Atlanta city council could give officers $2,000 bonuses

Council in hot seat over cop pay; Atlantans question members on failure to override veto of bonus
Julie B. Hairston, Staff
December 6, 2000, Wednesday, Home Edition
Copyright 2000 The Atlanta Constitution
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
December 6, 2000, Wednesday, Home Edition

(ATLANTA, Ga.) -- An Atlanta City Council vote that could have led to city cops getting a promised $2,000 bonus has failed, but debate over the issue rages on. City Council members said they were questioned repeatedly Tuesday about the council's failure the day before to override Mayor Bill Campbell's veto of the bonus.

Newspaper readers peppered The Atlanta Journal-Constitution with phone calls and e-mails throughout Tuesday asking for the names of council members who voted to support the veto.

Although the bonus for city cops with more than five years on the force was not part of the mayor's 2000 budget proposal, it was added by the council and approved with the budget in February. Campbell signed the budget with the bonus into law.

At the time, said Councilman Lee Morris, who chairs the council's Finance/Executive Committee, city finance officials had assured council members the Police Department would end the year with about $16 million in unspent funds.

The savings would build up through the year from salaries for unfilled positions in the department. "There was no doubt in my mind that they would get it," Morris said.

"There was no way they wouldn't get it."

But Campbell and five of his allies on the council argued Monday that the city has overspent its 2000 budget by more than $9 million. Chief Financial Officer David Corbin said recently that when the administration's 2001 budget was introduced, fuel cost and consumption, technology investments and unbudgeted overtime were to blame for the shortfall.

If the city agrees to pay out the $2.5 million from its $ 16 million reserves, it risks being assigned a lower bond rating, Corbin told council members on Monday.

A lower bond rating would cost the city about $9 million in interest on the $ 150 million bond issue approved by the voters in the November election, according to Corbin.

"It was a difficult decision for me," said Councilman Michael Bond.

"If we had lost our bond rating, people would have said, 'What were these clowns thinking?' " he said. "We look like the bad guys, but we were really the ones being fiscally responsible," Bond said.

But Morris said enough money exists to pay the bonus, and he believes the public outcry over the issue should stimulate public dialogue on the city's commitment to police pay.

"It will help raise the public's awareness of what a sorry state we're in in the Police Department," Morris said. "I think it's one of the most pressing problems facing the city."

Police spokesman Officer John Quigley said Chief Beverly Harvard was unavailable for comment on the council's action.

The relationship between city cops and the Campbell administration has been strained throughout the mayor's second term. Two of the city's three police unions endorsed Campbell's rival for re-election, then-Council President Marvin Arrington, in 1997.

In 1998, police marched on City Hall and threatened a "blue flu" protest over salaries.

As they left the council chambers Monday, police officers were once again promising to turn up the heat on council members.

Council President Robb Pitts said city taxpayers are demanding that "this has got to be our absolute, top priority."

"The police are upset about it and the public is equally upset," said Pitts, a candidate for mayor next year. GRAPHIC: PhotoAtlanta police Officer Chris Leighty is upset with the lack of appreciation he feels after the City Council failed to make good on a promise of a $2,000 bonus. / BEN GRAY / Staff Graphic ROLL CALL

Voting for the override, which would reinstate the $2,000 bonuses: Doug Alexander, Julia Emmons, C.T. Martin, Vern McCarty, Felicia Moore, Lee Morris, Clair Muller, Debi Starnes, Cathy Woolard. Voting against the override: Derrick Boazman, Michael Bond, Sherry Dorsey, Jim Maddox, Cleta Winslow. Absent: Mable Thomas

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