Something about poking around politics in DeKalb County provokes a reaction I call rabid wombat flinging. Inquiry brings a snarling, over-the-top angry reaction designed to raise the legal and emotional cost of pursuing answers.
A couple of years ago, I went looking for answers to basic questions about a spurious ethics complaint launched by a part-time hairdresser against Commissioner Kathy Gannon. The complainant, Monica Parrott, responded to being asked about her interest in the case with a bizarre and ridiculous reply, describing polite questions in email as “terroristic,” suggesting that I had a “personal and intimate relationship” with Gannon and that “clearly your mental state is questionable” for asking questions.
She emailed me a wagonload of rabid wombats.
Well, a few days ago, this flyer began circulating through social media, starting with a post on Commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton’s Facebook profile.
The ad has Barnes-Sutton clearly identified as a commissioner, and has her presenting the event. Is it a campaign event? It doesn’t say. Is it a county event? It doesn’t say.
An appearance by B.o.B. would be fascinating. He’s a legitimate top-ten hit maker who should rightly be mentioned along with Ludacris, Outkast and T.I. when talking about contemporary Atlanta music stars … who also apparently believes the Earth is actually flat.
Are the entertainers and the (hour of) free food being paid for out of county funds, or campaign funds, or something completely separate? No idea. Is B.o.B. appearing without compensation? Does he know he’s even scheduled for this event, since he’s not exactly blasting it on Twitter? I got nothin’.
I know. This seems like small potatoes. But it ties directly into concerns about how elected officials have used events like this to shuttle money around without disclosures.
Stan Watson, now-former DeKalb County commissioner used the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce as a fiscal agent to take about $90,000 in undisclosed donations for the DeKalb International Food and Music Festival. The chamber said they had no control over the account, but passed it to the DeKalb YMCA — an organization which has its own issues these days — because keeping an off-books slush fund felt … icky. Watson resigned unexpectedly last month to run for the six-figure-salary tax commissioner job. We are all a-panic.
The food festival had Watson’s name plastered all over it, and has prompted an ethics complaint by William Perry of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs. I showed him Barnes-Sutton’s ad.
“IMHO, this is campaigning – it is something of value given to promote a public official/political candidate,” he wrote. “The only way this is proper is if it is funded and disclosed by her campaign. Each of the sponsors listed should have only contributed the legal limit of approximately $2500 as a campaign contribution. I don’t think anyone can look at that ad and think it does not promote a public official. I’m asking the state ethics commission to make a determination on this exact kind of spending.”
So, I started asking some questions.
Management for Silk, Jagged Edge and B.o.B. hasn’t returned calls, emails or social media inquiries. Google Street View is listed as a sponsor — which is extraordinary, given their general aversion to local politics. Google management locally is like a sphinx, though. No answers.
The venue — The Atrium is at the address listed — gave me Robb Denmon’s name as the event organizer. Denmon is an Internet ghost, like most people I suppose, with little record beyond apparently running Seasons Bistro in Clarkston and a $500 campaign donation to Vernon Jones in 2008.
I would have imagined he’d want to talk to someone writing about the event. I sent him an email: “Mr. Denmon, I’m George Chidi. I’m a writer in DeKalb County, among (too many) other things. I’m deeply curious about the “Good Day Festival” set for Sunday at The Atrium, with B.o.B. and Silk. The folks at the venue said you were organizing it. If you have a moment, I’d like to talk about it. I’m at 678-824-4187. Call me when you have some free time tonight, if it pleases you. Many thanks.”
Then, I found his number and called him. And I was greeted with … wombats.
“I don’t do news reporters,” he shouted, loudly demanding that I get off the phone as I tried to ask him about the event and its sponsorship. He hung up.
I texted him, to say that he was likely to be the subject of some unwanted attention with regard to the festival, noting that he had been offered an opportunity to set the record straight and declined, and I wished him luck.
This was his response in email. The grammatical errors are his own.
“Please reframe from texting, calling, emailing or any other form of communication with Mr. Denmon. my family, friends, employees and myself feel extremely threatened by your approach in the two text you sent. We have added more security and based on your military past and possible mental disorder we will be well prepared to defend ourselves.”
He also sent me this 20-year-old picture, scraped from my Facebook page.
Apparently, my military service makes me threatening to people who work for Sharon Barnes-Sutton. In full disclosure, I’ve long lost faith in her as an elected leader, and I’m supporting her primary opponent, Steve Bradshaw.
Nonetheless, the response is hysterical, of course. But it’s also curiously similar to that of Monica Parrott. The Parrott ethics charge looked like payback against Gannon’s team after Barnes-Sutton’s ethics issues began to fester publicly in 2014 — a means to muddy the water about how to evaluate honesty in government and to devalue the ethics process.
I would sincerely like to know how Barnes-Sutton, who reported all of $3,750 in campaign donations last quarter and about $15,000 cash on hand, has a festival planned with B.o.B. That’s a neat trick.
But Sutton’s office hasn’t given anyone a straight answer about the festival questions. I assume she will have security wombats at the event, mounted on trebuchet, with my face on a post-board and targeting instructions.