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Video: Mandi Albright/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta City Council members say crackdown on lobbyists needed

As part effort of an ongoing effort to reform how business is conducted at City Hall, four Atlanta City Council members announced legislation on Monday intended to force lobbyists to clearly identify themselves and the companies they represent.

The council members are concerned about people who appear before City Council to push for action on certain issues but fail to mention they are paid representatives of special interest groups.

“It needs to be clear when someone is actively representing a private interest,” said council member Amir Farokhi, who cosponsored the legislation. “This has been a particular point of frustration for me. I’ve watched lobbyists come before council on multiple occasions on behalf of various interests without properly identifying themselves.”

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Without lobbyists’ identification the council has no way of knowing what might be motivating their remarks.

The legislation was described as just one step in a comprehensive process of strengthening ethics and promoting transparency. Council members say the need for reform has been highlighted during an ongoing federal corruption probe at City Hall.

But that process also become part of a political a tug-of-war between Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who campaigned last year on reform, and a city council struggling to reclaim its role of the overseer.

01/02/2018 — Atlanta, GA, - Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms gives her acceptance speech during the 60th Atlanta mayoral inauguration at Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Tuesday, January 2, 2018. In addition to Keisha Lance-Bottoms being sworn into the city of Atlanta, Felecia Moore was sworn in as Atlanta city council president, the Atlanta municipal court judges took oath and so did the Atlanta city council. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“During the course of last year’s mayoral campaign, Mayor Bottoms publicly spoke of creating lobbyist registration and disclosure as a key plank of her ethics reform platform,” said a spokesperson for the administration. “Mayor Bottoms is thankful that the City Council is now joining in this effort as she remains committed to this pledge and looks forward to strengthening the city’s policy regarding ethics and transparency.”

The city council has passed legislation establishing independent procurement officers to spot potential problems in large contracts and proposed an ordinance that gave the council more control over lawsuits filed by the city.

Bottoms in June vetoed the outside counsel ordinance, citing concerns that it might hinder the city’s legal strategy.

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Bottoms successfully pushed legislation that will allow the public to review the city’s expenditures online.

Her administration also pushed for the hiring of a transparency officer to ensure compliance with state open records laws and a chief integrity officer, whose role would be to “to ensure honesty, integrity and transparency.”

Both efforts stalled in the council’s Finance/Executive Committee, partly because both new officers would be under the mayor’s office and possibly subject to political influence.

The relationship between the administration and council has shifted profoundly from what it was during the previous eight years under former Mayor Kasim Reed — a politician known for keeping a tight lid on information and bending the city’s legislative branch to fit his will.

But Reed’s brash, steamrolling style has lost admirers as the federal investigation has progressed, leading to four guilty pleas and one indictment.

Katrina Taylor Parks, deputy chief of staff under Reed and for the first eight months Bottoms’ administration, is also expected to plead guilty to conspiring to accepting bribes.

Parks’ retirement from the city became effective Monday.

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