Now that the dust has settled from the District 8 County Commission race it is time to seriously revisit the issue at the core of the controversy without the cloud of a political campaign. Should Brent Lambert be held accountable for his campaign finances or not?
First, I will say that I wish I did not have to ask this question but there comes a time when you have to hold public officials accountable for their actions, even if you like and have supported them in the past. I believe this may be one of those times.
The City of East Ridge Ethics Ordinance, signed in July, 2006 by then Mayor Vince Dean, states under Section 1-605, Acceptance of gratuities, etc. “An official or employee may not accept, directly or indirectly, any money, gift, gratuity, or other consideration or favor of any kind from anyone other than the municipality:
(2) That might reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to influence his action, or reward him for past action, in executing municipal business.
Please note that there is no exemption under this ordinance for the timing of campaign contributions.
Mayor Lambert was re elected to office in November of 2014. His campaign finished with a debt, in the form of a loan in the amount of $9,100, to the Mayor, as reported on his Candidate Financial Disclosure Form in January of 2015.
All subsequent semi-annual financial reports for the years 2015, 2016 and February of 2017 revealed there had been no apparent effort to collect any contributions to retire the campaign debt. Zero contributions.
On June 2, 2017 Mayor Lambert pushed through a resolution to indebt the City of East Ridge another $4 Million in the form of a bond issuance for the benefit of the Exit One project and its developers. It should be noted that the Exit One project is a private development, not a public development, yet the taxpayers have been asked to foot the bill for infrastructure. This is rather unusual. For example, when Life Care Centers decided to rebuild their flagship facility at Exit One, the owners, not taxpayers, paid for improvements to the exit ramp. Similarly, next year the I-75/I-24 interchange is scheduled to be rebuilt, the owners of Hamilton Place Mall, CBL and Associates, not taxpayers, will be paying for its own southbound I-75 exit ramp and bridge that will deposit cars directly into Hamilton Place Mall parking lots. The owners, the beneficiaries of those improvements, rightfully are footing the bill. Not so with Exit One where the citizens of East Ridge are paying that bill.
Twelve days after that bond vote, on June 14, 2017 five $1,000 donations from the developers of Exit One and a couple of others were delivered to the Mayor, going into the Mayor’s campaign fund, and deposited into his campaign account. Curiously, not one of these donors are residents or voters in the City of East Ridge. Not one. Furthermore, these donations comprised one hundred percent of all campaign contributions to the Mayor’s campaign account since the end of 2014.
On the July 17, 2017 financial disclosure form, all of these checks were reported and it was also revealed that the Mayor also turned around and immediately wrote himself a check from those collected funds, plus a little more, for $5300 out of his campaign account and deposited into his personal account.
To summarize, after no political fundraising activity for nearly three years and when there was no other current fundraising activity or current campaign, only twelve days after a critical bond vote to benefit the developers’ activities, and having never reported any previous contributions from the developers, five $1,000 checks from the developers and others were delivered to the Mayor for his campaign fund. He then laundered the funds through his campaign and put the funds in his personal account. This amount comprises one hundred percent of all campaign contributions during that period of time and none were accompanied by smaller donations or any other donations from within the borders of East Ridge.
Would a reasonable interpretation of the facts, as outlined under East Ridge City Ordinance #818, conclude that these checks were a “reward for past action” on the bond vote? I believe that is a very reasonable interpretation. These were very high-dollar contributions from individuals who had never contributed before but then wrote sizable checks on the heels of a bond issue, introduced and pushed forward by Mayor Lambert, for their private project that put large amounts of East Ridge tax dollars into their pockets.
If you ask me, they got off very cheap.
Should Mayor Lambert resign his position for violating the public’s trust and personally benefitting by his position and reward for past action on the Bond vote? There is a strong argument to be made for that.
_ Ken Meyer