By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) has agreed to formalize a bond-underwriting agreement with a former Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) chairman arrested last year in an airport sex scandal.
The BOC voted 3-2 on Tuesday to approve an investment-banking, services contract with Edmund J. Wall, a bond underwriter, who currently sits on the MARTA board of directors. Wall has served, on and off, as the county's investment banker since 1988, but until this week, had done so without a standing contract.
In March 2007, Wall was arrested by police at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for allegedly engaging in a sexual act in an airport bathroom. He was serving as the chairman of MARTA's board of directors at the time, but resigned from the position in the wake of the scandal.
Wall pleaded not guilty to a public indecency charge in Clayton County Magistrate Court on March 14, 2007. The case is pending.
For different reasons, commissioners Wole Ralph and Sonna Singleton opposed the resolution.
Ralph said the decision "raises public trust issues." He also believes Angela Jackson, the county's finance director, had "no input" in Wall's contract, which will encompass underwriting $68,000,000 in Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) general obligation bonds; underwriting debt services related to the expansion and renovation of Tara Field; and providing financial advice in regards to the Clayton County Pension Plan.
"[Wall is] a vendor," said Ralph. "After he writes a bond, he walks away. He does not get paid to protect the county's finances, he gets paid to underwrite bonds. I believe that it is not a good idea to go out and purchase bonds when the market is so volatile.
"For [Jackson] to have no input on that decision ... I felt that was irresponsible," Ralph added. "The fact that there are still charges pending against this person in this county, is scary. I think all of these things fly in the face of what responsible people would do," he continued.
"I just didn't feel like we really had enough time to study the contract," said Singleton.
Under the terms of the agreement, Wall is entitled to 1 percent of the principal amount of debt issued for underwriting and placement agent services; 0.5 percent of the principal amount of debt issued for financial advisory services; and $200 per hour, plus "reasonable out-of-pocket expenses" for any other investment banking services provided.
"There just hasn't been adequate research done," to see that the rates are competitive, said Singleton.
Commissioner Michael Edmondson, who voted to pass the resolution, said the matter came to a vote through standard parliamentary procedure. He said Wall has worked for the county for 20 years and acted admirably during that time.
"He's well known around the county with a reputation across administrations," said Edmondson. "I think some of the county commissioners wanted a formalized relationship with these underwriters before moving forward. It's a pretty mundane thing.
"He has had an investment-banking relationship with the county that transcends three chairmen," Edmondson continued. "That history and that relationship has been very beneficial to the county. I am very comfortable continuing to work with Mr. Wall, as long as the pricing stays competitive."
Edmondson said the charges against Wall didn't affect his decision to pass the resolution.
BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell said Wall's relationship with the county is not new, and he believes the situation is "being blown out of proportion." He said Wall's alleged sexual conduct and his ability to develop the county through bond issuance are "apples and oranges.
"I'm not here to defend him," said Bell. "I'm here to look at his ability as a bond writer. Mr. Wall has 25 years of experience underwriting bonds and has represented many governments across the state.
"When the economy of Wall Street is impacting counties unbelievably, we need the best minds available," Bell continued. "That's what we're trying to do. None of this has anything to do with what happened a year ago at the Atlanta airport."
Bell said rumors that Wall's position would undercut the authority of the finance director were unfounded. "[Wall has] got to get figures from [finance director Angela Jackson] before he goes out and does anything," said Bell. "They are compelled to work together. I will direct her, and I will direct him."
Calls made to the MARTA board of directors were not returned on Wednesday.