A couple of years ago Atlanta fired the General Manager of its airport. They didn’t provide much of a reason, and it seemed strange considering the success that the airport had.
The General Manager had plenty to say, though. He claimed he was fired for refusing to go along with corruption. Contracts were expected to be awarded to politically connected companies, not to the best companies or to those offering the best prices.
How do you get to open restaurants, for instance, in the airport?
Jackmont Hospitality, which operates restaurants including One Flew South on Concourse E, was founded by former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson’s daughter and is led by Daniel Halpern, who was a co-chairman of Reed’s 2009 mayoral campaign. Hojeij’s Wassim Hojeij was a member of host committees for Reed campaign events, and he and relatives made campaign contributions to Reed.
Not only was a large severance arranged for him to keep quiet the payment was hidden from the public and even from the City Council.
The City Council approved $85,516 “including health care and career counseling” as “full and final settlement” to the fired airport manager. It turns out he was also given another $147,000 as “dictated by the attorney for the City and Mayor Reed.”
Atlanta “spent about $1.7 million in outside legal work related to [the] firing” and it appears though the city agreed to a payout, the rest of the actual termination payment was made by a large developer who was also a donor to the then-Mayor. Three weeks later the developer got approval to build a new Intercontinental hotel at the airport. The developer also reportedly received $2 million in tax breaks from the city for another project, directed by the then-Mayor.
This all came out in documents turned over to the federal government as part of its corruption probe. Need I mention that the city is also the subject of a federal investigation for illegally using airport funds to defend itself against the federal corruption probe into this mess?
Atlanta’s airport is hardly along in corruption. Stories of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversees Washington Dulles and National airports, are legion. Contracts go to friends, the Office of Audit doesn’t do formal audits and jobs go to unqualified friends and relatives.
However the size of the Atlanta airport, and the tight political control exercised over it, set it in a class of its own.