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The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

DA seeks Water Authority’s investigative files on Desmond Brown

Anita Howard’s request follows Brown apparently thanking her publicly for not prosecuting him after allegations of elder abuse and misconduct
Liz Fabian | The Macon Newsroom
The Macon Water Authority awaits a legal ruling Thursday during a planned board meeting that was canceled due to lack of the required public notice.

The Macon Water Authority is preparing to turn over to District Attorney Anita Howard the results of a special investigation launched in 2021 into the conduct of MWA’s District 2 representative Desmond Brown.

Brown faced allegations of misconduct and ethical violations that led the authority to hire a former prosecutor to investigate, but those findings were never sent to the District Attorney, Bibb County Sheriff’s Offices or Governor’s office.

Howard requested the records in a Dec. 12 letter sent to MWA Chairman Gary Bechtel requesting the Authority “immediately forward” the investigative report into Brown’s alleged misconduct as a board member, according to a copy obtained by The Macon Newsroom.

“My goal is to be cooperative as possible,” Bechtel said. “I’ve authorized the attorneys to comply with the request.”

In the letter, Howard said her office would review the report with members of the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office “to determine if there is any evidence which can be used to prove whether there have been violations of Georgia law by employees and/or members of the Water Authority.”

Howard’s letter was dated 10 days after 13WMAZ aired a video of Brown seeming to thank Howard that he was still around.

During a Nov. 27 town hall on redistricting, Brown’s comments were recorded on a Facebook video: “Y’all know I shouldn’t be standing here. Thank God for a beautiful lady in this room. I ain’t going to call her name, but I’m sure darn glad she’s in office because if she wasn’t, I’d be gone up the road by now,” Brown said.

Friday afternoon after news broke of the letter, Howard issued a press statement about her inquiry and Brown’s comments.

“I have no personal or professional relationship with Mr. Brown. For him or anyone to suggest I would approach his matter in any way other than based upon the evidence and the law, clearly does not know who I am, as I will always uphold my oath to prosecute, when evidentiarily warranted, without fear, favor, or affection,” Howard said in the statement.

In January 2022, MWA censured Brown and removed him from committee assignments after former district attorney David Cooke’s probe, which determined Brown had a “blatant conflict of interest” in billing the Authority nearly $47,000 in flood damages on behalf of a client of his disaster mitigation firm whom he met while serving in his capacity as a board member.

Authority members questioned whether it was a fraudulently inflated claim for damages, which also was submitted to Macon-Bibb County, but was never paid.

News coverage of Cooke’s investigation led to more alleged victims coming forward, and Cooke’s conclusion that Brown “targeted the elderly.”

In Friday’s statement, Howard criticized Cooke, her predecessor she defeated: “I am disappointed that the lead investigator, as a former district attorney, would not immediately and instinctively send his report to law enforcement for further review if, in fact, he believed there were potential violations of the law.”

In February 2022, The Macon Newsroom also broke the news that Brown was under a 2019 court order to return a client’s $40,000 investment, plus interest, dating back to 2011. The sum owed now is $160,000.

Brown’s failure to respond to the court’s request in that matter resulted in him serving four days in jail in February of 2022. He later filed for bankruptcy, which halted that civil action.

The following month, Brown filed to run for the MWA chairman’s seat and unknowingly officially vacated his District 2 seat as a result. Since he was no longer in office, the MWA did not forward on its investigative findings or appeal to Gov. Brian Kemp to have Brown removed for violating his oath.

Brown lost the chairman’s election to Bechtel, but won back the District 2 seat in a special election.

Early in 2023, the MWA asked the Georgia General Assembly to amend the 1992 Macon Water Authority Act to allow a board member to be removed from office for violating ethics rules.

At the time, Bechtel told The Macon Newsroom that he had no intention of trying to oust Brown for his prior conduct because the voters of District 2 put him back in office after the allegations came to light.

Thursday, Bechtel said he shared Howard’s letter with the other authority members and has instructed the legal team of Jones Cork to meet the DA’s request to have the documents by  Dec. 31.

Bechtel said he had planned to mention it at Thursday’s scheduled board meeting, but although the Authority gathered for the first time in its newly renovated headquarters on Second Street, the meeting was canceled due to lack of the required public notice.

Brown did not respond to texted questions seeking comment about the DA’s request.

The authority board meets next on January 4 for its first official meeting in the new boardroom which features audio-visual technology to enhance the live broadcast of meetings on Facebook.

This story has been edited to include DA Howard’s statement following initial publication of this story. Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.

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