Should criminal acts 30 years earlier haunt an elected official today? DeKalb school board member is about to find out. And will revelations of arrest records of other candidates impact election now?

Will Jesse "Jay" Cunningham's past haunt him in the Nov. 2 election?

Will Jesse "Jay" Cunningham's past haunt him in the Nov. 2 election?

UPDATED MONDAY: Thanks to tips from Get Schooled posters, the AJC is looking into the  arrest records of other DeKalb school board candidates. After checking out his arrest in 2006 and his mugshot, I have asked Corey Wilson for a statement about the arrest. I will post if he sends me one. Otherwise, I will post a link to the news story once it is online.
Maureen

Is an elected official’s wrongdoing 30 years ago relevant today? That has to be the question DeKalb voters are asking after the AJC story today about incumbent District 5 school board member Jesse “Jay” Cunningham’s arrest in 1982 for stealing $12,500 from a McDonald’s he managed. At the time, he was 23, old enough to know better.

But a lot can happen to a person in 30 years, so I am not sure voters will be swayed, especially those who believe in redemption and second chances. (I will be honest; I am not one of those folks. I would be concerned as a voter.)

The lengthy news story also looks at several recent complaints against Cunningham for violent or threatening behavior. Those incidents may be of greater concern to voters, who expect school board members to be role models for students.

Under Georgia’s first offender law, Cunningham pleaded guilty in 1982 to stealing bank deposits from a Decatur McDonald’s. He was sentenced to six years probation. He would not talk to the AJC about the offense, but his attorney Dwight Thomas did:

“He pleaded guilty to theft by taking under the First Offender Act,” Thomas said. “State law says when you are under the First Offender Act, you can say ‘no, I’m not a convicted felon’ on job applications and other records.”

In the more recent allegations, Cunningham was accused in 2008 by a male friend of his wife of punching the man in the head outside a church on one occasion and of pulling a gun on the man on another occasion. In a separate allegation, a DeKalb school parent told police she believed Cunningham threatened her at a meeting of cheerleading boosters in 2009. Police wrote reports on all three of the alleged incidents — the reports were obtained by the AJC — but Cunningham was not charged in any of them.

Attorney Thomas said the reported incidents are just accusations and prove nothing.

“People can get accused of a lot of things and can be falsely accused of a lot of things,” Thomas said. “Until you’re convicted by a jury or judge, it’s totally irrelevant.”

In seeking re-election, Cunningham seems to have community support, but he did not win the endorsement of either the DeKalb teachers’ group or a newly formed organization of community and business leaders.  The Organization of DeKalb Educators and Chamber of Commerce school group eduKalb instead endorsed Highlands College director Kirk Nooks.

Are these news reports enough to cost him the election? Should they?

69 comments Add your comment

another comment

October 24th, 2010
6:14 pm

This first offender status is a bad trick that is used by criminals, to hide their past. I want to know everything about someone, it is not right that a felony disapears.

Angela

October 24th, 2010
6:16 pm

Well, that is a very tough question. I don’t feel that anyone can honestly form a honesty judgement unless you personally know this man. I agree that people can and do change. Some people change for the better and some for the worst. But you must personally know this person and know them well. In this case he is a canidiate running for a political position with a school board. It will be a very hard decision for anyone that truly has stakes in DCSS.

I guess we can all repent of our past sins. I have (smile)!

Nikole

October 24th, 2010
6:18 pm

Vote Kirk Nooks for District 5!

Name One

October 24th, 2010
6:25 pm

It’s just not the crime that Jay committed when he was 23 years old. And $12,500 is a lot of money in 1982.

It’s his business selling $22k of pizza to DCSS schools while he’s a Board of Ed member (http://www.ajc.com/news/dekalb/table-appears-set-for-558491.html).

It’s him being involved in three aggressive incidents in the past few years: Punching a man in the head in front of a church (?), later pulling a gun on the same man, and alledgely threatening a female parent at a school cheerleading meeting.

Sorry, Jay Cunningham should not be on of nine board members who oversee over a billion dollars per year.

