So, Now Land Deals in Gwinnett Are a Story

AJC: Gwinnett D.A. seeks special grand jury for county land deals

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter on Monday requested a special grand jury to investigate questionable land purchases by the county’s Board of Commissioners, he announced Monday….

Each land deal involved politically connected developers who had ties to county commissioners who pushed for the purchases, which were at inflated prices and based on questionable appraisals.

Funny, almost exactly one year ago, I was told by an AJC reporter (no longer with the paper) that a potential conflict of interest relating to the Gwinnett Stadium site wasn’t newsworthy. Details here and here.

Addendum: Oh, and the Gwinnett Daily Post doesn’t even mention the story. Nice work.

5 Responses “So, Now Land Deals in Gwinnett Are a Story”

  1. Ken Stepp says:

    This is great news. As a critic of how I thought this would go down I have to admit I’m impressed. This seems to be non political and all about Gwinnett County and what will be best for the county. Although I do hope that nothing illegal happened ,if it did I feel it will come out now. Also if it did maybe Gwinnett could recover some of the money and keep our Public Safety guys on the road.

  2. Mike Pearson says:

    J.C.,

    I believe I told you at the time that the land deal involving Kenerly and the property he co-owned was not a story for three specific reasons:

    1. Kenerly sold, not bought, the land, as was breathlessly and incorrectly reported in many venues.
    2. He had co-owned the land since long before the stadium was ever even contemplated.
    3. It is actually closer to another piece of interstate-fronting property that the county rejected for the stadium site.

    The implication was that Kenerly, secretly aware of the impending stadium deal, snatched up land that only he knew would supposedly increase in value as a consequence of the soon-to-be-revealed stadium deal. When my former colleague and I ran down and read the land transaction documents, instead of relying on unclear property record summaries from the county Web site, we found a different set of facts. Those facts were that he had owned the land since well before the stadium was even contemplated and sold (not was seeking to sell, as your blog posting still incorrectly claims) a portion of the land in connection with a pending lawsuit involving the property.

    Actually bothering to interview the commissioner and running down further records related to his claims in that interview added to the body of fact showing that the land transaction appeared to be entirely unrelated to the stadium deal.

    I still stand by that assertion.

    And the reporting by the AJC on the park land deals, very solid reporting by the way, has nothing to do insofar as I am aware, with the stadium deal, despite your linking this post to your two other posts on the Kenerly transaction.

    The story you link to makes no mention of the stadium, and I’ve not read or heard anywhere else that the grand jury is investigating the stadium deal.

    As a Gwinnett taxpayer, I’m happy Tim Eberly reported on the land deals, and I’m glad Danny Porter has asked a grand jury to further investigate these troubling transactions. It shows the effect a free press, with its attention properly directed to areas of genuine concern, can have on public policy.

    And while I admire your independence and found you to be a useful source while I was covering the stadium issue, I’m more than a little miffed you have chosen to throw me and my reputation under the bus, by name or not, in this latest broadside on a county in which you do not live or have any property or professional interest.

    Had I found exacting evidence of a conspiracy among commissioners to defraud the taxpayers or to enrich themselves by steering public funds, I would have eagerly transmitted that news to readers, if not out of professional obligation, then self-interest as a taxpayer, property owner and resident.

    Your implicit accusation that I was carrying water for the county and its leaders, and that the land-deal reporting is emerging now only because of my absence is simply wrong.

    There’s plenty to be skeptical of in the activities of government. We don’t need to conjure, in your words, a phantom menace to find fingers to point.

  3. JC says:

    Mike,

    I respond below. Your words are in blockquotes.

    The implication was that Kenerly, secretly aware of the impending stadium deal, snatched up land that only he knew would supposedly increase in value as a consequence of the soon-to-be-revealed stadium deal. When my former colleague and I ran down and read the land transaction documents, instead of relying on unclear property record summaries from the county Web site, we found a different set of facts. Those facts were that he had owned the land since well before the stadium was even contemplated and sold (not was seeking to sell, as your blog posting still incorrectly claims) a portion of the land in connection with a pending lawsuit involving the property.

    This is not why I thought the story was important, and I explicitly stated so to you. It is the ownership stake that is relevant. I wrote the following in an e-mail to you in September 2008:

    “The fact that a sitting commissioner with the power to approve government project that enhances the value of his property is relevant news that ought to be reported. The level of influence isn’t the issue. So what that they didn’t pick the property adjacent to his property? There is no doubt that he gains financially from this decision and he has a clear conflict of interest. The worst you can do is report it and let readers decide whether or not its relevant. I see little to gain from sitting on this story.”

    I also published a post explaining why the ownership stake is relevant.

    Actually bothering to interview the commissioner and running down further records related to his claims in that interview added to the body of fact showing that the land transaction appeared to be entirely unrelated to the stadium deal.

