Jim Beard, former Atlanta chief financial officer shown at a budget briefing in 2017, spent tens of thousands of dollars on pricey airfare, hotels and restaurants during the last three years of Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration. LEON STAFFORD/LSTAFFORD@AJC.COM

Former Atlanta CFO seeks removal of ethics officer from his case

Former CFO Jim Beard rebuffs officer’s demand to document $150K in questionable charges.

During his time as Atlanta’s chief financial officer, Jim Beard swiped his city-issued credit card to pay for more than $68,000 in first-class international travel for himself and others; covered a $10,000 Paris hotel suite; and made $9,000 in contributions to non-profit agencies.

Now, Beard’s lawyer says Atlanta Ethics Officer Jabu Sengova should be disqualified from prosecuting the ethics case related to Beard’s credit card use because she made $300 in political contributions to the campaigns of judges running for Fulton Superior Court.

Attorney Scott Grubman’s letter, written Tuesday and addressed to Ethics Board chairwoman Kate Wasch, calls Sengova’s political contributions a conflict of interest because appeals of Ethics Board decisions are heard in Fulton Superior Court. It asks the ethics board to investigate Sengova and force her removal from the case against Beard while that investigation is pending.

“I do not believe that an Ethics Officer who apparently cannot herself follow the ethics code should be sitting in a prosecutorial role over other alleged violations of that same code,” Grubman wrote Wednesday in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Grubman also said Sengova “may have lied” in her campaign disclosure form because she listed her occupation as “attorney, city of Atlanta” in reporting her $200 donation to Fani Willis in March 2018. Willis lost that non-partisan race in a primary run-off.

Sengova correctly listed her occupation on a form disclosing her $101 contribution to Judge Shondeana Crews-Morris in 2014. She was the associate ethics officer at the time.

In a statement emailed to the AJC, Sengova said the prohibition against political contributions applies only to municipal elections.

“Mr. Grubman’s accusations are false and misleading and (part of) his continued attempts to attack my character for doing my job, and I plan to contact the Georgia State Bar for his slanderous comments,” Sengova’s statement says. “That said, he has yet to appear before the Ethics Board to address the case pending against his client.”

Jabu Sengova is the Ethics Officer for the Atlanta Board of Ethics. WSB-TV

The ethics complaint was filed against Beard in December 2018, after a series of stories by the AJC and Channel 2 Action News outlining the former CFO’s use of his taxpayer-backed credit card. Beard repaid the city $10,000 for the Paris hotel stay, and told the AJC that he was in France performing “due diligence” for a proposed street furniture program.

The AJC also reported that Beard used his card to pay an $8,000 restaurant tab for a going away party in the final weeks of Kasim Reed’s tenure as mayor. Beard spent another $2,000 for parting gifts for members of Reed’s cabinet.

The party spending and gifts were not among the 44 charges cited in the ethics complaint, which alleges Beard used his card for more than $150,000 in questionable purchases from 2014-18. Among them: travel expenses for Beard’s paid work on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, a regulator of financial institutions that sell municipal bonds.

“A review of city records shows that you failed to provide any or sufficient supporting documentation demonstrating the city business justification for these charges,” the complaint says.

Employees in Beard’s department were responsible for oversight of the city’s credit card program, which included making sure purchases by Beard and the mayor were legitimate.

The ethics board voted earlier this month to proceed with the case against Beard. He faces possible sanctions of a $1,000 fine, a reprimand, and referral of the case for prosecution by the city solicitor in Municipal Court.

In a May 1 written response to the allegations, Grubman wrote that the ethics board doesn’t have jurisdiction over Beard “as he is no longer in any way affiliated with the City of Atlanta.”

But the city’s ethics board has adjudicated complaints against former employees. In June 2014, it initiated an investigation against an environmental compliance officer who allegedly misused her city vehicle and received free food from a restaurant after threatening to use her authority against the business. And in March 2015, the Ethics Board fined the former employee $5,000 and reprimanded her.

Grubman also wrote in the May 1 letter that Beard does not have access to documents or information related to the charges cited in the complaint, because he is no longer an employee.

“From early 2016 until early 2018, Mr. Beard was the City’s lead negotiator for the Arena/Gulch transaction and was also finance lead for numerous other transactions during his entire tenure as CFO,” Grubman’s May 1 letter says. “In this capacity, Mr. Beard took numerous authorized trips in order to facilitate the successful closing of those transactions.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.