More interesting tidbits on DeKalb Board of Education candidates:
A man named Corey E. Wilson has been arrested four times in DeKalb County. This man shares the same date of birth (June 24, 1970) as the candidate running in District.

His first three arrests do not have accompanying mugshots, but his most recent arrest in 2006 does include a mugshot. The Corey Wilson that was arrested in 2006 looks very much like the Corey Wilson running for school board. He also gave the same home address as the Corey Wilson running for school board did in his notice of intent.

On December 15, 1992 Corey E. Wilson was arrested for disorderly conduct.

On October 1, 1993 Corey E. Wilson was arrested for assault with intent to commit a crime.

On November 23, 1995 Corey E. Wilson was arrested for driving with a suspended or revoked license and an altered, forged, or counterfeit tag.

On September 17, 2006 Corey E. Wilson was arrested for simple battery, plead not guilty and completed a pre-trial diversion.

A woman named Zepora Roberts, who happens to share the same date of birth as the District 7 incumbent (January 22, 1944) was arrested once in DeKalb County.

On June 21, 1986, Zepora Roberts was arrested for criminal trespass.

Name One

October 24th, 2010
6:28 pm

And don’t forget that Cunningham never disclosed the 1982 arrest to voters during his first BOE campaign, or this his second campaign for re-election. I think voters would have given him a chance if he disclosed is the first time he ran for BOE.

Angela

October 24th, 2010
6:42 pm

@Name One

Thank you for this wealth of information. That says it all to answer the question – Should criminal acts 30 years earlier haunt an elected official today?

You know what is extremely sad is that it is so hard to trust almost anyone that is in the political eye!

ChristieS.

October 24th, 2010
6:54 pm

Should 30-year old criminal acts be held against a candidate? Only in as much as we see what else that person has made of his or her life. If they straightened up and flew right, then probably not, in my opinion. If the candidate remained a piece of garbage, then yeah, that would factor into the decision as well.

veteran teach

October 24th, 2010
6:57 pm

I think it depends on the type of crime, did the crime harm others, the length of time since the arrest, and whether there have been any other incidents.
Stealing $12,500 dollars is a lot of money which belonged to another person and shows a lack of character. This man has had multiple recurring incidents with the law and has assulted or threatened others.
Then there is the unethical conduct associated with selling his pizzas to the schools.
I would be a lot more comfortable if this had been a teenage mistake (immaturity), possession of maijuana (does not hurt others), or during a thirty year span he had not other problems with ethics or the law. However, it seems that this guy is just bad news, so I say VOTE HIM OUT!

What is wrong with people in Georgia? I have only lived here 8 of my 50 plus years and during these 8 years I have seen more dishonesty and corruption than I had in all of my prior years. Georgia is a cesspool!!!

Dekalbite@NameOne

October 24th, 2010
6:58 pm

Could you provide the website that gave you this information? It’s easy to say when no one can reach your sources.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sharon Lopez, Maureen Downey. Maureen Downey said: Should criminal acts 30 years earlier haunt an elected official today? DeKalb school board member is about to find out. http://bit.ly/9RgHfk [...]

Cheryl Matthews

October 24th, 2010
8:36 pm

Nikole, voting is personal. Why should I vote for Nooks who hasn’t been involved in anything in the community. Hall volunteers in two of our schools and use to work at the Georgia Federal Credit Union. I can’t tell anyone who to vote for but I can say : who have you seen in your community?

catlady

October 24th, 2010
8:42 pm

If his youthful indiscretions had been things like tp-ing a house, or painting the mascot of another school, well, yeah, that could be overlooked.

However, OUTRIGHT BALDFACED felony theft? No. He should not be considered adequate material, even in Dekalb County.

Atlanta mom

October 24th, 2010
9:15 pm

Wow. $12,500 is a lot of money now, let alone 30 years ago. If he was 18 years old, I might try to swallow the orange cool aid, maybe, with a clean record since then, I could chalk it up to an undeveloped brain. But, not at 23.

say what?

October 24th, 2010
9:43 pm

Anyone can be arrested, anyone can swear out a warrant against another, just all in how your complaint is written. Before someone chastises me, CLEARLY this was not the case with Cunningham’s first arrest and conviction.
With that said, seriously think about what is written on a BLOG (people’s opinions), and check information listed by Name One. Without seeking information on your own, do you know if the charges were dropped, diversion program, etc.

