The city of Atlanta is moving forward on Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ plan to establish the office of inspector general as a way to restore residents’ trust, which has eroded amid a federal corruption scandal tied to previous Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration.
“I think it’s the most important thing we’re going to do all year. It was really important because we need to restore the trust of Atlanta,” said District 8 Atlanta City Councilman J.P. Matzigkeit, who represents part of Buckhead.
Matzigkeit spoke in an interview a day after the council voted 15-0 at its Jan. 21 meeting at City Hall downtown to create the office of inspector general (Legislative Reference No. 19-O-1729), following the final official recommendation made by her task force for the promotion of public trust. The decision came a week after Bottoms issued an executive order to amend the city’s charter to create the office. The council’s finance/executive committee approved the plan at its meeting Jan. 17.
“This legislation is a monumental step for the city of Atlanta,” District 6 Councilwoman Jennifer Ide, who introduced the legislation and represents part of Buckhead, said in a news release. “As a charter amendment, there will be additional consideration before it crosses the finish line, but today’s vote moved us closer to creating an inspector general’s office to root out waste, fraud and corruption. We want to make sure we finalize this legislation in a timely fashion so we can ensure we’re instituting greater transparency and accountability.”
Because it’s a charter amendment, the plan will require three reads and two adoptions by the council. The Jan. 21 vote was considered the second read and first adoption, and the third read and final adoption is expected to take place at the council’s Feb. 3 meeting.
In October, the task force, led by retired Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, gave its final recommendations, focusing on the fact the office of inspector general must have: broad jurisdiction to seek out fraud, waste, abuse, corruption and misconduct and have the authority to initiate its own investigations; a fixed term of appointment and removal only for cause; budgetary protection; direct subpoena power and the ability to keep investigations confidential and to protect whistleblowers from retaliation.
When asked how much establishing the office of inspector general would cost, Matzigkeit said he didn’t know, but added $800,000 has been authorized in the budget for the independent compliance office.
“A lot of what the inspector general will be will be included in that compliance piece,” he said. “There will just be a smaller incremental amount to create the inspector general. The inspector general is also the chief compliance officer.”
Matzigkeit said the legislation approved by the finance/executive committee was amended before being passed by the council, following concerns raised by residents.
“I think it was a good process,” he said.
“It was a process that included the city council and the administration working together. It included public input and feedback from various people in the city and it was a compromise based on all those different perspectives. I really feel we ended in a good place.”