Atlanta Beltline chief apologizes after expenditures cause controversy

"I want to sincerely apologize," Brian Leary told the board of Invest Atlanta, the city's development agency, on Thursday morning. "None of the things that are in question right now will ever occur again."

The Beltline's board of directors plans to meet Friday morning to discuss policies and procedures after a city audit placed a spotlight on Leary's stewardship of the massive development project, which has attracted more than $337 million in funding since 2006. The effort to build a 22-mile loop of trails, parks, transit, affordable housing and other improvements around the city is slated to be completed in 2031.

A review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found a series of taxpayer-funded credit card expenses with a questionable link to the project's main work. The Beltline has attracted significant private development nearby, with more than $1 billion of new development since 2005, according to Atlanta Beltline Inc.

After the AJC requested the documents, the Beltline repaid the city for some expenses, included a bottle of champagne purchased from a South Pacific resort with taxpayer dollars, along with about $475 in other alcohol charges at restaurants in Seattle, Charlotte and Washington.

The cost of a $106.22 wedding gift of a wine holder for Leary's fiancee, as well as Leary's parking ticket and his dry cleaning bill, were also repaid.

But other costs have not been reimbursed, including a $2,100 bill for food at a Braves game, which the organization called a "team building and community engagement event."

Leary told Invest Atlanta board members that he regretted that a dust-up over expenses had become a distraction from the Beltline's work. He did not specifically acknowledge fault, and left Invest Atlanta's meeting without speaking with reporters on the record.

Invest Atlanta, which oversees the Beltline project, has clarified the policies on allowed expenses, including prohibiting taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for alcohol.

Mayor Kasim Reed, chair of Invest Atlanta's board, declined to say whether he believed Leary should keep his job. Reed said he wanted to be respectful of John Somerhalder, chairman of the Beltline's board of directors.

"That's a decision that should be made by the entire group," Reed said of Leary's future with the Beltline.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.

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.