Sharing partial information is just as bad as sharing untruthful information.

Trying

October 24th, 2010
10:53 pm

Trying

October 24th, 2010
11:00 pm

Try the “Jail ID / Name Search”, Inmate Status “All”

Trying

October 24th, 2010
11:15 pm

Trying

October 24th, 2010
11:15 pm

say what?

October 24th, 2010
11:38 pm

thanks Trying. I went to the DeKalb County court’s service to find lawsuits and criminal information to see what were the results of the arrests. Much better to see if the accused was convicted of the allegations.

Dr. John Trotter

October 25th, 2010
12:03 am

Mark Elgart and his phony SACS organization is not going to do one thing in DeKalb or Altanta. Hey, what about the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce being an unhealthy and evil influence on the Atlanta Board of Education, Markie ole boy? You seem to think that board members cannot argue with each other, right? Aren’t they arguing and fighting like cats on the Atlanta school board? Cheating galore. Gratuitous waste of taxpayers’ money. Corruption? I think that this is a given both in Atlanta and DeKalb school systems.

Hey, boys and girls, I hear that Dr. Glenn Dowell has submitted a massive complaint of ethical breaches by Beverly Hall to the Professional Standards Commission (PSC). Hmm. This ought to be interesting.

Dr. John Trotter

October 25th, 2010
12:07 am

Is that joke-of-an-attorney (in my humble opinion, of course), Josie Alexander, still the DeKalb School Board’s attorney? Yeah, yeah, yeah…DeKalb should never have gotten rid of Weekes & Candler which had served as the school board’s legal counsel for about 40 years.

Cheryl Matthews

October 25th, 2010
12:23 am

right josie Alexander is a poor example of a bad mistake!!! Wow !

Trying

October 25th, 2010
12:37 am

Dr. John, I like the info. you post online, but the way you say it is disconcerting, especially for someone with a doctorate. You’re 100% right on Josie Alexander. But please, stick the the basics and the facts. No need for the “Markie” when referrring to Elgart. It’s too snarky, and it really turns off the average Joe like myself. Looking forward to hearing about the “massive complaint of ethical breaches” against Hall.

Cobb County Parent

October 25th, 2010
7:42 am

@ Another Comment:
Totally agree with you. Cash’s eldest is getting special treatment from the school system. Cash’s inability to control her own household… as well as her blind devotion to the administration of Cobb County Schools is enough for me to want to kick her to the curb. If that’s not enough for people, they should review several of her latest quirky moves and see this woman is not representing her constituents well.
As for DeKalb, I feel sorry for you. Seems like your school board is a magnet for questionable types.

Dr NO

October 25th, 2010
7:44 am

Im sure Dekalb voters wont mind. Hell they consistently hire incompentents, frauds and criminals so why should this idiot be any different. Then they wonder why their kids receive substandard education.

Just plain stupid.

Public School Parent

October 25th, 2010
7:55 am

@ Dr. John Trotter:
I wanted to express my appreciation to you for all your candid comments, snarky or not. I especially wanted to “second” you on your opinion of Mark Elgart and SACS. In my opinion, SACS can use a little competition. They think too highly of themselves and they currently have a monopoly. Plus, they are too connected with some systems to rate them without bias. Take Cobb County. Their “review” was anything but deep. SACS representatives also sat in a room with cherry-picked teachers and parents, while at the same time refusing to meet with those parents that bothered to contact their office directly requesting an audience. Guess you can’t receive a differing opinion and make the same positive assessment and recommendations. That hole in the sand must be awfully big for their collective heads.

AlreadySheared

October 25th, 2010
7:56 am

Shucks, folks. One of our gubernatorial candidates (Deal) likely faces bankruptcy one month AFTER he would be inaugurated. What’s a little felony theft 30 years ago?

T. S. Cobb

October 25th, 2010
8:11 am

“Forebearance” is not a word one hears often in the political arena. Nothing goes away; nothing is irrelevant; nothing is forgiven. That’s the reality in an age where public records are so easily obtainable and aired.

