Atlanta’s ethics chief Monday opened an investigation into City Councilman Michael Julian Bond, who faces scrutiny over his use of taxpayer funds.
Local news outlet WXIA-11 Alive first flagged Bond’s spending. Among the expenditures in question is a $2,400 trip to Washington D.C. that coincided with a three-day family reunion.
Bond initially denied attending the reunion, but when shown pictures and video of him attending all three days, he said it was irrelevant.
He reiterated that to WABE.
“It just worked out that this was a convenient time and it happened to line up with my family reunion which I attended after hours at 5 p.m., not business time,” said Bond. “That’s my own personal time and it doesn’t impact my service to the community and the city of Atlanta.”
The at-large councilman said each day before 5 p.m. he was on city business gathering data on D.C.’s historic walking trails. Bond, a son of civil rights icon Julian Bond, wants to establish a similar trail in Atlanta marking points of interest during the Civil Rights Era.
According to 11 Alive, Bond met with D.C. officials about the project for a total of three hours during the four-day trip. He said he spent the rest of the trip’s work hours being productive.
“They have several historic walking trails and I walked almost all of them during my trip,” said Bond.
Other questionable expenditures include $2,000 for party favors for his own high school reunion, including commemorative pins and DVDs showing photo slideshows of his classmates.
Bond defended the party favors.
“An alumni association like the Frederick Douglas alumni association does do community beneficial work. They are no different than any other community organization that I have helped and sponsored over the years so, no, I don’t see it as a conflict of interest,” said Bond.
He went on to bash 11 Alive’s original report.
“This isn’t something unique, or out of the ordinary, or out of the practice of my office for doing. It’s only been sensationalized by the poor journalistic reporting that took place that distorted my reputation and distorted the operations of my office,” said Bond.
But moments later he said he was grateful for the news coverage because it made him aware that his office wasn’t producing required receipts for previous trips.
“You can’t do anything about a problem unless you’re aware of it,” said Bond. “The ball has obviously been dropped somewhere so I’m actually glad in a weird sense that that story actually happened because I believe in accountability, I want my record to be complete, and I want to be compliant with the law.”
City ethics officer Nina Hickson confirmed Monday her office opened the investigation into Bond based on media reports.
Earlier this year, Hickson’s office launched an investigation into Councilwoman Cleta Winslow after questions surfaced about her spending. If would be Winslow’s third violation of city spending rules since 2010.
Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who chairs the committee responsible for setting Council rules, said it was too early to judge Bond’s case, but she did say it’s time to look at clarifying city code as it pertains to council members.
“The rules are vague,” said Norwood. “I think reviewing the code and making adjustments makes a lot of sense.”
In May, Council President Ceasar Mitchell proposed creating a new compliance officer position to help council members steer clear of ethics infractions. Mitchell did not respond to WABE’s requests for comment Monday.
Council returns from summer recess next week.