Augusta Commission member and 2014 mayoral hopeful Alvin Mason is defending his acceptance of Heery International Georgia Dome skybox seats and Atlanta Braves tickets and Heery’s direct contributions to his campaign as legal gifts that he has no reason to discontinue.
The Augusta Chronicle reported Heery’s numerous gifts and contributions to commissioners as the commission prepared Tuesday to renew the firm’s contract for two more years. Heery and its subconsultants – Gallop and Associates and Dukes, Edwards and Dukes – have received about $9.5 million in fees in the past decade, based on hourly billing rates that in some cases exceed $200 an hour.
Mason deflected questions about the gifts Friday, saying he was preoccupied with the upcoming funeral of three of his neighbors who were victims of a triple homicide.
After the city ethics subcommittee meeting Tuesday, however, he defended his use of the sports tickets and his spending of Heery campaign donations on neighborhood breakfasts and other events. Commissioner Corey Johnson, who also acknowledged accepting the tickets and sponsorships of community events, said he had used the money for community outreach.
“There’s a difference between a gift and courtesy tickets,” Mason said, referring to the city ethics ordinance’s exception of “courtesy tickets or free admission extended to an elected official for an event as a courtesy or for ceremonial purposes” from commissioner reporting requirements.
For Mason, that meant four Heery-sponsored invitations to the firm’s skybox at the Georgia Dome during the Falcons’ 2010 season.
“There’s nothing illegal, period, in reference to that,” Mason said.
Mason went on to defend his and other commissioners’ acceptance of numerous Heery campaign contributions, even when they were not up for re-election.
A Heery document obtained by The Chronicle characterized the contributions as being made to commissioners who supported Heery’s contract.
“You’re talking campaigns,” Mason said. “Lawful campaign contributions.”
Mason even disputed Johnson’s assertion that using the contributions to sponsor district breakfasts and other events in non-election years constituted community outreach.
The firm gave both commissioners $1,500 in 2009, when they were not up for re-election.
“I don’t know about any of that; I’m talking about Commissioner Mason,” Mason said. The breakfasts “can fall under campaign expenditures; absolutely they can.”
In campaign reports, Johnson cited donations to the local campaigns of Aisha Leverette, Bill Fennoy, Jo Rae Jenkins and Harold Jones as how he spent the money, along with $500 for breakfast supplies and $400 to Shelita Williams to hold and cater the breakfast. Mason cited no expenditures of campaign funding for any purpose during 2009.
The two commissioners, however, wrote memos a few months earlier – in August 2009 – on city letterhead to Heery among “10 companies,” Mason said, requesting money for events.
Mason’s memo, also obtained by The Chronicle, sought about $9,800 for “community involvement initiatives” during a non-election year for him.
“Here’s the key to all of this,” Mason said. “It went to the committee to elect Alvin Mason.”
Mason wouldn’t say whether the flow of tickets and other perks from city vendors has slowed since 2009 and 2010, but he cited Augusta National Golf Club’s provision of tickets to commissioners as a similar expression of support. The club, which the Masters Tournament, has no service contract with the city, as Heery, Dukes and Gallop have had for a decade.
“I don’t make the rules; you may not even like them, but they’re there,” Mason said. “I don’t have to stop if I don’t want to stop.”