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Campbell's jobs program

Were the people fired by Franklin doing any work?

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Mayor Shirley Franklin pleasantly shocked non-believers last week when she fired 60 members of the mayor's staff.

Faced with a budget gap that's at least $70 million, the new mayor started with herself. Even famously skeptical former District 7 Councilman Lee Morris applauded Franklin for beginning her budget cuts in the mayor's office.

According to City Hall insiders, it was a good place to start firing. The sources say that as many as 20 of the people dismissed by the new mayor either didn't show up to City Hall on a regular basis or they didn't perform any quantifiable work. They formed a sort of phantom payroll.

Morris says he heard complaints about politically connected but invincible sycophants when he was on council.

"Professional bureaucrats would call us and tell us about folks who didn't come to work, never showed up on time or didn't show up sober, but they couldn't get rid of," Morris says.

At the Bureau of Motor Transport, for example, there are more support staff than mechanics. "That's a classic situation," Morris says.

Another former city official who asked he not be named backs up Morris' claim that the mayor's office ran a "Jobs for Friends" program.

"It happened frequently in the Campbell administration," the former official says. And the appointments were most often made to departments funded by user fees and not the general fund. The official says that sometimes he could fight the hires, but he didn't always win. Once in a job, many of the appointments acted as spies for the administration and did whatever they felt like doing.

"They knew they couldn't be touched," the official says.

Before he pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy charges, former Atlanta Deputy Chief Operating Officer Joseph Reid said that during the Y2K contract process Spectronics Vice President Vertis McManus, with the help of a top city official, recruited and placed an employee inside the mayor's office in an attempt to influence the awarding of contracts.

McManus was indicted on a series of federal corruption charges in December. The individual recruited, however, was never in a position to directly influence the contract process and never worked for McManus' benefit once he was on the job, Reid said.

Gary Cox, the member of Franklin's transition team who compiled the list of people the mayor should retain, says he doesn't know that any of the people cut loose by Franklin were politically connected no-shows. He does say, however, that there were major differences between the lists of people the Campbell administration suggested cutting and the employees who were actually fired.

Franklin cut loose Campbell heavyweight Michael Langford, as well as Director of Communications Sheila Jack, while the previous administration had recommended she terminate one of the people who was handling mail intake.

With the initial firings out of the way, Franklin is promising an overall reduction of the 117-employee mayor's office by 30 percent, and she faces a Herculean budget task in figuring out how she's going to make up a $70 million-$90 million shortfall.

"I had said before, when there was a $40 million hole, that it was conceivable that we could find that kind of money in fat," Morris says. "Whether there is $90 million is somewhat more questionable."

Franklin has said she does not intend to cut services and wants to resist raising taxes. And she says she's comfortable with Atlanta's heavy reliance on sales taxes. The city generates 80 percent of its money from sales and use taxes.

But Franklin could leave the property tax rate intact instead of rolling it back as was the practice of the Campbell administration. If the rate stayed the same, it would effectively increase property taxes $9 million over last year's figure because the value of assessments have increased.

"It's something they ought to consider," Morris says.

He adds that he's talked to people on Franklin's transition team about coming up with ideas for closing the gap, and would be willing to help "sell the ideas to the public and my former colleagues."

Whatever those ideas turn out to be, Franklin clearly established the problem and its seriousness. If anyone gets in her way, they run the risk of being called an obstructionist.

"That's what we had in mind," says Franklin transition team head Kasim Reed about the timing and tenor of Franklin's speeches last week. It seemed to work. A great number of people appeared more than ready to drink whatever nasty tasting economic medicine the new mayor dishes up.

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