When a fiscal watchdog files for bankruptcy

For years, bureaucrats, attorneys, and lobbyists from MARTA have trudged to the state Capitol to defend their operations, their bookkeeping and their investments.

jchambers

State Rep. Jill Chambers, R-Atlanta, chairman of the legislative committee that oversees MARTA, holds up a transit agency contract during a 2009 hearing. AJC/Kimberly Smith.

They come at the beck and call of state Rep. Jill Chambers, R-Atlanta, who chairs the General Assembly’s committee that has oversight of the state’s largest transit operation.

Chambers has taken a fine-tooth comb to MARTA’s expenses, whether credit-card abuse by low-ranking drones or the leasing of its train lines and rail cars to private firms for tax benefits.

Last year, MARTA board members declared that they were forced to pay an extra $480,000 to lobbyists just to cope with Chambers’ demands. The lawmaker said she was merely attempting to help the agency avoid the embarrassment of bankruptcy.

So office-workers at MARTA are no doubt indulging in a little schadenfreude these days.

Two weeks ago, Chambers, 47, filed for personal bankruptcy. Even more unusual, a creditor has laid claim to about $60,000 in campaign funds — in the midst of a heated fight for control of her north Atlanta district.

House District 81 leans Democratic. With bare-knuckled tactics and a cafeteria-style approach to Republican orthodoxy, Chambers has fended off past challengers. She is more libertarian than conservative, and has cast votes in favor of gay rights and against the “vaginal politics” of abortion.

She can cuss with the breeziness of any sailor, should the occasion arise, and does not object to being described as cheerfully caustic.

But Elena Parent, a local 34-year-old attorney, is perhaps the strongest Democrat that Chambers has ever faced. House Republican colleagues have shipped the committee chairman some of their extra campaign funds, perhaps $30,000 or so, to help her out.

“I think I will win,” Chambers said this week. If she does, it will be in part because the Great Recession has changed us. Because economic collapse has lost its stigma as a mark of personal failure, a violation of an immutable law of social Darwinism. Hard times have become, well, hard times.

Chambers is far from the only politician attempting to balance financial disaster and access to power. At least one other House candidate, Republican Paulette Rakestraw Braddock of Hiram, has recently emerged from a bankruptcy. Several other state lawmakers — Democrat and Republican — are rumored to be perilously close to seeking that same protection.

Nathan Deal, the Republican nominee for governor, will have to sell his home after the Nov. 2 election to satisfy a $2.1 million loan from a failed family retail venture. Chambers said she’ll probably have to do the same.

How the Atlanta legislator landed in federal bankruptcy court will sound familiar to many.

In the early ’90s, Chambers and her husband Albert were owners of a small wholesale business in Atlanta that provided art supplies to interior designers. “We were all making a pretty good living. Albert and I weren’t rich. We were very nicely middle-class,” she said.

Business was going well enough to expand to a building in High Point, N.C., the furniture capital of the South. And south is where things headed after Sept. 11, 2001.

It was a slow spiral that gained speed with the economic meltdown of October 2008. The North Carolina property was lost to foreclosure. The couple split, reconciled and split for good. He got the business, its assets and debts. She got the house and the mortgage. He still lives in the basement.

But Jill Chambers’ name remained on the lease for the Atlanta property that housed the business. And the $4,500-a-month rent was long past due. Last month, as part of a court judgment, the landlord reached for Chambers’ largest stash of cash — her campaign treasury. (Note to candidates: Incorporation of her campaign might have prevented this.)

The tug-of-war over the campaign fund continues, and the money can’t be touched.

First elected in 2002, Chambers has held onto her district through relentless door-to-door campaigning. The lawmaker says she has found many soul mates recently.

“They tell me, ‘I just lost my job,’ or ‘Jill, can you help me get a loan modification?’ ‘Jill, we’re moving over to the apartment because we lost our house.’ ‘Jill we’re having our yard sale.’ ‘We’re having a divorce sale,’” Chambers said. “This is in neighborhoods with $150,000 houses. This is in neighborhoods with $800,000 or $900,000 houses. People are scared. I’ve passed out my bankruptcy attorney’s card to a couple of people.”