    You are right, neither AJC forum readers nor I bothered to interview the commissioner or track down further records. That is the job of newspapers, whose job is also to report relevant news like a potential conflict of interest. This is why I was disappointed that the AJC did not report the story in its print editions. Blogs and the formal media are complements, not substitutes. I value the content provided by newspaper reporters (like my parents), as do most citizens, which is why I felt my reporting of the story to a small readership on a blog was not sufficient coverage. I reiterate that the sale of the land does not kill the story; therefore, tracking down one incorrect portion of the story does not kill the whole story.

    And the reporting by the AJC on the park land deals, very solid reporting by the way, has nothing to do insofar as I am aware, with the stadium deal, despite your linking this post to your two other posts on the Kenerly transaction.

    The story you link to makes no mention of the stadium, and I’ve not read or heard anywhere else that the grand jury is investigating the stadium deal.

    The relevance is that sitting county commissioners are being investigated for potential conflicts of interests regarding County land purchases. The stadium involved a land purchase that may have involved a conflict of interest.

    And while I admire your independence and found you to be a useful source while I was covering the stadium issue, I’m more than a little miffed you have chosen to throw me and my reputation under the bus, by name or not, in this latest broadside on a county in which you do not live or have any property or professional interest.

    I valued much of your reporting on this story, and I appreciated your seeking my input. But in this instance, I believe the AJC editors and reporters responsible for reporting relevant news to metro-Atlanta residents (a group that included you) used poor judgment by not reporting this story. I purposely did not mention your name, nor did I call you out specifically for failing to report this story. I definitely have no interest in sinking your reputation. Had you not written your response, no one would know that you are the person who relayed the reasons to me that the AJC would not be running a story on the commissioner’s ownership stake. Furthermore, if you think you were right not to run the story, then I don’t see how I am damaging your reputation.

    Had I found exacting evidence of a conspiracy among commissioners to defraud the taxpayers or to enrich themselves by steering public funds, I would have eagerly transmitted that news to readers, if not out of professional obligation, then self-interest as a taxpayer, property owner and resident.

    I see no concrete evidence of a conspiracy, either. I see a potential conflict of interest that was known to a media outlet that chose not to report it. This bothers me. The story should have been published, and the commissioner would have had the right to explain his financial interests and why he chose not to recuse himself from votes regarding the project. Good reporting requires reporting both sides. Readers would then be free to draw their own conclusions.

    At the time, I was confused as to why I you felt a commissioner owning land near a publicly funded stadium was not worth of reporting. So, I asked several journalist acquaintances about the story and your reasons that the story was not published. Not a single one felt that your explanations justified not running this story; in fact, all were shocked that the AJC didn’t run the story.

    Your implicit accusation that I was carrying water for the county and its leaders, and that the land-deal reporting is emerging now only because of my absence is simply wrong.

    I most certainly do not think that you were carrying water for the County. As I stated above, I believe the AJC exercised poor judgment. That you are no longer working for the AJC was simply a factual statement, and I did not intend for anyone to infer your departure changed the coverage of the story. Current editors and reporters who were AJC at the time also bear responsibility for not pursuing the story. If I felt that you or the AJC were in the tank, you would know it, because I would not be subtle about such an accusation. Look at how I have criticized the Gwinnett Daily Post for their biased coverage of the stadium.

    The AJC failed to report on a potential conflict of interest in the past. Now there is evidence in other projects that conflicts of interest may have motivated land purchases. I am implying that in the past conflicts of interest should not have ignored, given that there is now evidence that conflicts of interest may have motivated other public land purchases.

  4. Mike Pearson says:

    JC, if a newspaper printed every accusation that crosses the transom, there wouldn’t be room in the newspaper for anything else. People accuse leaders of doing heinous things every day. Some of them are true, a great many more are not and are motivated by politics, personal revenge, profit, who knows what.

    Like it or not, part of the job of professional journalists is editing and filtering the news based on an accumulation of facts and ethical, professional judgment. That’s not true of bloggers or forum posters, who are free to opine on limited or non-existent facts, the reputations of those they target be damned.

    That Kevin Kenerly had, for years before the stadium was ever contemplated, owned a piece of land near the eventual site of it, and that he sold a piece of that property before the site became public knowledge as part of a legal action does not represent any sort of evidence of a conflict of interest involving the stadium. I didn’t think so, neither did any of the other reporters or editors I consulted at the time.

    Reporting a negative rumor doesn’t dispel the rumor, it fuels it. It doesn’t simply allow people to make up their own minds, it encourages them to find fault. It plants a seed of doubt and accusation … “ah OF COURSE Kevin Kenerly is dirty! He owned land near the stadium!”

    I left the news business, in part, because of its desire to attack and destroy everything it crosses, and I refused to be a part of it. I still do.

  5. JC says:

    I do not subscribe to your paternalistic philosophy of journalism.