Another week, another high-level city official is fired. Or quit. Or was asked to leave. Or was shown the door. Or negotiated a face-saving exit. Or fell into the underground portal of Bureaucratic Make-Believe, a place where pixies sign forms in triplicate and the filing cabinets are made of cotton candy. Or pointed two middle fingers at the mayor's office, dropped the mic and never looked back.
Hey, these guesses are as good as it gets. Because we have no idea why Joya C. De Foor — the CFO lured here from Los Angeles 16 months ago to help "give a level of talent and leadership that the City of Atlanta has not seen before," according to Mayor Kasim Reed — is gone. Reed's office declined to comment on the shockingly abrupt departure, saying "we don't comment on personnel matters." Heavens, no, why would you comment? After all, De Foor was simply part of a nationwide search for a top-talent CFO who oversaw a $14.7 million department and was integral in forming and implementing a strategy to ensure the city's financial well-being. Why would Atlantans deserve a public accounting of her immediate and bizarre dismissal from the premises?
Sure, just last year the mayor was full of effusive praise for De Foor: "I believe she is the right person to guide Atlanta toward a stronger financial position, which will lead to an improved outlook with the major bond rating agencies," he said when her hiring was announced. "She will ensure that taxpayer dollars are budgeted and spent wisely." But that was months ago.
The "nothing to see here, move along" nature of De Foor's departure is the latest example of a disturbing trend from Mayor Reed's office, one in which he bristles when asked to be held publicly accountable. When the City Council and the public are finding out simultaneously that important city officials are exiting after falling out of favor with his office — De Foor and AHA's Renee Glover are the latest examples — a full public explanation is in order. The on-background discussions suggesting these bureaucrats must be held accountable for transgressions against the throne simply aren't enough. You think De Foor couldn't work with others? Say so. You think Glover had built a fiefdom and was answerable to no one? Say so. Because without the scrutiny that comes from such on-the-record assertions, we're left with ... what? Whispers from your office that we should trust you, these people needed to go? That is the height of unaccountability.
Without public debate and scrutiny over such decisions, the tendency of any politician, no matter his good intentions, is to start believing he can do no wrong. All disagreement is framed in the language of insubordination. Dissent is rooted out. Idealism melts away, leaving only its disfigured cousin, absolutism.
We hope that we're wrong in our concerns. We hope your new appointee corrects whatever was amiss with De Foor's performance, if there was anything wrong with it. We hope the new CFO ensures that taxpayer dollars are budgeted and spent wisely, as you said De Foor would do. We hope because we don't know. It's a personnel matter, you see.