ATLANTA - One branch of Atlanta city government is requesting that employees be allowed to attend Atlanta Falcons games in free premium seats or suites for the use of business purposes.
The move brought criticism from ethics advocate Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, describing the move as a way for city officials to personally benefit by attending home games.
Invest Atlanta, the city's economic development arm, provided a formal request to the Board of Ethics to reverse a 2013 decision that ruled that Invest Atlanta employees are prohibited from using Falcons stadium seats for business purposes, in accordance with Atlanta City Code.
Mayor Kasim Reed is also the Board Chairman of the organization; his office deferred comment on the matter and criticism to Invest Atlanta.
The attorney for Invest Atlanta, Rosalind Rubens Newell, argued the organization had new evidence that would encourage the Board of Ethics to reverse its decision; Newell said the designated seats and suites had been arranged through an agreement with the Falcons, and "paid" for through the work of employees to gain millions of dollars in business and investments for the city.
"We compete, not just on the national level, but internationally for business," Newell said, and told the board the seats would only be used by designated employees for the sole purpose of attracting business leaders and investors to the city.
Any employees using the tickets and seats inappropriately would be forced to pay the value of the seats, or would be reprimanded or fired, Newell said to the board.
A letter presented by Invest Atlanta to the Board of Ethics outlined their request for a reversal of the 2013 decision, arguing the decision was "wrong as a matter of fact and law... the contract provision governing the use of premium seating at the new Mercedes-Benz stadium is permitted by the City of Atlanta Ethics Code."
"Invest Atlanta has a valid purpose and interest in showcasing one of the city's finest amenities-- the new Mercedes Benz Stadium," the letter said, written by Dr. Eloisa Klementich, the CEO and president of the organization.
The board provided a copy of the 2013 Opinion to the public, outlining reasons why Invest Atlanta employees would be barred from attending sporting events, despite the Tri-Party Memorandum granting Invest Atlanta employees "premium seating and rights to certain events.... for use by Invest Atlanta consistent with its statutory economic development mission."
A copy of the letter can be viewed in the image gallery.
The 2013 Opinion by the Board of Ethics states, city code "prohibits the city or an entity acting as its agent from requiring that passes, tickets or gratuities be paid to officials or employees in connection with the execution of or performance under a contract or lease. Section 2-816 (a). Therefore, the subject contract language violates the Atlanta Code of Ethics."
The link to the full Opinion can be viewed here: http://www.atlantaethics.org/docindexer/fao_2013-1_ticket%20provision_new%20stadium%20project_mou_110113.pdf
William Perry of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs spoke publicly at the meeting against the request, stating the 2013 ruling by the Board of Ethics thoroughly vetted Invest Atlanta's previous request.
"I think our city should stand on merit in consideration of new business projects... merits, don't necessarily, nor ethics, include free football tickets," Perry said to the board.
"It's the opportunity for public officials to seek benefits, free, which the city of Atlanta ethics ordinance outlawed," Perry said to FOX 5; he also called the move a "hail Mary" by city officials and the Mayor, to attempt a last-minute request of the Board before the start of football season.
Board members tabled any decision on the matter, requesting more documents from Invest Atlanta. The next meeting is scheduled for September 21. There is no word whether the board could schedule a meeting for a quicker decision, as requested by Invest Atlanta, prior to the start of football season.