All about Vernon Jones

Vernon Jones answers a question during the forum. Jones and other candidates for Georgia House District 91 participate in a debate sponsored by the Rockdale Chapter NAACP and the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce Thursday, May 5, 2016. KENT D. JOHNSON/kdjohnson@ajc.com
Vernon Jones answers a question during the forum. Jones and other candidates for Georgia House District 91 participate in a debate sponsored by the Rockdale Chapter NAACP and the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce Thursday, May 5, 2016. KENT D. JOHNSON/kdjohnson@ajc.com

Credit: Kent Johnson

Credit: Kent Johnson

State Rep. Vernon Jones has had one of the more interesting political careers in Georgia in the past few decades.

Jones’ career has been filled with big ideas, petty squabbles, scandals, charges that haven’t stuck, big wins and losses, and always a flair for self-promotion.

The Democrat recently made waves for endorsing Republican President Donald Trump's bid for re-election and drew talk of political payback against Jones from his own party.

He was scheduled to speak at the 2020 Republican National Convention.

Here’s a look at Jones’ career.

Politics

Jones has run as a Democrat but does not march to the beat of a political party.

In 2000, he endorsed Democrat Howard Dean’s presidential bid but voted for Republican George W. Bush.

In 2007, he said he backed the idea of a “fair tax,” which is a flat tax proposal that has some support in conservative and libertarian circles.

During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama called out Jones for sending a mailer with a manipulated photo that showed the two on the same stage.

"I do not endorse him; I have not endorsed him," Obama said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "He put my picture on his literature without asking me.

"I think he may have come to an event of ours a while back. The reason I think I may have met him is I know somebody told me as I was shaking his hand that he had taken pride in voting for George Bush twice."

Other side of Vernon Jones mailer, with combined image of him and Barack Obama
Other side of Vernon Jones mailer, with combined image of him and Barack Obama

Jones supports the National Rifle Association and received a campaign donation from the gun rights group in 2016.

Before Trump spoke at the 2017 NRA annual meeting in Atlanta, Jones wrote an editorial in the AJC calling it a “tremendous honor for Atlanta to welcome Donald Trump to our city.”

But Jones also gave a strong warning to Republicans in 2019 as they were considering one of the strictest anti-abortion bills in the country, which later passed.

"If your members vote for this bill in 2020, your party loses," Jones said. "There's going to be a new speaker of the House here. If there's a new speaker, many in your party will lose power, all of you will lose your chairmanships."

History

Jones got his start in politics in 1990 running for the state House. He lost. But the then-manager for BellSouth Mobility won two years later in House District 57.

As his first legislative session began, Jones filed a bill that would remove the Confederate battle emblem from the background of the state flag.

This bill did not advance, and the flag would not change until about a decade later.

In 1998, he filed a bill that would outlaw selling music with explicit lyrics to minors. During the debate on the House floor, Jones was blocked from playing some songs. Instead, Jones read choice lyrics out loud, self-editing wherever necessary. The bill did not pass.

‘I'm 24-7’

Kevin Federline, soon to be ex husband of Britney Spears, poses with a picture with DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones on Saturday, November 18, 2006, during the Atlanta Hawks game against the Miami Heat at Phillips Arena.  (JOHNNY CRAWFORD / AJC staff)
Kevin Federline, soon to be ex husband of Britney Spears, poses with a picture with DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones on Saturday, November 18, 2006, during the Atlanta Hawks game against the Miami Heat at Phillips Arena. (JOHNNY CRAWFORD / AJC staff)

Credit: JOHNNY CRAWFORD

Credit: JOHNNY CRAWFORD

Jones is often described as well-dressed and favors designer clothing. He spent well on himself and sometimes sought public money to do so.

He won the DeKalb County CEO race in 2000 and found controversy before he took office. He asked the outgoing CEO for $25,000 to $50,000 to pay for a secretary and other expenses before he took office. That amount approached what Gov. Roy Barnes got a year before. The request was rejected.

A year later, Jones implemented a dress code for employees and asked a shoeshine man to set up shop in the DeKalb County office building.

