In an effort to be more transparent, the city of Atlanta will stand up a public Internet portal this spring to show where and how the municipality spends its money, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced April 10.
The portal, to be known as Atlanta Open Checkbook, is similar to examples already online in Austin and Dallas, Texas, in Washington, D.C., and in Massachussetts. Its design and creation are already underway, Bottoms said in a wide-ranging press conference on the steps of city hall, calling the website the latest example of how she is seeking to improve service delivery and make the city accountable to residents.
During a press availability the previous day, Bottoms announced a staffing shakeup three months in the making. The mayor said on April 9 that all members of her cabinet were told to turn in their resignations by the end of the day and she would decide which to accept, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That likely amounts to around 35 “top city officials,” the newpaper reported, many of whom had worked for former Mayor Kasim Reed.
Bottoms will mark her 100th day in office on April 11, and told the audience assembled at city hall that this turnover had been promised when she was sworn in on Jan. 2. The elected leader said she feels pressure “to be a great mayor,” and part of that is making difficult decisions. She praised city employees for their good work and commitment, but declined to say exactly how many resignations she had received or exactly when she will decide who stays.
“I would rather that we get this right than rush it. But it remains a priority for us to do our reorganizing, both with personnel and restructuring as a city,” Bottoms added.
Becoming more transparent, the mayor said, is also part of the process.
“When I was sworn in, I vowed to make Atlanta more equitable, more affordable and more transparent,” Bottoms said.
The portal, she said, “will shine an unprecedented light” on budget, contract, vendor and salary data, and “will allow all of our taxpayers and our interested media to see where and exactly how our city is spending its money.”
The “granular” level of detail reflects a renewed commitment from city hall to be responsible stewards of its citizens’ money and information, Chief Operating Officer Richard Cox said.
“We join the list of permanent municipalities that are using the combination of spending data and transparency to combat the perception and reality of government waste and abuse,” Cox said, indicating that the new portal should go live within the next two months.
The announcement comes during an unprecedented time of change for Atlanta, as the city works with private and federal partners to recover from ongoing service outages following a March 22 ransomware cyberattack.
Citing their safety concerns, the mayor and the COO again declined to reveal specifics about Atlanta’s response to the attack — including whether the city paid the ransom and if the crisis is completely resolved.
Cox indicated that more services come back online “each week” and said he was "absolutely certain that we’re going to come out of this with better systems than we had before.”
The transitions follow the federal indictment unveiled last week of Rev. Mitzi Bickers, the city’s former human services director, who pleaded not guilty to charges she took $2 million in bribes to steer a reported $17 million in city contracts to at least two contractors.
When asked whether the new portal may prevent such alleged incidents, which predate her administration, Bottoms said the city has “strong processes in place,” but while it’s possible to determine inappropriate activity or crimes are occurring, “there is nothing that can be done to stop someone who is intent on committing a crime.”