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Senator calls on Kemp to remove Stonecrest mayor from office

April 13, 2021 GMT

STONECREST, Ga. (AP) — A state lawmaker is calling for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to remove Stonecrest’s mayor from office amid a report into the city’s use of $6 million in COVID-19 relief funds.

Democratic Sen. Emanuel Jones, of Decatur, said he plans to provide the full investigative report to Kemp, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, which he previously asked to investigate how the money was spent, accusing Mayor Jason Lary of misusing the funds for his own personal gain, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

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“There’s a whole bunch of money missing, and someone needs to be held accountable,” Jones said.

Lary has previously denied Jones’ accusations, claiming the state senator has a vendetta against him. When asked about Jones’ threat to go to the governor, Lary told the newspaper, “In this country, innocent until proven guilty.”

The Stonecrest City Council voted Monday to waive attorney-client privilege on the report, which will allow public access to the document. City Attorney Winston Denmark conducted the investigation after council members said their requests to the mayor’s office for information on the funding program were being ignored. In an email to city leaders and media outlets, Denmark said his report “is well over 100 pages.”

However, only Lary and the City Council have seen the report so far.

“I haven’t read the entire document,” said Mayor Pro Tem George Turner, who led Monday’s meeting,. “Like many of you, I just got it late today. I skimmed it and there’s some things there that are of concern — great concern.”

At a virtual roundtable earlier Monday with pastors and nonprofits who received the relief funds, Lary defended the city’s work to distribute the money and touted the charitable actions of the recipients.

Lary acknowledged the investigative report would be released later that day and said he’d take any responsibility if the report isn’t by the book.

“If something has gone awry or folks aren’t pleased about what has happened, you can blame it on me. Not anybody else. Not the team, not the folks that worked the opportunity, not the people who distributed the money,” Lary said. “You put it squarely on my shoulders as mayor, and I’ll take whatever it is that comes our way. This is the job, that is the position and that is the leadership sense that I have.”

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The city hired Municipal Resource Partners, a nonprofit founded last May by Stonecrest’s first city attorney, Tom Kurrie, to disperse $6.2 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to small businesses. Municipal Resource Partners was paid $510,000 to disperse the funds to 138 small businesses. It also provided $855,000 to Stonecrest Cares, a philanthropic program within the city that distributed funds to nonprofits and churches.

“I thought they did a fantastic job,” Lary said of both entities. “That team, that crew did an outstanding job of distributing the money, taking the applications, vetting the folks with regards to how those decisions were made and they had to do this in 45 days.”

Still, Lary has not shared a list of every entity that received relief money. The newspaper has filed multiple open records requests for that information, which are all still pending.

Lary has repeatedly said he had no part in choosing who received funds and that he didn’t have a decision-making role regarding the coronavirus relief program.