Long-time Atlanta City Councilwoman Cleta Winslow once again is under fire for possibly misusing taxpayer dollars. It would be Winslow’s third violation of city spending rules since 2010.
This time, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Winslow used city funds to pay a political ally $65,000 over five years for lawn-mowing services in her district, including a property across the street from her home. City ethics rules require any spending over $20,000 be put out to competitive bid.
In addition, Winslow allegedly paid homeless men below minimum wage to pick up trash in her neighborhood as they wore her campaign t-shirts.
The city’s ethics chief, Nina Hickson, has opened an investigation which she expects to take several months.
“These are separate issues and depending upon our findings they could constitute separate violations of the ethics code,” said Hickson.
Winslow did not return WABE’s requests for comment.
In 2010, the city’s ethics office fined Winslow $1,500 for using taxpayer funds on her re-election campaign. Last year, in addition to being arrested for DUI, Winslow was fined $2,000 for again using city funds on a campaign event.
If the latest allegations are true, the city’s ethics office can fine Winslow but lacks the authority to suspend or remove her from office. Hickson, however, does say past violations would be taken into account.
“It’s ultimately the [ethics] board’s decision,” said Hickson. “I can make a recommendation but it would probably be a harsher set of penalties than that which has been imposed before.”
She says the latest allegations highlight a broader concern about a lack of oversight of Council spending.
“Lack of internal controls is an issue to the extent that there aren’t controls that flag potential problems,” said Hickson. “I think it is something that would concern the general public as well as the taxpaying public and probably anybody.”
The city’s auditor issued a report in 2009 on the issue and recommended a list of fixes, including greater oversight of Council members. Many of the recommendations, however, have not been implemented.
WABE reached out to several Council members including Council President Caesar Mitchell. None returned WABE’s requests for comment.