Stonecrest prepares for future without mayor after guilty fraud plea

This is a screenshot of the Stonecrest City Council work session on Jan. 10.

Credit: City of Stonecrest

Credit: City of Stonecrest

This is a screenshot of the Stonecrest City Council work session on Jan. 10.

For the first time in the city’s history, Stonecrest will have a mayor who isn’t named Jason Lary.

Lary, who has been mayor since Stonecrest was founded in 2016, recently resigned and pleaded guilty to stealing federal pandemic relief funds. The city’s other elected officials now have to pick up the pieces and figure out when to hold a special election to choose Lary’s successor.

Mayor Pro Tem George Turner said during a recent City Council work session that the city’s residents will persevere during this uncertain time, just as they had through the past year of turmoil caused by the former mayor’s many scandals.

“We will continue to march as a city, as we always have,” Turner said.

210415-Stonecrest-Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary holds a press conference at city hall on Thursday, April 15, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

Lary’s term doesn’t expire until the end of 2023, meaning the city must hold a special election to fill the rest of his term. If the vacancy lasted less than a year, the council could appoint a replacement.

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.

During the meeting, City Attorney Winston Denmark walked the council through their next steps and what options they have for a special election. Denmark said a special election can be held on March 15, May 24 or Nov. 8, according to state law. The council did not indicate what date they have in mind at this time.

“I would counsel moving quickly because there are unexpected circumstances, administrative lag, things can happen,” Denmark told the councilmembers.

He recommended the council vote on the date at their next council meeting, which is scheduled for Monday. They could also call a special meeting to handle the election logistics.

Denmark said the council must choose among the three election dates, set a qualifying period for candidates — which must end 25 days before the election date — and must 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.

Councilwoman Tammy Grimes said the city’s 2022 budget included extra funds “in case we had to have a special election or anything like that,” indicating that councilmembers knew of Lary’s likely departure months before it took place.

Lary recently accepted a plea deal and admitted he participated in a scheme to steal more than $650,000 in federal pandemic relief funds by using a kickback scheme. The 59-year-old will be sentenced May 2 and faces a maximum of 35 years behind bars. Since he accepted a plea deal, prosecutors said they will recommend a lighter sentence.