Believe it or not, I actually like some Georgia politicians. My favorites, of course, are the ones who return my calls / texts and readily agree to interviews on short notice. Atlanta city councilman Michael Julian Bond is one of them.
So yeah, I cringed a bit when I found out that my new-ish coworker, WXIA investigative reporter Catie Beck, was producing a story about Bond’s use of his city council expense account to pay for personal stuff. The evidence was convincing. Catie had the story cold.
Then came the follow up — after the original story — when Bond took a plane trip to Boston and Catie and photog Shawn Hoder followed him there. He’d gotten the city to pay for his travel to a conference that he never attended. Catie not only had the story cold, but Bond had been nailed a second time for the same offense.
It was not an attractive moment for a guy I liked and respected.
(By the way, Catie and Shawn and another new-to-Atlanta investigative reporter, Brendan Keefe, are three excellent reasons why you people – and I’m pointing and wagging my finger here — ought to be glued to the news programming of WXIA-TV!)
Councilman Bond had many fans at WXIA. We could call him day, night or weekends and if he could help us do our jobs, he would.
Tuesday, Common Cause Georgia planned to appear at the Atlanta city council meeting to call for Bond’s resignation. Catie and Shawn had a double-secret investigative shoot planned for that day, so I got to cover it.
I called Bond. He answered the phone. “It’s Doug from your favorite TV station…” I started, a weak effort to lighten the overture. I heard silence. I stammered on, requesting an interview.
Not gonna do it, Bond answered. He said he felt like he hadn’t gotten a fair shake from my TV station. In particular, he didn’t like the station ballyhooing the investigative story in promotional spots.
The complaints sounded nitpicky, but perhaps understandable coming from a proud guy who, a few days earlier, had essentially admitted to the central facts of Catie’s story to the city ethics agency.
“Your organization has treated me shabbily,” he concluded. The phone conversation ended cordially. Bond wasn’t blaming me personally, but was disinclined to play ball with the news organization that had exposed his behavior.
At the city council meeting, I saw Bond exit his seat and head toward the door to the foyer. Mike Zakel and I bolted from the press room and spotted him in a public hallway. I stood there with a mic. Yes, Bond had already told me “no” to an interview. I had to ask him again with Zakel’s camera recording it.
It was an awkward moment. “I know you’re recording me,” he said. “Yes sir, we are,” I answered. I asked a question. He stopped and calmly reminded me that he had declined my earlier request for an interview. “I wanted to give you another chance,” I said. Bond demurred again.
At that point, I might have started firing specific questions at him, knowing he wouldn’t answer and knowing he would probably walk away. Instead, I backed off and let him return to the council chamber. I had what I needed.
“Good to see you, Doug,” Bond said as we parted company, a moment of civility that Bond could have easily skipped.
When DeKalb County commissioner Elaine Boyer appeared in federal court last year following a guilty plea, it set up another awkward moment. Boyer was another politician I liked. She was especially helpful providing interviews about the misbehavior of other politicians.
Boyer was about to enter a guilty plea to a charge of misusing county funds, an allegation first exposed by the AJC.
When I entered the courtroom, I walked up to the defense table and said hi. Boyer smiled and greeted me, as she always had. And then she looked at me and said: “I’m sorry.”
I was too.