In 2003, the AJC reported DeKalb spent $630,000 for Jones’ security detail, far surpassing other county officials.

"I'm 24-7," Jones said at the time. "There's no off time for the CEO of DeKalb County. The feathers come with the chicken."

A grand jury examined the issue and found “high-handed behavior" by Jones and recommended curbing his power.

Governing

His administration shepherded rapid development and more than $350 million worth of funding for parks and infrastructure.

He cited as accomplishments the hiring of more police officers, improving the county’s 911 systeam and launching a curbside recycling program.

In 2006, Jones was ahead of the curve on distracted driving. He pitched a measure to fine drivers $100 if they caused a wreck while talking on a cellphone. The commission upped it to $500.

Vernon Jones Dekalb County CEO kicked off the county's expanded recyling service by climbing onto the back of a garbage truck to pick up recyclable material on Valley Circle. on Aug 24, 2005 (Renee' Hannans Henry/Staff).
Vernon Jones Dekalb County CEO kicked off the county's expanded recyling service by climbing onto the back of a garbage truck to pick up recyclable material on Valley Circle. on Aug 24, 2005 (Renee' Hannans Henry/Staff).

Credit: RENEE' HANNANS HENRY

Credit: RENEE' HANNANS HENRY

Scandals

Jones won re-election in 2004, and the headlines began to pile up.

He was accused of rape that he said was a consensual act between three partners. No charges were filed.

Four DeKalb workers filed a lawsuit that claimed Jones worked to replace white managers in the Parks Department with African Americans.

The lawsuit said Jones and other county officials said they wanted a "darker administration" to reflect "the new DeKalb County."

Six years later, a federal court jury awarded two of those employees $185,000 in damages.

Former DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones faced a battery of reporters in 2010 outside federal court after a verdict that his administration discriminated against senior white employees. He has largely avoided the media this time around. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com
Former DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones faced a battery of reporters in 2010 outside federal court after a verdict that his administration discriminated against senior white employees. He has largely avoided the media this time around. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

The wife of a DeKalb County police officer assigned to guard Jones said the CEO urged her not to report a 2004 incident in which her husband threatened her and a male companion.

The DeKalb County Development Authority funded a $3,500 trip to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, for Jones. Jones said the trip was to attract Olympic-related business to DeKalb.

By 2007, state lawmakers had taken notice of Jones and started to introduce bills that would limit the DeKalb CEO’s power.

He was term-limited out of the CEO job in 2008.

A special grand jury recommended an investigation into allegations of bid-rigging and theft by Jones when he was CEO. The district attorney, however, said he lacked evidence to show any crimes had occurred.

Return to Capitol

Former DeKalb County CEO engaged in a campaign tradition when he kicked off his campaign for sheriff in February. Jones, who has never been a sworn law enforcement officer, joined seven other candidates vying for the post that is wide-open after Sheriff Tom Brown left to run the office to run for congress. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Former DeKalb County CEO engaged in a campaign tradition when he kicked off his campaign for sheriff in February. Jones, who has never been a sworn law enforcement officer, joined seven other candidates vying for the post that is wide-open after Sheriff Tom Brown left to run the office to run for congress. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Jones never stopped running for office. In 2010, he unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson in the 4th Congressional District. In 2014, Jones lost an election for DeKalb sheriff.

Two years later, he returned to the state Capitol with a victory in House District 91.

Back in the Capitol, he has regularly partnered with Republican lawmakers. He co-sponsored a bill to crack down on unauthorized immigrants. And his social media posts crackle with positive messages about Trump.

He’s also drawn the ire of Democrats. He’s called a fellow Democratic lawmaker a “chicken (expletive)” and was accused of making transphobic comments to a Doraville City Council member who Jones said tried to draw a comparison between being black and being gay.

In April 2020, Jones announced he was resigning his State House seat, but walked that back the next day. Instead he withdrew his candidacy before the Georgia primary and will leave office at the end of 2020. In a video posted on Twitter at the time, not long after his endorsement of Trump, Jones said he received an “overwhelming amount of support” from his constituents after announcing his plan to resign.