A two-word comment on social media has people at Atlanta City Hall scratching their heads, mainly because of the identity of its author — U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak.
Last week, Pak chimed in on a Facebook discussion about why Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s contract will not be renewed when it expires June 30.
“Gulch anyone?” Pak asked, referring to the 40-acre mixed-use development that will feature apartments, office towers, hotels and a regional mall’s worth of retail space.
The downtown area known as the Gulch sits right outside Pak’s office in the Richard B. Russell Federal Building. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms successfully championed up to $1.9 billion in tax incentives for the $5 billion project.
Carstarphen, with the support of her school board, publicly opposed an early version of the incentive plan, saying it would siphon off too much money from the school district. That stance caused friction between the district and the city.
Pak told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview Wednesday that he never intended for the comment to become public. He said it was made on a friend’s private Facebook page, and is not related to his office’s years-long investigation of City Hall corruption.
While Pak’s comment was the subject of gossip and speculation around City Hall, officials there were reluctant to talk about it on the record. A spokesman for mayor Bottoms declined to comment when asked about the post.
Last week, the school board voted against extending Carstarphen’s contract despite her having the support of some of Atlanta’s most prominent leaders — including former Ambassador Andrew Young and U.S. Rep. John Lewis.
At first, the board offered little public explanation for its decision while speculation ran rampant about whether political pressure had impacted the board’s decision because of Carstarphen’s opposition to the Gulch — as well as tax breaks provided to other developers.
A spokesman for developer CIM Group said the company had no involvement in the school board’s decision.
But Pak, a U.S. Attorney deeply engaged with indictments, subpoenas and guilty pleas from a public corruption investigation, elevated the conjecture by weighing in on Facebook.
Was the Gulch deal part of the federal investigation?
Pak said his comments were based on a story he had read in the AJC, and that he was only speculating that Carstarphen might have ruffled some feathers.
“I don’t make cryptic comments about investigations,” he said.
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