EXCLUSIVE: Starnes Failed to Disclose CAP Payment–Shelter Sabotage Part 2

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(APN) ATLANTA — Debi Starnes, the Policy Advisor on Homelessness to former Mayor Shirley Franklin, received payments from two private entities funneled through the United Way to fund her position for the City in 2009, but failed to disclose the payments in her City of Atlanta Board of Ethics Financial Disclosure Statement for 2010, Atlanta Progressive News can reveal.

Previously APN reported that Starnes had received a check for 40,000 dollars to fund her position as Policy Advisor on Homelessness from Central Atlanta Progress (CAP), according to depositions of AJ Robinson and Richard Orr of CAP obtained by APN. CAP said the money originally came from the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District and was approved by the ADID Board to be paid by CAP to the United Way, earmarked for Starnes.

To be clear, the payment was funneled through three different entities–ADID, CAP, and United Way–before it reached Starnes.

APN has now also reviewed Starnes’s deposition, in which she admits receiving the payment. She notes that there was also a 5,000 dollar payment from a downtown hotel that went through the United Way to fund her position. She says in the deposition she can’t remember which hotel, but that it is either the downtown Hilton or Hyatt.

Starnes states in her deposition that she was originally hired by the Mayor in 2007 in what started as a full-time regular City position, which was paid for by the City. Then, she said that with budget cuts her position was first downgraded to full-time temporary, then part-time temporary. Then, she said Franklin cut the City funding for her position altogether, which is when the business community stepped in.

Starnes testified that she entered into a contract with the United Way at the end of January 2009 for six months, which was extended for two months, for the 45,000 dollars, to carry out her functions as Policy Advisor on Homeless for the City of Atlanta.

The fact that she was a City official being paid with private funds raises conflict of interest issues in and of itself, especially in the context of CAP and the City’s apparent conspiracy to sabotage the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless. As previously reported by APN, the Task Force is suing the City for triple damages.

However, APN has uncovered additional problems related to her transparency.

In the filing she states that she was a City employee in 2009. When asked, “Since January 1, 2009, have you been employed by or received employment income from the City of Atlanta or a city-related agency?” Starnes selected “yes.”

She also states that as of the March 2010 filing–three months into Mayor Kasim Reed’s term–that she still works for the Mayor’s office.

The next section asks about non-city employment income. “Since January 1, 2009, have you been self-employed or employed by any corporation, partnership, proprietorship, other business entity, non-profit organization, or other governmental entity besides the City of Atlanta?” She selected yes.

However, when asked to “List the full name of every business entity, non-profit organization, or governmental agency in which you held an employment position,” she lists EMSTAR Research, Inc., and no other entities.

EMSTAR is Starnes’s consulting firm which provides grant-writing assistance and program evaluation assistance to non-profit and government agencies, including the United Way. However, her 45,000 dollar payment was not paid to EMSTAR, but to her as an individual contractor.

The 45,000 dollar payment should have been listed, but it was not. She could have listed the payment as coming from ADID, CAP, or United Way, but not to list it at all may be an ethical violation.

Then, it asks, “Has any person, employer, or entity that you listed as a source of income engaged in business with the City of Atlanta since January 1, 2009?” Starnes selected no. However, if Starnes had listed the payment from ADID, CAP, and United Way, she may have needed to acknowledge that at least one of these entities does business with the City.

“I am shocked that she can get away with not reporting the payment, even after she admitted it in the deposition,” Anita Beaty, Executive Director of the Task Force, told APN.

“I would be concerned about her relationship with these other entities. My concern is, who’s she working for?” Edith Ladipo, a community activist, NPU activist, and former candidate for City Council District 11, said.

Ladipo said she was also concerned about Starnes’s ongoing work on the Fort McPherson redevelopment, given the recent revelations.

“Since she has such a leadership role in the City of Atlanta she owes somebody a report. I’d like to see her come before CD/HR and make a report to them… since she’s been getting paid by all these entities, including the City of Atlanta,” Ben Howard, a senior advocate, said.

Howard said she wants to know about “her role in ensuring there was equitable distribution of funds allocated towards homelessness in this City.”

Starnes admits in her deposition to helping decide how the City’s homelessness dollars, which typically originate with the federal government, are spent.

“Central Atlanta Progress is on record as not being impartial in the task to end homelessness in this City. They have a rigid position and that position is different from a lot of people who think homeless folks need to be treated more kindly. So in essence, CAP has a biased position towards homelessness. And she being the Homeless Czar for the City of Atlanta, she does not need to accept any money from CAP. And how United Way gets in the picture needs to be investigated,” Howard said.

APN spoke with multiple Council members off the record for this story.

One Council Member said that their understanding of normal Council procedure is the Council has to vote to accept a private donation on behalf of the City. It is not immediately clear whether the Council voted to accept the payment for Starnes.

A search of Final Action Legislation on the City’s website finds no legislation with the word “Starnes” in it since 2005, when Starnes ceased serving as a City Councilwoman. She served three terms from 1994 to 2005.

APN is also looking into the circumstances of how her position was created in the first place and whether the Council approved the position or her salary, which also is normal Council procedure.

In addition, there are serious questions about Starnes’s relationship to various private entities in Atlanta through her firm, EMSTAR, and whether these relationships pose an additional conflict of interest for Starnes.

For example, Starnes was helping the City of Atlanta make decisions about who to fund and she helped steer funds away from the Task Force. It is possible that her work as a City of Atlanta official then benefited clients of her private consulting firm, such as United Way, who also sought the same grant funding pool that was being sought by the Task Force.

And all this while being paid personally by a private interest who seeks to displace homeless people from downtown Atlanta, with funds being funneled through the United Way, one of her private consulting firm’s clients? That’s not double-dipping; it would be triple-dipping, maybe even quadruple.

DEVELOPING…

(END/2010)

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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