Down at the farm

October 25th, 2010
8:15 am

It’s interesting that you bring up Alexander and Associates (Josie Alexander) as the attorney for DeKalb. The district has 2 law firms that work for them. All the extra projects are being completed with both firms engaged. So both firms get to bill each time they do this work. And how does that benefit the children and taxpayers of DeKalb? Who was the board member who introduced the motion to hire Alexander and Associates in addition to the other law firm? That would be Jay Cunningham. And who was the swing vote in passing that motion? That would be Jim Redovian.

Michael

October 25th, 2010
8:19 am

So how’s Cunningham different from Nathan Deal? Actually, how is he different from Sonny Perdue. If Deal is elected Governor and follows the Perdue script, he’ll be out of debt in no time and be able to pave his own road to his dump.

ConcernedGrandmom

October 25th, 2010
9:05 am

Surely the students in Dekalb County deserve better representation that Cunningham, Roberts, and Hall!

Linda

October 25th, 2010
9:06 am

I agree with the perspective of Trying 12:37 regarding the tone of John Trotter’s comments. Dr. Trotter does not communicate with the eloquence or objectivity I expect of a leader. I no longer read his comments.

Maureen Downey

October 25th, 2010
9:25 am

To all on this thread, Even without names, please refrain from citing the children of elected officials. The long-time policy of this blog is to leave kids out of the discussion. I don’t care that the student in question is 18; the student is still in high school. The only exception would be if the children were adults and their wrongdoing had relevance and was a matter of official public record.
In this case, we are dealing with hearsay and speculation and with purported high school behavior that, unfortunately, is neither rare nor malicious so I prefer we leave it alone.
I have no problem with criticizing school board members; they are public officials and their conduct deserves scrutiny. Their children did not run for office and don’t deserve the same attention. I have taken down the comments related to this, and will continue to do so. If you have evidence that school board members truly won special treatment for their children — such as giving their own child scholarships that are supposed to go to poor kids — send me an e-mail and I will turn over to news.
Maureen

Fred

October 25th, 2010
9:38 am

I wonder if McDonalds would hire Jay Cunningham again?

November

October 25th, 2010
9:45 am

That was a pretty serious offense that he (Cunningham) pleaded guilty to, and even tho it was nearly thirty years ago, I don’t believe he should be able to hold public office……however, the cheerleader incident was rather recent…..

In the third alleged incident, Kimberly Pierson claimed that Cunningham threatened her at a cheerleading meeting at Martin Luther King Jr. High School last year. Pierson told police she felt threatened after Cunningham approached her at the school meeting and said “if you say anything else to my child, it’s going to be me and you.”

Anyone who votes for this “T***” is, in my opinion, of the same ilk. We must keep these kind of people from ever holding public office and he should have been censored by his peers on the board……I know, I know, charges were never brought, but still, they had to know about the incident and why they would want to be associated with him after that is just too weird!!!!!!!! Remember to vote on November 2nd :)

EnoughAlready

October 25th, 2010
9:50 am

I was just about to post the same concerns about Nathan Deal, but the issues for him do not go back 30 years. There is absolutely no shame, ethics or redemptions in politics.

EnoughAlready

October 25th, 2010
9:57 am

Dr. No,
Let’s not accuse Dekalb, Atlanta and Clayton County residents of electing crooks, liars and incompetent people who are out for themselves. What happened in Gwinnett is a prime example of what all county commissioners/elected officials are capable of, regardless of the demographics.

People like you only see one side of a coin. Take a look in the mirror; you “might” see a reflection.

Dr. John Trotter

October 25th, 2010
10:27 am

Oh, but my good friends, don’t you realize that this is the point? I intend to be snarky. It’s fun! Ha! I cannot bear the thought of being so erudite and non-snarky like Catlady and Cousins (among whom are “Trying” and “Linda”). Snarky, snarky, snarky! Yes, I am very snarky, but I do tell the truth! Ha! Yes, Mark Elgart is Georgia’s biggest educational hypocrite. Fifty-seven (57) illegal school board meetings in Cobb County and SACS does nothing? But, just one or two illegal meetings in Clayton County (and Mark Elgart himself, Glenn Brock, Brad Bryant, and James Bostic were in one of those meetings!), and many of the school board members were kicked off the school board. There’s no law against stupidity! Markie ole boy, consistency, thou art a jewel!

