- By Stephen Deere The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told all of her Cabinet members on Monday to hand in their resignations by the end of the day.
The group includes about 35 top city officials. Once she’s made further assessments, Bottoms said in a statement, she’ll determine which resignations to accept. The statement did not provide a time-frame for the assessment.
Bottoms kept many of the same officials who served under former Mayor Kasim Reed after she was sworn in, telling them they could hold on to their jobs for at least three months while she got to know them.
The resignation demands come after a tumultuous three months in office and could suggest a split between Bottoms and Reed — who was perhaps her most important political ally during last year’s mayoral race.
Since Bottoms took office there have been revelations about possible violations of the Georgia Open Records Act by her former press secretary; a ransomware cyber attack that crippled City Hall; and last week an indictment of a former city official on charges related to bribery.
Bottoms marks 100 days in office Thursday. She’s spent much of that time working to reform the criminal justice system that she says jails too many poor people for minor offenses. She successfully advocated for legislation that eliminated cash bond at the city’s municipal court for some low-level offenders who sometimes remain behind bars because they don’t have resources to pay.
Earlier Monday, Bottoms unveiled a city program that will provide jobs in the Department of Watershed Management to currently incarcerated men with children to support. To qualify, the men must be in prison for non-violent offenses and scheduled to be released within the next 12 to 18 months. Bottoms said the program has a “deep personal meaning.”
In 1978, Bottoms’ father, soul singer Major Lance, was charged with selling cocaine. Bottoms spent three years visiting her father at prisons across Georgia.
“What I realize now, as an adult, is the other part of that story is really the lack of options that my father had coming out of prison,” Bottoms said.
As she championed reform, Bottoms also had to confront crisis that originated in Reed’s administration.
Last Month, state Attorney General Chris Carr asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into text messages from Reed’s former press secretary, Jenna Garland, that show Garland trying to block access to public records. In the texts, Garland told another city employee to delay producing records for Channel 2 Action News “as long as possible” and to “provide information in the most confusing format available.”
On March 22, the city suffered a ransomware cyber attack that forced most employees to shut down their computers for several days.
As of Monday, the city’s Watershed Department could accept payments only in person at City Hall; the city’s municipal court could not accept ticket payments; and judges were conducting hearings for only people being held in the jail.
Last week, U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak revealed an 11-count indictment against Mitzi Bickers — a former city official and once one of the most powerful local political operatives. The indictment described how mid-level city manager with no official role in procurement allegedly steered $17 million in city contracts to two city contractors in exchange for a staggering $2 million in bribes.
“The ethics and culture of an organization start from the top,” Pak said Thursday at a press conference. “You set the right tone. So when you have repeated instances of corruption, it’s time to look at that culture.”
The Justice Department investigation, which began under Reed, is ongoing. Reed has said that he is fully cooperating with the probe. He has not been identified as a suspect.
During the mayoral campaign last year, Bottoms promised that a victory for her did not mean Reed would win a third term. Bottoms narrowly defeated Mary Norwood in a Dec. 5 runoff, partly because of Reed’s endorsement and the campaign donations that followed.
At least one city official who served under Reed and initially transitioned onto Bottoms’ team has parted ways with the current administration.
After The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Monday that the city-issued cell phone of Communications Director Anne Torres appeared to be no longer in service, Torres issued a statement from a private email address.
“Upon Mayor Bottoms entering office, I committed to assisting with the transition for the Administration’s first 100 days,” the statement said. “I have fulfilled that commitment and I am proud to have served the City of Atlanta for the last five and a half years. I look forward to rejoining the private sector as previously planned.”