Published on March 18th, 2015 |0
Bond referendums pass by 85%; marketing flier criticized
Mayor Kasim Reed’s office Tuesday was defending criticisms over a city-issued flier stating the proposed $250 million infrastructure bond will not only fund better roads, but put more money in the bank and food in the fridge, according to a story by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The man leading the criticism is Buckhead resident and former Common Cause Executive Director Bill Bozarth, who told the AJC he was stunned to receive a flier in his mailbox as part of a Department of Watershed Management mailing which promoted the bond referendum.
In the mailing recently sent to 90,000 Watershed Management customers about Tuesday’s vote, Reed is quoted as saying: “On March 17th, we will have the opportunity to make the most significant single investment in modern time, not just to improve our roads, but to help families pay mortgages and keep their refrigerators full.”
The flier raises a number of questions, according to Bozarth and Dist. 9 Atlanta City Councilwoman Felicia Moore, the AJC reports. One, did it violate state laws prohibiting a government agency from spending public funds to influence the outcome of an election? And two, did Atlanta misuse Department of Watershed Management enterprise fund dollars, which the city is obligated to spend on Watershed matters?
Mayor Reed’s office defended the flier, sent by the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management to customers, as educational material about the $250 million infrastructure bond referendum, according to the AJC article.
However, critics say the language in the flier is tantamount to advocating for its passage. State laws prohibit a government agency from using public tax dollars to influence the outcome of an election.
The AJC story points out that nowhere does Reed directly advocate a “yes” vote on the two-sided mailing. But Bozarth, former head of the government watchdog group Common Cause Georgia, told the AJC there’s “no question” about the city’s position based on Reed’s quote.
“Would a reasonable person conclude that they are advocating for it? Yes,” The Garden Hills resident told the AJC. “… And if it’s being done with taxpayer money, I’m questioning whether
that’s legal or ethical.”
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Moore told the AJC she wants answers about why Watershed — and not the mayor’s office or the Department of Public Works — sent the mailing. Watershed revenues are first obligated to pay bonds the city department issued years ago, and then operation and maintenance costs, she said.
“The use of Watershed funds makes absolutely no sense in this matter. It’s not a Watershed referendum,” she told the AJC. “Certainly they should’ve thought about the appropriateness of using an enterprise fund that has nothing to do with infrastructure work.”
A spokeswoman for Reed’s office told the AJC their complaints are unfounded, defending the flier as educational — not advocacy.
“‘Putting more food in the refrigerator and help(ing) people pay mortgages’ is a more colorful way to say ‘create more jobs,’ which we know will happen when $250 million is injected into the construction economy,” Reed senior adviser Melissa Mullinax said in an email to the AJC Tuesday. “Having the Mayor’s opinion in a quote on the (flier) does not make it advocacy. It’s still just educational.”
Mullinax said Watershed routinely includes inserts into bills about city-wide issues. But for reasons the mayor’s office did not explain, the fliers were sent in a separate envelope from this month’s water bills. Reed’s office also did not provide the cost of issuing the mailers.
(To read the full AJC report on the criticism of the city flier, click here.)
The issue comes on the same day 85 percent voters decided to approve two separate bonds designed to address a billion-dollar backlog of needed repairs to the city’s roads, bridges, sidewalks and buildings. A total of some 20,000 residents voted on the two issues.
The first, worth $188 million, will be spent on transportation. The second bond, about $64 million, will fund municipal buildings and recreation centers.