ATLANTA - They are the credit card bills former Mayor Kasim Reed didn't want to release.
Our Open Records request for credit card spending by the Mayor's chief of staff was not fulfilled for more than six months.
The State Attorney General's office helped us get the records and said the city “violated the letter and spirit of the Open Records law.”
Once, we got the bills, we found more than $228,000 in charges on Candace Byrd's credit card in a little over two years.
Candace Byrd was Mayor Reed's law school friend and his chief of staff for two terms. He paid her $239,000 her final year, a salary she is keeping as executive counsel for three months during the transition period.
In April of 2017, we filed an Open Records request for Candace Byrd's city credit card. We wanted to know how much she traveled, where she went, and what it cost.
The city promised a response but never delivered. We had to get State Attorney General to mediate and they found the city "failed to comply with either the spirit or letter of the Open Records Act."
The city attorney promised the credit card records by September 5th. They weren't turned over. We didn't get the records until we told Mayor Reed's personal attorney we were prepared to sue.
Sara Henderson is director of the good government watchdog group, Common Cause. She says she'd never heard of a Mayor or his chief of staff taking so long to answer a legal Open Records request.
“It's horrible. Not only is it violating the law but it's hurting the citizens and that's what's so bad about this,” says Ms. Henderson.
“It absolutely matters because it sets precedents for the incoming mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and we certainly don't want to see her administration doing the same things.”
We finally got the records in the mail in November of 2017.
We found a wide assortment of credit card charges that looked more like an office manager's spending rather than a Chief of Staff. Dry Cleaning, flowers, restaurant, and catering expenses. The Mayor's staff had quick answers to all our questions and promised it was all for the running of the Mayor's office.
Except for $3950 to J Mack Robinson Business School. That baffled the Mayor's spokesperson, who wrote that Candace Byrd "does not remember off the top of her head what the expense was for."
We tracked it down. According to the college, Candace Byrd paid the college $3950 for then city councilman Kwanza Hall to attend a trip to Cuba.
Later, the Mayor’s spokesperson told us the trip was organized by the World Affairs Council of Atlanta and Mayor Reed invited Kwanza Hall to represent the legislative branch of government.
Ms. Byrd's credit card also covered 22 flights costing $4087 to Atlanta from Washington DC for the Howard University choir to sing at the Mayor's state of the city speech in 2017.
“That seems odd that it seems like a huge waste of taxpayer money we don't have a chorus here in town that could perhaps saying at the State of the city address,” said Ms. Henderson.
In all, we found Candace Byrd took 34 trips during the 27 months of records we were given. More than one a month. She flew both domestic, and international to destinations like Cuba, South Africa, Tokyo, Barcelona, London, Nassau, and 5 trips to New York City, 4 to Washington DC, and 2 to Los Angeles.
Those flights aren't cheap. Ms. Byrd often flies on expensive first class or business class tickets. Like a trip to South Africa. Or, an $8,452 business class flight for a trade mission to London. She even flew First Class, at $816, for another 2-hour flight to Havana, Cuba.
“That’s a lot of travel for a chief of staff. I think everybody would like to fly first class but not everybody has those needs and certainly not the taxpayers,” said Ms. Henderson.
Candace Byrd would not answer our questions about the trips. She is no longer chief of staff and is working as executive counsel during the transition period until March 31.
The Mayor's spokesperson stated every single trip was for the business of Atlanta. Ms. Byrd's responsibilities involve "advocating and promoting Atlanta's businesses" and has helped facilitate 18 projects with an economic output of 1.5 billion.
But, Sara Henderson sees it differently.
“It makes me angry and very frustrated that he's [Mayor Kasim Reed] leaving office with this kind of legacy.”