Exchange shows feud between city, senator

CONYERS - An e-mail conversation recently printed on AJC.com from state Sen. John Douglas to Conyers Mayor Randy Mills indicates he promised passage of legislation pertaining to the city in exchange for a public apology from the city council and assurances that the city would remain neutral during his reelection campaign against Mike Crotts this year.

The e-mail was the latest in an ongoing feud between Douglas and the city. Douglas has questioned the Conyers Police Department's practice of posting officers on Interstate 20 and accused the city police of operating outside its jurisdiction.

The city, on the other hand, maintains the incidents leading to the traffic stops initially occurred within the city limits and the department is working under provisions allowed by state law.

The e-mail exchange occurred in March when Mills sought support from Douglas for a hotel-motel tax bill to allow the city to raise money to support improvements to the Georgia International Horse Park. At the time, the bill had passed the House, and the city was looking for someone to shepherd the legislation through the Senate.

Douglas, R-Social Circle, replied that the city and horse park are not in his district, although he is a member of the Rockdale delegation, representing the county in the General Assembly. Douglas represents the 17th District, which includes portions of Rockdale, Newton, Henry, Spalding and Walton counties.

He referred Mills to Sen. Ronald Ramsey, D-Lithonia, whose district includes the city and horse park.

A short time later, Douglas replied to Mills again from a private e-mail address offering "to work behind the scenes and guarantee (the bill's) passage," only if the city promised that the police department would leave Conyers city limits only in emergency or essential situations; the city council publicly apologize for "the name calling and unprofessional actions shown last summer;" and that Conyers City Manager Tony Lucas remain neutral in Douglas' reelection bid, providing "no assistance to (Mike) Crotts unless the law requires it." He added, "I have sources who can monitor this."

"Those three actions on the part of Conyers guarantees your tax bill. Ron Ramsey and I will work out how we are going to get it through the Senate, but we will get it done."

Douglas said Wednesday his e-mail response was simply a response to Mills' e-mails.

"That was a response to his e-mail to me," Douglas said. "I told him he needed to do these things, and I would work to get it done if we could ultimately resolve this situation."

When pressed on why he would state that the city was not inside his district and then guarantee passage of the bill, Douglas accused the Citizen of being a "shill" for the city of Conyers and lashed out at its coverage of his disputes with the city.

"There's apparently no sense of balanced reporting whatsoever from last summer to now," he said. "Are you writing an editorial or a story?"

When questioned further on the conditions he placed on the city for his support of the bill, Douglas replied "When you figure it out, you call me back," and hung up.

Mills said he ignored Douglas' e-mail offer and worked with Ramsey and Rep. Robert Mumford, R-Conyers, in getting the measure passed. In the end, the measure, House Bill 302, passed the Senate 43-3. Douglas was among those who voted yes for the bill.

"We knew Sen. Ramsey and Robbie (Mumford) were working on it, and I was just trying to get some face time with him," Mills said. "His response was different. I've been doing this for 18 years, and I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly. I've learned that the best thing to do is to accentuate the good and ignore the bad."

Douglas first showed interest in the Conyers Police Department's traffic stops in October 2006 after he was stopped in Newton County by an off-duty CPD officer who said he had noticed Douglas' car was weaving. The officer suspected a possible case of DUI, but upon further investigation, no alcohol was involved in the incident and no citation was issued.

The dispute between Douglas and the city of Conyers became public in July when the senator wrote the Governor's Office of Highway Safety and asked that the CPD not be permitted to participate in roadblocks or other traffic safety programs within his senatorial district until it ceased operating outside its jurisdiction.

Conyers Police Chief David Cathcart fired back in a letter a week later defending the actions of his department.

Cathcart's letter was followed by a letter from Lucas to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and members of the Senate Ethics Committee claiming Douglas had threatened to hold up grant funding opportunities and local legislation in the upcoming session of the General Assembly for what the senator has alleged as misconduct on the part of the CPD.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.