2 Stonecrest councilwomen win reelection bids despite mayor’s opposition

Voters rebuke the council candidates backed by the city’s mayor, and they send a councilman perceived as the mayor’s ally to a runoff
Jazzmin Cobble (left), Tammy Grimes

Credit: City of Stonecrest

Credit: City of Stonecrest

Jazzmin Cobble (left), Tammy Grimes

A majority of Stonecrest voters opted to reelect two councilmembers, who have frequently butted heads with the city’s embattled mayor over the past few years.

Both Jazzmin Cobble and Tammy Grimes received more than 64% of the vote in their respective council races, and they’ll serve their districts for another four year. The other councilmember up for reelection, Jimmy Clanton, will proceed to a runoff against challenger Tara Graves.

Clanton told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he “absolutely” believes his perceived close relationship to Mayor Jason Lary hurt him this election cycle. He’s begun distancing himself from the mayor and the various financial scandals that’ve taken place in the city over the past year, which include mismanaged federal COVID-19 relief funds, misused purchasing cards and improper contracts.

“There’s no connection between myself and the misconduct at City Hall on any level at any point that I’ve been with the City of Stonecrest,” Clanton said. “I just want to clarify that and say it’s guilt by association.”

Despite not being on the ballot, Lary’s influence and implication in the scandals prompted residents to see this year’s elections as a referendum on the mayor himself. He’s played into that narrative, publicly backing the challengers against Cobble and Grimes.

After every councilmember but Clanton voted to censure Lary in October over a rant during a public meeting, Lary had harsh words for his colleagues. In a message to the AJC, he said, “They purposely foster disrespect behind the scene with the very staff that I hired. The public only sees the tip of the iceberg. Let’s see what happens in the fall elections.”

Once the vote was in last week, Lary declined to comment about the election results.

Constant opposition

Arguments and rants during Stonecrest council meetings are nothing new. Neither is Lary’s dislike for Cobble and Grimes.

Several meetings have included threats of legal action, investigations and name-calling, including instances where Lary has called members of council “children” and “sheep.” A few meetings were ended abruptly as soon as they began.

Cobble, who advocated for a charter change earlier this year that stripped Lary of much of his power, said meetings have gone much more smoothly since the mayor’s role was reduced.

“It was kind of silly to hear the other side say that we’re not making progress. Literally, we’ve jumped light-years ahead,” she said. “That’s a testament to the five of us (councilmembers) working together.”

Lary, the city’s founding mayor, took a three-month medical leave for recurring cancer starting in April. After a quiet return to City Hall in August, he became more vocal as elections neared. Cobble was challenged by Alexia Washington and Herbert Woods, while Grimes faced off with Barbara Hall and Ryan Gallagher.

At the same time, flyers from an anonymous group began circulating throughout the city, encouraging residents to vote for anyone but the two incumbents in November.

“It’s time to end the negative headlines, infighting and expensive legal battles,” the flyers read. They blamed Cobble and Grimes and said to vote for any of their opponents.

These flyers were distributed during the weeks running up to Election Day in Stonecrest.

Credit: Facebook

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Credit: Facebook

Grimes did not respond to interview requests, but Cobble said she isn’t surprised they received strong opposition this election cycle. The councilmembers approved an internal investigation that found $6.2 million of federal COVID-19 relief funds were mismanaged and used in an apparent kickback scheme by city staff. No one named in the report, which includes Lary, has been charged with a crime. The council also revoked Lary’s city-issued purchasing card and check-writing privileges.

“I’ve been a very strong voice about righting those wrongs that have been done,” Cobble said. “... When you’re on the other side of that, it doesn’t feel good and it doesn’t look good.”

Cobble received 65% of the vote compared to Washington’s 33% and Woods’ 2%. Grimes received 69% of the vote compared to Hall’s 27% and Gallagher’s 3%.

‘Ready for change’

For the most part, the five-member council has voted in unison, with Clanton sometimes being the sole dissenting vote. After he voted against censuring the mayor’s comments in October, he said he faced backlash from residents, but he stands by his decision.

“Like I said before, I’ve heard worse both from the mayor as well as from other councilmembers,” Clanton said. “But we can’t make rules based on the mayor, who may or may not be with the city of Stonecrest (long-term).”

Clanton, a retired Georgia Department of Public Health employee, also faced two opponents, and his 38% of the vote was outnumbered by Graves’ 42%. However, both candidates fell short of the majority vote needed to avoid a runoff, which will take place Nov. 30.

Graves, an Army veteran who currently works in healthcare, has lived in Stonecrest’s District 1 since 2006, roughly a decade before the city incorporated. She said residents want more variety in the businesses that come to town.

“Since Stonecrest became a city, I can say I just see things going downhill, and I think people in the city can see that as well,” she said. “... We need things other than just a dollar store or a beauty supply store. Not to say those things are not great — it’s just that we need more in District 1.”

With the runoff approaching, Clanton said he’s going to start directly addressing his ties to the mayor and disavowing any connection to the past year’s scandals. He said he hasn’t been questioned by anyone for an investigation on how pandemic relief funds may have been misspent — not for the internal investigation or by any other agency that may be investigating it. (The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office will neither confirm nor deny the existence of investigations.)

“Those are rightful conversations,” Clanton said. “The hurtful part for me is the constant effort to tie me into all of that because of my relationship or perceived relationship with the mayor of Stonecrest. I’ve had resident who have told me... they had some concerns that I was overly supportive of the mayor.”

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Graves said the people are looking for new leadership in Stonecrest, which she believes will benefit her during the runoff.

“I think a lot of people are disappointed with how the city is being run currently,” she said. “I do think some people voted because they’re ready for change.”

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