Council member paid homeless campaign workers with tax dollars

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

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ATLANTA - A Channel 2 Action News and Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found homeless workers paid with City of Atlanta tax dollars, and records show they were paid below minimum wage.
 

The workers say they spent time cleaning up the district of Atlanta Councilwoman Cleta Winslow while she was running for re-election last year.
 
"She said, 'Once I give you this shirt you'll be part of my campaign and you'll be working for me,'" Samantha DeLoach told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer.
 
DeLoach has been homeless for three years. She says she and a group of friends worked for Winslow cleaning up parts of her district and handing out campaign fliers.
 
Last August, Winslow's opponent Torry Lewis recorded cellphone video showing Brandon Carter and Lyndell Banks wearing the same Winslow T-shirts DeLoach described.
 
"When I made the video it was really just to show that it's campaign work being done on the city's money," said Lewis.
 
Lewis said he also saw the same workers handing out flyers advertising Winslow's campaign kickoff event on Aug. 24.
 
"Using city money for things that kind of blurs the lines between doing your job as a City Council person and trying to be re-elected," said Lewis.
 
DeLoach said the workers wore those same Winslow T-shirts whether they were cleaning the district or campaigning for Winslow.
 
"We require elected officials to kind of separate their official selves from their campaign selves, and so you can't do campaign related activities with taxpayer funds," said Bryan Tyson, an attorney who specializes in election law.
  
Channel 2 Action News and the AJC filed several open records requests to obtain city financial records, which show Winslow paid at least a half dozen homeless people in the months leading up to her election.
 
In August, September and October of 2012, Winslow and her staff paid workers $280 for cleanups on 10 different days.
 
In the same three months of 2013, while Winslow was campaigning, she paid them five times that amount, $1,534, for work on 31 days. Winslow won re-election easily.
 
"It's always hard to run a campaign against someone who can buy an army with city money," said Lewis, who brought his video and complain to the city ethics officer.
 
He says no action was taken. At the time, he did not have access to the payment information.  But his video raised another issue.
 
"I'm getting $5 an hour right here," the men can be heard saying on the video, gesturing toward their Winslow T-shirt.
 
Lewis encountered Carter and Banks while they were cleaning up Atlanta streets. He was stunned to learn how much they were being paid.
 
"Because someone's homeless doesn't mean they're worth less than the national government says you need to pay somebody," said Lewis. "Taking advantage of somebody's situation for your own personal good, it's degrading to them and it's illegal."
 
Winslow did not return Fleischer's calls and dodged the Channel 2 Action News camera after a committee meeting.
 
"I'm not answering any questions about that," Winslow told Fleischer before leaving through an exit only accessible to council members.
 
Winslow told our news partners at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she paid the homeless workers with money from her campaign when they were doing campaign work.
 
She failed to file several campaign disclosures, but in the one relevant disclosure she did file, she only listed $140 in small expenditures, even though on one day she allegedly paid those workers $240.
 
DeLoach said Winslow didn't even let the workers keep the T-shirts.
  
"That was like taking advantage of us, making us feel down and low and worthless," said DeLoach. "I'm in a bad situation as it is, I don't need the low self-esteem."



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