Can­di­dates con­tinue to talk ethics

May­oral hope­fuls ques­tion each other dur­ing de­bate.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - METRO - By Arielle Kass akass@ajc.com

In light of an on­go­ing bribery in­ves­ti­ga­tion that sent two At­lanta con­trac­tors to prison this week, ethics dom­i­nated a Thurs­day Press Club de­bate that was the high­est-pro­file stage yet for the 11 can­di­dates com­pet­ing in the city’s may­oral race.

What role a mayor can take in pre­vent­ing eth­i­cal lapses like those that led to city con­trac­tors pay­ing bribes to win con­tracts, and eth­i­cal ques­tions the can­di­dates posed of each other, dic­tated much of the con­tent of the dis­cus­sion, one of the first in which the can­di­dates were able to en­gage with their com­peti­tors.

The can­di­dates sug­gested a range of im­prove­ments that could be made to en­hance pro­tec­tions at the city. They ranged from Coun­cil­woman Keisha Lance Bot­toms’ pro­posal that all elected of­fi­cials and those work­ing in sen­si­tive pro­cure­ment jobs make pub­lic their tax re­turns and file fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sures, to state Sen. Vin­cent Fort’s pro­posal to have an in­spec­tor gen­eral look­ing for crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity at city hall.

Ceasar Mitchell, city coun­cil pres­i­dent, touted his push for a mora­to­rium un­til af­ter the elec­tion for city con­tracts that be­gin in 2018, say­ing it was a way to im­me­di­ately in­crease con­fi­dence in gov­ern­ment. City Coun­cil­woman Mary Nor­wood said she would “com­pletely change the sys­tem” by bring­ing some­one with pri­vate-sec­tor ex­peri-

ence at a pub­licly traded com­pany into the pro­cure­ment of­fice. For­mer At­lanta Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Peter Aman said he would ad­vo­cate for au­dits on all emer­gency con­tracts, while train­ing em­ploy­ees on their duty to turn in peo­ple they sus­pected of wrong­do­ing.

“The first thing I will do as mayor is to have an un­re­lent­ing fo­cus on ethics,” Aman said.

Michael Ster­ling, for­mer direc­tor of the city’s Work­force Devel­op­ment Agency, said there will al­ways be “rogue ac­tors,” but he said there is not enough trans­parency in gov­ern­ment.

This is only the sec­ond de­bate in which the can­di­dates were able to ask ques­tions of each other, and ethics quickly be­came the topic du jour. For­mer Ful­ton County Com­mis­sion Chair­man John Eaves ques­tioned Bot­toms about why she took a job with the At­lanta-Ful­ton County Recre­ation Au­thor­ity while still col­lect­ing a city pay­check as a mem­ber of city coun­cil, call­ing it “in­ex­cus­able.” For­mer City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Cathy Woolard pounced on Bot­toms as well, say­ing her city-funded job was a gray area that was likely il­le­gal.

Bot­toms, who on Wed­nes­day re­ceived the en­dorse­ment of Mayor Kasim Reed, re­ceived more ques­tions from her com­peti­tors than any other can­di­date. Bot­toms said she took ap­pro­pri­ate mea­sures to re­cuse her­self from coun­cil votes as needed, and never faced an ethics in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Mitchell asked Bot­toms whether she would vote on con­tracts from a con­trac­tor whose of­fice was raided by the FBI last month, and whose cam­paign do­na­tions she had re­turned. Bot­toms said she wasn’t go­ing to spec­u­late on votes that weren’t be­fore her.

Fort asked Bot­toms to de­fend an un­paid wa­ter bill, ask­ing why At­lantans should trust her.

“If your bill spikes to $800, you prob­a­bly shouldn’t pay it ei­ther,” Bot­toms quipped, be­fore telling view­ers, “The city has to do a bet­ter job.”

In ad­di­tion to the ques­tions for Bot­toms, Aman took Nor­wood to task for what he said were her mis­un­der­stand­ings of — or dis­re­gard for — the pro­cure­ment process.

“You men­tioned that the City Coun­cil has noth­ing to do with the ap­proval of con­tracts,” he said of Nor­wood’s com­ments at a pre­vi­ous de­bate. “Were you try­ing to avoid re­spon­si­bil­ity for what has gone on, or did you not re­al­ize coun­cil was sup­posed to have that ap­proval role?”

Nor­wood punched back, try­ing to tie Aman to the bribery scan­dal by pulling out the press re­lease from Aman’s hir­ing an­nounce­ment at the city that said his job was to over­see pro­cure­ment.

The mayor’s race is non­par­ti­san, but most of the can­di­dates are Democrats. Nor­wood is the only in­de­pen­dent, but she has of­ten been called a closet Repub­li­can. She was again asked about her thoughts on the first year of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency, and she again failed to ex­plic­itly say what she thought of the pres­i­dent.

“The first year in of­fice has been dis­ap­point­ing to many cit­i­zens in this coun­try,” she said. “The poli­cies that have come out of this ad­min­is­tra­tion have not been poli­cies, for the most part, that I have agreed with at all.”

The can­di­dates for mayor also in­clude City Coun­cil­man Kwanza Hall, who talked about his ini­tia­tive to re­duce mar­i­juana penal­ties; Ro­hit Am­mana­manchi, who is in fa­vor of bet­ter trans­porta­tion; and Glenn Wright­son, who wants to re­duce the bud­get in the mayor’s of­fice. La­ban King has dropped out of the race.

The de­bate will air on PBA30 at 10 a.m. Sun­day.

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