Does this mayor own a town? - CBS46 News

Investigation

Does this mayor own a town?

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GRANTVILLE, GA (CBS46) -

Grantville in Coweta County may be best known as the town where zombies roam the streets in AMC's hit series The Walking Dead, but the small city of more than 3,000 has plenty of real life drama.

"The mayor owns Grantville" is a common phrase repeated by residents here who have concerns about whether Mayor Jim Sells is using his public office for personal gain.

A CBS Atlanta News investigation found Sells owns 10 percent of all properties in the city, including virtually every building in the city's sleepy downtown.

Sells said he ran for mayor because he clashed with former city leaders. But to become eligible, Sells moved out of the home where his wife still lives and into an apartment in Grantville. He defeated a court challenge to his residency from his opponent.

But tensions only escalated when Sells, who is accused of being contentious, took office.

"He becomes very irate and angry when anyone questions what he's doing," said property owner Carol Corbitt.

City Councilman Barham Lundy said Sells is a "bully" who creates a hostile work environment.

"He's near impossible to work with," said Lundy, whom Sells lashed out at during a recent meeting.

In an audio recording of the meeting, Sells is heard repeatedly calling Lundy "ignorant."

But there are also concerns about whether the mayor has a conflict of interest because of his large number of holdings.

At a recent council meeting, Sells, who owns a bar, cast the deciding vote to establish a liquor license fee at $2,000.

Lundy and Councilwoman Selma Coty supported a $4,000 fee. Lundy said he believed the mayor is the only person who is considering applying for a liquor license.

Coty said she objected to another of the mayor's recent votes killing a tax increase because he owns so many properties.

Sells also supported spending $169,000 in taxpayer money to build a splash pad in a city park.

CBS Atlanta News found Sells is advertising the splash park on his business website to lure tenants.

Dr. Edward Queen, professor of ethics at Emory University, said there are multiple possible conflicts with a large property owner who also leads a city.

"Whether a person acts on that conflict is irrelevant. The perception is there and the perception first of all is going to hinder people's trust in government," said Queen.

Sells insisted that he won't vote for personal gain. "That's inappropriate. And there's not one instance where I voted where you can question whether that was good for the community," said Sells.

And Sells has his supporters.

"Jim has helped the economy here. He's brought businesses. He's been a positive influence I see on our council," said resident Adrienne Griffin

Sells also denied having a problem controlling his temper. "I express myself," said Sells, who later walked away from the interview when pressed on allegations that he's a bully.

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