UPDATE II: Mayor's office responds to our blog.

It’s a frustrating fact of being a small media outlet, whether gay or straight. Often, politicians try to avoid taking a stand on controversial issues until the volume of media coverage forces them to get involved. And also often, what finally gets their attention is TV.

Mayor talks to TV, not GA Voice, on Eagle lawsuit

That’s what happened to us this week with Mayor Kasim Reed and the cover story for our debut issue, which is being distributed now.

As part of an in-depth look at the federal civil lawsuit filed in the Atlanta Eagle raid, writer Christopher Seely contacted both Mayor Reed’s office and the city law department for comment.

Both declined. In fact, Sonji Jacobs Dade, Reed’s director of communications, specifically said Reed would not comment on pending legislation.

Apparently, Seely should have said he was calling from WSB-TV instead of the Georgia Voice.

WSB aired a story on the Eagle raid last night, including a statement from the previously reticent mayor.

Here’s what Mayor Reed said in the part of the statement that WSB aired:

“The plaintiffs in this case are asking for unlimited punitive damages at a time when the city is facing considerable budget challenges. As the chief financial steward of this city, I have to take that threat very seriously.”

Perhaps the mayor, who had condemned the Eagle raid in statements during his campaign, had hoped to avoid talking about the federal lawsuit but realized that would be impossible when TV came calling. Or maybe he knew his take on the case — that it is a financial “threat” — would find a more receptive audience with mainstream viewers than with LGBT Atlantans.

We’ve requested the full statement and will post it when it is received. In the meantime, I’ll just note that the city could likely have avoided the entire costly lawsuit had they given the Eagle plaintiffs the apology they wanted in the first place.

I’ll also note how much the city spent on the months-long undercover operation into alleged drug and sexual activity at the Eagle, to yield nothing more than eight arrests on business license violations – and no convictions on those charges.

You can read more about the Eagle plaintiffs’ ideas about a monetary settlement in our debut issue.

UPDATE II: This afternoon we heard from Sonji Dade, Mayor Reed’s communications director, who reached out with concern to clarify that the mayor is not valuing any news organizations over any others, and that he is very committed to being open to the media and working with us in the future. We appreciate the gesture and look forward to bringing you news from the mayor’s office.

Ms. Dade rightly pointed out that her office did respond to some questions from Mr. Seely related to the Atlanta Eagle raid. That is absolutely correct, and that response is noted in Mr. Seely’s preview article dealing with the trial in Municipal Court and the ongoing police and Citizens Review Board investigations. Here is what it said:

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s office reiterated its position this week that the [police department’s internal] investigation be “open, transparent and thorough.”

“After all of the facts are known and the investigation is completed, Mayor Reed will take appropriate action if it is determined that the City of Atlanta and APD officers behaved inappropriately,” according to a written statement from the mayor’s office.

The mayor’s office would not comment on whether Solicitor Raines should drop charges against the Eagle 8.

However, the fact remains that when Mr. Seely asked about the federal lawsuit, the subject of this blog, the answer was that the mayor would not comment on pending litigation.

And when he did comment on the federal litigation, albeit as part of what we now know was a much longer statement to WSB, he did it to the television station, and he framed his remarks only in terms of the financial “threat” it posed to the city.

Still, we are very glad to hear the Mayor’s office doesn’t want to be perceived as playing favorites, and that they are interested in talking about issues that impact LGBT Atlantans in the future.

UPDATE I: We just received Mayor Reed’s full statement, which focuses mostly on the ongoing investigation into the Eagle raid by the Citizens Review Board, which began taking depositions from officers involved in the raid this week.

“I support the role of the Citizen Review Board (CRB) to serve as an independent forum where complaints and accusations against police officers can be assessed. But I think it is critical to understand that the CRB only has limited civil administrative review powers and has no power over police discipline. It is not a court of law and is not intended to substitute for any form of legal action against the Police Department or the City.

In this situation, it’s important to note there is both an active internal investigation and a civil suit pending against the officers and the City stemming from the incident at the Eagle Bar. The plaintiffs in this case are asking for unlimited punitive damages at a time when the City is facing considerable budget challenges. As the chief financial steward of this City, I have to take that threat very seriously. If the officers testify before the CRB while the city is facing a lawsuit, their testimony could provide the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the suit with two opportunities to hear testimony from the officers. Providing the plaintiff’s counsel with two bites at the apple could jeopardize the City’s ability to defend itself against the active civil lawsuit.

That said, I am eagerly awaiting the findings of the investigation because I personally want to know what happened at the Eagle Bar that night as does everyone else.  I am always troubled to hear about allegations of police misconduct or verbal abuse regarding sexual orientation. 

This is an incident that occurred before I took office, and it is an issue my administration has inherited.  Now, as Mayor of Atlanta, I hope to see the CRB serve both our citizens and sworn officers by making substantive recommendations to me, the City Council and Interim Police Chief George Turner.  Those recommendations can include additional training for officers and changes in existing policy around discipline, policies, procedures, and programs.

I also think one key mission of the CRB is to help develop positive relationships between Atlanta residents and their police officers. I hope that the CRB will take this critical responsibility seriously and help be a part of the solution to problems that detract from the safety and security of both our residents and our sworn officers. I will support the CRB wholeheartedly in that endeavor.”       

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed