Jason Lary became a vocal proponent in south DeKalb County during a push that resulted in the creation of the city of Stonecrest in 2016. His visibility in that effort led to his election as the city’s first mayor, a job that pays him $20,000 a year for part-time work.
This year, Lary has found a new source of income linked to a separate cityhood drive in northern DeKalb. The folks behind an effort to create a new city of Vista Grove have hired Stonecrest’s mayor as their paid lobbyist at the state Capitol. Lary stands to earn about $10,000 for his work lobbying state lawmakers during the 2019 legislative session on behalf of the northern DeKalb community, according to Andrew Flake, the leader of the Vista Grove initiative.
He said Lary’s most pressing duty is to help build support with lawmakers for a bill that would allow voters in unincorporated areas of wedged between Brookhaven, Chamblee and Tucker to decide whether to approve the new city.
VIDEO: Previous coverage of Jason Lary
Vista Grove backers reached out to Lary when they began their cityhood effort two years ago, asking for insight and feedback, Flake said. Lary was introduced as their lobbyist during a community meeting in January.
“Our hope is that he can take the Vista Grove message to a wider set of legislators, especially to the DeKalb delegation,” Flake said.
Lary did not respond to text messages or an email to the Stonecrest city spokesman asking about his work for Vista Grove and how he is balancing that with his duties as mayor.
Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, said the mayor does visit the Statehouse often and has good relationships with many members, but she still found the partnership to be surprising.
“I thought he would be busy with Stonecrest,” said Parent, who learned Lary was working for Vista Grove after reading about it in a recent email newsletter.
Lary drew attention of another kind at the Capitol last year when he tried to more than triple his mayoral salary from $20,000 to $75,000. Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, helped block that effort after the mayor sought legislative approval.
Jones said with all the challenges in Stonecrest, such as the loss of businesses near the mall, Lary should focus on the job voters elected him to perform.
“The mayor needs to concentrate his efforts in his own city and leave the other cities and unincorporated areas alone,” the senator said.
Lary’s tenure in Stonecrest has been rocky at times. When the General Assembly refused to increase his salary, Lary asked the City Council to do it. That measure failed on a 4-2 vote.
Lary has also sparred with council members on SPLOST spending and about which vendors the city should hire. He said in September the stress was affecting his health as he dealt with a cancer diagnosis and that he would be temporarily stepping away from his mayoral duties. However, he never appeared to do so, which irritated some council members.
Lary’s most vocal critic, City Councilwoman Diane Adoma, has begun raising money to challenge his re-election bid later this year.
Flake said Lary was hired because of his success in getting the city of Stonecrest approved by voters and because of his relationship with Democrats in the General Assembly. He will partner with another lobbyist, Brad Carver, who was hired to represent Vista Grove last year. Carver also is a lobbyist for the people behind an effort to create the city of Greenhaven in south DeKalb.
Unlike Carver, Lary does not list Vista Grove as a lobbying client in documents filed with the state.
Finding sponsors for both cityhood bills have proven to be a difficult task this year. Lawmakers who sponsored the Vista Grove and Greenhaven legislation during the 2017 and 2018 sessions are either no longer in office or, in the case of Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, no longer willing to sign on.
Flake said legislators have been approached this year about Vista Grove, but there is not yet anything to announce. Kathryn Rice, the leader of the Greenhaven effort, had a similar response.
If legislation is not introduced by crossover day, which is March 7, it would be difficult for these proposals to get the green light during the 2019 session.