Earlier this year, the City of Atlanta became embroiled in one of the largest corruption scandals in recent memory. The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that Elvin R. Mitchell, Jr., a local Atlanta construction company owner, was “arraigned on conspiratorial bribery and money laundering charges” for bribing City of Atlanta officials with over $1 million to obtain contracts from the city. The investigation is still ongoing, but we know that bribery and other misconduct resulted in the acquisition of city contracts valued more than $10 million from the City of Atlanta over five years. This recent controversy has drawn renewed attention towards ensuring that our elected representatives consistently act in the best interest of our city.
Government transparency has been a major cornerstone of my campaign, and I believe it is a necessary component of an equitable and just society. For too long, Atlanta has been influenced by backroom deals where those with the right access are prioritized over the people that our officials have sworn to serve. I served as an Army officer across two overseas tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, so I have seen firsthand how money can corrupt local governments, and when left unchecked, how that corruption can bring undue suffering to the people that need help the most.
Atlanta faces many challenges in its quest to secure an open, honest, and transparent government, and I recognize that no individual policy will completely solve these problems. First and foremost, especially in light of the most recent bribery scandal, the city should seek to audit procurement procedures through an independent and external body, which would be a critical first step in preventing future abuses.
However, developing robust and open data portals would aid in transparency as well. Many city departments lack the resources and staff to address myriad open records requests, or even routine information requests, from the general public. But by committing to open data, citizens, nonprofit organizations, and private companies can help the city streamline its processes and potentially identify problems before they arise.
One example of this would be for the City of Atlanta to post checkbook-level spending online, accessible through an easily searchable portal. Atlanta has long-needed an easy-to-use online database of public information. Many American cities do this already–according to the Public Interest Research Group, 17 of America’s 30 most populous cities provide these kinds of online databases. Of these 30 cities, Atlanta ranks near the bottom with an ‘F’ rating and a score of 46 out of 100. Transparency is vital to ensuring accountability, and sustaining ethical spending practices are typically where our elected leaders fall the shortest.
Beyond checkbook-level spending, open data could allow for better monitoring of campaign contributions at the local level. Currently, city uploads disclosure reports through a confusing website which compiles difficult-to-search .pdf documents which are only accessible through a cumbersome user interface. Comparatively, state contributions are scannable and reportable through simple keyword searches, and I believe Atlanta should implement a similar searchable database.
Because of the bribery scandal, existing best practices, and my own experiences fighting corruption and misfeasance at the local level, I emphatically support implementing new regulations, policies, and procedures aimed at stopping ethics abuses at Atlanta City Hall. The Army taught me to defend the values of selfless service, integrity, and honor, and today I carry those principles forward with me in my campaign for Atlanta City Council.
To ensure that our city’s government remains transparent and accountable, I will:
- Champion an open, honest, and responsive government that values citizen input and community engagement.
- Fight to maintain an independent ethics board which defends values like integrity and accountability through an active and robust oversight process.
- Post checkbook-level spending for my District office online so that constituents can see how their needs have been prioritized, and fight to ensure that Atlanta adopts these same transparent practices citywide.
- Commit to routine, predictable, and well-advertised town hall meetings with neighborhoods across District 4.
- Support implementing new regulations to stop ethics abuses by commissioning an independent, external body to audit procurement procedures.
- Update public comment rules and build a framework which allows for the submission of questions and remarks outside of the public commentary period.
- Continue to invest in our city employees by working to provide additional training, resources, and professional development opportunities tied to a uniform code of ethics which would make it less likely that city workers would break the public trust in the first place.
If elected to represent District 4 as our next City Councilmember, I will continue to fight for justice, equity, and transparency standards in our government. I will work every day while I am in office to bring greater transparency to the City of Atlanta. I believe that no issue is too large or too small for public scrutiny. Whether it’s sanctioning a street closing for a film shoot or voting to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to build a sports arena, the public has a right to know how our elected officials are conducting themselves at City Hall.