The obvious question is whether Chambers’ personal finances compromise her credentials as a fiscal watchdog over MARTA.

Here’s her answer: “I don’t even have TV. I know how to cut my own budget, and I’ve done it — so that way I can live within my means,” she said. “I [did] a Chapter 13 because, even though I can blame my ex-husband for being an idiot, the responsibility was mine to remove my name from the lease. If I have to pay $200 a month ’til I’m dead, I’ll do that.”

And if she wins in two weeks, one of the first things Chambers says she’ll do is form a corporation to protect her campaign cash.

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115 comments Add your comment

Sad Dekalbber

October 20th, 2010
6:55 pm

Nobody wins in this one. MARTA brought Jill Chambers on MARTA. Even if both Chambers’ didn’t handle their personal affairs better than they should have, that doesn’t excuse what MARTA did with the people’s money. MARTA’s challenge is to regain the public’s trust; service cuts hurt personally but will give them credit if they continually show they are good stewards over our money now.

professional skeptic

October 20th, 2010
6:57 pm

I understand that this may sound callous, but when a person in a key position of financial oversight becomes overburdened with his/her own personal financial issues, it is time for the people to elect someone else.

catlady

October 20th, 2010
7:15 pm

Professional skeptic: Like Nathan Deal?

Fred

October 20th, 2010
7:15 pm

I think your title is misleading a little bit Jim and you slanted the subject matter. Shame on you. It’s funny that I just watched her on channel 2 news talking about this.

I could be wrong, but she doesn’t seem to be a thieving scumbag like Deal. Anyone with a lick of sense knows that divorces cause all kinds of financial hardships. Little things slip threw the cracks.

I don’t know Jill Chambers and to be honest, I had never heard of her until tonight when I was watching the news. But putting your story and the Channel 2 news interview together, I don’t think you are being intellectually honest in your story Jim. Again, shame on you.

Fred

October 20th, 2010
7:16 pm

Little things even slip THROUGH the cracks……….

Masters Degree

October 20th, 2010
7:19 pm

This seems like the repulican way. Talk about fiscal conservatism but going into bankrutcy left and right.

Cutty

October 20th, 2010
7:19 pm

If she was a black democrat, she’d be through. But with this being Georgia, and her being white I say she gets reelected. Funny how anyone with an R behind their names constantly speaks of ‘personal responsibility’, yet can’t practice what they demand of others. The only pass she would get from me is if she filed BK due to medical bills. Outside of that, you can cast her in the same lot with Deal.

Jason

October 20th, 2010
7:22 pm

If you’re accepting fault, why blame your ex-husband and call him an idiot? Sounds similar to the “I’m sorry you felt offended” unapology that so many public figures love to use.

BrendaSue

October 20th, 2010
7:23 pm

Ralph

October 20th, 2010
7:24 pm

Just another AJC attack on a Republican, and one who exposes the continual MARTA abuses which must really bug leftists like the AJC.

Ghostwriter

October 20th, 2010
7:24 pm

In one breath she says she’s all about paying her debts. In the next, she says she’ll incorporate her campaign so those scumbag creditors can get a dime of her cash. What is she living off now?

Fred

October 20th, 2010
7:26 pm

Educate yourself a little on the particulars of the case Cutty. I think you may change your mind. And race has nothing to do with this you racist jerk. Why did you have to throw the race card? Is that the only one in your deck? Thinking Americans are tired of it. Notice I said AMERICANS, without specifying a race, creed or color? Just shut up with that racist crap.

Sick of Republicans

October 20th, 2010
7:27 pm

Albert is no more of an idiot than Jill is. Jill has never before cared about the little guy; never cared about anybody but Jill so all this sob story stuff and acting like she cares about the guy or gal in a $150,000 having problems is nothing more than a come on trying to get sympathy.

Conservative Realist Jack McMillan

October 20th, 2010
7:31 pm

People like Chambers and Deal make me sick and make Georgians look like political
jacka$$es. What in the name of hades are conservatives doing promoting people
like chambers and deal. Send em packing and find me some Clark Howard types
who know the value of a dollar, be it personal or public dollars.

