In June, Reynolds and Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to examine accusations Joseph Pond of east Cobb made against Birrell.
Pond and Birrell have been at odds ever since Pond’s neighbor complained to Birrell about his chickens.
The chickens violated the county’s zoning ordinance and Pond was forced to get rid of them. Pond responded by filing two ethics complaints against Birrell with the county’s ethics board, both of which were dismissed.
Reynolds said after receiving the results of the GBI investigation Thursday, he determined that Birrell engaged in no criminal wrongdoing.
“According to our conversation with GBI, there were some inaccuracies, but it didn’t rise up to anything that we believe to be an intentional false statement, so there’s no criminal matter here, and as far as we’re concerned the matter is over,” Reynolds said.
For example, the GBI found that Birrell falsely stated that Pond attended “virtually every commission meeting wearing a chicken hat.”
The GBI reports that, “The facts indicate that Mr. Pond attended and spoke at 10 of 30 commissioner meetings during the time period of Aug. 1, 2011, and Oct. 30, 2012. Moreover, the evidence indicates that Mr. Pond did not purchase the chicken hat in question until May 7, 2012.”
A matter of definitions
The GBI cites Merriam-Webster’s definition of “virtually” as “almost or entirely or nearly.”
“Clearly, 10 out of 30 is not ‘virtually every,’” the GBI report states.
The GBI goes on to say that Birrell’s Marietta attorney, Fred Bentley Jr., admitted the decision to use the word “virtually” was his “and that he wrote the brief and intended the brief as a persuasive document.”
Reynolds said the report settled the matter.
“Commissioner Birrell did nothing of a criminal nature,” he said. “In fact, I will state for the public record that during the course of this investigation she has not contacted this office, she has acted and conducted herself above reproach, and there are absolutely categorically, unequivocally no criminal acts committed by her whatsoever.”
A timeline included in the report shows how Pond brought chickens to his residence in April 2011. In June 2011, his neighbor, Carole Kell, mother of Cobb Superior Court Judge Tain Kell, reported to Birrell that Pond was in violation of the county’s zoning ordinance.
Pond applied for a variance to have chickens, but was denied and later cited with a code violation. He later filed an ethics complaint against Birrell, which was dismissed by the county’s ethics board in December 2012.
Pond filed a second ethics complaint against Birrell that also was dismissed April 30.
Following the dismissal of both complaints, Pond asked Reynolds and Warren to investigate Birrell, accusing her of making false statements during her ethics hearing.
A waste of taxpayer money?
Birrell called the GBI report and statements by Reynolds “very good news.”
“I’ve maintained my innocence all along with the last two claims with the ethics board, and once again, it’s been dismissed and hopefully the matter is over and put to rest now after three dismissals and being exonerated and cleared on all three filings,” Birrell said. “I truly hope that this is over and put to rest and we can move on and not continue to waste taxpayers’ money and county and state resources and time.”
In reaction to Reynolds’ comments saying the case was over, Pond honed in on some of the inaccuracies in the GBI report, citing the brief Bentley filed.
“Commissioner Birrell admitted to the GBI that some of the information in the brief was not accurate,” Pond said. “Regardless of this and other evidence, Reynolds concludes that no criminal acts occurred. I am disappointed that the county aggressively prosecutes common residents for the most minor offenses, but turns its head when a sitting commissioner breaks not just the state law, but the trust of the people.”
Pond said he doesn’t think Birrell is a bad person.
“She probably did not consider the questionable ethics of the customs presented to her by the previous commissioner, Chairman Tim Lee,” Pond said. “She may have just scanned the briefs written by attorney Bentley, without thinking about fact-checking. Surely she trusted that he was operating fully within the law, and would not put her in a compromising position. Nonetheless, the ethics board was given a sworn brief with false information, and that is not legal under Georgia state law.”
Pond said he was sorry Birrell believes it is a waste of taxpayer money to ensure “an honest and transparent government.”
“I think that spending $4.8 million dollars for a transit study is a waste of taxpayer money,” he said. “If she had not hired her attorney, maybe the brief would have (been) less ‘persuasive’ and more factual. The commissioners are elected by the people to run the affairs of our county government; it is our duty to watch over them and ensure that they are living up to the oath of office that they took. I stand by my actions, and will continue to watch over and participate in our local government — an activity that more residents should take up.”