Airplanes on taxiway in Atlanta
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Legal Action Threatened by Fired General Manager of Atlanta Airport

M iguel Southwell is apparently not going to take his firing from being the general manager of the international airport in Atlanta last month lying down, as he has apparently retained a law firm known for handling cases of wrongful termination suits and whistleblower to represent him.

Legal Action Threatened by Fired General Manager of Atlanta Airport

According to a letter from an attorney representing Southwell to the office of Kasim Reed — who is the current mayor of Atlanta — “Southwell was told his dismissal was due to recent long lines at the airport”, according to this article written by Kelly Yamanouchi of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But it suggests the mayor’s office wanted more control over contracts to be awarded during an upcoming wave of construction and remodeling projects.”

The law firm is supposedly initiating an investigation into the termination of the employment of Miguel Southwell — who was selected by Reed as the general manager of the busiest airport in the world for two years and earning a salary of $221,000.00 per year before he was suddenly and inexplicably replaced by Roosevelt Council, Jr., who is the chief financial officer of the airport  — and asked for documents and other information from the city. The letter intimated a desire for representatives of the city of Atlanta to “participate in settlement discussions or mediation at the conclusion of our investigation.”

Southwell was the fourth general manager of the airport in six years and is the third chosen by Kasim Reed, according to this article written by Matt Kempner of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Apparent tensions between Southwell and Reed supposedly led to the dismissal in which Southwell was given only thirty minutes to contemplate and implement a major career decision — that is, resign from his position — and when he refused to do so, he was “bull rushed” out the door and offered three months of severance pay without being given a chance to clean out his office or collect his personal belongings.

The letter implies that despite Reed knowing that a solution pertaining to the long lines at the security checkpoint of the airport was only days away from being implemented, the termination of Southwell resulting from those long lines cited as a reason was deemed inexplicable: “Is it a coincidence that the termination came on the eve of the award of some of the most lucrative contracts in the airport’s long and difficult history of patronage-based awards?”

Six billion dollars is the budget slated for a significant expansion and renovation of the airport; and some of the contracts have been delayed because of “disagreements on terms and timing.” The airport recently celebrated serving passenger number 100,000,000, which established a new world record.

Interestingly, the letter allegedly claimed that the mayor viewed the insistence of Southwell advocating for background checks and the fingerprinting of drivers of ride-share companies as an obstacle in the desire by Reed to approve Uber X and Lyft to pick up passengers at the airport — but in all fairness, Atlanta was certainly not the only city in the United States where the policy of fingerprinting drivers of those ride-share companies was under consideration in order for them to pick up passengers at major airports.

“After Uber paid the city of Newark, New Jersey, $10 million to forgo those requirements, Southwell claims, ‘Several members of your cabinet, who represented that they have your support suggested that they reach a ‘Newark’ type agreement with Uber whereby the city literally ‘sells’ passengers’ security for a large cash payment’,” according to this article written by Aaron Diamant of WSB-TV Channel 2 Action News in Atlanta, which claims that Southwell accuses Reed of meddling in airport contracts in an attempt to have more control over how those contracts were awarded for the aforementioned extensive renovation of the airport.

In response, Reed — who reportedly wants to return privatization of the security checkpoints of the airport and dispense of the Transportation Security Administration and also wants the washrooms of the airport to be cleaner — denied the allegations and claimed that Southwell is “struggling to rescue what remains of his career” as “a desperate attempt to salvage his reputation.”

“Caught in a Squeeze”

“General managers at Atlanta’s airport carry a big title, but they’re often caught in a squeeze”, according to the aforementioned article by Matt Kempner. “Their biggest tenant, Delta Air Lines, knows how to shove its weight around and apparently has a tight relationship with the mayor, the general manager’s boss.”

As the result of successful negotiations in a recent contract which was signed, Delta Air Lines committed to keeping its world headquarters based in Atlanta on the condition that the city of Atlanta not build a second commercial airport during the next 20 years — and both parties agreed.

The Transportation Security Administration handles the screening of passengers as security checkpoints “and can pretty much do what it wants”, according to Kempner. “All that limits what a GM can do — but they are responsible for continuing to fuel business at the airport, recruiting new airlines, keeping current tenants happy, pleasing passengers, launching big building projects and helping keep everyone safe.”

Land — and Lots of It

ATL Business Ventures was formed as a division of the international airport, according to this article written by Kelly Yamanouchi of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution — derived out of the pressing need “to find ways to diversify revenue, because we have 30-year [bond] debt and therefore we need continuous streams of revenue,” Southwell said.

There is no definitive word at this time as to whether or not the land issues or the need to find new sources of revenue for the international airport were a part of the tension between Southwell and Reed which led to the abrupt ouster of Southwell.


Do you get the feeling that there is more to this story than meets the eye?

The next few months could potentially be quite interesting as this story progresses…

Airplanes queue up on the tarmac at the international airport which serves the greater Atlanta metropolitan area. Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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