ATLANTA -- What happens when an elected official spends taxpayer money on her own political campaign? And it's not the first time she's done it?
Her name is Cleta Winslow, she's an Atlanta city council member, and Thursday night the seven members of the city's Ethics Board spent a few minutes discussing her repeat violation, and then -- by a voice vote -- they ordered her to pay a fine of $2,000 by December 31.
The amount of taxpayer money that she spent on her own re-election campaign earlier this year was all of $390. And Winslow paid the money back to the city afterthe misappropriation was caught.
Ethics Board members said the amount was not the point, the point isthat any amount of taxpayer money should never be used for personal expenses by any employee or elected official. And this was Winslow's second violation.
Winslow was a no-show at the meeting.
She did write a letter to the board, on October 29.
In the letter, she blamed a staff member for mistakenly paying one of hercampaign expenses, for $390, by submitting an invoice to the Finance Department.
"My former staff member," Winslow wrote, "who incorrectly submitted the invoice is no longer in my employment. And she did not have authorization to submit this invoice. In addition she did not have authorization to sign her name to this request and submit it to be routed to the Finance Department. Until I received a letter from you today, I had no knowledge of this invoice and was not aware that it was sent to my office.... I would certainly not have had the city pay for a campaign activity."
The Ethics Board Chair, Caroline Johnson Tanner, and other members said they are frustrated that the fine they imposed on Winslow four years ago did not act as a deterrent; they fined her $1,500 because she spent $5,420 of city money on her 2009 re-election campaign. She also had to reimburse the money to the city.
Winslow blamed a staffer, then, too.
"I'm very disappointed," Tanner said Thursday night, "to see the same code violation from the same person. And I am hoping that this $2,000 fine will truly act as a deterrent."
It was Winslow's 2013 campaign opponent, Torry Lewis, who filed the ethics complaint against her. During the campaign, Lewis also pointed out how much money Winslow had claimed in expenses in the previous fiscal year, 2012-2013 -- it was $21,000, about four times more than each of the other council members claimed.
Winslow said the amountwas justified because she does so much for her constituents.
Then in May, 2013, Winslow was arrested and charged with DUI. She pleaded not guilty.
After all of that, earlier this month 1,800 voters from her district returned her to office -- nearly 69 percent of the district's vote.
Thursday night, the Ethics Board ordered Winslow to pay the latest fine from her personal funds.
As it turns out, her personal funds are about to get a boost. She will be making an extra $20,000 a year as a council member, beginning in 2014. Winslowwas in the majority of ten Atlanta council members who, in December, 2012, voted themselves a 52 percent pay raise.
It was a controversial decision at the time, raising questions about whether it could hurt the members' re-election chances in 2013. But this month,14 of the 15 council members won re-election to another four-year term.