Fulton commissioners OK development authority per diem amid scandal



Fulton County commissioners unanimously approved on Wednesday a per diem rate for its controversial development authority. This comes weeks after reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution uncovered rampant abuse of the compensation the county said it could find no evidence was ever legally approved.

The 6-0 vote to set a $150 daily rate starting Sept. 1 officially brings Development Authority of Fulton County (DAFC) into compliance with state law for a practice that likely dates to the 1990s.

AJC investigations found some board officers collected multiple payments for official acts that happened on the same day, such as for each document signed or the number of items under consideration on the board’s agenda.

Since 2011, DAFC board members have collected more than $1.1 million in per diems, with more than $800,000 of that going to three former board members — Bob Shaw, Samuel Jolley Jr. and Walter Metze Jr. — who were the most prolific at collecting multiple payments for the same meeting or for the same day, the AJC’s review of records found.

The AJC and Channel 2 Action News later found Shaw for years had a $78,000-per-year job with the authority that few knew about, meaning he earned compensation for his board service at the same time he earned a salary as an employee.

State law allows authorities in Fulton and three other large metro Atlanta counties to pay per diems for board members’ time, but DAFC appears to be the only one that does. The law requires the Fulton commissioners to authorize the daily rate, something the county said it could find no evidence of doing.

The scrutiny triggered calls for board members, current and former, to repay the money, though it is unclear if the county or taxpayers can compel that to happen.

Three members — current Chairman Michel “Marty” Turpeau IV, Sam Bacote and Steve Broadbent, who recently left — repaid about $3,600 collectively in duplicate per diems following the AJC’s reports, records show.

Commissioner Lee Morris said Wednesday he has been heartened to see reform at DAFC.

“This has been hanging over these folks’ heads since the news reports,” he said.

In the wake of reporting, Shaw stepped down from the DAFC board. Jolley and Metze left the board earlier this year.

New board leadership discovered Shaw’s secret job and some of the per diem abuse in November, but did not report it to the county commission, county attorney or auditor. The matter did not become public until June in reports by the AJC and Channel 2.

The authority instituted its first per diem policies in November, limiting payments and enacting new ethics rules in the wake of the AJC’s reporting.

Development authorities like DAFC recruit jobs and real estate projects and have the power to grant lucrative property tax breaks.

The scandal has intensified scrutiny on DAFC, which is largely autonomous and grants tax breaks to projects critics say often would have been built anyway. State lawmakers from both parties have also called for reforms to the authority or to abolish it.

DAFC leaders have said they are trying to clean up the practices of prior leadership.

Last month, Morris sought to establish a daily rate of $105 for official DAFC board meetings and to put new ethics requirements on the board, many of which DAFC has already instituted internally.

Commissioners clashed over the proposal at a meeting last month and it was tabled. Commissioner Marvin Arrington, at times using profane language about the proposal, accused Morris of racism for acting now to crack down on the authority when new leadership has taken over. Arrington is Black and Morris is white.

Shaw is white and Turpeau, the new chairman, is Black.

Morris has worked for years to cajole the authority into becoming more transparent, pushing the agency to publish estimates of its tax breaks and to include input from school systems, whose tax collections also are affected by the tax breaks.



On Wednesday, Morris agreed to support a $150 daily rate.

Near the start of Wednesday’s commission meeting, Arrington apologized to Morris for calling him a racist.

“I do not believe Commissioner Morris is a racist … however his policy I believe is discriminatory,” Arrington said, later adding: “I was really attacking the policy and not you.”

But Arrington agreed to the $150 rate.



Morris said Arrington’s father, former Fulton Superior Court judge and one of Emory University Law School’s first Black graduates, called Morris following last month’s meeting.

Morris accepted Arrington’s apology Wednesday.

“Your passion is to be admired,” he said.