ATLANTA - Our FOX 5 I-Team broke the story of Mayor Kasim Reed's more than $800,000 dollars in employee bonuses and contest winnings he handed out at the end of his term.
Now, a city investigation has found those bonuses violated an article of the state constitution that prohibits gifts to city employees.
Senior I-Team reporter Dale Russell has the report and the findings.
In the quiet drum beat of day to day city hall business, council members slowly headed into executive session Monday to discuss a number of items including last year’s Mayoral Christmas party.
FOX 5 uncovered an Instagram page, posted by a city employee, capturing a Christmas luncheon last December, where bonus money and prize winnings were handed out.
It was late December, and city workers were celebrating with their boss, Mayor Kasim Reed.
City records show 63 employees at the party won money in contests and raffles ranging from $500 to $3000.
Mayor Reed also gave another $740,813 in bonus checks - from $5,000 to $15,000 each - to his cabinet members, department heads, and office assistants.
Council members were given a46-page report along with exhibits that found that the holiday contest award from the party "likely violated the Gratuities Clause" of the Georgia Constitution.
That article of the Constitution prohibits gifts or extra compensation for work already done to government employees.
“We have found some things that happened that were in violation of the law,” said council president Felicia Moore
The report also found that the over $700,000 bonuses we uncovered that were paid to Mayor Kasim Reed's team also were "in violation of the Gratuities clause."
“That's the worst part of this is our other employees need to know we care about them too,” said Moore.
Mayor Reed took full responsibility for the Holiday party and prizes. The Mayor felt his legal team told him he could issue bonuses but the report found those bonuses "likely violated the Charter." Still, investigators found "no evidence" that the bonuses and contests "were done in bad faith, with improper motives"
“If nothing else, it doesn't look good. And, the amount of prizes for the ugly sweater contest is out of line,” said Moore.
Mayor Kasim Reed issued a statement saying he gave bonuses for exceptional work by his staff and the report found no Georgia laws or city codes were intentionally violated.
He calls the report's legal findings debatable and a matter of opinion.
And, he points out the report found City Council bonuses also violated the State's Gratuities clause.
Mayor Reed's Full Statement:
"Awards to employees for exceptional service, to retain organizational talent, and reward achievement of success are longstanding practices in the City of Atlanta, both in the private sector and public governance as it competes for the same, top-tier talent. The compensation that I awarded to deserving members of executive leadership during my Administration were entirely consistent with historical practices at the City of Atlanta. In fact, the Report acknowledges that since 2008 more than 500 bonuses of this kind have been distributed. Therefore, I understood these bonuses were allowable under City Code and Georgia law by the executive branch prior to and throughout my Administration.
"The Report establishes that no provisions of City Code nor any laws of the State of Georgia were intentionally violated, nor were any of these awards made in bad faith. Quite the contrary, the Report makes it clear that I consulted with and relied upon the advice of various City personnel who universally understood the awards I was then considering to be: i) a long-established custom at the City of Atlanta; ii) allowed and authorized by law, a conclusion that is all the more reasonable with an informed appreciation of the City’s historical practices; and iii) importantly, falling within the authority vested in the discretion of the Office of the Mayor. The sincerity and legitimacy of my understanding that the awards were proper is only underscored by the Report, which does not undermine my belief that, at the time that I authorized the awards and continuing to this day, my actions were correct and appropriate.
"Although the Report made findings about whether the amounts awarded comported with City Code, the City’s Charter, and other Georgia law, those conclusions are debatable, a matter of opinion, and represent but a singular viewpoint. Even then, the Report’s determinations are not definitive or conclusive, which is clear from its continuous use of probabilities, likelihoods, and other non-committal phrasing to characterize its conclusions. It is critical to note that, under the Report’s reasoning and within its explicit findings, similar awards made by members of the Atlanta City Council are also viewed as violating the State’s Gratuities Clause. Although I cannot agree with the Report in its entirety, I do support revisions to the City Code to resolve the “ambiguities” and “vague…language” that led to the reasonable differences in opinion on which I relied.
"At the end of my term, the City of Atlanta was on its best financial footing in 40 years. Atlantans benefited from eight consecutive balanced budgets, zero property tax increases, zero water rate increases, nine consecutive credit-rating increases, more than $200 million in cash reserves and a 37 percent reduction in crime. As a result, I awarded performance bonuses to members of my executive team - who all played a significant role in contributing to this record of achievement."