Stonecrest passes on March election date to replace mayor after guilty fraud plea

This is a screenshot from the Stonecrest City Council's meeting on Jan. 24.

Credit: City of Stonecrest

Credit: City of Stonecrest

This is a screenshot from the Stonecrest City Council's meeting on Jan. 24.

Stonecrest has to hold a special election to replace the city’s founding mayor after he resigned to plead guilty to federal fraud charges, but that election might not happen quickly.

Stonecrest councilmembers said during a lengthy Monday meeting that they’ve agreed to pass on the first of three possible election dates: March 15. Instead, they’ll decide between May 24 or Nov. 8 as those are their only options left under Georgia law.

City Attorney Winston Denmark previously told the council he advised they move forward with one of the earlier dates. The council included a resolution on Monday’s agenda to vote about a March 15 election date, but they struck that resolution from the agenda before the meeting started.

“Although it was recommended that we do this sooner rather than later, based on a lot of research from members of council, members of staff and input from other governmental agencies, we got a consensus among the councilmembers that it probably is not best to proceed with this (special election) in the month of March,” Mayor Pro Tem George Turner said during the meeting.

The city’s former mayor, Jason Lary, resigned in early January — a day before he accepted a plea deal in federal court for concocting a scheme to steal more than $650,000. The 59-year-old’s sentencing will be held May 2, and he faces a maximum of 35 years in prison.

Since Lary’s term was not set to expire until the end of 2023, the city’s charter requires a special election to fill the remainder of his term. If the vacancy lasted less than a year, the council could appoint a replacement.

A few residents told the council they wanted more time before holding a special election, so potential candidates would have time to think about it and residents would have time to register to vote and learn about those running to become Lary’s successor.

“You all will understand why citizens are unwilling to make a hasty selection given our most recent experience with the former mayor,” Andrew Wells wrote the council. “Jason Lary was a familiar face to many prior to taking the office of mayor.”

Until a new mayor is elected, the mayor’s responsibilities will be handled by the mayor pro tem. Those duties include acting as the figurehead of the city and voting in the event of a tie — something rare for a five-member council. The mayor also gets designated time to speak during council meetings, gets to appoint members to committees and have some supervisory responsibilities.

The council has to choose an election date, set a qualifying period for candidates — which must end 25 days before the election date — and set a fee amount for candidates to apply. The council will then contact the DeKalb County elections director to formally announce the election date and qualifying information.