Fred

October 20th, 2010
7:32 pm

Ghostwriter: From what I understand from the interview she did on Channel2 news, her assets are larger than her debts (not factoring in the campaign fund). this is a legal hair splitting issue brought on by a scumbag lawyer trying to steal the money that folks donated to her ELECTION CAMPAIGN. She doesn’t live off that cash, she uses it for her election.

It’s a made up issue. By some scumbag lawyer successfully getting a motion to freeze her election money, she cannot effectively campaign for the important weeks leading up to the election and her opponent can. There is no way any judge is going to let a landlord take her campaign contributions to pay a debt owed by her ex husband. It’s mud slinging at it’s finest.

The Chambers Bankruptcy

October 20th, 2010
7:33 pm

[...] a good story on Jill Chambers’ recent bankruptcy. Perhaps an explanation about why we have not received so many annoying mailers and voicemails [...]

Dave

October 20th, 2010
7:33 pm

why is it that no matter what the story, somebody always has to make it about race?

Jason

October 20th, 2010
7:34 pm

Funny… she spent tons of money and tons of MARTA’s resources on an audit that came back not only clean but also commended MARTA. So either MARTA is clean and she’s been on a wasteful witchhunt, or she hired auditors who didn’t do their jobs, which would mean she wasted taxpayer money and can’t do her job properly. Either way, if she can’t run a simply frame shop, how can she be trusted to oversee a large organization like MARTA?

Jeff

October 20th, 2010
7:38 pm

To quote that great philospher Alanis Morrisette… “isn’t it ironic.. don’t you think?”. Suggestion for Ms Chambers.. perhaps she should sit this election out and get her house in order? No.. she wouldn’t pass up a chance to make more money by being an elected official.. would she?

White and republican equals 2 strikes in the AJC

October 20th, 2010
7:44 pm

Funny how a white republican woman catches hell from the AJC and all of the liberal posters, but blacks who have a pervasive culture of living beyond their means and mismanagement of money somehow get a pass. Take a look at the foreclosures by zip code in Atlanta. The VAST majortiy are south of I-20, where white folks generally wisely choose not to live.

Skitty Fritty

October 20th, 2010
7:47 pm

Cutty:
If she was a black democrat then she would blame it on George Bush or someone else. At least she is not blaming anyone but herself.

Jason

October 20th, 2010
7:58 pm

“At least she is not blaming anyone but herself”

No, she’s blaming her ex-husband. Re-read what she said.

TRUTH

October 20th, 2010
8:03 pm

Are there ANY honest Republicans in this state?? Yet, you still vote for these people?? REAAAAALLLYYY??!!!

Cutty

October 20th, 2010
8:05 pm

Fred Flinstone, race DOES have something to do with it you naive fool. If this woman was a black male in any competitive district in this state, filing for bankruptcy would be the end of her campaign. Same for Deal. Look at Maxine Waters and Charlie Rangel. Deal is in the same boat as them as far as ethics, yet he cut and ran and is the leading candidate to become guv’nah in this grand state. Rangel or Waters would get laughed out of Valdosta or Hall County. Race is prevalent you tool. I didn’t pull the ‘race card’, I brought up race. Race isn’t a card idiot. It’s an obvious component in our society, and simply ignoring it like you are trying to do doesn’t make it go away fool.

Think B4 U Vote

October 20th, 2010
8:05 pm

You can vote for Deal, because he needs a new place to live.

You can vote for Barnes because you just didn’t get enough the first time around.

Or you can vote for Monds, who if gets 20% of the vote, will change Georgia elections forevermore and we will have a real choice in all future elections.

The choice is yours. But if 2014 rolls around and we have the same pitiful candidates presented by the dems and repubs, then the fault is also yours.

A Libertarian Party that does not have to fight to get on the ballot year after year can change things for the better. Make the right choice this year.

Vote Monds.

professional skeptic

October 20th, 2010
8:06 pm

catlady
October 20th, 2010
7:15 pm

Darn right, catlady, darn right.

