Atlanta City Councilwoman Cleta Winslow faced a tough re-election bid last year, after being caught driving drunk in her district. But she bolstered her image in ways her opponent couldn’t match.
In the three days before her campaign kickoff, she used city money to pay workers she recruited from homeless shelters and off the streets to pick up trash and had them wear T-shirts emblazoned with her name. The same workers passed out her campaign fliers.
Yet no one at city hall raised a peep.
That’s because Atlanta imposes little oversight on how public officials spend discretionary funds — taxpayer-funded accounts they can control with impunity. That can allow officials to turn office budgets into slush funds to reward political cronies, circumvent bid laws and make personal purchases, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found.
Among records reviewed by the AJC, the starkest cases of egregious spending were in Atlanta and DeKalb County, where top officials have wide leeway to purchase supplies and services. There are no public votes when elected officials want to steer thousands of dollars to a pet cause, and they don’t have supervisors poring over transactions and demanding receipts.
As long as elected officials don’t overspend their annual budgets, their governments are often loath to blow the whistle on even flagrant abuses, the AJC found.