Could Bill Campbell be fired?
Latest complaint by Rome bookseller wants mayor ousted
Bill Clinton had Paula Jones, and she looked like a hapless gold digger until the depositions in her case involved a certain Monica Lewinsky. The next thing you knew, Clinton was being impeached.
Is George Anderson going to be Bill Campbell's Paula Jones?
Sure, no one is saying Anderson has seen any hidden birthmarks, but Anderson does claim the mayor's alleged ethical blemishes over the years are enough to have him tossed from office.
On Feb. 7, Anderson, a political gadfly and the owner of a bookstore in Rome, formally requested that the City Council investigate Campbell with the express intent of forcing the mayor to resign. Anderson has gained statewide notoriety for filing hundreds of ethics complaints over the years against state and local politicians.
It's too soon to tell whether this shot across Campbell's bow can bring down the mayor's ship. Councilwoman Clair Muller says she doesn't even know if Anderson's request will be brought up in committee. But the complaint does establish a mechanism — the parts of which no one yet knows how to work — to remove the mayor if indictments from a protracted federal investigation into Campbell do come down.
It's become a strange (and often silly) sport in Atlanta politics: guessing when Campbell will be indicted. That this is an election year adds fuel to the speculation fire. Front-runners to succeed Campbell, a two-term mayor who's barred by law from running for re-election, include Robb Pitts and Shirley Franklin. If Campbell is forced to resign, who stands to benefit?
The short answer is Pitts. As current City Council president, Pitts is the legal successor if Campbell leaves office before his term is up.
Meanwhile, a cursory read of the city charter seems to indicate that the City Council does have the power to conduct hearings and subpoena witnesses.
And Muller says she's already researched the removal question. "I think we do have the ability to remove the mayor," Muller says. But it would require a three-fourths vote of the council.
The first stop for the complaint is the Committee on Council on March 5. Pitts referred it to the seven-member body on Feb. 19. The committee is chaired by Councilwoman "Able" Mable Thomas, who is regarded as an independent, and also contains three of the mayor's toughest opponents on the City Council — Lee Morris, Muller and Felicia Moore.
Thomas says she has not yet seen the request but guesses that the committee will be looking to city attorneys — positions headed by a Campbell appointee — for advice on how to proceed if the issue comes up at all.
This is new territory, Morris says. "I was taken by surprise by its referral to the Committee on Council."
Campbell's spokeswoman, Glenda Blum Minkin, declined comment.
There's also the question that has dogged Anderson himself in other ethics complaints: As a resident of Rome, does he have standing to make such a request of Atlanta's City Council?
The City of Atlanta Board of Ethics has held that Anderson's address can't keep him from filing ethics complaints.
Anderson says he doesn't think anything will come of the complaint, but he felt he needed to do something because the county and local law enforcement heads haven't.
In the request before the committee, Anderson ties together the tangle of alleged ethics violations that have plagued Campbell's administration. The mayor acknowledges some, while others are purely speculation.
In the complaint, Anderson cites Campbell's trip last summer to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles at taxpayers' expense — a trip not made in Campbell's capacity as mayor. Other ethics violations alleged by Anderson include Campbell's relationship with income tax cheat Fred B. Prewitt, who acted as a front for a white-owned company receiving city contracts under Atlanta's old minority contracts program; trips financed by local businesses that have won contracts with the city; and speeches written by city employees and delivered by Campbell at private functions. Each constitutes probable cause for the City Council to begin an official inquiry, the complaint says.
And it's not the first time Anderson has fixed Campbell in his crosshairs. In January, he testified before the city's Board of Ethics in a case involving Campbell and $150,000 in speaking fees the mayor didn't disclose. The board found Campbell violated ethics laws but decided not to punish the mayor.
Campbell could face the State Ethics Commission as early as late April or early May on charges related to those alleged violations. The state attorney general's office is investigating the matter, and a hearing is being scheduled to determine whether Campbell broke state laws and if fines should be imposed. Sixty-eight separate speeches are being considered and each violation could carry a $1,000 fine.