From the very beginning of the $3 billion airport bidding process, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed stated that it would be conducted in an ethical, fair and transparent manner. However, there have been serious issues ensuring ethical, fair and transparent processes. Common Cause Georgia has pointed to this process as the most recent example of why pay-to-play reform is needed – to end the perception that companies must give large campaign contributions to elected officials in order to win contracts awarded by the city.
We want to make sure that large campaign donations from winning bidders did not influence the result of the airport bidding process. Despite all of the promises of fairness and transparency, we have seen little action that supports the Mayor’s stated commitment to that goal. And now, Mayor Reed is being asked for a second time to testify under oath that he had no role in influencing the outcome.
Late last month the Mayor was subpoenaed to testify in a losing airport bidder’s appeal hearing, but the city’s hearing officer quashed the subpoena. That losing bidder, SSP America Inc., now has new evidence, and they are again asking Mayor Reed to testify. We believe the Mayor should answer their call and testify.
At issue are the possible conflicting statements from the Mayor and his Chief Procurement Officer Adam Smith. In recent testimony, Mr. Smith said under oath that cancellation decisions, like the controversial one to throw out $3 billion worth of bids and start all over, are his, and such decisions he “solely” makes. This $3 billion decision became more controversial when it was learned that at least one of the companies who won a bid in the second round would have been disqualified in the first round, where all the bids were thrown out due to only two large bid companies having incomplete bids.
Yet in an interview with Fox5’s I-team reporter Dale Russell this fall, Mayor Reed seemed to indicate that he was involved with the decision. He used words like “there were some people who advised me” and “I could have moved forward and done a deal” and “the judgment I made” and “that’s why we made the decision.”
Watch Russell’s full story here.
The Mayor’s spokesperson has said that the Mayor was referring to discussions held after Mr. Smith announced his decision, and that may be the case. But why would the Mayor seek advice, move forward, or refer to the judgment he made if the decision was already announced, and made solely by Smith?
Furthermore, SSP is using appointment calendars received through open record requests to show that meetings were held with airport officials and the Mayor in his office prior to the final decision.
If nothing else, the Mayor’s own words and these meetings on his calendar raise questions that he, and only he, should answer.
After the first request for the Mayor to testify, the AJC reported, “SSP America Inc. is appealing the award of the five largest airport restaurant contracts, contending the contract process was flawed and that the concessions director had conflicts of interest that ensured companies with connections to the mayor won contracts.” The city’s hearing officer on the case determined that there was not enough evidence to support the subpoena and the Mayor never testified.
Mayor Reed not testifying has raised more than a few eyebrows. Why will the Mayor not take the stand to prove the process was conducted fairly and without interference? SSP’s attorney told Russell, “You would think that in the interests of openness and transparency Mayor Reed would not only want to come, but would beg to come.” We agree. After all, last June the Mayor stated in a press release “we will work to ensure that it is conducted in a fair, ethical and transparent manner.” What better opportunity to go on the record and show these goals were met than under oath in this hearing?
Common Cause Georgia is calling on Mayor Reed to voluntarily testify in the appeal hearings. We hope that he will take the opportunity to show the public that there is nothing to hide and that the process was not used to award large donors or are otherwise connected to Mayor Reed, giving the unfortunate appearance that they paid to play.