The city of Atlanta has rejected a records request from Atlanta Loop for contracts awarded to companies owned by a man who has been charged with bribing city officials.
Atlanta Loop is challenging this decision and has filed a formal complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office, which runs the state’s Open Government Mediation Program.
On Jan. 18, the U.S. Attorney’s Office revealed that a construction contractor had been charged with paying $1 million in bribes to unnamed city of Atlanta officials. According to a press release published by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, Elvin R. Mitchell Jr., was arraigned on conspiratorial bribery and money laundering charges. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that Mitchell, 63, is the owner of E.R. Mitchell Company, Cascade Building System, LLC, E.R. Mitchell Group, Inc. and EC & WT Construction Company Inc.
A Google search revealed some information about Mitchell’s past work for the city. His company has been involved in high profile projects, including the city’s new courthouse and work at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The company received a $480 million contract for construction management at the airport as part of a joint venture with two other companies, according to Airport-technology.com, which covers news about the airport industry.
Atlanta Loop requested to inspect all of the contracts awarded to Mitchell’s companies by the city of Atlanta. Any contract paid for with taxpayer money and approved by elected officials would usually be a public record. Initially, the city planned to comply with the records request.
In an email sent at 12:18 p.m., Jan. 24, a city spokesperson said the records would be available by Feb. 6.
“A search is currently underway for records responsive to your request,” the spokesperson wrote. “Due to the span of time involved and the various ways in which these entities could be related to City of Atlanta contracts and/or bids, we estimate that responsive records will be made available to you on or before Monday, Feb. 6, 2017.”
Several hours later, Assistant City Attorney Kristen Denius said the records would not be provided. She cited two specific provisions in the Open Records Act as the basis for her decision. The exemptions are:
(3) Except as otherwise provided by law, records compiled for law enforcement or prosecution purposes to the extent that production of such records is reasonably likely to disclose the identity of a confidential source, disclose confidential investigative or prosecution material which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or persons, or disclose the existence of a confidential surveillance or investigation;
(4) Records of law enforcement, prosecution, or regulatory agencies in any pending investigation or prosecution of criminal or unlawful activity, other than initial police arrest reports and initial incident reports; provided, however, that an investigation or prosecution shall no longer be deemed to be pending when all direct litigation involving such investigation and prosecution has become final or otherwise terminated; and provided, further, that this paragraph shall not apply to records in the possession of an agency that is the subject of the pending investigation or prosecution;
Here is Denius’ full letter to Atlanta Loop regarding the city’s decision to withhold the contracts:
As you are aware, the Department of Justice is currently conducting an investigation into alleged attempts to bribe individuals to obtain City of Atlanta contract opportunities. The integrity of the City’s procurement processes is of utmost concern and complete cooperation with this investigation is the topmost priority of the City of Atlanta.
Since the announcement of the Department of Justice investigation, the City has received a number of requests for public records related to E.R. Mitchell and associated entities. At this time, the City has determined that all records related to the ongoing investigation are currently exempt from production under the Georgia Open Records Act pursuant to O.C.G.A. §50-18-72(a)(3) and (4) and the Georgia Court of Appeals decision in Media General Operations, Inc. v. St. Lawrence, et al. (337 Ga.App. 428 (2016)).
Accordingly, no records will be released until the Department of Justice investigation and/or prosecution of this matter is concluded.
Please feel free to contact me directly if I may provide any additional assistance in this matter.
Kristen Denius | Senior Assistant City Attorney