Fulton mayors scold county commissioners over $104M COVID relief

Fulton County Board Chairman Robb Pitts speaks during the Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) and Fulton County partnership new conference in Alpharetta on Aug. 14, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)



Fulton County Board Chairman Robb Pitts speaks during the Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) and Fulton County partnership new conference in Alpharetta on Aug. 14, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Fulton County’s mayors formed a verbal firing squad Friday morning over Zoom and let loose on the county’s Board of Commissioners.

City leaders accuse the county of not giving them enough of $104 million federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding it received.

Mayors say they are prepared to file an injunction to block Fulton from spending any more of the federal COVID-19 funds.

The injunction, which hasn’t been filed, would include all but two Fulton cities: Atlanta received a direct CARES Act allotment of $88.5 million, and Mountain Park has had no direct COVID-19 expenses for its roughly 550 Northside residents.

Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker asked him to set up a meeting with all the mayors, which they had been wanting for months.

Bodker on Friday laid out the basic list of demands: more money to the cities and no extra restrictions on how they can use the funds along with increased transparency and coordination.

“This is about people, this is not about who is doing what (or) who is doing the most,” said Union City Mayor Vince Williams.

Local politicians are usually happy to play nice in the public eye and feud in private — but that wasn’t the case Friday.

“Robb, I hate to do this in a public meeting, but I got to lay it at your feet,” said Rusty Paul, Sandy Springs mayor and an influential political force in Fulton. “You haven’t brought us all together in the same coordinated fashion that was done previously. And that is causing the inability for us to work together as we should.”

The lack of solidarity is more than bad governing, it’s about efficiency when people need government most, Paul said. He fears there are overlaps in services that both the cities and county are doing, and gaps in other spots.

“This unwillingness to talk to us is astounding to me because it may end up wasting a lot of resources,” Paul said.

Pitts refused to directly address the criticism directed at him and the comparisons to his predecessors.

Commissioner Lee Morris, a former Atlanta councilman, said Pitts wasn’t the only one to blame.

“I should have been out there talking about communicating,” Morris said. “I want to say to all of you I’m personally sorry.”

Early in the pandemic, commissioners reserved $2.5 million for the cities on a reimbursement basis. But after word got out about the possible lawsuit, commissioners last week voted to up the amount to $15 million.

Four counties in the state — Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett — had enough residents to receive direct CARES Act allotments. Leaders of the 48 municipalities in those counties had expressed confusion over whether they would get a cut from the state, or if the county governments would provide them with funding.

Gov. Brian Kemp in July told those cities to ask their counties for money.

Fulton says it has no more money for the cities because the county has spent or allocated $90 million of its share. County finance staff says $30 million has already been spent, and the other $60 million is tied up in commitments like contracts or invoices. Mayors say that means there is money for them.

At the heart of all this conflict is a philosophical difference of opinion.

The cityhood movement of the 2000s left much of the county municipalized — only a 7.5-mile stretch of Fulton Industrial Boulevard remains in the unincorporated portion of the county.

Commissioner Liz Hausmann said Friday she felt a kinship with the mayors. Hausmann was on the inaugural city council for Johns Creek, which formed in 2006 to separate themselves from county dysfunction.

City leaders say Fulton only received the money because of all the residents they directly represent.

But county leaders argue that they are helping everyone and are able to do a good job because they can leverage their size for all Fulton residents.

For instance, Fulton’s head of external affairs, Jessica Corbitt, said Friday because the county was buying in bulk for all the cities, Fulton paid only $1.72 per N95 mask compared to $5.70 a unit.

Pitts said he and his fellows commissioners were absorbing what the mayors were saying and hoped to bring back solutions at the board’s regular meeting on Wednesday.

“I want to review everything that we’ve heard today,” he said. “I think the seven of us are taking it to heart and to the extent that the CARES Act permits us to do what you’re asking us to do, I think we will.”

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