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Ethics complaint targets Reed's attack of a mayoral candidate at press conference

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s office faces an ethics complaint alleging his administration misused city resources when he attacked a candidate for mayor during a press conference at City Hall.

The complaint, filed anonymously last week, said the press conference arranged by two city staffers aimed to “denounce” Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell and said a placard and other materials he used were "political and related to campaign issues, not city business."

City Attorney Jeremy Berry said in a statement that the ethics complaint was “completely without merit” and that the press conference was aimed at sharing an update about an affordable housing development and respond to a proposal by Mitchell.

“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,” Berry wrote.

At issue was a memorable Aug. 31 press conference held by Reed after Mitchell called for a moratorium on the approval of city contracts because he said he was worried that contracts are being “pushed through” by Reed’s team in his final days in City Hall.

At Reed’s event, he rolled out a placard proclaiming that Mitchell “has paid the second-highest ethics fines of any sitting elected official in Atlanta municipal government.” Speaking to a bank of TV cameras, he called Mitchell a “disaster in terms of his integrity” and berated his proposal.

“He’s not man enough to respond to another man,” the mayor said.

Reed, who cannot run for a third term, is no idle bystander in the crowded race to succeed him. And Mitchell is among a half-dozen or so candidates that he’s criticized in remarks to reporters or through press releases from his office.

Reed said Wednesday he won’t apologize for his sharp words for mayoral candidates, and that he’s only defending his administration from their attacks.

“Show me any instance where I initiated the conversation with anyone,” he said. “You can’t, because that’s not who I am. But what I will do is defend the record of my administration, which I think is as strong as any other administration.”

He also had a not-so-subtle response of his own to the complaint. Shortly before his office sent The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a statement, his aides moved the placard criticizing Mitchell to a prominent spot in City Hall.

Here’s Berry’s full statement:

"The allegations put forth in the ethics complaint filed 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 they will take the appropriate action and dismiss the complaint."


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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.