Atico

October 25th, 2010
11:08 am

If all the charges made by “Name One” are correct, this is a no brainer. Out with him now. It appears he does not have control over his temperment from the charges listed by “Name One.”

Pluto

October 25th, 2010
11:22 am

Kinda hard finding qualified candidates in Dekalb and that’s why I left six years ago. Would they hire a teacher with that record…heck no!

Maureen Downey

October 25th, 2010
12:15 pm

To all, The AJC is looking into Mr. Wilson’s arrest record. And I have asked him for a statement. I will post if he sends me one. Otherwise, I will post a link to the news story once it is online.
Maureen

SDK

October 25th, 2010
12:19 pm

I’m perfectly willing to forgive a criminal conviction from 30 years ago – even a serious one. However, the criminal record from 30 years ago combined with more recent problems – even though they might be just accusations – might make me wonder whether or not he has really changed much. Thus, I would not vote for him.

I would not vote for Deal, either.

Dr NO

October 25th, 2010
12:33 pm

EnoughAlready

October 25th, 2010
9:57 am

These counties citizens reputations of being stupid or acting stupidly stand on their own Merit.

AHHH HAHHAAHAAHAHAAAA

Trying

October 25th, 2010
12:35 pm

I hope the AJC is also looking into the Zepora Roberts arrest too. Even though it was a long time ago, the public has a right to know the arrest records of elected officials, especially those who oversee a billion dollar a year budget that us taxpayers pay for.

Back to Cunningham, he could have made this into a major positive when he first ran for BOE. 23 year olds make bad decisions. It happens. All he had to do was say: “I made a terrible decision when I was 23 years old. I admitted my mistake, was punished for it, it was one of the most important learning experiences in my life, and I am a much better person today for going through the ordeal.”

But he didn’t disclose it during his first BOE campaign, or now during his re-election campaign for a second term. He’s punched a man in the head in front of a church, pulled a gun on the same man, and alledgely threatened a mom at a school cheerleading meeting.

Now he’s in a mess, even though the public most likely would have forgiven him for the 1982 incident if he was up front about it from the get-go.

chillywilly

October 25th, 2010
1:15 pm

@Dr. No – As bad as you think Atlanta & Dekalb are, they are nowhere near as corrupt as Nathan Deal. And if you vote for Deal, then you’re a bigger fool than you sound.

@Fred – Jay Cunningham managed the McDonalds on Northside Drive, 10th Street (?) location back in the early 2000s. So obviously they didn’t think he was a bad guy. However, these most recent allegations really concern me and I’m not sure if I would vote for him if I was a Dekalb voter. But on the other hand, I don’t trust the Dekalb Chamber of Commerce nor do I have confidence in the two challengers running against Cunningham.

Pluto

October 25th, 2010
1:43 pm

I didn’t realize that this was a Deal bashing blog?? I thought it was about Cunningham. Focus class, focus!

Fred

October 25th, 2010
1:45 pm

chillywilly: So they rehired him after he stole 12,000 bucks from them? Interesting.

Allen

October 25th, 2010
2:08 pm

Doesn’t this just about sum up our problem: “the AJC is looking into the arrest records of other DeKalb school board candidates”?
Would it really be so much to ask that we have candidates for the school board, county commission (District 4’s rep and her check-kiting past) or even governor who are actually a positive example?

Maureen Downey

October 25th, 2010
2:12 pm

@Allen, I was talking earlier today with someone from DeKalb and asked the same thing: In a county with 740,000 people, aren’t there folks who don’t have this sort of baggage?
And if you do have this baggage, why not come clean from the start since it is public record and can be found out?
Maureen

tim

October 25th, 2010
2:22 pm

People are accused of a lot of things?? How many posters to Get Schooled have been accused of pulling a gun, punching a man, and threatening a mother. None, I bet.

It seems Mr Cunningham is a punk. Or maybe, I’ll just accuse him of being a punk.