Council President Felicia Moore Says She's Not A 'Rubber Stamp' For Atlanta City Hall

Aug 15, 2018

Atlanta’s second-most-powerful elected official has a lot on her plate.

Felicia Moore took over as Atlanta City Council president in January amidst an ongoing federal investigation into City Hall that’s netted several bribery indictments of both employees and contractors.

Nearly half of the 15 council members are new to office.

And then, there’s public policy. With more than 10,000 people moving into the city each year, the city council’s oversight of life in Atlanta has to keep up.

Council President Moore joined me in the studio to talk about her first several months in office.

This interview transcript has been edited for clarity

ON WHETHER HER ROLE IS AN “UNGLAMOROUS VICE PRESIDENT” TO MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS

I will say that that is not correct. It is based on the presidents themselves, how they see that role and how they choose to use it. It is set by the charter and code what your duties are, but beyond that you shape it yourself. 

I’m on the legislative side of the government, but the president is sort of in that gray area. Because at any time, based on circumstances, you can cross over to the executive side.

But I am on the legislative side, which is empowered with approval, oversight responsibilities, and providing checks and balances in government. 

ON WHETHER THE CURRENT SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT WORKS IN CITY HALL

I think the system can work better. I've been on the legislative side for the last 20 years as a council member. I've always asserted that the council could do more with their oversight responsibility, engaging the executive branch and making sure that we provide checks and balances and not necessarily being so much of a rubber stamp to things.

So I think that we could do better.

ON REVELATIONS THE CITY COUNCIL APPROVED A $40,000 PAYMENT THAT ULTIMATELY WENT TO COVER PRIVATE AIRFARE FOR FORMER MAYOR KASIM REED

First of all, you have to have some level of trust in the mayor, that when they present things to you from the administration they're presenting them fairly and accurately.

We understood as the council that we were appropriating money that former Mayor Kasim Reed had set aside, and he wanted to give these to different charitable organizations.

Partners for Prosperity was exactly that. Its mission was to help with affordable housing and other issues, and that is what we expected the money would go towards.

After we authorized that, what happened beyond that was not something that any of the council knew about until it came out in revelations to the public. 

ON THE PROPOSED ONLINE PORTAL TO TRACK CITY SPENDING AND THE “CHIEF TRANSPARENCY OFFICER”

We’ve got to get the online transparency checkbook up and running. We're having some hiccups with that, and I'm looking forward to that being up.

In terms of the transparency officer, that legislation is on hold.

I really think the council needs to have a chief compliance officer or integrity officer that is not within the mayor's office or the council office, but independent.

You can't do something about something that you can't get access to.

ON THE REVELATIONS SURROUNDING THE CITY HALL BRIBERY PROBE

Currently –  and this is something that I think many people don't understand – all of the things that you're seeing that are coming out right now are as a result of investigative news reporting.

The media is now being able to get open records requests that they had asked for, and they're doing their job and they're reporting things. So that's where a lot of this is coming from. And I think the FBI is feeding off of it.

The media has already asked for this from the previous administration, and they didn't get the information. One of my mantras was, as a council member, “I’m trying to get information!” and making sure the information was available so that you could review it. You can't do something about something that you can't get access to.

The media is able to access this information now because the Bottoms administration is fulfilling open records requests that the previous administration did not fulfill.

I don't know how you stop someone from doing something they're not supposed to do.

ON REVELATIONS THAT FORMER MAYOR KASIM REED PAID A SECRET SETTLEMENT TO FIRED AIRPORT GENERAL MANAGER MIGUEL SOUTHWELL

Again, you have to have some level of trust in your mayor, and you also have to have people who work with or for the mayor that would not violate the law. 

So let's start there. The council was well aware of $85,000 [paid to fired airport general manager Miguel Southwell] because it was given to us. It was written in legislation, and the council approved it.

We understood that we were helping with Mr. Southwell’s health insurance and helping him to find another job because of the abrupt nature of his being fired. I think everybody felt that that was fair.

However, in the back of everybody's mind we wondered if in fact there would be some sort of settlement with him.

And it never materialized. And I know the media searched far and wide trying to determine if there was more to it.

It was never said to us and we still would not know about it, but for the investigative reporting of the media when they were going through the millions and millions of documents that were released by former mayor Reed.

And they found that one piece of paper that showed that the settlement was for the $85,000 that we had authorized and then for some more.

So you know, you can only go by the representations that you’re told.

I don't know how you stop someone from doing something they're not supposed to do.

ON WHETHER ANYONE ON CITY COUNCIL IS BEING INVESTIGATED

To my knowledge, I'm not aware that they're investigating city council. There's the rumor mill and then there's the truth.

So, the rumor mill would be that you know, all of us are under some suspicion, but I don't know that they're investigating any council members per se, and I certainly hope not.