ATLANTA -- There are some surprising new developments in an 11Alive exclusive investigation surrounding the questionable spending and travel of Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond using taxpayers' money.
11Alive's Catie Beck found thousands of tax dollars spent on party favors for a high school reunion, a private tutor for Bond, trips he took without providing receipts and a recent trip to Washington, D.C., which turned out to be the same weekend as his family reunion.
After all that was exposed and an open ethics investigation was opened, it turns out Bond took an $1,100 advance from the city to travel to Boston for a reunion last weekend.
On Tuesday, the city ethics board said in a letter that it was filing an ethics complaint against Bond based on that Washington, D.C. trip. Read the letter here.
11Alive News arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport early Thursday morning, long before the scheduled departure of Bond.
As his flight time approached, so did Bond. When we saw that he was going to take this trip with an open ethics investigation, we decided to take the next flight to Boston and see what taxpayers were footing the bill for.
Bond's cash advance request says he was headed to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government reunion. A gathering of classmates from a three-week class he took along with Atlanta Councilman Alex Wan in 2011, but a reunion that Wan declined to attend.
But Bond did attend. He arrived at the reunion-designated boutique Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge Thursday evening along with several other attendees from across the country.
At 5 a.m. Friday, we sat at the only public entrance and exit at Hotel Marlowe in hopes of seeing Bond.
Reunion classmates gathered for a scheduled lunch. We had a camera at the hotel, and at the lunch. An empty chair was reserved for Michael Julian Bond, but he never showed up at the restaurant.
Our camera followed the group and until their scheduled 2:00 p.m. meeting – a case study discussion on gun control legislation lead by Colorado state Sen. John Kefalas and Colorado congresswoman Beth McCan. Bond finally came down to the hotel lobby, but it was already past 2. He was late for the meeting.
Now more than 20 minutes late, Bond entered in the discussion -- one that was slated to last until 5 p.m. But it didn't. The group broke at 4:15 p.m. for a group picture outside.
The group also booked time for some fun in the form of a Red Sox game. Classmates tell us Bond bought a seat, but he didn't show up, because he was at the hotel, talking and texting outside. When he was done, he went back to his room.
On Saturday, the same scenario for us; two cameras, two locations. One was on the hotel waiting for Bond, the other followed around the reunion group. Bond's classmates headed out for exercise in the morning and then gathered for a planned lunch. Again, there was an empty chair for Bond. He didn't leave the hotel for the first time until 3:03 p.m. We took that opportunity to ask him some questions.
Catie Beck: Councilman Bond? Hi.
Michael Julian Bond: Hey.
CB: How are you?
MJB: I'm doing just fine, how are you?
CB: Good. Do you have a couple minutes to talk to us?
MJB: Actually, no…I'm on the, I got an appointment at the African-American History Museum.
CB: Well, we'd like to talk to you for a couple minutes. About your trip sir.
MJB: Um, no you can't cause (sic) I'm, I've got to make an appointment and they close at 4 o'clock and I've got to go.
CB: Well, when could we talk to you?
MJB: You can call Dexter at City Hall or you can schedule an appointment and he'll do that for you.
CB: We need to talk about the nature of this trip. It's for another reunion, paid for by the city.
MJB: No it's not paid for by the…
CB: Yes, yes it is. You provided the travel documents, we have them.
MJB: Uh, Dexter Porter will set up the interview, will be glad to talk to you when I get back. Okay?
CB: Sir, I don't understand why you're not answering questions about City (cab engine starts).
MJB: I've got to make an appointment, at 4 o'clock.
CB: But this is a city funded trip…
MJB: Yes it is and (mic a bit far away here) you can set up an appointment in my office and we can go (telling driver). (Mic back in cab). Thank you.
CB: But you're under ethics investigation…
MJB: I'll be in touch with you. (Cab drives away - Bond sticks hand out window waving) Alright, bye bye.
We followed him to the museum where he met for 23 minutes, then walked a historic trail nearby, but most sites along it were already closed -- and that trail should seem familiar to him since he took an $1,800 city-funded trip to Boston in 2013 for heritage trail research. That was the last we saw Bond in Boston. On Sunday, we headed back.
Back in Atlanta Monday morning, Bond had city business to do. But he skipped a committee meeting starting at 11 a.m. and, according to attendance records, that's a common habit for him. Out of 11 meetings so far this year, Bond has been present for only two. Then at 1 p.m., Bond was due at a full council meeting. But he got there more than two hours late, missing of city business, and when he did arrive.
MJB: "I was travelling to Boston and I was ambushed by the reporter who did the story a couple of weeks ago…"
It was his business that took precedence. He chose to speak about our confrontation.
MJB: "…even though I've been in constant text, email and cellular conversation with this individual and even have shared personal information in regards to their request. But what I cannot condone or bow to, is gotcha journalism and I will not do that under any circumstances."
Bond also released a statement saying that he only attended the one reunion meeting and then toured a historic trail for research purposes, repeatedly defending the trip as city business.
MJB: "Each dollar is precious and as the public allows, I will continue to do my best to serve the citizens of this great city. I will not make any other public comments regarding the ethics investigation."
Bond called our newsroom late Monday afternoon to challenge a few things in our story. He says he was only 10 minutes late for that group discussion instead of 20, and that despite a group picture taken outside at 4:15 p.m., he claims they went back in and the meeting went until 5 p.m. He also says the trails he toured this time were different from his trip last year.
He also asked us to add that his $1,200 in late fines to the state ethics commission have been paid and that he has reconciled 90 percent of his travel receipts.
His full statement is as follows:
I attended a meeting in Boston with colleagues from a 2011 executive education course at John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University solely in the capacity as an elected official. I contributed to the meeting that centered on the development of a Harvard case study and city ordinances related to zoning matters. Though there were recreational opportunities planned during the weekend, I was only in attendance at this meeting specifically in my role as an elected official.
On Saturday, I continued my exploration and research in developing a historical trail for Atlanta similar to the Black Heritage Trail in Boston, which is a walking tour that explores the history of Boston's 19th century African American community. I also visited the city's Museum of African American History.
The reporter from WXIA was in possession of my email address, cell phone numbers and my itinerary that I furnished to her weeks earlier. The way this trip is being portrayed is unethical.
I appreciate the media's responsibility to scrutinize and report on government officials and employees, however I do not appreciate such tactics that the reporter from WXIA engaged in on Saturday. We have been in continuous communication via text, email and via phone. If the reporter wanted to interview me and authentically get my side of the story, she had multiple means of contacting me and arranging an interview.
Given all the access I have afforded the reporter and having been extremely open pertaining to all matters that she raised, I can only conclude that such tactics are not designed to shine a light on government and its operations but to cast the target of such tactics in the worse light possible.
The records of my trip have been filed with the appropriate city hall office. In addition all state late fees pertaining to campaign filings are paid.
Documentation has been forwarded to the city's ethics office for their review. I am cooperating fully and I await the results of their inquiry.
Furthermore I refer you to my statements regarding my office expenditures made on the council floor on August 18.
Not all of those attended the reunion did so at taxpayers' expense. Colorado Sen. John Kefalas said that he and Rep. Beth McCann paid for their own trip; he expects others did as well. Kefalas said it "wasn't cheap" and "we don't have a budget for that".
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