ATLANTA (AP) — According to a report by Atlanta City Hall’s independent officer and ethics officer, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed had no legal authority to award more than $500,000 in bonuses given to city staffers last year before he left office.
The report to city officials Wednesday agreed with the findings of a separate internal investigation that the bonuses and other cash payouts to staff from Reed and his aides violate the gratuities clause of the Georgia constitution, which prohibits extra payments to public employees without a clear benefit to taxpayers, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
“They pushed through payments that shouldn’t have been pushed through,” Amanda Noble, Atlanta’s city auditor, told WSB-TV.
The report scrutinized 146 supplemental payments to City Hall employees that cost taxpayers $869,291.
“Every one of them was improper,” Noble said.
The payouts included more than $573,000 in bonuses to 43 city staffers that Noble’s office said were awarded by Reed personally, though the city’s legal code does not give the mayor authority to unilaterally make such payments.
The report also found $67,000 in cash prizes given to city employees winning contests at holiday parties last year “raised ethical concerns.”
Reed defended the bonuses and prizes in a statement Thursday to The Associated Press. He said the auditor’s report noted more than 500 such bonuses had been paid to city staff since 2008. Reed himself served as mayor for most of that period, from 2010 through 2017.
“The compensation that I awarded to deserving members of executive leadership during my Administration were entirely consistent with historical practices at the City of Atlanta,” Reed’s statement said. He added, “I understood these bonuses were allowable under City Code and Georgia law by the executive branch prior to and throughout my Administration.”
Reed also said the constitutional provision barring most gratuities “has never been used to sanction any county or municipal government which has provided employee bonuses.”
The joint auditor and ethics report followed findings earlier this month by Thompson Hine, an outside law firm hired by current Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration to look into City Hall spending before she took office.
While the law firm also concluded the bonuses violated state gratuities laws, it reported its investigators found no evidence of improper motives or “any deliberate decision to act in an unlawful manner.” The firm concluded the bonuses “appear to have been made to enhance the workplace morale and to reward employee performance.”
The report by city auditors and ethics officials also said Jim Beard, the city’s former chief financial officer, “abused his position to authorize a bonus payment to himself.”
Beard told the Atlanta newspaper in an email that he disagreed with the report and that he only acted on Reed’s orders in processing the bonuses.
“As Chief Financial Officer, I took very seriously my fiduciary responsibilities and at no time abused the authority of my position,” Beard said.