Federally charged mayor takes shot at Stonecrest leaders during long meeting

The five-plus-hour meeting included several votes on rezoning efforts, a new decorum policy for elected officials and some pointed comments by the city’s embattled mayor
This is a screenshot from the Stonecrest City Council meeting in April.

Credit: City of Stonecrest

Credit: City of Stonecrest

This is a screenshot from the Stonecrest City Council meeting in April.

A lengthy meeting that included votes on controversial rezoning efforts was capped off by a verbal joust from Stonecrest’s mayor, who currently faces federal fraud charges.

The City Council met Monday for more than five hours. During the meeting, they rejected a townhome proposal that was the ire of residents, approved a large mixed-use development and adopted a new decorum policy for elected officials — an effort to stop arguments and personal attacks during public meetings.

However, the meeting didn’t make it to its conclusion without a pointed comment from Mayor Jason Lary, who faces three felonies after being accused of stealing federal COVID-19 relief funds.

“I want to pay you a big compliment (Acting City Manager Janice Allen Jackson), because you’ve done something I couldn’t remotely do for the years that I’ve been here... I want to learn this from you, and that’s how did you get them to pay you $210,000 a year for two to three days a week work,” Lary said before Mayor Pro Tem George Turner tried to cut him off.

Lary continued.

“You can tell me that I’m done Mr. pro tem. You don’t have to interrupt me like y’all did in the executive session,” Lary said, mentioning the closed-doors portion of the meeting where litigation and personnel matters were discussed earlier that night. “That’s a compliment that I have for her. That’s all I have. Thank you.”

After a moment of silence and befuddled faces from the council, Councilwoman Jazzmin Cobble is heard saying, “Oh, the compliments that we have for you.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reached out to the city for a statement on Lary’s comments.

The mayor’s continued presence

Earlier in the night, the council adopted a decorum policy to try to keep public meetings more civil — a longstanding issue for the city given well-known disagreements between the mayor and councilmembers. A majority of council censured Lary in early October over a rant where he threatened to show his “hairy behind” the next time he feels disrespected.

“I still have people standing in the way. Do not keep pushing me,” Lary said Oct. 4.

The rant took place roughly a month before Lary was arraigned in federal court on three felonies, including wire fraud. He’s accused of concocting a scheme using federal pandemic relief funds to steal more than $650,000 for himself and accomplices. The FBI said he used the money to pay off personal tax liabilities and a lakehouse mortgage. Lary pleaded not guilty.

Hours after he appeared in court Nov. 10, he logged on to a Stonecrest Housing Authority meeting, where he criticized city staff as “lazy” and “inept.” He also implied he has no intention of resigning as a result of the federal charges.

“I’m the mayor of the City of Stonecrest and will be until the people say I’m not or until some other entity says that I’m not,” Lary said at the time.

The rezonings

The council rejected a rezoning effort by APEX Land Co. that would’ve allowed for the development near Panola and Thompson Mill roads. Residents had spoken against the rezoning effort, claiming the new townhomes would create gridlock traffic and wouldn’t have the surrounding infrastructure needed to make them beneficial for neighbors.

Attorney Michele Battle, who represented APEX Land Co., said she knew many residents were fighting her client’s plan.

“While we are not here with (community) support, we do believe that this is an appropriate project at an appropriate location at an appropriate time,” she said during the meeting, which was held virtually.“ There’s a significant need for housing options in this area.”

The council voted 4-0 to deny the rezoning request. Councilman Jimmy Clanton, whose wife works for one of the entities involved in the sale, recused himself to avoid a conflict of interest.

With the rezoning effort failing, a portion of the 9.6-acre property will remain zoned for a shopping center, while the remaining acres will stay residential. The land, which was last rezoned in 2008, has remained undeveloped.

Battle represents another client, Ray of Hope Christian Church Disciples of Christ, which is trying to bring townhomes to 4700 Browns Mill Road in Stonecrest. The 73-home project recently received the backing of the Stonecrest Planning Commission.

The council did unanimously approve a rezoning request for a mixed-use project at Stone Mountain Lithonia Road and Phillips Road. With the name Stonecrest Estates, the project’s developer ACE Homes LLC plans to build 131 townhomes, 202 single-family homes, a 2.7-acre commercial area and various amenities, including a clubhouse, pool, pavilion and walking trail.

In 2007, the land was designated for a similar project but with a focus on senior living. That vision name came to fruition due to the 2008 recession, so the property owner wanted the senior living condition removed. The council obliged.