MARTA offered a job to a former top Atlanta official just days before federal investigators charged her with accepting bribes to steer city contracts to a vendor.
Katrina Taylor-Parks, former deputy chief of staff to Mayor Kasim Reed, was set to become MARTA’s new senior director of community outreach, but the agency withdrew the job offer after the charges against here were unsealed Aug. 8, documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show.
Taylor-Parks had been under scrutiny for months. But MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker said she was hired anyway because she had assured him she would not be implicated in the federal corruption investigation.
Parker took responsibility for the dubious hire in an interview with the AJC on Monday.
“I thought she was being very forthright with me about the circumstances,” said Parker, who knew federal authorities had subpoenaed information about Taylor-Parks. “Unfortunately, she wasn’t, and I regret that.”
The charges against Taylor-Parks are part of a wide-ranging federal investigation of City Hall. Since January 2017, six people have been accused of crimes in a bribery scandal centered around city contracts. Three of them – including Taylor-Parks – were high-ranking officials in Reed’s administration.
Taylor-Parks spent eight years as Reed’s deputy chief of staff and held the same job in the early months of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s administration.
Taylor-Parks went on medical leave shortly after a federal grand jury sought information about her, including her city financial disclosure statements, permission requests for outside employment, ethics pledges, travel authorizations and reimbursement forms.
A few weeks later, prosecutors issued another subpoena for information on Taylor-Parks’ husband, DeAnthony Parks, a code enforcement officer with the city.
CITY HALL PROBE: SUBPOENAS
She was still on leave when Parker approached her about working for MARTA.
Parker said he wants to boost the agency’s community outreach efforts as it moves forward with its Atlanta expansion plans. The MARTA Board of Directors will decide in October how to spend $2.5 billion from a half-penny transit sales tax that Atlanta voters approved in 2016.
Parker said he knew Taylor-Parks by reputation from her time in the city’s public works department. He said that, because of her work experience with Reed’s administration and her knowledge of Atlanta, she seemed right for the MARTA job.
“She seems like a person who gets things done,” Parker told the AJC. “I reached out to her and had a conversation. It seemed like there was interest (in a job) and potentially a good fit.”
Documents reviewed by the newspaper show MARTA formally created the position on July 26. But the agency’s human resources department reached out to Taylor-Parks as early as July 17 about coming on board.
The documents show MARTA formally offered her the job and a $136,000 salary on Aug. 3, pending notice to the agency’s Board of Directors. She accepted the job by e-mail the next day.
Four days later, federal authorities unsealed charges of accepting bribes and conspiracy against Taylor-Parks. On Aug. 15, she pleaded guilty to accepting $4,000 in bribes to help an unidentified vendor win about $100,000 in city business. She will be sentenced Nov. 5, facing up to five years in prison.
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The day after the charges were made public, MARTA’s human resources department rescinded the job offer.
“Thank you for your time and consideration,” the notice concluded. “Best wishes in your future endeavors.”
Parker said he met with Taylor-Parks in person to discuss the federal investigation before he offered her the job.
“She assured me at the time that it was (just) investigators wanting records, and she supplied them, and it was going to end there,” he said. “As we now know, that wasn’t the case.”
In an e-mail, Jay Strongwater, Taylor-Parks’ attorney, said she has “extensive experience working for the City of Atlanta and most certainly would have been an asset to MARTA had Mr. Parker decided to go forward with the employment opportunity.
“Ms. Taylor-Parks is disappointed with but understands MARTA’s decision to withdraw its offer,” he said. “She believed her relationship with the vendor would not negate her otherwise years’ of good work.”
Parker expressed regret about his handling of Taylor-Parks.
“Will it cause me to take pause in the future when someone’s records have been subpoenaed?” he said. “Yeah, I think that’s appropriate.”
April 3: A federal grand jury subpoenas information on Katrina Taylor-Parks
July 17: MARTA officials discuss creating a new position, “senior director of community outreach.” MARTA’s human resources department contacts Taylor-Parks “to open the communication lines” about the job.
July 26: The new position is officially created.
Aug. 3: MARTA offers Taylor-Parks the job at a salary of $136,000. The next day, she accepts.
Aug. 8: A federal court unseals charges of conspiracy and accepting bribes against Taylor-Parks.
Aug. 9: MARTA rescinds its offer of employment.
Aug. 15: Taylor-Parks pleads guilty to accepting $4,000 in bribes.