Johns Creek Mayor turns up nose, turns down donation
Despite nonprofit status, city is unlikely to accept
By Caron Cooper
Despite criticism that his intentions were something other than charitable, businessman John Cornetta stayed true to his pledge, donating money to Johns Creek and to the victims' families of the recent fire tragedy. Mayor Mike Bodker said he could not envision the City Council accepting the donation. And a letter dated Oct. 12 confirmed it.
Cornetta, owner of the adult video store Love Shack, pledged June 4 that his company would donate 1 percent of all sales from its five stores and 2 percent from its Johns Creek location to the memorial fund established for firefighter Felix Roberts and to the city to aide in the establishment of a municipal police and fire department. The stores also set out donation buckets where anyone can donate.
Cornetta sent a letter Sept. 28 to Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker with a check enclosed.
"It is with great pride that I mail you today this check for $2,913 to assist the city of Johns Creek in the development of its fire and rescue services," he said in the letter.
But the check wasn't from Cornetta, it was from his newly formed nonprofit, The Cornetta Charitable Foundation (CCF). "It is the hopes and prayers of the CCF that the city put this money to good use by way of expediting civil services for Johns Creek," read the letter.
The letter went on to say the foundation raised $5,058 from store sales, plus $768 from employees and customers that was collected in buckets, for a total of $5,825.
Half of that went to the city, the other half went to the victims' families of a fire tragedy in Johns Creek that took the lives of a firefighter and a resident.
"As promised we have already donated $1,456 to the Felix Roberts Memorial Fund and the same amount to the family of John Callahan," said Cornetta in the letter. He and his wife also contributed $500 to each family.
The city is still mum, and it seems to matter not at all that the donation technically came from the foundation, not Cornetta.
"The city doesn't have to accept gifts from anybody. It is always up to the council to make a determination which gifts they wish to accept and which gifts they wish not to accept," said City Attorney Bill Riley.
So then the question becomes – when does the donation come before council?
"It is not on the agenda at this point. Whenever it comes before the council, they will make that determination," said Riley.
Only the city manager, the city attorney and the mayor have the right to place things on the agenda, according to Riley.
"If there is a pending potential donation, I am sure that the council will address it," said Riley.
But it looks like that day will never come. A letter from Director of Finance Monte Vavra was sent to Cornetta Oct. 12. Enclosed was the returned check.
"The city has determined that we cannot accept this check," the letter stated.
Last week, Bodker said he stands by his prior statement that a donation to the city from Cornetta could be interpreted as an attempt to influence City Council.
"It would be wholly inappropriate to consider any gifts while the city is in litigation with Mr. Cornetta," said Bodker.
Cornetta said he isn't surprised.
"It is typical, it is anticipated and it is a nice way to say they can sit on this as long as they want. The money didn't come from me. It came from people who knew that they were donating for those purposes," said Cornetta.
"I find it very ironic that the mayor would accept money from other charitable organizations, in fact help create one with a specific goal in mind to fight a legal business when his job is to promote business, and then to decide arbitrarily which businesses to accept from and not accept from."
And in true Cornetta fashion, the letter to the mayor also came with a challenge – dual dunk tanks at the Love Shack in December – one for Bodker, one for Cornetta.
"Any and all citizens can buy three softballs for $20 and choose whom to throw the ball at and dunk in to the cold water tank," read the letter.
The proceeds would of course go the charity of the winner's choice, whomever had the least amount of balls thrown at their tank.
"This is all in good clean fun and we have a chance together to raise an incredible amount of money for yet another good cause," Cornetta said in his letter.
Bodker had no comment.
Regardless, Cornetta said the show will go on, and he has enlisted Mike South to stand-in for the mayor