Riverdale mayor pushes contributor for post

By Billy Corriher

Riverdale Mayor Phaedra Graham is trying to get the lawyer of a firm that contributed $500 to her campaign appointed city attorney. But she said she does not believe this is payback or a conflict of interest.

Graham requested the firm of Glaze, Harold, Arnold, and Mack, PC as city attorney.

Robert Mack, of Glaze, Harold, Arnold, and Mack, PC, contributed $500 to Graham's campaign.

"These are people who I know are qualified for the job," she said. "It's not out of the ordinary for elected officials who have to make appointments to look to people who have worked with that elected official."

Graham also said her appointees would save the city money, because they are willing to work for less money than the current officials are making.

Graham also asked that Ethenia King-Grant be installed as city judge.

After Graham vetoed the city council's appointments for city judge, attorney and solicitor last week, council members said they plan to approve the same nominees again at their Monday night meeting.

And with the city operating without an attorney or solicitor, Graham said she is not sure if she'll veto the appointments again. Graham, Clayton County's first black mayor, submitted nominees for the city's attorney, judge and solicitor at the city council first meeting on Jan. 12, but the council decided on its own appointments instead.

After her appointments were rejected, Graham used her authority to veto $60,000 from the city's financial reserves for a judicial software package and the denial of a conditional use permit for a barbershop, in addition to the council's three appointments.

Graham, in her veto of the software package, expressed concern about the software and the city's "present budget deficit." But City Manager Billy Beckett said the city is not operating in a deficit, only drawing money from its reserves for capital projects.

In her appointment vetoes, the mayor said the council failed to show that the nominees were qualified, failed to provide the hourly fee rate the city would be charged and failed to show that the appointments were in the best interest of the city.

Councilwoman Wanda Wallace said that if Graham wanted more information on the candidates' qualifications, she could have asked any of the council members.

"I've tried to get in touch with her, but she has not returned my calls," Wallace said. "I'm just hoping one day we can sit down as a governing body and move this city forward."

Councilwoman Michelle Bruce also said Graham has only contacted her once since taking office, and the appointments were not discussed.

"We all tried to reach out to her, but she totally kept us in the dark," she said.

But Graham said she is trying to work with the council.

"I have attempted to contact city council members so that I can understand the rationale for every appointment and every program approved by them," she said. "I think it is pertinent to move toward participating in dialogue that brings us to a consensus even though we may disagree with each other."

Since Graham's vetoes, Beckett said Riverdale has been without a solicitor or attorney, but the judge has continued to serve.

"We're stuck not being able to get sound legal advice from an attorney," Beckett said. "It presents a hardship for us."

The city judge has continued to serve, he said.

Since Graham took office, she has clashed with Beckett over his duties and communication. Beckett has said he will not return as manager when his contract expires in May.

Wallace said the disagreement is unfortunate, and Beckett is an "excellent manager."