A report by The Tree Next Door states the city of Atlanta has misappropriated $3.3 million from the tree trust fund over a 10-year period.
The Tree Next Door is an organization that aims to protect Atlanta’s tree canopy by advocating for a strong tree ordinance and educating the community about their rights and responsibilities under the law, according to its website.
The report, released April 20, also states the tree trust fund earned interest that was diverted to another citywide fund consisting of several other trust funds, a total of $500,000 just in the past five years. It also states there was no oversight or accountability into the management of the tree trust fund.
According to the report, between 2009 and 2019, more than $3.3 million went to salaries and benefits for employees the tree trust fund is not supposed to cover with $2.4 million misappropriated by the department of city planning and $900,000 by the department of parks and recreation.
“As outlined in the Atlanta tree protection ordinance, most of these funds are intended for planting trees and buying forested land,” the report stated. “Some exceptions exist, such as expenses of the tree conservation commission and specific salaries in both the arborist division and the parks department.”
According to the city’s tree protection ordinance, only a total of $445,000 can be used from the tree trust fund to pay for annual salaries and benefits for staff members in the city planning and parks and recreation departments.
The report also states Post 2 at-large Atlanta City Councilman Matt Westmoreland, who chairs the council’s committee on community development and human services, has launched an internal audit of the tree trust fund.
But since it’s not supposed to be done until August, a month after the final draft of the current tree protection ordinance is supposed to be due, the Tree Next Door is calling on the city to conduct an independent, external audit that is completed before the final draft is finished.
The report is asking residents to call on their council members to demand the misappropriated monies be placed back in the tree trust fund and that more oversight is given to it.
An email sent to Michael Smith, spokesman for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ office, seeking comment on the report was not returned at the Neighbor’s deadline.
To view the full report, visit www.treenextdoor.org.