'Grandstanding' Charged With Advance Pay Scandal
BY DAVID STOKES
As with the case of every subject matter occurring inside City Hall, the advance payments and cash payouts scandal with some city employees for unused vacation time is no exception of being perceived as only politics these past several weeks as, along with controversy and inconsistencies of statements between Mayor Kasim Reed and subordinates within Human Resources and from the chief financial officer, growing dissension and personality clashes loom large within the city council chambers upon allegations of Finance Committee Chair Felecia Moore's motivation is due to her impending bid for the council presidency.
As the latest development last week surrounding the cash payouts and advance payments to some employees dealt with the revealing of a tape recording of conversations between Atlanta Police Chief George Turner conversing with underlings about his receipt of $80,000 for unused vacation time, the underlying, tell-tale of how—and why—the issue is growing within downtown's City Hall has moved across the atrium to the council chambers and its distinctive personalities consisting of the illustrious—yet, varied—members of the city council, according to an insider who not only wanted to remain anonymous for this story but is knowledgeable of city government affairs. Leading the charge "to find out the truth of the matter" with the payouts and advances is Ms. Moore, who, at times, is considered to be perceived as "holier than thou" known by some colleagues. A real estate agent by trade, Ms. Moore, who has represented District 9 in northwest Atlanta since 1998, is "making waves in the water" with the issue of Chief Turner and Mayor Reed "because she wants to be leader of the city council. While there really is no problem with her wanting to do that," indicated the insider last week to The Inquirer, "she's really going about it the wrong way, kind of. She alienates the very people who are in her corner just by her thinking she's smarter and more (astute) than others," the insider said. Concluding, the insider opined, "Her attitude of arrogance and conceit and grandstanding, too, can and will be her downfall, if she continues on the same road. She may be doing the right thing (with the issue), but it's mostly all for the (council presidency) campaign." Nevertheless, "the issue" continues to garner the attention of many, including police officers and other safety personnel of Atlanta, who await a final decision of ongoing litigation of pay raises for city personnel while some others, last year, received "hardship" cash or advance pay offset by their bi-monthly paychecks. Since the discovery of the payouts and advances three months ago, furthermore, city leaders, including Ms. Moore, have sought for accountability, as well as has asked of the mayor how a certain few received such benefit when some city workers have indicated such "hardship" program was unknown. Mayor Reed, Human Resources Director Yvonne Yancey and Jim Beard, Atlanta's chief financial officer, have stated their desire to assist those experiencing "financial hardship". However, new questions of the mayor's direct involvement towards Turner's receipt of $80,000 for unused vacation, as well as whether he knew and approved the request, initially, has become the proverbial question for Ms. Moore, in particular. "The hardship requests did not come to me," Mayor Reed said during a committee hearing meeting in August. "The decisions to oblige were made by (Human Resources' Yancey and CFO Beard)." However, with the revelation of the tape recording revealed last week by a local television news station, Ms. Moore and others are questioning just when, and what exactly, did the mayor know of the alleged request. Also last week, Chief Turner indicated during a broadcast news report week before last that while he, individually, did not face any financial hardship, he accepted the cash payout for unused vacation to assist relatives with "private medical matters." (By presstime, Atlanta Police Department spokesman Carlos Campos did not e-mail a statement from Chief Turner to The Inquirer pertaining to the cash payout controversy as indicated he would do.)
Additionally, during a press conference at City Hall, last week on Oct. 22, Ms. Moore commented on a letter rendered by Mayor Reed in reference to her requesting city's accounts payable records to show outgoing funds to individuals. Along with the mayor unequivocally answering "no" to her request for such records for her perusal, Ms. Moore commented on her ongoing desire to receive information from the Reed administration. "It's become more and more difficult to get information requested from this Administration ...but I continue to seek accounting of the public's money," she said. "I only seek for the transparency in government, for an open and honest government. This is the public's money, and I seek to let the sun shine in." Ms. Moore also commented on political observers' response of her doggedness with the pay scandal due to her possible candidacy for city council president. "I'm not seeking this information for any other campaign at this point," noting her re-election to the council seat last year. However, Mayor Reed, in his letter to Moore dated Oct. 15, hinted that the reason she sought to view accounts payable records was due to being "nothing more than a naked power-grab designed solely to advance your personal political purposes." Reed also wrote, "I refuse to allow you to drag us down the road of divisive Washington-style politics when this Administration has gone out of its way to work cooperatively with the city council. This Administration's commitment to data access and transparency is clear. Open meetings, open records and open conversation among the Administration, the city council and the public are essential to effective and fair government. This Administration governs itself in accordance with the Georgia Open Records Act and honors every request based on data availability, regardless of the requesting party. Direct councilmember access to financial data through Oracle, however, represents a breach of the separation of governmental powers. Accordingly, the answer to your request is no," the mayor replied. Reed also suggested that should "any further discussion" be needed, Ms. Moore should seek it from Chief Operating Officer Michael Geisler. Copies of the letter were also given to Moore's colleagues on the council, as all well as to council President Ceasar Mitchell.
While Ms. Moore seeks information on select employee payouts and cash advances, the issue is exacerbated due to public safety personnel awaiting word on possible pay raises brought forth in a nearly $50 million lawsuit against the city aligned with pension reform the mayor campaigned on for his first office term. Thusfar, the mayor has not permitted pay raises until the legal challenge is resolved. Furthermore, at the general council meeting on Oct. 20, APD detective David Cannup indicated during his public comments that police morale "has never been lower on the force," which has led to fellow cops looking elsewhere for employment with higher pay and benefits. "We have people throughout the city that are treated differently because of who they are friends with and who they know, or what position they hold." He continued, "I think we all deserve the truth about who was given advances and why they got them. The city deserves the truth, but it's not what we're getting right now." Nevertheless, as Ms. Moore expects to receive desired information by council's next Finance committee meeting, scheduled for Oct. 29 in City Hall's Committee Room 2, Ms. Moore said she will move toward "new options of strategy," if necessary, "to receive and learn of (accountability) of the public's money. This is all for an open and honest government." Ms. Moore also stated that if it becomes necessary, she will seek receiving desired information of money disbursements from the city through the courts.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Clergy, Congressman Encourage Early Voting
The first day of weekend voting in Georgia, which began on Sunday, October 19, yielded massive numbers with a huge turnout at several Atlanta-Fulton County voting sites. The Adamsville Recreation Center, for example, was one such site as carloads arrived, along with nearby residents and buses filled with citizens that crowded the front of the center on M.L. King, Jr. Drive at Interstate 285. Additionally, voter turnout from the church community proved to be just as large as pastors from Ebenezer Baptist, Wheat Street Baptist, First Iconium Baptist, Ben Hill United Methodist and other churches indicated that the turnout, thusfar, was pleasingly large, stated Ben Hill UMC's Gay-Linn Jasho. Much action took place outside of various voting centers citywide, as at Adamsville's recreational site. Comments were rendered on the importance of voting, in general, on Oct. 19, by (from left to right) former Ga. state Sen. Leroy Johnson, Ms. Jasho, U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta's Fifth District, Mrs. Christine King Farris and the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church on northeast Atlanta's Auburn Avenue, respectively. On Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 4, polls will open at 7am. statewide, and will close at 7pm. Should any voters have questions or concerns of the location of polling precincts on Election Day, call (404) 656-2871 or (404) 612-7020, in Fulton County, or in DeKalb Co., (404) 298-4020.