said the Law Department had coordinated with the Mayor’s Office to search for records, but that the Mayor’s Office did not have them either.
This means that Comcast has been failing to file the required reports with the City.
This means that the City Council approved a billion dollar contract, in which the City stipulated to Comcast being in material compliance with all laws and contract provisions, when the City knew or should have known that Comcast was out of compliance.
“When Ms. Coleman posited questions to the City Committee related to the reports Comcast was required to provide to the City in accordance with the City of Atlanta Code of Ordinances, it was my understanding that Ms. Coleman was referring to the reports detailing the franchise fee payments,” Hickson said, explaining her misleading statements that she had made.
“In preparation for the City Utilities Committee meeting, I was provided with franchise fee payment reports. Accordingly, when asked to respond to Ms. Coleman’s questions I replied that I was in possession of the documents, and that Comcast had been providing such reports on a regular basis,” Hickson said.
“Insofar as the subject of Ms. Coleman’s inquiry was certain other reports required in addition to the franchise fee payment reports, I was mistaken in my understanding and my assertions to the Committee; and based upon this misunderstanding, the information I provided the Committee was incomplete,” Hickson said.
“To clarify my response, I was only provided with the Comcast franchise fee payment reports in preparation for the November 26, 2019 City Utilities Committee meeting. I was not provided with any of the additional reports required to be provided to the City by Comcast,” Hickson said.
Coleman’s lawsuit–seeking civil penalties for the untimely response, even if the City did not have the records–continues in Fulton County Superior Court.
This unfortunate incident shows the fundamental lack of oversight by the Atlanta City Council, the City Utilities Committee, the Mayor’s Office, and the Department of Law.
After all, if just one member of the Committee was interested enough in doing the due diligence that is appropriate for a contract of this magnitude, they would have inquired about the reports and learned that they did not exist.
If just one member of the executive branch was monitoring Comcast’s compliance with reporting requirements, we wouldn’t be in this position.
If just one member of the Law Department was familiar enough with the provisions of Chapter 34 of the Code of Ordinances, they would have known that several categories of reports were required to be filed.
Hickson’s misstatement, and the lack of clarification by anyone in the Law Department, suggests that the Law Department was actually unfamiliar with the requirements.
The fact that Comcast’s executives and representatives did not correct Hickson’s statements, and allowed the Council to believe that Comcast was filing reports that they were not, in fact, filing, indicates Comcast’s complicity in the deception.
After all, Comcast should have known they were not filing the required reports with the City.
As previously reported by APN, this is at least the third time the Law Department made misleading statements to the Council regarding Comcast.
Previously, two city attorneys misrepresented the audit clause of the proposed contract, in two different committee meetings, by saying the clause allowed the City to audit back three years, when, in fact, the draft contract only allowed auditing back to January 01, 2018. (The audit clause was amended after APN and advocates raised concerns).
In a related provision, the City also acknowledged that Comcast was in material compliance with all laws – even though the City was not in a position to acknowledge that, having not conducted an audit; and even though the City knew–or should have known–that Comcast was not even providing the required reports.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2019)