Mitchell expands call to clean up Atlanta contracting amid bribe probe

Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell said Monday he wants to install an independent compliance officer to root out fraud and review purchasing at City Hall.

Mitchell, who is running to succeed Mayor Kasim Reed, said he wants someone of the pedigree of former acting-U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates or former U.S. Attorney Richard Deane in the role.

The bribery scandal has shaken up the final weeks of the mayoral race. On Tuesday, two contractors who have pleaded guilty to paying bribes to win city work — Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. and Charles P. Richards Jr. — are expected to be sentenced.

The two men face up to five years in prison, though both could get lighter sentences for cooperating with federal prosecutors.

City Council President Mitchell, who is no relation to the convicted contractor, said creating a position independent from the mayor’s office and council is key to restoring public trust.

“This is in the best interest of the city and it’s in the best interest of the taxpayers,” he said.

The looming bribery investigation also has become a political weapon on the campaign trail.

On Sept. 26, Adam Smith, who for 14 years served as the city’s top purchasing officer, pleaded guilty to taking more than $30,000 in bribes from an unnamed vendor.

The offices of a longtime city vendor, the PRAD Group, were raided last month by the FBI, with boxes of materials removed from PRAD’s Sandy Springs offices. Federal officials have not confirmed if the raid is tied to the bribery case.

That raid prompted City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms to return more than $25,000 in campaign contributions from people tied to PRAD.

Mitchell said he wants to see receipts that those funds have indeed been returned.

The Bottoms campaign did not return a message seeking comment.

Mitchell’s call for an independent compliance officer echoes one made previously by former state Sen. Vincent Fort, who has said he will push for an inspector general at City Hall.

All the major candidates in the race have offered plans to reform city purchasing and restore trust in government. Mitchell and Bottoms have each called for all information about city bids and contracts to be posted online.

Mitchell on Monday also expanded his prior call for a moratorium on approving new city contracts for services that don’t expire until next year.

He also said there should be a pause on all contracts that are revenue-producing, including those at the airport.

Reed’s office has railed against a moratorium, stating the city’s business shouldn’t be “ground to a halt,” and that City Hall is cooperating fully with federal investigators.

In a statement, Reed’s office again accused Mitchell of playing politics with the issue to generate media attention and calling Mitchell’s proposal a “donor protection bill.”

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