Disgusted by the B*tch

October 20th, 2010
8:13 pm

Karma raises its head once again. I love it!

This lady does an extreme disservice to the citizens she represents. DeKalb taxpayers have made a significant investment in MARTA and she is running it into the ground with her unwarranted criticisms. She does not protect that investment and is not looking out for the taxpayers by building political capital at MARTA’s expense. She is not a watchdog but is a grandstanding political hack that uses misleading soundbites and outright lies to make MARTA look bad to further her political career.

It is because of her and her counterparts that MARTA gets virtually no funding from the state and is singled out to be prohibited from benefiting from the operating revenue that would be raised by the proposed regional transportation SPLOST.

MARTA management and Board are not without their flaws but MARTA is run more efficiently than GDOT and most other state agencies in Georgia. MARTA just doesn’t have the revenue stream that has allowed GDOT to cover up how inept they truly are.

Do your homework and don’t get fooled by political stooges like Chambers.

Simple solution for racial problems?

October 20th, 2010
8:16 pm

After reading all the “you whites hate us because we’re black” posts here. it seems that many blacks are missing what might be a very simple solution to the current racial strife. Instead of blaming whites for all of your shortcomings, you need to “man up” and take responsibility for your own lives. That means taking charge of your finances, your relationships (marriage instead of babymammas), your community, the thug culture that is robbing you of your youth, and your sorry political “leadership”. I think you’ll find that most whites bear no animosity towards blacks because they are black. Instead, the animosity is directed toward the culture of laziness and blame that you have allowed to fester. It is holding your people back.

CourtneyF

October 20th, 2010
8:21 pm

What ‘da #$@%?

Fred

October 20th, 2010
8:23 pm

Cutty, I seem to remember your racist ass from another blog. Live your “oppressed” life in all the bitterness your deserve. A black man (or woman) can’t EVER be anything in this country right? A black man will NEVER be elected President.

As I said before, thinking MAericans are tired of your stupid assed race card. It don’t play no mo’ ho’.

Here’s your sign.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5ZkdHImCuQ

Fred

October 20th, 2010
8:28 pm

Oh and Cutty? While you intended that Flintstone thing as a put down? I’m one up on you sport. When I created this email addy 20 years ago, that is EXACTLY the name I chose for it. Fred Flintstone.

You ain’t the sharpest knife in the drawer are you there “Cutty.” Sure your name shouldn’t be Easy Jesus? I doubt you could afford Cutty……..

Fred

October 20th, 2010
8:33 pm

MAericans? LOL i’ve become black. I made up a new word. If it had shica after it, it would be a name. Or maybe avious……..

Let’s try this one out here……..

Maericanshica…….

Maericanavoius…….

I don’t know, don’t sound more stupid than Trontavious……….

Where's the Rail?

October 20th, 2010
8:37 pm

Ha, this is highly ironic. The self righteous MARTOC Chariwoman didn’t even have her own finances under control. If the CEO of MARTA had made such a mistake, Chambers would be calling for their resignation. I hope we have enough sense to demand Chambers’ resignation come Nov 2nd.

Cutty

October 20th, 2010
8:53 pm

Is Fred Jill Chambers? Don’t worry about me, I’m not oppressed. Came from a middle class home where both parents had Masters degrees, and educators. My siblings and I all have advanced degrees. And I think anyone can be anything they want to be in life if they work for it, black or white.

With that said, I’m not such a tool as you to believe that racism doesn’t exist. Funny how for as long as this country was founded, no one has ever asked a sitting President to prove that he is a citizen (just as an example). I also didn’t hear you or anyone else calling George Bush as socialist when Medicare Part D was championed by him. And like I said, race isn’t a card but a fact whether lily white people such as yourself choose to believe it or not. I didn’t mean Flinstone as a put down (how could it be?), just the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the name Fred. Cutty is a movie character I liked. And tell that ‘ho’ that you sleep with every night I said what up!

Bill

October 20th, 2010
9:01 pm

Fred and his comments are proof racism exists.

