Councilwoman Winslow Faces Fourth Ethics Investigation, Talk of Possible Removal
(APN) ATLANTA — The City of Atlanta Ethics Office is again investigating Atlanta City Councilwoman Cleta Winslow (District 4), Atlanta Progressive News has learned. The Ethics Office says the investigation is complex, document-driven, and unlikely to be completed until the year’s end.
“There is one investigation concerning Council member Winslow which was initiated by the Ethics Office. Because the investigation is currently ongoing, we are unable to provide any further information at this time,” Jabu Sengova, Associate Ethics Officer, wrote in an email to APN.
The investigation likely concerns recent news reports regarding Winslow.
Meanwhile, Torry Lewis, who ran against Winslow in the 2013 Municipal Elections, tells APN that some Council members are considering removing Winslow from office, for violations against her city oath as a Councilperson.
“I’ve talked to a few council members who were interested in pursuing a removal based on malfeasance,” Lewis said.
He claims that Winslow has perpetuated malfeasance on a number of points defined in the Charter.
“There is also the possibility of a recall election, which would require thirty percent of the last election’s voter turnout,” Lewis said.
The oath says among other items, “I will be governed by the public good and the interests of the City. I will observe the provisions of the Charter, ordinances, and regulations of the City of Atlanta, and I will support and defend the Constitutions of the State of Georgia and the United States of America.” (Section 2, article 301, part b of the City Charter)
At issue: First, Winslow has been using office funds to have lawns mowed around her district, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper (AJC) reported.
Winslow paid a friend and constituent, Roy Davis (Richro Lawn Care), to mow many lawns throughout her District. Some lawns were owned by relatives of City workers such as Arianna Sikes; some were abandoned; some were owned by political donors.
Winslow spent a total of 65,000 dollars over five years, according to the AJC.
Second, Winslow paid homeless workers less than the federal minimum wage to wear campaign shirts while handing out fliers to district residents and doing district clean-ups.
An amateur video shot by Lewis shows two workers –Brandon Carter and Lyndell Banks–wearing Cleta Winslow t-shirts, one stating he was making five dollars an hour.
“She [Winslow] said, ‘Once I give you this shirt you’ll be part of my campaign and you’ll be working for me,'” Samantha DeLoach, a homeless woman, told WSB-TV Channel 2 news.
DeLoach told Channel 2 that the workers wore those same Winslow T-shirts whether they were cleaning the district or campaigning for Winslow.
Winslow also failed to file several campaign disclosures.
In the one recent disclosure she did file, however, she only listed 140 dollars in small expenditures, even though on one day she allegedly paid those workers 240 dollars, Channel 2 reported.
Winslow’s sordid journey into the abyss of corruption started in 2006, as previously reported by APN, when she was “warned” by the City of Atlanta Ethics Office for passing out a taxpayer funded newsletter at a campaign event.
Then, in 2010, she was fined 1,500 dollars by the Ethics Office of the City of Atlanta for using Council Office funds for 2009 campaign expenses. Winslow had spent 1,700 dollars of City funds to design and print a campaign newsletter and 3,720 dollars to distribute it door-to-door in the four days preceding the election
The Ethics Office was also concerned with Winslow’s expenditures on food for various events that she held in the last two months before the elections, but could not determine that they were campaign-related.
“I’m not ashamed to say I spoil my folks,” Winslow told the AJC in 2010. “I spoil them with food.”
Then, in 2013, she did it again. Winslow’s office had submitted an invoice for reimbursement for the cost of transporting seniors in her district to a campaign event.
In late 2013, the Ethics Board ordered Winslow to pay a 2,000 dollar fine. At the Board meeting, members expressed concern that the prior fine had not been effective in deterring Winslow.
Winslow claimed that staff member, Arianna Sikes, had submitted the invoice without authorization to do so from Winslow. Incidentally, Sikes passed away a few weeks ago, as reported by APN.
As for whether Winslow could be removed from office by a vote of the Council, such a process is outlined in Article 5, section 304, of the Charter:
“(a) Grounds for removal. The mayor, the president of the council, or any councilmember shall be subject to removal from office for any of the following causes: (1) Malpractice, misfeasance, or malfeasance in office; (2) Failure at any time to possess any of the qualifications of office as provided by this Charter or by law; (3) Failure to maintain continuously the residency within the district or districts from which elected; (4) Violation of the conflicts of interest and standards of conduct provided in this Charter or the code of ordinances; (5) Violation of the oath of office as provided in this Charter; (6) Abandonment of office or ceasing to perform the duties thereof; or (7) Failure for any cause to perform the duties of office as required by the provisions herein or by law.
“(b) Procedures for removal. Removal of the mayor, the president of the council, or any councilmember pursuant to subsection (a) of this section shall be accomplished by the following method. In the event the mayor, the president of the council, or any councilmember is sought to be removed by action of the council, an impartial panel shall conduct a hearing and render a decision on the matter. Such elected official sought to be removed shall be entitled to a written notice specifying the ground(s) for removal and to a public hearing which shall be held not less than ten days after the service of such written notice. The council shall provide by ordinance or resolution for the appointment of an impartial panel and the manner in which such hearings shall be held to render a decision. Any elected official sought to be removed from office as herein provided shall have the right of appeal from the decision of the council to the Superior Court of Fulton County. Such appeals shall be governed by the same rules as govern appeals to the superior court from the probate court.”
First elected in 1993, Winslow has been reelected five times, in 1997, 2001, 2005, 2009, and 2013.
Winslow also recently pleaded guilty to driving while under the influence of alcohol. But one Councilmember, last year in 2013, speaking off the record, commented that it would not deter Winslow’s reelection, noting that she is popular in District 4.
“They’re like, she may be a drunk, but she’s our drunk,” the Councilmember noted at the time.
During a 2012 Council Committee meeting, Winslow expressed her true feelings about the Ethics Office.
“I think a lot of us has felt as though, at least this is my feeling… we’ve been kind of looked down upon,” Winslow said at the time.
“Not that you were being dictatorial, but I was feeling that as we’ve kind of gone along this path… that the Board has treated us this way, that we’re over you, that we’re your overseer, and I just have to publicly say that, and that’s very disturbing to me. And I get that sense and I can’t shake it. I haven’t been able to shake it no matter who’s on the Board. And I really get that like, you
know, hey, you’re under us, and it’s just not a good feeling, and I don’t get that with other Boards,” Winslow said.
“And it’s almost as though, I’ve got my thumb on all of you. And I don’t think anybody means to do that. I’m saying there’s a spirit there that doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t think it has to do with any one person. I just think… they just feel that they’re over us,” Winslow said.
Winslow did not return a voicemail from APN seeking comment.