Atlanta, Georgia- The mayor of Atlanta, Georgia is coming under some heavy scrutiny as of late. That’s because Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is being accused of dabbling into police vehicle funds in order to secure two high-priced vehicles to be used to cart her around.
The entity with which is the source of the scrutiny is none other than the Atlanta City Council, who bears the responsibility for approving monies for designated various investments that are meant to benefit the city.
The two cars in question are both luxury GMC Denalis, which are going to be used to chauffeur Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms around town. The total cost of both the cars was $175,000.
The Atlanta City Council is claiming that there was zero authorization from them to have the vehicles purchased for the mayor, since the money that was used to acquire them was actually stemming from a budget allocated for police vehicles.
The City Council had approved $2.6 million for 91 new police vehicles in the summer of 2017. The city finance department had taken money for the Denalis from those funds after Bottoms was sworn into office in January, 2018; despite the two cars not being included as part of the budget at all.
Bottoms said she never asked for the SUVs, but mentioned: “I was told they needed to order new cars, but I wasn’t mayor then.”
The Denalis came equipped with advanced communications systems, blue emergency lights and included the “ultimate package”: 22-inch rims, a sculpted chrome grille, perforated leather seats and premium floor mats, according to purchasing documents for the vehicles.
Captain David Jones, the commander of the team of officers assigned to protect the mayor, had been the one to actually place the order for the $87,500 vehicles.
Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore, who was a council member in 2017, said the following regarding the purchase:
“You can’t ask the council to approve a list of vehicles and then turn around and use the money for something else,” and also mentioned that the purchase undermined the council’s check on the executive branch.
A spokesman for Mayor Bottoms said city officials didn’t have to adhere to the specific vehicles listed in legislation and eluded to describing the Denalis as police vehicles since they’re used for the mayor’s protection. Bottoms believes the vehicles were properly purchased, but not everyone is convinced.
Fraud expert Victor Hartman said the means in which the SUVs were acquired likely violated the city’s charter, which limits discretionary equipment purchases by the mayor’s office to less than $100,000.
While Hartman doesn’t consider the vehicles inappropriate for the mayor to have acquired, he did point out that the purchase violated the charter because the vehicles were contained on a single invoice, stating:
“It’s not good governance and lacks transparency.”
For the better part of a decade, the luxury SUV has been used to transport the mayor in office. A year after former Mayor Kasim Reed was elected in 2010, the city upgraded the mayoral transport vehicles to Denalis from the Ford Tauruses that the office previously toted.
Also, a mere four years later, Reed’s administration replaced the mayor’s SUV fleet without going to the council, much like Bottoms.
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In a 2015 email regarding replacing of the 4-year-old vehicles, then-CFO Jim Beard told an officer on the executive protection unit that the city’s finance department supported replacement of Reed’s vehicles.
But he quashed a request to repaint the brand-new vehicles at a price of about $5,000 apiece since it “could raise the interest of the media.”
Reed’s Denalis came fortified with blue lights and sirens, which became provocative after news came to light that the mayor’s security detail used them for routine travel, which is highly illegal.
William Perry, founder of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs and a frequent critic of Reed, said the vehicles symbolized the belief that the mayor was “beyond the rules and above the law.”
Going into the end of the election and soon to be dubbing of a new mayor in December, 2017, Police Chief Erika Shields asked Beard in an email for assistance in replacing one of the Denalis in the mayor’s fleet because of high mileage. From that point on, Captain Jones, the commander of the mayor’s executive protection unit, took charge of the request, according to emails.
Soon after, the department decided that two SUVs were needed. The city’s fleet manager wrote in an email to Beard on December 13th, 2017, stating:
“The vendor located two SUV Denalis (that) Captain Jones requested for the new administration.”
Beard responded two days later:
“I need this handled today.”
It’s unclear what made the purchase an urgent matter, but when Beard’s attorney, Scott R. Grubman, was reached out to regarding that matter, he declined to answer.
Attorney Scott R. Grubman had only this to say regarding the purchase:
“This was a purchase clearly requested by and authorized by the APD Chief. Any questions should be directed to Chief Shields.”
The APD have not commented as of yet regarding the vehicles or manner in which they were purchased at this time; however, it will be interesting to see how this all unfolds.