A threatening letter from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to the employer of embattled Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter sparked a heated war of words Friday — and ultimately revealed that the company “disciplined” the commissioner after his now infamous social media activity came to light.
Reed sent a letter this week to United Consulting, the Norcross-based engineering firm where Hunter — who has faced ongoing backlash after calling civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig” on Facebook — works as a vice president of business development. The firm also does a significant amount of business with the city of Atlanta.
“As Mayor, I am writing personally to let you know that the City of Atlanta finds Mr. Hunter’s toxic remark to be insulting, reprehensible and unacceptable to this administration,” Reed wrote in his letter, addressed to United Consulting CEO Reza Abree. “Please let me know by close of business Monday, February 27 how you plan to resolve this matter.”
Abree did the mayor one better, releasing a letter Friday afternoon saying Hunter had been “disciplined as any other employee with the company would be disciplined for such a transgression.” What that discipline entailed was unclear.
Reed also found himself engaged in a pointed back-and-forth with Seth Weathers, a consultant who has acted as a spokesman for Hunter in the aftermath of his Jan. 14 Facebook post.
“I know Kasim Reed would love to divert attention away from himself and his corruption scandal in the city of Atlanta,” Weathers wrote in a text message to The AJC. “Unfortunately, this will probably be added to the growing stack of files the FBI is reviewing in their investigation against his corrupt administration. I’m curious if this threatening letter is a blueprint for the shakedown tactics he used as Mayor to get his friends lucrative city contracts?”
In a subsequent message, Weathers wrote this: “I just read the letter again — holy [expletive]. I had heard about Reed’s mob style politics but never witnessed it until now.”
Weathers statements referred to the federal bribery investigation currently rocking Atlanta City Hall. Two contractors have pleaded guilty to paying bribes to get city contracts, and Atlanta’s chief procurement officer was fired Tuesday as federal agents seized items from his office.
Reed has not been implicated in the ongoing investigation.
Friday afternoon, a spokesperson for the mayor released a response to Weathers’ comments. The lengthy statement said Reed stood by his letter to United Consulting and the city was “entirely within our rights to communicate our dissatisfaction.”
“Only a person who lacks a moral compass would describe a letter condemning racist comments as a ‘mob style tactic,’ which suggests that the spokesperson holds the same views as Hunter,” the statement continued, in part.
“Finally, you should not throw stones when you live in a glass house. Hunter is familiar with allegations of corruption in his home county’s government, and should know all too well how it feels to be linked with a matter that you were not aware of nor involved in.”
The ethics complaint filed against Hunter earlier this month claims he violated tenets of Gwinnett’s ethics ordinance, which was adopted in 2011 amid a corruption scandal involving shady land deals and multiple county commissioners. Hunter was first elected to the Board of Commissioners in 2012.
Hunter has apologized for his “choice of words” in his post about Lewis, which came in the middle of a well-publicized feud between the congressman and then-president-elect Donald Trump. But Hunter has repeatedly said he won’t resign in the face of organized protests insisting he step down.
According to United Consulting’s website, its work for the city of Atlanta has included nearly a decade of consulting with the Department of Watershed Management and investigating contamination at the Chattahoochee Water Treatment Plant, among other projects.
The company released a statement condemning Hunter’s Facebook comments on Jan. 17, the day after they were brought to light. It also sent a letter directly to Lewis.
The letter United Consulting’s CEO sent to Reed on Friday didn’t make clear how Hunter was disciplined. But it again called the commissioner’s words “abhorrent,” and it defended the company’s “strong and diverse workforce.”
“Our company is proud of our relationship with the City of Atlanta and the work we perform based upon our capabilities and past performance,” Abree wrote. “Please advise me if you would like to discuss this issue further.”
Asked late Friday afternoon about the letter from United Consulting, a spokesperson for Reed said the city appreciated "their timely response to our concerns."