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Lee do-over won't happen until next year

It will be Jan. 13 before Cobb County commissioners re-vote on an unusual, $85,000 year-end grant award to the non-profit MUST Ministries.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday that Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee would ask for a do-over at Tuesday's meeting, after he voted in favor of awarding MUST the grant. The vote is a problem for Lee because his wife, Annette, has worked for MUST since 2006.

The county's ethics code says elected officials can't "participate, directly or indirectly" in "any proceeding ... vote ... or any other matter involving an immediate relative or any interest of an immediate relative."

Lee, who wants a do-over so he can abstain from voting on the issue next time, said he will ask commissioners to reconsider the grant at its Dec. 18 meeting; if approved, the grant will then be placed on the Jan. 13 meeting agenda.

"No action has been taken as a result of the vote at the prior meeting," Lee said during the meeting Tuesday. "It was the next morning after that vote ... that the county attorney and I spoke when I realized that, since this was a single item award that it probably would have been in the best interest, and I should have recused myself from the vote due to the fact that my wife is an employee of MUST."

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Lee has voted in favor of funding the non-profit multiple times since being elected to the commission in 2003 -- including a 2007 vote as a district commissioner when he also served on MUST's board of directors.

The AJC reported that Lee has voted in favor of more than $3 million in funding since 2009.

Lee has not granted the AJC an interview on this subject, but he told the Marietta newspaper that he didn't need to abstain from voting on MUST funding in previous instances because that funding was part of his vote on the larger county budget. Lee also told the AJC in a statement last week that a third-party makes recommendations on how much non-profit organizations should receive.

The AJC reported that MUST only received about 10 percent of the federal funding pass through the county since 2009.

The issue, according to experts interviewed by the newspaper, is the chairman's conflict of interest in voting for the funding -- not how much funding MUST received or who recommended the funding.

Lee left Tuesday's meeting early. He would not comment on questions submitted by the AJC later in the day, including:

  •  You served on MUST Ministries board of directors in 2007 while you were a district commissioner. Did you recuse yourself from voting on MUST funding that year?
  • Are you saying that because a third-party makes non-binding recommendations to the board of commissioners as to funding non-profits that you are relieved of the conflict of interest your wife's employment creates in regard to your vote, and that you do not have to abstain from voting because of that?

Lee responded: "I have no comment."

About the Author

Dan Klepal is a reporter on the AJC’s investigative team, focusing mainly on local and state governments. Klepal previously covered Atlanta City Hall and Cobb County, where he wrote extensively about the public investment in SunTrust Park. Prior to coming to Atlanta, Klepal covered city governments in Cincinnati and Louisville, Kentucky.

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