Recall petition against embattled Stonecrest mayor fails due to signature issues

210415-Stonecrest-Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary holds a press conference at city hall on Thursday, April 15, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

210415-Stonecrest-Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary holds a press conference at city hall on Thursday, April 15, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A resident-led effort to recall Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary was thrown out after it was deemed incomplete and legally insufficient by the DeKalb County Elections Office.

DeKalb County Elections Director Erica Hamilton said the petition lacked the required number of voter signatures and was submitted incorrectly.

The recall effort failed to get 100 signatures that Hamilton’s office could verify, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The recall effort would have eventually needed more than 12,000 signatures to remove Lary who has been implicated in several financial scandals.

The petition was sponsored by Richard Stone, a Stonecrest resident who said Lary’s conduct in office warranted removal.

Lary is named in an investigative report that found strong evidence of mismanagement within the city’s federal pandemic relief fund program, which also appears to have been a kickback scheme. The mayor is also accused of abusing his city-issued purchasing card, entering improper contracts on behalf of the city and writing unapproved checks using city funds.

Lary, who has not been charged with any crimes or ethical violations, has repeatedly denied the allegations against him. When the recall petition was filed Aug. 25, he said the effort was politically motivated, and he reiterated that Monday morning.

“This vindictive effort by individuals who fought against the creation of our great city of Stonecrest failed on the premise of false information and inaccurate allegations,” Lary said in a text message. “Those individuals should spend their efforts helping Stonecrest be the best majority African American city in America rather than wasting their energy attempting to discredit the hard community work I have achieved as Founder and Mayor.”

Stone, a reverend at Unity In Faith Baptist Church, also ran an unsuccessful campaign for a Stonecrest council seat in 2017. He told the AJC on Monday that while his recall’s failure is a setback, it won’t stop residents’ attempts to remove Lary from office.

“This effort will continue,” Stone said.

He told the AJC he gathered 110 signatures for the recall, but the county said only 101 were contained in the petition. Of those, Hamilton’s office could only verify 85 as valid, meaning that each signee was registered to vote in Stonecrest when Lary was last elected in 2019.

Stone said he’s requested the list of names that were thrown out but has yet to receive them.

“Nearly everybody we had on the list we knew personally or somebody involved in the work we were doing knew them,” Stone said.

In addition, part of the petition was filed after closing hours and lacked a required affidavit from Stone, according to the county documents. The recall was officially rejected Sept. 3, days before the county elections director was placed on an unexplained extended leave of absence.

The failed recall is a setback to residents who wanted to remove Lary from office before his term ends in 2023.

Stone said he’s unable to sponsor another recall petition against Lary for at least six months, but another city resident can try again.

Besides the recall process, elected officials can be removed from office if they are convicted of a felony. It’s unknown whether federal authorities are investigating allegations about mismanagement of pandemic funds in Stonecrest, which involves other former city employees as well as the mayor. An FBI spokesman said the agency will not confirm or deny active investigations, and a Department of Justice spokesman has repeatedly declined to comment.