Cutty

October 20th, 2010
9:04 pm

@cutty

October 20th, 2010
9:07 pm

Cutty- don’t confuse accomplishment with having advanced degrees. You folks tend to fall into two categories: the educated that don’t contribute and the uneducated that don’t contribute. Sure, some blacks rise above the masses and do contribute to the overall society, but most of you are so wrapped up in your blackness that you never really participate in the real world. You really do need to start looking at yourself as Americans and not blacks. Give it a try. You might find that you’ll be received more positively than you thought.

Skippy

October 20th, 2010
9:07 pm

Blacks blame Bush, Whites blame Obama. Whats the difference?

Bobby

October 20th, 2010
9:09 pm

The economic times we are find ourselves in are perilous indeed, caused by both greedy republicans as well as tax and spend democrats. Bankruptcy attorneys are doing a booming business right now, in part brought on by credit card and banking institutions. Although I live in Dekalb Jill Chambers is not in my district. I’m not a fan of hers, although her financil situation will not affect my support or non-support of her.

AllTooTrue

October 20th, 2010
9:11 pm

Simple fact: If Chambers can’t handle her own finances and must declare bankruptcy, why should she be head honcho on an over site committee for any agency or authority and their related finances?

Cutty

October 20th, 2010
9:16 pm

@cutty- And what do whites do to ‘contribute to the overall society.’ When was the last time you went to a neighborhood ’south of I-20′ other than to go to a Braves game? You don’t know me or what I do. Just as I don’t know you. I’m simply making a point that racism does still exist, period. Thats all. From both races. When most people see a male or female of another race, they see race first. Just my opinion. Republicans have a corrupt candidate for governor, but as White and Republican put it at 7:44, it’s blacks who live beyond their means and mismanage money. WTF?

Advanced degrees don’t make a person, you’re right. But they do show the motivation for achievement and success. I could’ve sent my kids to the neighborhood school, but I trek across town everyday to send them to a school with a diverse student body. Look at how you put blacks into two categories. That in itself is the dumb, and shows how much you know. Not much. Funny how some people tell a race they need to get their act together and make better decisions, but will vote for Nathan Deal and Jill Chambers on election day. The irony of it all.

@cutty

October 20th, 2010
9:22 pm

You need to go back and look at your own comments, my friend. They are pretty nasty. My point was that black society needs to do two things: take responsibility for itself and work to become a PART of American society, not a stand-alone subset.

Seriously- I wish you well.

@cutty

October 20th, 2010
9:23 pm

By the way. Great youtube link. I hate rednecks as much as anyone.

Cutty

October 20th, 2010
9:38 pm

Until you’ve walked a mile in a man’s shoes the saying goes…. We can agree to disagree on somethings although you have a couple valid points, although the ‘you people’ and how neither of your categories contributes to society comments weren’t very inclusive. I try to pay the least amount in taxes possible, I drive a gas guzzling SUV, and cut people off on the connector. Pretty American if you ask me.

The same to you my ‘friend’- seriously!

@cutty

October 20th, 2010
9:44 pm

Back at ya! Best of luck. Time to go to bed. Early morning tomorrow…

BEND OVER, HERE COMES THE CHANGE

October 20th, 2010
9:49 pm

Sorry, I’m a VERY conservative, but you have to know about your money and surroundings. If you can’t manage your personal life, I certainly don’t want you managing my TAXES, PERIOD.

BEND OVER, HERE COMES THE CHANGE

October 20th, 2010
9:58 pm

Think B4 U Vote

I voted early for Bonds – because both Deal and King Roy SUCK! But the libertarians will NEVER be taken serious until open borders and leagalizing all drugs is REMOVED from their platform.

puff

October 20th, 2010
10:03 pm

not hard to tell when big jim is gloating. if this was a dem, a more emphathetic slant.

pc

October 20th, 2010
10:06 pm

John Boehner will skip Savannah because of all the gays there; he’s afraid he’ll be outed.

Ray

October 20th, 2010
10:15 pm

I never really understood why the state had any MARTA oversight since the state does not continue a dime to Marta, and now MARTA has to spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to deal with her petty requests? Wasn’t she the one making a big deal of the free tokens they offered her a few years ago? Oversight….what a joke!