UPDATE: The Atlanta City Ethics Department will look into the spending of councilman Michael Julian Bond. Click here for the latest.
(WXIA) An Atlanta city councilman with a famous last name is facing tough questions about his spending.
Michael Julian Bond, the son of civil rights icon Julian Bond, has spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on things you may find questionable.
Just a few weeks ago, Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond took off on a five-day city-funded work trip to Washington, D.C.
The purpose of the $2,400 expense was so that Bond could get ideas for a heritage trail here in Atlanta by visiting the Washington Historical Society and touring DC. During the five-day excursion, Bond never made it to the Historical Society and we verified he had two short meetings related to the trail, taking less than 3 hours on a single day. Why a five day trip then?
Was it because he had his family reunion booked during those same days, also in DC? We were there and caught it all on camera, but what brought us here is where the story really begins…
We actually started asking questions in April.Bond had accrued $1,200 in fines to the state for not filing campaign finance forms on time. They had not been paid and when we asked him again in June, he responded, "They've not been paid, I'm embarrassed to say they have not."
So we requested a look at Bond's city expense account and we found red flags, like spending close to $2,600 on a private tutor for his "career advancement", spending more than $2,000 on party favors for his own high school reunion, taking cash advances for 22 out-of-town trips without providing receipts, and finally that trip to Washington in July. It was time for answers.
First up, the private tutoring.
CATIE BECK: What was the training for?
BOND: The training was for mathematics,
BECK: Mathematics in general? You felt like you needed training in mathematics in general?
BOND: Yes, I did.
The city offers no tuition reimbursement for employees, but the code does allow for council members to attend convention and training related to city business.
BECK: 37 hours for general math?
So what about those high school reunion party favors paid for with $2,000 of your tax dollars? Custom pins shipped from Las Vegas with the Class of 84's motto printed on them. Bond also bought he and his classmates some custom slideshow DVDs.
BECK: Have you provided pins and DVDs to other high school reunions besides your own?
BOND: Well, I haven't been asked.
BECK: Any high school in Atlanta could ask for the same are you going to give all of them the same gift?
BOND: I don't grant all of the requests I get. I would expend my budget.
Speaking of budgets, the city allows for cash advances on travel so long as receipts are provided to back up the expense. If not, elected leaders are expected to pay it back. Right now, Bond has a list of 22 city trips with missing receipts going back to 2010.
BOND: I have turned in the receipts to my office, I depend on my staff to turn them in, I'm unaware of that,
BECK: So you're saying 22 times your staff has made a mistake?
BOND: No one has ever raised this issue with me.
BECK: So whose fault is it?
BOND: Ultimately this is my responsibility because this is my office.
BECK: So what do you plan to do about it?
BOND: I plan to find out what the hell happened.
While he's looking into that, we're looking into his recent trip to DC.
"I went and met with officials in Washington DC toured some of the markers that they have there, Bond said.
Bond missed his Wednesday flight to DC, so he says his first meeting was cancelled. So on Thursday, on his own, he says he toured free historical sites, then we confirmed Friday afternoon Bond met with a museum director and a city employee for a total of about three hours. On Saturday, Bond says he again toured on his own and Sunday he flew home.
BECK: Did you have any personal business while you were there?
BOND: Well my father lives in DC, I hardly think seeing my father is robbing the taxpayer.
BECK: Sure, so a visit with father was the only other personal business you had to do there.
BECK: I came up with this website for the Bond family reunion. This lists all the events of your family reunion that was in DC that same weekend you were doing your monument tours. Did you attend any of your family reunion?
BOND: I attended uh, dinner. Yes.
BECK: Which dinner would that be?
BOND: That was on Saturday night.
He did more than that, and we have the proof.
BECK: When we found out that this reunion was going on at the same time you were in DC, we actually had a photographer that was there.
It wasn't until we told him we were there, and that we followed him around to his family reunion that he finally admitted to attending all the events.
We showed him still pictures from our video, including one showing him with the Bond reunion t-shirt over his shoulder Saturday morning, and another Friday night at the Capitol Steps Comedy Club posing with family cast and crew. Yet another picture shows him getting into a cab with his daughters wearing a t-shirt Saturday afternoon.
So let's look at the calendar. He says he worked Thursday and we confirmed 3 hours on Friday. Now's he's admitted he attended his family reunion Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday, and Saturday night. Bond asked and received for an advance of taxpayer money for four nights at the hotel and a per diem.
BECK: So coincidence that your family reunion was at the same time as you were touring DC?
BOND: I would say it is a coincidence.
BECK: So you're saying you needed that much time, Wednesday through Sunday to accomplish this?
BOND: I would have preferred as I do with all my trips that I try to condense them.
Bond stands by his decisions.
BOND: I run on accountability. I am responsible for my office.
