Repeat ethics violator can settle latest case for $3K

Atlanta City Councilwoman Cleta Winslow, a repeat violator of the city’s ethics ordinance, can settle another round of alleged infractions with a $3,000 fine.

Yet again, ethics officials say Winslow misappropriated taxpayer money for campaign purposes. Ethics Officer Nina Hickson launched an investigation in 2014 after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Winslow used public funds to pay homeless people to work for her 2013 campaign, along with other improper spending.

Ethics Board members voted Thursday to offer Winslow the $3,000 settlement deal after Hickson told them she couldn’t make a stronger case because of the councilwoman’s sloppy record-keeping.

“I couldn’t figure out a way to quantify what was what,” Hickson told the AJC after the meeting. “Essentially, it came down to what she would admit to, and what I could prove.”

Winslow did not attend the meeting and has not said whether she will accept the deal.

The councilwoman, who has held the District 4 seat since 1994, faced a tough campaign in 2013 after being caught driving drunk in her district. An AJC investigation found that Winslow tapped city funds to bolster her image in ways her opponent couldn't match.

According to the proposed settlement agreement, Winslow used city funds to pay for gas so that one of her staffers could drive her to campaign events. At the time, she couldn’t drive because of the DUI.

She also spent $200 for eight tickets to the West End Jazz Festival, the proposed agreement says, and among those she invited were two people who she asked to “keep an eye on things” related to her campaign.

Winslow also wrote a $100 check from her campaign account to Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, apparently a donation, when she attended an event there, the document says. She later sought reimbursement from the city. Winslow admitted to Hickson that while she attended in her capacity as a councilwoman, she also passed out campaign literature and spoke about her reelection bid.

Hickson said she could not locate the homeless people named in the AJC story. However, she said, Winslow admitted to paying $240 in hourly wages, supposedly for homeless people to clean up streets, when they were actually campaigning.

Hickson and Winslow’s attorney had agreed to settle the case for $2,500, but when Hickson took the deal to the Ethics Board, the board voted to beef up the terms. The board wants the fine amount increased to $3,000, along with a written public reprimand copied to other council members, and with Winslow required to submit quarterly reports of her spending to Hickson.

If Winslow accepts, it will be the third time she has paid money to settle ethics accusations. She was fined $1,500 in 2010 and $2,000 in 2013 — in both cases for spending city funds on her re-election bids.

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