By Associated Press - Thursday, April 15, 2021

STONECREST, Ga. (AP) - A Georgia mayor under fire for alleged mismanagement of $6 million in COVID-19 relief funds on Thursday called the investigation political and he criticized a recent change to the city charter that stripped him of most of his power.

But Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary stopped short of an outright denial of any possible wrongdoing, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

He said if something that “wasn’t in line” occurred, he’d be “the first to apologize for it, but the intent was good.”

“There was never an intent on anybody’s part to kickback or filter money back or any of that nonsense,” he said.

An internal investigation made public this week alleged poor record keeping, misuse and a possible kickback scheme in Stonecrest’s program to distribute funds it received last year from the federal CARES Act program. A 60-page internal report on the investigation suggests money may have been inappropriately funneled to entities with close ties to city officials and employees, and that employees entered contracts and distributed funds without the necessary approval from the City Council or city manager. No charges have been filed to date..

Lary also used his brief news conference to target state Sen. Emanuel Jones, who has called for his resignation and sponsored a bill that rewrote Stonecrest’s charter to remove most of the mayor’s powers. As a result, the mayor is now only able to vote in the event of a tie, which may never happen on a five-member council. Mayor Pro Tem George Turner also has taken over Lary’s role of presiding over city meetings and setting meeting agendas.

Lary called the changes equivalent to voter suppression, since they occurred without a public referendum.

“Quite frankly, folks, I’ve been reduced to hugging ladies and kissing babies,” he said.

Stonecrest councilmembers, in a news release Thursday, said the charter changes provided “a clear delineation of power between the city’s executive and legislative branches.”

“It clarifies that the role of the position of mayor is ceremonial and that the legislative branch is responsible for the budget and for policy making,” the release said.

District 1 representative Jimmy Clanton was the only councilmember who did not sign the release.

Meanwhile, Lary said he would be taking some time away from City Hall to deal with treatment for his recurring cancer.

“But let me be clear,” Lary said, “I am not going to resign my seat.”

Lary, 59, has previously battled prostate cancer and lymphoma. He said his “numbers” weren’t where his doctor wanted them, but otherwise provided few details of what may lie ahead for his health.

He puffed on an inhaler before his press conference and used a cane to walk.

“I’m not going to work through this in this fashion,” Lary said, referring to his reduced mayoral duties.

He did not take any questions.

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