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Meet the lobbyist with a legislator on the payroll
Wayne Garner, the mayor of Carrollton, may be the only lobbyist in Georgia who has a legislator on the payroll.
Garner also has a funeral home, and the legislator, state Rep. Tim Bearden, had a funeral home bill this year. (It didn’t pass.)
Garner has parlayed decades of experience in state government into a lucrative career as a lobbyist. State records show Garner (right) has a dozen clients that each pay him more than $10,000 a year.
The mayor does not represent Carrollton as a lobbyist, but the city may not need one. It pays Bearden (left) $2,100 a month – for a total of $94,500 since 2005 – as a consultant with no written contract or job description. He makes about $17,000 a year as a legislator.
The Information Age, a Carrollton blog, disclosed Bearden’s city job about three weeks ago, generating a number of news stories. City officials say he has worked as a police liaison with the public, including several specific projects such as Toys for Tots and the “Save a Life … Stop on Red” campaign.
Toys for Tots, on the other hand, says Bearden has had nothing to do with the annual toy drive. All workers are volunteers, Toys for Tots organizer Carlis Baker told the Carrollton Times-Georgian.
City Manager Casey Coleman has much more to do with defining Bearden’s duties, Garner told the Times-Georgian, than he does.
Two city councilmen have questioned the arrangement and said they know of nothing that Bearden has done to earn the money.
In February, Bearden introduced House Bill 257, which would allow any Georgian 18 or older to sign and pay in advance for a “pre-need” contract for cremation. The bill stalled after passing out of a House committee.
Garner, CEO of First Family Funeral Home in Carrollton, is not registered as a funeral home lobbyist. Records show former state Rep. Charlie Watts, his partner at lobbying firm Southeastern Resource Group, is registered to work the Legislature on behalf of the Independent Funeral Directors of Georgia as well as the Coroners Association of Georgia (many of whose members are funeral directors).
(Last fall, the Information Age reported that Watts had collected $12,000 from Carroll County and had a contract for a total of $100,000.)
Neither Bearden nor Garner returned telephone messages inquiring about the arrangement.
Bearden, a former police officer, was elected to the Georgia House in 2004. He is perhaps best known for sponsoring legislation to allow citizens to carry concealed weapons in restaurants and state parks and on public transportation.
Garner served 12 years in the state Senate before then-Gov. Zell Miller named him to the state parole board in 1993. From 1995 through 2000, he was commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections.
Currently, Garner’s lobbying clients include DeKalb County government; Correctional Medical Services Inc., which provides health care in jails and prisons; the three-hospital Tanner Health System; and Blairsville-based United Community Bank.