FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — It started out with what we thought would be a simple story.
11Alive wanted to follow how federal pandemic rescue funds granted to Fulton County were being awarded to minority business owners and others within the area. But as we started asking questions, we discovered it was hard to get definitive answers.
And the paper trail? It didn’t seem to exist.
But we did not give up and continued our research.
It was June 2, 2021, when the Fulton County Commission unanimously adopted a resolution depositing a $5 million CD in the African American-owned Unity National Bank and another $5 Million in the Asian-owned Loyal Trust Bank.
The funds came from the American Rescue Plan, and the commission resolution outlined the way the money was intended to be allocated.
The Resolution, in part, said: "supporting minority businesses...and fostering entrepreneurial endeavors within minority populations."
But 11Alive discovered in late September that half the funds hadn't been touched. So, we started asking questions.
Both banks chose to add the CD monies to their existing general bank funds. By not keeping the awarded CDs separate, tracking how the money was used and for what would be difficult to trace.
Further questions revealed that the commission did not appear to have a formal or even informal way of ensuring the funds were being awarded as the resolution had intended.
We raised a red flag with the county's director of external affairs and got this answer.
"What they did with the deposits was not part of our specific agreement and therefore we have no knowledge of it,” a spokesperson said.
A subsequent statement went even further reading in part: "...no specific purpose or guidelines were provided for usage of funds."
No knowledge, no specific purpose and no guidelines, according to statements.
The resolution's intent appeared clear. But despite our requests for an on-camera interview to clarify the commission's position, 11Alive was declined.
"We will not be available for an interview on this topic," a spokesperson said in a statement.
So we wrote directly to every member of the Fulton County Commission.
One commissioner replied about the selection of the banks. Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman agreed to speak on camera.
She says she was never briefed on what the money was being used for.
“No one has shown me any report that I can speak to about what was done. Clearly, the resolution and clearly the press conference spoke to what was to be done, but where is the paperwork and where are the facts?” Abdur-Rahman said.
Now, Abdur-Rahman wants answers.
“I took the chairman (of the commission) at his word that he was putting money into minority banks first of all to help businesses; to help non-profits; to help homeowners; to help renters; or any individuals that were hurt by the pandemic,” she said. “But there has not been an accounting formally or informally so you really have no idea and actually that is the problem,” Adbur-Rahman said.
So 11Alive's Bill Liss asked, “are you going to ask your fellow commissioners that you want an accounting, either formally or informally? Ask the banks, what has happened to the money?’”
“Exactly,” she said, “exactly because it's taxpayers' money.”
And that is what we have been asking and requesting for several months-- an accounting of where $10 million in American Rescue Funds have gone, or if all of that money is just parked in bank CDs.
Abdur-Rahman said she will request a full accounting, to be part of the scheduled Fulton County Commission meeting agenda set for April. 11Alive intends to be there.