Bond issued a statement on Thursday afternoon, which reads:
As an elected official in Atlanta who is proud of his public service, I certainly appreciate the media's duty to scrutinize public affairs. What I don't appreciate is the distortion of my record that permeates this news story. I am proud that I have supported many community groups, either with financial support or token sponsorship. I have supported such groups and causes as the American Diabetes Association, Atlanta Police Foundation, YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Metro Atlanta Alumni Chapter, Community-building Coalition of Northwest Atlanta (CCNA), numerous Senior Citizen Outreach & Appreciation and Community Back-to-School events, etc. My support of the Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association is no different than the afore mentioned groups. All are City of Atlanta based groups made up of City of Atlanta taxpayers.
I have been developing an Atlanta Historic Preservation and Concept for the last four and a half years, and my trip to Washington, DC was in pursuit of that goal. The entirety of each business day was spent on City of Atlanta business. After the conclusion of each business day, I believe I am entitled to my own private time.
Under the Atlanta City Code, councilmembers are authorized to pursue professional development training if they choose, and that is what I have simply done. I've participate in training around the country and here in Atlanta, and have done so to improve my public service, and I am personally better for it. Throughout my public career, I have not only always been accountable to the public that has elected me, but have sought to maintain a personal level of excellence. I am accountable for the management of my office and its funds. Each tax dollar is precious, and I am proud to inform WXIA viewers that at the closeout of last year, I have returned $96,546 in savings to the tax payers of the City. As the public allows, I will continue to do my best to serve the citizens of this great city as best I can.
It has been my pleasure also to cooperatively work with WXIA TV through the years as I have NEVER declined an invitation to participate in an interview on any subject matter, that the station was pursuing , in order to keep the public informed. I look forward to continuing that relationship in the future.
Thank you for this opportunity,
Michael Julian Bond
Atlanta City Councilmember
Post 1 At-Large
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Related | Local lawmakers ignore transparency laws
EXTRA INTERVIEW CLIPS
Catie Beck: Have you provided pins and DVD's to other high school reunions besides your own?
Michael Julian Bond: Well, I haven't been asked. But I have provided pins to other events, city pins.
CB: City pins are different than a high school reunion pin.
MJB: I would respectfully disagree. A pin is an object like a T-shirt that's donated to an organization for a specific event.
CB: OK, pins and DVDs.
MJB: Pins, DVDs, T-shirt, box of chicken -- it's a donation for a specific event by a community organization that I do routinely.
CB: Say another high school in the city of Atlanta could ask you to donate pins and DVDs, and you'll say yes to all of them as a gift?
MJB: Well, I don't grant all of the requests I get. I couldn't. I'd run out. I'd expend my budget.
CB: But seeing that this is your high school, your reunion, you spent over $2,000 on this donation, do you think that has any conflict of interest, that city dollars were spent for your own high school reunion memorabilia?
MJB: Well, no more than if I donated to a church or organization like the American Diabetes Association.
Bond also requested a $2,400 cash advance to go to Washington, D.C., for a five-day trip for his plan to create a heritage trail in Atlanta. He said he toured the monuments during the day Thursday, then met two people Friday for two hours and 15 minutes regarding the trail.
But should taxpayers pay for a five-day trip for that amount of work?
Michael Julian Bond: I went and met with officials in Washington, D.C., and toured some of the markers they have there, and that was basically the nature of the trip.
Catie Beck: Did you have any other business to do, city-related?
MJB: No other city-related business, no.
CB: OK. Did you have any other personal business to do while you were there?
MJB: Well, my personal business is my own.
CB: Right, but the city was paying for this trip, so it's actually important if you did personal planned events during Wednesday to Sunday, since it's on the city's dime too.
MJB: well, I mean, my father lives in D.C., so if I see my father, I hardly think I'm robbing the taxpayers if I visit my father.
CB: Sure, so a visit with your father was the only other personal business you had to do in D.C.?
MJB: Sure. All the business days, I spent on city business.
CB: I Googled Bond, D.C. July 20th, and I came up with this website for the Bond family reunion. This lists all the events of your family reunion that was in D.C. that same weekend you were doing your monument tours. Did you attend any of your family reunion?
MJB: I attended dinner, yes.
CB: Which dinner would that be?
MJB: That was on Saturday night.
CB: When we found out that this reunion was going on at the same time you were in D.C., we actually had a photographer that was there and got some video of you guys participating in all the events.
MJB: I was there already with meetings pre-scheduled on city business.
CB: It would seem to some that coordinating a city business trip on the same weekend as a family reunion where there are events Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and those are your principal days of doing things, that would see like a little bit of a conflict. No?
MJB: No, I don't believe it's a conflict because I was there doing the city's business.
CB: Did you not go to the Thursday welcome reception as well?
MJB: Yes, I've seen my family. When I was there, I went to see my father, yes.
CB: There's a Thursday night welcome reception listed on the itinerary. That's what I'm asking about. Did you go to that?
MJB: Yes, I attended that.
CB: OK, so you went to the Thursday night function, the Friday night function, Saturday ...
MJB: ... night function.
CB: And the Saturday morning function as well?
MJB: Yes, I went to hear the lecture.
CB: OK, so basically Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday morning and Saturday night, you were participating in your family reunion.
MJB: Yes, I attended my family reunion, I did go to certain events. I didn't go to everything -- I was there on city business.
CB: Well, as far as I can tell from this itinerary, that was everything.