City Ethics Office Reviewing Starnes Complaint
(APN) ATLANTA — Yesterday, Tuesday, March 30, 2010, the City of Atlanta’s Ethics Office began looking into possible conflict of interests involving Debi Starnes, the Mayor’s Police Advisor on Homelessness, which were first revealed by Atlanta Progressive News late last week.
APN joined Joe Beasley, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement and Board Member of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, in requesting the ethics investigation.
Ethics Officer Ginny Looney said that she had already read the article in The Atlanta Progressive News about Starnes’s failure to disclose private payments from Central Atlanta Progress and a downtown hotel for her salary that were funneled through the United Way.
Looney said that Starnes was claiming that she no longer worked for the City after January 2009 and that she was a loaned executive to the City from the United Way.
There are several problems with this: (1) she presented herself in court, in depositions, in emails, and in the disclosure itself as working for and representing the City; (2) it appears the Council never approved the donation of her salary; and (3) she still would have had to disclose the private payments.
Looney and Associate Ethics Officer, Jabu Sengova, are currently reviewing the complaint for jurisdiction and they have up to three business days, or until Friday, to decide. If they decide they have jurisdiction, they will send official notice to Starnes and she will have 30 days to respond.
Based on that response and the preliminary investigation, they would then decide whether they believe there is probable cause of a legal violation, and the Ethics Board would have to agree, before an Enforcement Hearing before the Board would occur.
The Ethics Office is understaffed and under-resourced, so some investigations take up to several months to resolve.
The complaint accuses Starnes of violating several sections of the City’s Code of Ordinances, including representing private interests before city agencies; representing private interests before courts; use of property and services; participation in contracts; disclosure of interests; disclosure of income and financial interests; and incompatible interests (outside employment; doing business with city).
“Debi Starnes received private payments from Central Atlanta Progress and a downtown hotel, through the United Way, which is money laundering,” the complaint says. “However, Starnes did not disclose the payment on her 2010 Financial Disclosure Statement.”
“She used her position to undermine the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, pursuing the private agenda of CAP-in a conspiracy between the City of Atlanta and CAP to shut down the Task Force,” the complaint says.
“Payments covered January 2009 through possibly the present. She used her position to curtail city, state, and federal funding the clients of the TF were entitled to, in violation of their civil rights. She used city resources to organize private lobbying campaigns to cut off public and private funds for the Task Force; influence biased media reporting by trashing the Task Force; and push the shelter into foreclosure to help CAP attempt to purchase the building,” the complaint says.
“Additional conflict of interest questions surround EMSTAR, her private consulting firm whose clients include the United Way, who paid her salary in 2009 and benefited from the de-funding of the Task Force. It also appears the City Council did not approve the private payments. See Also: 2 articles in APN and other supporting documents,” the complaint says.
WSB-TV Channel 2 and Fox Channel 5 news both covered the ethics investigation in their evening news programs.
Mayor Reed’s Office told Fox 5 that he was reviewing Starnes’s employment. Channels 2 and 5 said Starnes would not return their phone calls.
CD/HR TO ALSO REVIEW QUESTIONS
Beasley and the present writer also made presentations to the Community Development/Human Resources (CD/HR) Committee of the City Council of Atlanta, prior to filing the complaint.
APN circulated to Council Members Cleta Winslow (District 4), Alex Wan (District 6), Joyce Sheperd (District 12), and Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large) copies of pages from Starnes’s deposition in the Task Force lawsuit where she admits to and describes the private payments, as well as copies of Starnes’s ethics disclosure from 2010.
In response to the present writer’s presentation, Sheperd declined to request the ethics investigation herself at that time, but said she would look into the questions presented. She requested that the questions be sent to her in writing.
“What I would like to do, is, those questions that you talked about, could you present them to the Committee also?” Sheperd said, as the questions were initially addressed to her.
“I would tell you today that I’m not going to weigh in on this. I will find out, I will go into detail and find out more specifically in terms of this, in terms of what’s happening. I’ll come back to you our next Committee meeting to give you a report,” Sheperd said.
“But if you could provide me with those questions, I will do that for you, and I will talk to the legal department in terms of that,” Sheperd said.
“Debi Starnes who carries herself as a czar for the City of Atlanta is actually being paid by a private entity. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say the money’s being… put up by the business community and then laundered through the United Way and funneled into the City for Debi Starnes to carry out her campaign to try to close down the Task Force for the Homeless,” Beasley said.
“She’s used her position to deny funding, first City funding, then State funding, and then HUD funding, and so, it’s a diabolical situation,” Beasley said.
“I spoke to, I know that we got a new Mayor, and she’s there in her office. Because I inquired with a number of city people and she’s still working here as a czar. I went over to try to talk to the Mayor but he was not available at the moment,” Beasley said.
“We believe that Debi Starnes who carries herself as a City of Atlanta employee is in fact being paid by the United Way in a diabolical scheme to close down the Task Force for the Homeless. And really quite frankly, I think it’s racketeering,” Beasley said.
“I did stop by the District Attorney’s office and I’m going to be following up on that to see if in fact money is being collected by the business community with the express purpose of closing down the Task Force for the Homeless,” Beasley said.
“I’ve read the depositions of AJ Robinson, about 500 pages, and his cohorts, and there’s a scheme that’s been going on for a number of years to close down the Task Force, starve the money out. And so I hope you would support us and look at this and go down to the Task Force for the Homeless yourself and observe what’s going on. Quite frankly it’s discrimination, we’re going to HUD because the majority of people in that shelter of course is African American men and there was a decision made years ago that they were going to sanitize Peachtree Street of Black men, especially poor, Black men,” Beasley said.
“And so I hope you would support us in taking this ethics investigation forward,” Beasley said.
“As I said earlier to Mr. Matthews [Cardinale], is that we will look into all the questions you have brought before us today, by the next Committee meeting, and I will respond to all the information you have, and also if you have your questions, if you will give me your questions,” Sheperd said.
“If she work for the United Way she should be over there on Edgewood Avenue working, rather than sitting up in City Hall using the bully pulpit of this Administration and this government to carry out this kind of diabolical work,” Beasley added.
A Youtube video of the CD/HR presentations is embedded below:
Beasley told APN today that he had spoken this morning with the Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard and that Howard was concerned about the situation. Howard requested that Beasley send him a letter regarding the situation.
In related news, it should be noted that Councilman Wan, Vice Chairman of CD/HR, toured the Task Force for the Homeless for the first time last Friday, fulfilling a promise he made to Atlanta Progressive News shortly after being elected. Wan toured the facility, heard personal stories of Task Force residents, and asked questions.
In an update on the foreclosure, the Task Force is still up for auction in early April, but believes the auction will be postponed again in light of the current lawsuit against the City. They are also pursuing a complaint with HUD, which may also intervene in the foreclosure.
Meanwhile, the Task Force continues to negotiate with possible private investors who would help the Task Force pay off the note and complete its Master Plan redevelopment while the court case against the City is resolved.
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Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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