AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

New questions raised about cost of Atlanta's response to winter storm

There are new questions today about the city of Atlanta's explanation for why city taxpayers paid soaring prices for machinery and materials in the city's response to the February 2014 ice storm.

Channel 2 Action News reported Thursday that Atlanta paid 135 percent more for salt and 525 percent more for stone than Cobb County paid in advance of that storm. Investigative reporter Richard Belcher also found that Atlanta paid 70 percent more for salt than what DeKalb County paid in advance.

Most of the work performed during that storm was by Atlanta contractor Elvin "E.R." Mitchell, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and launder money in a federal investigation sweeping through Atlanta City Hall.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 has identified more than $5 million paid to Mitchell in emergency contracts during that February storm. The work was awarded without going through the normal competitive bidding process.

The AJC and Channel 2 investigation also found that Mitchell made $188,000 in bribe payments during the month of February, according to information presented by federal prosecutors during Mitchell's guilty plea.

Jenna Garland, a spokeswoman for Mayor Kasim Reed, told Belcher last month that the high prices paid by the city were a result of supply and demand.

"Supplies were going down and demand was going up," Garland said. "That means prices go up as well."

But Belcher's report found that other counties paid far less for the same materials and equipment.

The AJC and Channel 2 found that the city’s overall cost in responding to the February storm was $8.1 million, compared to $9.6 million spent by the state Department of Transportation in responding to storms throughout all of North Georgia in 2014, according to documents reviewed by the media companies.

"Seeing that what the city paid was exponentially higher than what G-DOT paid for the same commodity during the same time period obviously prompts a lot of questions," councilman Howard Shook told Belcher.


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About the Author

Dan Klepal is a reporter on the AJC’s investigative team, focusing mainly on local and state governments. Klepal previously covered Atlanta City Hall and Cobb County, where he wrote extensively about the public investment in SunTrust Park. Prior to coming to Atlanta, Klepal covered city governments in Cincinnati and Louisville, Kentucky.