Multiple well-placed sources have confirmed for Around Town that the FBI is looking at possible corruption here, and particularly at contracts involving county purchases of goods and services from the private sector, they say.
Such investigations are usually highly secretive and this one apparently is no different.
The FBI did not respond to requests for comment.
SUCH AN INVESTIGATION would be consistent with the renewed focus by that agency on public corruption cases in metro Atlanta. The most noteworthy case in that regard broke in June when Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Lasseter abruptly resigned following her guilty plea the same day to taking $36,500 in bribes in connection with a proposed real estate scheme. She was sentenced in September to serve 33 months in prison. Her son, John Fanning, and another man, Skip Cain, described as her “bag man,” were sentenced to four years in prison. A Gwinnett grand jury had concluded the county overpaid by millions of dollars for land acquisitions and that the beneficiaries had been friends and political allies of the commissioners.
Fanning and Cain eventually agreed to wear wires and secretly record conversations with confederates as part of the FBI probe, according to reports. Their cooperation helped lead to the recent guilty plea by Gwinnett developer Mark Gary, who admitted to swapping $30,000 worth of casino chips in 2009 in return for Lasseter’s vote on a waste transfer station.
GWINNETT RESIDENTS probably are getting used to such unwelcome headlines. Lasseter was the third commissioner there to resign from office under a cloud in just the past two years, including Chairman Charles Bannister.
U.S. Attorney Sally Yates in Atlanta described the Lasseter episode as part of “an ongoing effort to root out public corruption” and strongly hinted there is more to come. Indeed, the Atlanta newspaper reported this week that metro Atlanta now ranks among the top districts in the country for corruption convictions, and printed a long list of cases involving local public officials who had been snared and sentenced.
But notably absent from that list was anyone with an obvious connection to Cobb County. That normally would be cause for folks here to collectively pat themselves on the back. Yet, there are those troublesome rumblings that have been swirling …
To its credit, Cobb government has been clean as the proverbial whistle in recent decades, as best as can be determined. The county has not had a major corruption case since the FBI investigation of the Cobb Water Department in the late 1980s, which resulted in a pipe contractor and two department employees pleading guilty to federal bribery and tax evasion and being sent to prison. County records uncovered by the FBI showed the water system paid contractors almost $19 million between 1985 and 1989 to buy and install equipment bought from firms represented by the contractor.
PEOPLE TALK ABOUT the need for good schools, less congestion and high quality of life when it comes to attracting new business from out of state. But having a “clean as a whistle” reputation is probably of equal or even greater importance. Few are eager to move their businesses to a state or community where they know they’ll have to “pay to play” and where bribery is a fact of life. Yet, as what happened in Gwinnett reminds us, good people sometimes do bad things, especially when power, money and opportunity intersect.
REALTOR AND LIFELONG Mariettan Johnny Walker revealed Friday that he plans to run next fall for the Ward 3 seat on the City Council, thereby creating a “Johnny vs. Johnny” race against incumbent Johnny Sinclair.
“I have never run for public office but I feel this is the right thing for me to do,” Walker told Around Town. “I have been encouraged by so many in my ward, I think the community is ready for some new leadership and I am ready to take on the challenge.
“I am energetic, hardworking and very enthusiastic about our community and its citizens,” he said. “I am for higher home ownership and less rental properties. The Marietta school system is very important to me and with having great neighborhoods makes for a strong school system. Redeveloping the Franklin Road Corridor is a concern of mine and I hope working with the other council members and the citizens we can accomplish this.”
Walker, 52, has spent the past 17 years with Harry Norman Realtors and also has a small photography business focused on the Marietta School System. He served for 10 years on the Downtown Marietta Development Authority, is a past president of the Marietta Business Association and was a director of the Cobb Association of Realtors. He presently is on the city’s Historic Board of Review, the board of the Friends of Brumby Hall, serves on The Cole Street Development Board and attends First United Methodist in Marietta.
Walker is a graduate of Marietta High School and attended Mercer University. He lives on McCord Street with his wife, Kim, and stepdaughter, Patton.
“I bought an 80-year-old home about four years ago and totally restored it,” he told Around Town. “Historic preservation is another topic that is important to me. My grandfather, who started Johnny Walker’s Clothing store back in 1924 was a community leader and I feel I have some of his traits.”
Johnny Walker’s Clothing on Marietta Square was one of the premiere haberdashers in Cobb for 69 years. Its founder was the namesake of Johnny Walker Homes public housing project on Powder Springs Street, which was demolished a decade ago.
“I am for redevelopment and would like to see some positive things happen to the vacant properties that are just sitting there halfway developed, including the Johnny Walker Homes site,” the candidate said. “I am passionate about the Marietta Square and will work hard in keeping it alive and well and growing.”
IF YOU’RE HAVING “debate withdrawal” now that the presidential debates are over, fear no more. Kennesaw State University profs Dr. Mel Fein (pro-Romney) and Dr. Ken White (pro-Obama) will square off in a debate from 6:45-7:30 p.m. Monday in Room 22 of the Social Sciences Building at KSU. Fein is a regular guest columnist on the MDJ’s Monday Oped page.
DON’T FORGET to add the Cherokee Heights Arts Festival to your calendar for Nov. 10, two weeks from today. The annual event is an off-the-beaten track treat. It’s a neighborhood party on the block of Etowah Drive between Seminole and Freyer just east of Cherokee Street in one of the city’s National Historic Register neighborhoods.
The block will be lined with booths manned by local artists, artisans and authors, including Rachel Bowen Frey (fudge), Mary Cagle and Jack Gentry (birdhouses), Claire Dunaway (paintings), Lars Finderup (sculpture), Doug Frey, Bruce Gillett and Joe Kirby (authors) and Trapp Tischner (jewelry). Live music starts at 10 a.m. from The Emerson Drummers, Bert Reeves, Wayne Felix and the Frank L. Brown Youth Choir of the Pine Street Missionary Baptist Church, reports organizer Jim Morris. Food will be by MaSani Gourmet Southern Cuisine. The Fest runs from 9 a.m.- 4 p.m., with free parking along Freyer and Seminole.
HAVING A FUZZY UPPER LIP is getting to be an annual thing for Southeast Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott each fall. He again plans to grow a mustache during November to raise awareness and funds for prostate cancer research as part of the international movement known as “Movember.”
Participants stop shaving Nov. 1 and don’t resume till Dec. 1. On Ott’s team thus far this year are Don Massaro, Shane Cannon, Robby Parker, Mazi Mazloom, Dick Yarbrough and Otis Brumby III.
This is the fourth year taking part for Ott, whose father died of prostate cancer in 2008.
To join Ott’s team — the Movember Moustache Merchants — go to www.movember.com/us/register/details/teamid/585849.
Ott’s fundraising target is at least $10,000, he told Around Town.
KEEPING IT SHORT AND SWEET was at the top of Cobb School Board Chair Scott Sweeney’s list at Thursday night’s meeting, which had quite a few emotional topics on the agenda, including the ever-controversial calendar. At the beginning of each meeting board members lead the Pledge of Allegiance and give an invocation, but Sweeney’s prayer was to the point.
“I’m going to be brief this evening: Lord help us!” he declared to laughs from the crowd.