ATLANTA - Channel 2 Action News has learned more than 100 bonuses handed out by Atlanta’s former mayor at the end of his term were ruled illegal.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant broke the news Wednesday after obtaining a copy of a new City of Atlanta report that came down hard on former Mayor Kasim Reed and other members of his administration.
BREAKING: Atlanta City Auditor’s and Ethics Offices finds nearly $900k in bonuses doled out by former Mayor Reed/HR Director/City Council last December broke city/state law. Also found former CFO Jim Beard “abused his position” to give himself a bonus. @wsbtv pic.twitter.com/9FApf2r5ly— Aaron Diamant (@AaronDiamantWSB) August 29, 2018
“They pushed through payments that shouldn’t have been pushed through,” Atlanta City Auditor Amanda Noble told Diamant.
The report found nearly $900,000 in taxpayer-funded bonuses approved by Reed, his human resources commissioner and several members of City Council from December to February broke city and state law.
“Every one of them was improper,” Noble said.
Noble and City Ethics Officer Jabu Sengova presented their findings to a City Council committee Wednesday afternoon.
“Have you ever seen anything like this?” Diamant asked Sengova.
“Not in the almost 10 years since I’ve been here,” Sengova said.
Starting in April, Channel 2 Action News produced a series of reports on the controversial bonuses and party prizes Reed doled out to members of his cabinet and select city employees during his final days in office.
Earlier this month, we obtained a confidential report, in which lawyers hired by the current Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms' administration also concluded awarding all those bonuses broke state law but found no evidence of bad faith.
“We would like to see some more tighter controls, definitely with the department of finance with policies and procedures as well as some consistent city laws,” Sengova said.
In another troubling finding, the report concluded that former City Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard “abused his position to authorize a bonus payment for himself.”
“Management override of existing controls is a serious a red flag, so it’s definitely a reason for concern,” Noble said.
So far, Reed has not responded to our requests for a comment on this story. Beard sent Diamant a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying:
“I respectfully disagree with the findings of today’s report released by the City’s Auditor’s Office and Ethics Officer. As Chief Financial Officer, I followed a directive from former Mayor Kasim Reed to process performance bonus payments for members of the Administration’s executive leadership and key staff members. I did not authorize my own bonus payment. Additionally, a previously commissioned report showed that no provisions of City Code nor any laws of the State of Georgia were intentionally violated.”
We also asked Bottoms for a comment on this story. She has not responded so far.
Uncovering the Story
In April, Channel 2 Action News and our investigative partners at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and AJC.com first reported on the 140 or so bonuses Reed gave out and the firestorm of controversy that followed.
Several days later, we sat down with Atlanta’s police chief who said she returned her $10,000 bonus, along with other city officials.
In May, Channel 2 Action News obtained a new spreadsheet detailing the bonuses and learned they totaled more than $800,000.
Earlier this month, Channel 2 Action News and the AJC obtained a confidential report that says attorneys hired by the current mayor found the bonuses violated state law.
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