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An unexpected and unconventional appearance by the city’s chief watchdog during Monday’s Atlanta City Council meeting has sparked a feud among city officials and fueled speculation about corruption at City Hall.

Atlanta Inspector General Shannon Manigault took to the podium during the public comment period—typically reserved for residents to voice their complaints to municipal officials—and issued a stern warning to the city’s elected representatives: “The reason I’m here today is because the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is facing an emergency,” Manigault declared. “That’s not hyperbole.”

While investigating numerous allegations of misconduct within Atlanta’s various agencies, Manigault revealed that on Friday, the OIG uncovered “a concerted effort to interfere in the work of the Office of the Inspector General.”

Atlanta City Hall. (Credit: Sean Keenan

“This office has encountered declining levels of access, cooperation, responsiveness, and, frankly, basic civility” from other city offices, she said.

Last month, the OIG published two investigative reports: one detailing findings of nepotism in the city’s human resources department and another outlining a senior executive’s scheme to secure a city vendor contract for a friend who was also an Atlanta employee.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Manigault subsequently told Atlanta Civic Circle.

At the May 20 city council meeting, Manigault asserted that unnamed city officials had directed employees to complicate the inspector general’s work. “Hurdles have been erected to delay, impede, and disclose our confidential investigations,” she said.

Officials have internally shared confidential details about certain OIG investigations within their offices, Manigault informed city council members and the dozens of Atlantans assembled in the council chambers, who were mostly there to voice their support or opposition to the controversial Public Safety Training Center project.

“So not only does OIG know that there’s widespread knowledge of the existence of confidential OIG investigations, but now we have grounds to understand that individuals are also sharing details of the specific content of confidential OIG interviews,” Manigault said.

“This, of course, exposes our investigations to more people, which increases the likelihood of tainted witness testimony,” she said. “The destruction and withholding of evidence obviously significantly slows our investigations.”

Councilmember rebuttal

Two city councilmembers swiftly responded to Manigault’s claims, criticizing her for using the public comment period to address municipal issues and expressing surprise at her impromptu presentation.

Marci Collier Overstreet, councilperson for southwest Atlanta’s District 11, rebuked Manigault for bypassing “proper channels” and using an “inappropriate” time and venue to voice her concerns. “I wasn’t contacted about there being an emergency of any kind,” Overstreet stated.

Andrea Boone, representative of the Westside’s District 10, suggested that Manigault might be making her allegations public to gain attention. “My hope is that we are not being egotistical and we aren’t playing with people’s lives in the media,” she remarked.

Boone also alleged that Manigault’s office had harassed numerous city employees at their homes, examined their CashApp transactions, and confiscated their phones and other devices during investigations.

“There’s something called the FBI,” Boone continued. “If you think that people are engaging in illegal activity, we need to hold a work session on this. This is very serious. Employees shouldn’t feel they need legal advice for an OIG examination because the FBI can handle all of it.”

“I strongly urge this body to conduct a thorough, deep dive into your office,” Boone added.

In contrast, District 12 City Councilmember Antonio Lewis was more receptive to Manigault’s concerns, praising her for the “courage that it took” to speak out.

More significant than a few cases
In a Tuesday interview with Atlanta Civic Circle, Manigault revealed that her office is currently handling approximately 85 cases of alleged fraud, waste, abuse, or corruption within the city of Atlanta. This number has increased each year since the OIG’s inception, she noted.

The Atlanta City Council established the inspector general’s office in 2020 following a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into corruption at City Hall during former Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration. This investigation led to multiple high-ranking officials being fired, indicted, and jailed, and it hindered Reed’s 2021 bid for a third term as mayor. (The DOJ ultimately cleared Reed of any involvement in the bribery scandal. Andre Dickens won the last mayoral race against Reed and former Council President Felicia Moore.)

Recently, Manigault said, “processes and procedures have been put in place that have made it harder for us to do our jobs, harder for us to get access to necessary records.” She declined to specify which city officials or departments may have created obstacles to hinder the OIG’s investigative efforts.

“City departments have been instructed — and we have multiple cases that can confirm this — to treat the Office of Inspector General requests like open records requests,” Manigault stated. “We have sufficient information to believe this was a widespread directive.”

Requiring the OIG to file public records requests, like any resident or journalist, allows municipal offices to delay document compilation and, in some cases, redact information they deem private. It also exposes OIG inquiries to anyone who files open records requests about specific cases.

“This creates a situation where the very subjects of our investigation then know early on that they are under investigation,” Manigault said. “This introduces potential harms, including the destruction of evidence and tainted witness testimony.”

A spokesperson for Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ office expressed the administration’s desire to learn more about Manigault’s “serious allegations.”

“From day one, the mayor has emphasized the need for an ethical and efficient government and has always made himself available to the OIG at her request,” the statement read. “We would like to know the names of the individuals being accused to address the issues being raised.”

Manigault insisted she went public to protect the integrity of her office’s investigations. However, Boone believes the inspector general’s public statements and media interviews, including one with local talk radio host Rashad Richey, are merely attention-seeking and an attempt to exaggerate the severity of misconduct allegations at Atlanta City Hall.

“Playing this out in the media has astonished me,” Boone told Atlanta Civic Circle. “I understand she’s a Harvard graduate, and I understand people try to make a name for themselves. But don’t try to build yourself up by tearing others down.”

Boone referred to one of the OIG’s recent investigative reports, which found that in 2022, Atlanta’s human resources commissioner, Tarlesha Smith, “abused her authority in creating a [city] position for her daughter,” and then “sought to have her daughter’s supervisor terminated.” Smith was placed on administrative leave following the report’s release, pending further investigation, according to a May 21 statement from the mayor’s office.

“I’m all for justice and doing what’s right, but I don’t believe in trying people’s lives in the media because she’s basically already been found guilty,” Boone said.

For the inspector general’s office to fulfill its purpose, Manigault emphasized, it must operate without any external interference. On Monday, she urged the city council to pass legislation amending municipal policies “to ensure that no one can impede the charter-based work of the inspector general.”

This story was updated on May 22, 2024, at 5:11 p.m. to include a statement from Mayor Andre Dickens’ office.

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