Ethics complaint filed against Mayor Kasim Reed's top communications staff

- A political fight between Mayor Kasim Reed and mayoral candidate Ceasar Mitchell has led to a city ethics complaint.

Reed and Mitchell verbally duked it out in dueling news conferences in late August.

Now, an anonymous ethics complaint has been filed against Mayor Reed's staff claiming they used city resources to prepare the Mayor's news conference.

August 31, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed went toe to toe with Atlanta Mayoral hopeful Caesar Mitchell.  Mayor Reed didn't like comments Mitchell made about the Mayor's decision to rebid airport food and beverage contracts now, even though those contracts don't end until late next summer.

During a portion of Mayor Reed’s news conference he presented poster boards detailing civil penalties Ceasar Mitchell paid following an Ethics Commission investigation.

Now, someone has filed an anonymous ethics complaint with the city Board of Ethics accusing Mayor Reed's communication supervisors of using city time and equipment to plan the press conference to denounce Mitchell and promote two of his mayoral opponents: Keisha Lance Bottoms and Kwanza Hall.

“I was quite surprised a foam board presentation was prepared and presented in city hall attacking me personally, says Mitchell.

The unsigned complaint is filed against Mayor Reed's Director of Communications, Anne Torres and press secretary, Jenna Garland.  The complaint alleges that the two organized the use of "city computers, city printers, paper and mounting material from the Department of Public Works" during the news conference.

Included in the complaint was an email from Public Works Communications director telling Mayor's Office of communications that they couldn't print "foam boards for the Mayor's press conference" because they weren't "aware of the content." 

Public Works Communication Director Kim Rankins wrote that she must "remain consistent" with the city's Ethics guidelines, implying Public Works refused to create the foam boards.

“I didn't know that. I'm shocked and disappointed,” says Mitchell.

Late Wednesday an answer to the complaint. The four foam boards attacking Caesar Mitchell were put on display at city hall right in front of the Mayor's office.

  Then right after the boards went up, we got an email from the city attorney saying the posters used in the news conference only addressed the merits of Ceasar Mitchell's comments and legislative proposals and "is not supporting or denouncing any candidate for office or related in any way to campaign issues"

The city attorney, Jeremy Berry, went on to say "the ethics complaint is completely without merit" and he expects once the Ethics board hears from Ms. Torres and Ms. Garland he expects the complaint to be dismissed.

Here is Mr. Berry’s full statement:

“The allegations put forth in the ethics complaint filed against Ms. Torres and Ms. Garland are completely without merit. 

The press conference held on August 31, 2017 was for Mayor Reed both to share an update about an affordable housing development and to respond to a policy proposal put forth by the City Council President – a discussion between the Executive and Legislative branches of government.  During the press conference, the Mayor responded to comments and legislative proposals (regarding pending procurements and pending ethics legislation) that the Council President made during a press conference in his City Council Office earlier that day.

Requesting a city employee to print demonstrative posters to address the merits of the Council President’s comments and legislative proposals is not supporting or denouncing any candidate for office or related in any way to campaign issues.  In fact, while the complaint alleges that the press conference was used to promote the Mayoral campaigns of Keisha Lance Bottoms and Kwanza Hall, it conveniently omits the fact that two other council members (who are not running for Mayor) were also present at the press conference.

I have seen many things during an election season, but never before have I witnessed someone filing an ethics complaint against two City employees who were lawfully performing their City duties. It is disturbing to see the City’s ethics office used as a weapon against city employees who do not hold elected office. It is even more disturbing to see the City’s Ethics Officer make potentially defamatory statements in official communications.

As the City Attorney and as counsel to both the Administrative and Legislative branches, I believe it is essential for the City of Atlanta to have a strong ethics code and an ethics office that exercises its power with thoughtful deliberation and great caution. With this complaint and letters, I fear this is not the case.

As I am sure the employees of the Office of Communications will explain in more detail when they respond to the complaint (rather than trying to litigate this ploy through the media), the conduct at issue did not violate the City Ethics Code.

The Mayor is not a candidate for any political office. The Mayor is the Chief Executive of the City of Atlanta. The Mayor’s policies and legislative agenda are not political or campaign matters, and to suggest otherwise is simply false and demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the three branches of government.

I am confident that once the Ethics Board receives responses from Ms. Torres and Ms. Garland they will take the appropriate action and dismiss the complaint.”

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