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County funds meant to bail out Fulton small businesses devastated by COVID pandemic catches watchdog organization's attention

Common Cause is joining 11Alive seeking transparency and accountability for $10 million in CD's given to minority banks to provide small business loans.

ATLANTA — After more than a year, 11Alive is continuing to hold the Fulton County Commission accountable as we investigate whether millions of dollars, intended to rescue small local businesses and entrepreneurs devasted by the COVID pandemic, went to those who needed it most.

Our 11Alive reports have now led a top government watchdog group to join us in our call for transparency and accountability.

At stake here is $10 million that was supposed to help bail out minority-owned businesses and fund entrepreneurship in Fulton County during the pandemic.

After seeing our reports, one of the nation's leading government watchdog agencies, Common Cause, is now involved, seeking answers for Fulton County taxpayers.

The goal through all of this has been simple: 11Alive wanted to track the $10 million Fulton County gave in two interest-bearing CDs to Unity National Bank and Loyal Trust Bank to help bail out local businesses.

However, we continue to struggle to find a paper trail even after Fulton Commission Chair Robb Pitts asked the banks for accountability in May.

“Madam CFO,” Pitts asked. “Would you please ask the two institutions that received the funds to give a report penny for penny?”

We recently submitted an Open Records Requests for those reports, but all we found was a one sentence document from Unity National stating 22 loans totaling $5.3 million were made. No other details were given on who received that money or when.

Loyal Trust offered a bit more detail in its report on the nearly $5 million it's given out but still offered no specifics on who got what.

As the CD's were deposited from the Fulton County General Fund, the banks were not required to report where they invested the money. However, the Fulton Commission Resolution, passed in June of last year, specified that the money was supposed to go to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The Executive Director of Common Cause-Georgia, Aunna Dennis, told 11Alive the banks' reports were inadequate and did not answer for taxpayers the simple question of whether minority small businesses got the loans as the commission directed.

“I feel there has been a misappropriation of the intent and the trust of the community when it comes to where funding was supposed to be going," Dennis said. “Transparency and accountability are necessary on all processes of government. It is also very vital that the voices of the people are heard in this process and that the destiny of whatever that funding was intended to be was done for those communities.”

Common Cause Policy Analyst Anne Gray Herring backed up the importance of accountability and transparency for Fulton taxpayers by appearing before the commission's public meeting this week.

The evasive outcomes and accounting generalities that we've found continue to throw into question whether the specific intent of the Commission Resolution had any meaning at all to ensure minority small businesses received the help that was promised to them.

Required or not, Fulton taxpayers and minority small businesses deserve an accounting and transparency from its elected officials

As 11Alive continues this investigation to hold the powerful accountable, please let us know if you either applied for or received a small business loan from Unity National or Loyal Trust between June of last year and now. Send an email to 11Alive’s Bill Liss at hpa@11alive.com.

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