A state lawmaker is calling for the Stonecrest mayor and a councilman to resign over alleged misuse of $6.2 million worth of federal coronavirus relief funds.
Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) also wants the FBI and Department of Justice to investigate how the money was spent.
Jones called for Mayor Jason Lary and Councilman Jimmy Clanton to resign Friday morning, after Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law a legislative bill Jones had sponsored that would strip the mayor of many of his powers. Kemp’s office confirmed that the bill was signed Thursday.
Jones said Lary has abused his position and that they need to “clean house over in Stonecrest.” The lawmaker is accusing the mayor of requesting kickbacks from those who received Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, adding that Clanton was in on the alleged scheme.
Jones is also accusing the mayor of misusing government purchasing cards and participating in improper real estate deals. All these allegations are part of the senator’s request to the FBI and Department of Justice to open an investigation. An FBI spokesman said the agency does not confirm or deny the existence of open investigations. A spokesman for the Department of Justice declined to comment.
“He (Lary) knows what he’s done, and he knows what he’s done to abuse the public trust, so he needs to do the honorable thing and resign,” Jones told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Lary and Clanton denied Jones’ allegations and said they would not be resigning.
“This man continues to impugn my reputation,” Lary said. “He’s gotten everything that he wants. Him and his minions who want to be in charge.”
Mayor of Stonecrest since the city was founded in 2017, Lary has previously accused Jones of having a vendetta against him.
“It does not change the fact that I’m still mayor, I still serve the people and they elected me to be in office. I’ve done a very good job while I’ve been in office as mayor.”
Clanton said, “I’m certainly not resigning because someone requests a resignation. First of all, let’s find out what the issues are, what the truth is.”
Lary added that he’s calling for Jones to resign, claiming the senator has committed ethics violations by colluding with the Stonecrest City Council to remove him from power. Jones’ bill, which was among the first Kemp signed less than a day after the close of this year’s legislative session, breezed through the Senate 49-0 and through the House 155-5.
The issues Jones raised on the CARES Act funds were raised first by Stonecrest City Council members after they said Lary would not provide details on how the $6 million was being distributed and a list of recipients.
In February, the Stonecrest City Council voted to have City Attorney Winston Denmark look into the administration of the city’s allotment of CARES Act funds. The city paid a nonprofit, Municipal Resource Partners, $510,000 to accept applications and distribute $6 million of its $6.2 million CARES budget.
According to Secretary of State records, Municipal Resource Partners was founded in May 2020 by Tom Kurrie, Stonecrest’s first city attorney. Kurrie worked at the same law firm as Stonecrest’s assistant city attorney, Coleman Talley. The City Council voted to cut ties with Talley at the same February meeting where they voted to begin an internal investigation into the CARES money.
Results of that internal investigation have not been released.
Councilwoman Jazzmin Cobble, who pushed for the probe, said the city’s reliance on Kurrie and Talley were concerning.
The dysfunction between Lary and most of the City Council has been well-documented over the past year. Lary has abruptly canceled multiple meetings over the past year while accusing the councilmembers, primarily Cobble, of collusion. He previously said every councilmember but Clanton follows Cobble “because they’re sheep.”
The other four members of the City Council, which represent the second most populous city in DeKalb County, did not respond to The AJC’s request for comment on Friday.
Lary said he has no connection to Municipal Resource Partners, saying the organization was hired while he was battling cancer at the end of 2020. Documents provided to the AJC show the city’s contract with Municipal Resource Partners was signed Nov. 6 by deputy city manager Plez Joyner and Byron King, CEO of Municipal Resource Partners.
Municipal Resource Partners Contract by Zachary Hansen on Scribd
Lary missed city meetings while he was out for cancer treatment from Nov. 9 to Jan. 25, but he continued his duties as mayor during that time.
On Friday, Lary said, “How is it that this damn fool is going to ask me to resign over something that I had no control over, no influence? I wasn’t even physically here. I was in cancer treatment.”
Lary has publicly defended the city’s management of CARES funds.
“Every dime is accounted for,” he said during a February meeting, despite acknowledging discrepancies in the city’s record-keeping.
Clanton, along with Councilman Rob Turner, were on a board that oversaw the city’s CARES program. Clanton said he had no direct input into who received CARES funds.
“In a small town, the City of Stonecrest, there’s certainly going to be some relationships between every single member of council and people who’ve received CARES,” Clanton said. “It’s just not possible that there’s no relationship when you talk about over $6 million in small communities.”
In allegations separate from the CARES funding, Jones said Clanton’s wife has represented the city on real estate deals, adding the Clanton never recused himself from those votes. He added that Clanton was on the board of the Stonecrest’s Convention & Visitors Bureau, which Jones said was set up improperly without City Council approval.
“Councilman Clanton’s hands are dirty,” Jones said.
Clanton denied those accusations, saying he wasn’t involved in the setup of the Convention & Visitors Bureau and that, “I believe I found out about its (improper) establishment prior to the rest of the council, but I had no input into that, and I found out after the fact just like everybody else.”
His wife, Edwina Clanton, owns East Metro Brokers and purchased land on behalf of the city in 2019. Clanton said the person who owned the property sought her out as an agent, which was after the City Council voted to approve the purchase.
“I would have had to disclose it (his relationship to East Metro Brokers) if I had known at the time we voted,” Clanton said.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com