Could Bill Campbell be fired as Atlanta's mayor? 

Latest complaint by Rome bookseller wants mayor ousted

Bill Clinton had Paula Jones, and she looked like a hapless golddigger until the depositions in her case involved a certain Monica Lewinsky. The next thing you knew, Clinton was being impeached.

Is George Anderson going to be Bill Campbell's Paula Jones? Sure, no one is saying Anderson has seen any hidden birthmarks, but Anderson does claim the mayor's alleged ethical blemishes over the years are enough to have him tossed from office.

On Feb. 7, Anderson, a political gadfly and the owner of a Rome bookstore, formally requested that the City Council investigate Campbell with the express intent of forcing the mayor to resign.

Anderson has become famous -- or infamous -- for filing hundreds of ethics complaints over the years against politicians across the state. But can his latest shot across Campbell's bow bring down the mayor's ship?

It's too soon to tell. Councilwoman Clair Muller says doesn't even know if Anderson's request will be brought up in committee. It could depend on whether indictments from a federal investigation of Campbell come down or if the media dig up cases of serious malfeasance, she says.

There are also a number of questions that Anderson's request raises. Councilman Lee Morris wants to know if the request automatically triggers an investigation. And if the council can hold hearings or order an investigation, there's still a question of whether it could remove Campbell from office if any serious wrongdoing was found.

A cursory read of the city charter seems to indicate that the City Council does have the power to conduct hearings and subpoena witnesses.

It reads: "The council, or any committee composed entirely of councilmembers to which such power is specifically granted by the council, shall be authorized to conduct hearings and investigations of the operations and affairs of the city or of any office, department or agency thereof ... "

"Any office" would seem to include the office of mayor. And Muller says she's already researched the removal question. "I think we do have the ability to remove the mayor," Muller says. But it would require a three-fourths vote of the council.

The first stop for the complaint is the Committee on Council. Council President Robb Pitts referred it to the seven-member body on Monday. The committee is chaired by Councilwoman "Able" Mable Thomas, who is regarded as an independent, and also contains three of the mayor's toughest opponents on the City Council -- Morris, Muller and Felicia Moore.

The committee meets next on March 5, according to Thomas. She says she has not yet seen the request but guesses that the committee will be looking to city attorneys -- positions headed by a Campbell appointee - for advice on how to proceed if the issue comes up at all.

Morris echoes Thomas' comments. This is new territory, he says. "I was taken by surprise by its referral to the Committee on Council."

There's also the question that has dogged Anderson in other ethics complaints: As a resident of Rome, does he have standing to make such a request of Atlanta's City Council?

The City of Atlanta Board of Ethics has held that Anderson's address can't keep him from filing ethics complaints.

Anderson says he doesn't think anything will come of the complaint, but he felt he needed to do something because the county and local law enforcement heads haven't.

In the request before the committee, Anderson ties together the swamp of alleged ethics violations that have plagued Campbell's administration. The mayor acknowledges some, while others are purely speculation.

In the complaint, Anderson cites Campbell's trip last summer to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles at taxpayers' expense -- a trip not made in Campbell's capacity as mayor. Other ethics violations alleged by Anderson include Campbell's relationship with income tax cheat Fred B. Prewitt, who acted as a front for a white-owned company receiving city contracts under Atlanta's old minority contracts program; trips financed by local businesses who won contracts with the city; and speeches written by city employees and delivered by Campbell at private functions. Each constitutes probable cause for the City Council to begin an official inquiry, the complaint says. Such an inquiry would have subpoena power.

Anderson is a well-known antagonist of politicians who he believes are ethically challenged. No transgression is too small, no jurisdiction too far flung. Since 1997, Anderson has filed more than 200 ethics complaints, topping out with 125 last year alone.

And it's not the first time Anderson has fixed Campbell in his crosshairs. In January, he testified before the city's Board of Ethics in a case involving Campbell and $150,000 in speaking fees the mayor didn't disclose. The board found Campbell violated ethics laws but decided not to punish the mayor.

Campbell could face the State Ethics Commission as early as late April or early May on charges related to those alleged violations. The state attorney general's office is investigating the matter, and a hearing is being scheduled to determine whether Campbell broke state laws and if fines should be imposed. Sixty-eight separate speeches are being considered and each violation could carry a $1,000 fine.

Campbell's spokeswoman, Glenda Blum Minkin, could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

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