Stonecrest mayor responds to allegations; will take medical leave

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

caption arrowCaption
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

Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary on Thursday pushed back against allegations of abuse and mismanagement in the city’s coronavirus relief program, and criticized a recent city charter change that stripped him of power.

He also said he’d be taking time away from City Hall to deal with treatment for his recurring cancer.

“But let me be clear,” Lary said, “I am not going to resign my seat.”

He did not take any questions.

ExploreProbes into Stonecrest's COVID relief program may just be beginning

An internal investigation made public this week alleged poor record keeping, misuse and a possible kickback scheme in Stonecrest’s program to distribute more than $6 million it received last year from the federal CARES Act program.

A 60-page internal report on the investigation suggests money may have been inappropriately funneled to entities with close ties to city officials and employees, and that employees entered contracts and distributed funds without the necessary approval from the City Council or city manager.

The report says the findings should be provided to authorities for further investigation. And while representatives from the FBI and the U.S Attorney’s Office in Atlanta have declined comment, former prosecutors that spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said it’s likely federal officials will launch their own probe.

Most of the allegations were laid at the feet of various Stonecrest staffers employed through a unique contracting relationship with Jacobs Engineering. Lary, though, was also named in parts of the report.

He called the investigation — which was commissioned by the City Council and carried out by the city attorney — political. But he stopped short of an outright denial of any possible wrongdoing.

He said if something that “wasn’t in line” occurred, he’d be “the first to apologize for it, but the intent was good.”

“There was never an intent on anybody’s part to kickback or filter money back or any of that nonsense,” he said.

Lary also used his brief press conference to target state Sen. Emanuel Jones, a frequent political foe who has called for his resignation and sponsored a recent bill that rewrote Stonecrest’s charter to remove most of the mayor’s powers.

The city’s mayor is now only able to vote in the event of a tie — a rare occurrence for a five-member council. Mayor Pro Tem George Turner also has taken over Lary’s role of presiding over city meetings and setting meeting agendas.

Lary called the charter changes tantamount to voter suppression, since they occurred without a public referendum.

“Quite frankly, folks, I’ve been reduced to hugging ladies and kissing babies,” he said.

In a press release distributed Thursday morning — perhaps in anticipation of Lary’s previously announced press conference — Stonecrest councilmembers said the charter changes provided “a clear delineation of power between the city’s executive and legislative branches.”

“It clarifies that the role of the position of mayor is ceremonial and that the legislative branch is responsible for the budget and for policy making,” the press release said.

District 1 representative Jimmy Clanton was the only councilmember who did not sign the press release.

Lary, 59, has previously battled prostate cancer and lymphoma, and hinted earlier this week that he might be in for another fight. He confirmed as much Thursday, saying his “numbers” weren’t where his doctor wanted them, but otherwise provided few specifics.

He puffed on an inhaler before his press conference and used a cane to walk.

“I’m not going to work through this in this fashion,” Lary said, referencing his reduced mayoral duties.

The story so far:

Stonecrest received $6.2 million in CARES Act funds from DeKalb County. Questions were raised after the city contracted with a newly formed nonprofit to disburse those funds to small businesses. An internal investigation began, and its results were released this week, finding widespread mismanagement and improper contracts that resemble a kickback scheme. Federal authorities have declined to comment but more investigations are likely to follow.