DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) — Pressure is mounting against the Mayor of Stonecrest, as he faces an accusation of misusing city funds. This is all surfacing as residents push back against the construction of a recycling center.
In a special called Zoom meeting on October 14, 2020, Mayor Jason Lary defended his decisions to contract with vendors without getting city council approval. The city has not filled its City Manager position, and Lary and council members disagree in terms of who has the right to make administrative decisions. Council members say the mayor is not authorized to approve non-bid contracts without their approval.
City Attorney Winston Denmark says the city’s charter doesn’t provide any direct answers, and there is no precedent for this scenario. He confirmed a city manager is required to do a budget, which should then be presented to council, and he suggested all other matters should be handled similarly for consistency.
“The charter in all government is based on the notion that officials are going to cooperate and move the people’s business forward, said Denmark. “When a charter does not provide a direct answer to the question, that’s when diplomacy, compromise and working together comes into play, and that’s precisely what’s called for here.”
Stonecrest City Council Members question the Mayor's decision-making authority during a special-called Zoom meeting on Oct. 14. (Mayor Jason Lary, top left, Councilwoman Jazzmin Cobble, top rt., Councilman Rob Turner, bottom left) pic.twitter.com/UR7q7eL8XC
— Valencia E. Jones (@vjreports3) October 16, 2020
Council members, including Rob Turner and Mayor Pro Tem George Turner, pointed out that the city’s purchasing policy gives power to the city council in the absence of a city manager.
“Is the point here to actually move the city forward, or to be in charge, or to not be happy,” asked Lary, who explained his logic behind executing contracts with Sean de Palma as the Parks and Recreation Consultant and Brenda Cornelius as the External Liaison Consultant. “We needed somebody that had the relationships at State Capitol, that had the relationships in the community, that has the ability to pull large opportunities and people together, that had the experience. We are in a pandemic quagmire, with the whole world coming on us,” Lary said.
“There’s supposed to be justification and conversation before procurements and contracts are entered into, so that we can determine that this kind of method was the best method,” said Councilwoman Jazzmin Cobble, who represents District 3.
Lary also mentioned the Metro Green Recycling Center countersuit against Stonecrest, which accuses the city of extortion and obstruction of justice. ”You all do understand these folks have filed a RICO Act against (the) council? You do know that right?”
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) countersuit was filed following the city’s failed legal effort to stop construction on Metro Green’s project after residents protested against it.
Lary left the meeting after council discussed getting an outside auditor to look into his and other city officials’ alleged misuse of city credit cards. After he left, council voted 4 to 1 to cancel the contract with Brenda Cornelius. They also voted to hire an external auditor.
Residents who have protested against Metro Green are concerned about how the city is operating in general. “What Stonecrest does affects Decatur, it affects Stone Mountain, it affects Lithonia, it affects South DeKalb,” said Pyper Bunch, a Windsor Downs resident and protest organizer.
They’re hoping a judge will ultimately side with their concerns that the recycling center will bring traffic, noise and pollution to their neighborhoods. Residents are also concerned it could lead to lower property values.
CW69 reached out to Mayor Lary for comment and was told he was not available. Metro Green did not respond to our interview and statement requests.
“We have to let them know that all eyes are on them, so that another Metro Green doesn’t come to your neighborhood,” said Bunch.
The residents have retained an attorney to help with their efforts to stop the Metro Green construction, and they’re hoping the Environmental Protection Division gets involved.
The next court hearing is scheduled for October 26, 2020.