Torpy at Large: The crazy foam board caper, only at ATL City Hall

On Wednesday, someone filed an ethics complaint against Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s office for spending city time and using city resources to print up placards that could be seen as campaign materials.

Later that afternoon, the Mayor had those same 28-by-18-inch foam boards posted in the atrium at City Hall outside his office. The placards beat up on City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, who the Mayor dislikes and who is running for mayor. The placards pointed out fines Mitchell has paid for ethics violations.

My first thought was, “Has he gone off his rocker?”

But, no. I realized this was totally rational in Kasim-think. When someone punches at you, you punch back — and maybe give him a thumb in the eye. The ethics complaint was filed by Anonymous, which Reed assumed to be the Mitchell camp, which might be a pretty good guess.

On Thursday, the signs were gone from the atrium. At first, it seemed like the Mayor’s people saw the folly of their ways. A Facebook page run by radio personality Rashad Richey was asking listeners what they thought of The Mayor’s stunt and they were tearing the bark off him, mostly calling him petty. And these weren’t white Republicans.

Mitchell even called a press conference Thursday afternoon to stake his place on the high ground, saying he was going to stay above the fray.

But now, things have gotten weirder, infinitely weirder, veering into the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up category.

A volunteer from the Mitchell campaign was arrested Thursday for stealing the signs.

Atlanta police arrested a 54-year-old Marietta man, Terry U. Morris, after he was identified from security video that shows him sauntering away with the signs.

“Investigators were able to locate him at the campaign headquarters of Ceasar Mitchell for Mayor on Joseph E. Lowery Blvd. on Thursday afternoon,” police said in a statement. “He was taken into custody and has been charged with misdemeanor theft by taking.”

Mitchell sent a statement saying Morris was an “occasional citizen volunteer,” adding that “he was not instructed by the campaign to remove the signs, nor was he authorized to do so.”

Mitchell’s statement goes on to say: “There have been a number of negative distractions as of late. And I believe it’s time to get back to the real issues that are important to the people of Atlanta.”

An aide later added that Morris was not arrested at the Mitchell campaign headquarters.

Stealing signs during campaigns is a time-honored tradition of American politics. But they are usually snatched from someone’s front lawn.

These might pose an interesting legal issue. Are these campaign signs? Or are they city properties that were created to put out a governmental message, as the Mayor contends?

Mayoral communications chief Anne Torres said the signs “were stolen by an individual trying to prevent the facts on the signs from being known.”

She went on to tick off a list about Mitchell. That he:

» failed to register his mayoral committee before accepting campaign funds

» paid money in 2009 to a firm owned by his brother

» gets a ton of money from contractors

» failed to disclose between $46,000 and $93,000 in campaign expenditures

» “has paid the second-highest ethics fines of any sitting elected official in Atlanta municipal government.”

This was the stuff listed on the posters that the Mayor had drawn up and put outside his office. It might seem plausible why someone with a liking for Ceasar might have a little larceny in his heart.

Let me step back a bit on the ethics complaint. It was against a couple of mayoral minions, which seems a bit unfair.

The complaint targets communications chief Torres and press secretary Jenna Garland, accusing them of using city property, time and effort to promote the mayoral campaigns of City Council members Kwanza Hall and Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Reed’s aides should not be targeted because it’s well known that absolutely nobody in the office of Mayor Kasim Reed will even order out for lunch without his guidance.

The complaint alleges that the Mayor’s people organized a press conference on Aug. 31 to beat up on Mitchell and printed up placards to highlight his ethics woes. This would help any candidate(s) the Mayor supports, which I think is true.

The mayor, in my mind, held the Aug. 31 press conference on behalf of Bottoms, his candidate. Bottoms and Mitchell are currently the two top polling and money-raising African-American candidates, and Reed figures he needs to knock Mitchell down a peg or two to lift Bottoms up.

I must also add that Kwanza Hall is needlessly being dragged into this. The Aug. 31 press conference at City Hall was billed as an announcement about redeveloping the Atlanta Civic Center and building affordable housing.

Kwanza was wandering through the atrium, saw the cameras, and like any good candidate will do, bee-lined for a good spot behind the podium.

But when the Mayor veered off affordable housing and into his anti-Ceasar rant, Kwanza was stuck there behind Hizzoner looking like a hostage. I think the cameras caught him blinking in Morse Code, “Please help me!”

I know all sorts of past records in politics are fair game and Ceasar’s past is coming back to bite him, thanks to Atlanta’s Exec in Chief.

I dug around a bit and found this nugget from the AJC files from 2007. It was a list of how legislators don’t pay attention to campaign contribution filings.

We listed at the time the top 10 politicians with the most late filings in the previous decade. No. 1 was perennial Legislature rascal, Rep. Douglas Dean (D-Atlanta) with 43 late filings.

No. 3? It was state Sen. Kasim Reed (D-Atlanta) with 35.

I’m looking for my foam board.

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