Chicken activist Joseph Pond of east Cobb has convinced the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate Commissioner JoAnn Birrell over a zoning case involving his hens.
Pond asked Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds and Sheriff Neil Warren to investigate Birrell, and they in turn handed the case over to the GBI June 8.
Pond, who has filed two previous ethics complaints against Birrell, both of which have been dismissed by the Cobb Ethics Board, maintains that Birrell not only violated the county’s ethics code by failing to show impartiality on a variance case for backyard chickens, she gave false testimony during her ethics hearing.
“She broke the law,” Pond said. “She’s given false and misleading information.”
Birrell told the MDJ on Thursday, “All I can say is I can assure you once again that I am innocent of any wrongdoing, I have not broken the law, and I have not acted in an unethical or illegal manner, and as long as this is under GBI investigation I can’t really comment on any specifics, but I can assure you I’ve been cleared twice by the ethics board of anything or really of nothing, so we’ll just see what happens.”
Birrell went on to say, “It’s ridiculous and it is harassment and that’s all I can say.”
Pond has a different view.
“I find breaking the state law very serious,” he said. “I do not consider it ridiculous. Was it ridiculous when Bill Clinton was caught lying under oath and he was impeached? Was that harassment? She’s an elected official, and she broke the law, and she needs to be held to the same laws that we are.”
In a Friday email to GBI Special Agent Wesley Horne, Col. Don Hunton with the Cobb Sheriff’s Office writes, “I respectfully request that you open an investigation into Mr. Pond’s complaints. Sheriff Warren and District Attorney Reynolds believe that it would be best if we divest ourselves of the investigation so as to relieve any allegations of a conflict of interest.”
Agent Horne contacted Pond the same day to introduce himself and arrange a time for an interview.
Reynolds said he and Warren opted to turn the request to investigate Birrell over to the GBI since Birrell is an elected official.
Still, Reynolds said residents shouldn’t read anything special into that decision.
“I don’t think it adds any seriousness to it or ratchets it up a notch or two because the GBI’s involved,” Reynolds said. “The primary reason they’re involved is because it does involve the allegations concerning another elected official, and the Sheriff and I both thought that in the end it would be cleaner, it would look better, there would be no appearance of impropriety if the GBI looked at it and the chips fall where they may.”
Reynolds said the agent has not given a specific timeline of how the investigation will play out.
“I would expect the agent to conduct what he believes to be a thorough investigation of any allegations Mr. Pond has just like any other allegation, once he completes his investigation he’ll prepare a report, he’ll certainly copy me and send me the report because ultimately we’ll make a decision here about what he’s done,” Reynolds said.
As in any investigation, the outcome could be that a criminal act occurred and a warrant is issued, or they could decide that they believe a criminal act occurred and opt to discuss the matter with the prosecutor to determine next steps, he said.
“The third option would be there is nothing there,” he said. “The book is shut on it and everybody moves on.”
Pond said he was pleased the GBI was involved.
“I am glad that the wheels of justice are rolling forward,” Pond said. “It’s taken long enough for this to occur. No one in Cobb wanted to touch it, so I’m glad that they invited the state in to investigate it. If the GBI agents look at the evidence and conclude that no law was broken, I will issue an apology to Commissioner Birrell.”