Holmes confident in Bickers ability

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

A recent appointee to the Henry County Development Authority has been in the news in the past two weeks in Atlanta, but the commissioner who appointed her is confident in what she will do for the county and not concerned with what is being reported elsewhere.

Mitzi Bickers was nominated by Commissioner Bruce Holmes to the District 5 seat on the Development Authority at the Jan. 17 Board of Commissioners meeting. She was confirmed by a 6-0 vote, one of several board appointments by various commissioners which is typical for January and usually done with little or no discussion. She is filling an unexpired term that ends Dec. 31, 2018.

“I appointed her to this board because I believe she brings a unique business acumen we desperately need on the Development Authority. Her role will be to help create a new direction and vision for Henry County,” Holmes stated Friday when contacted by the Times. “We've done a terrible job in our planning around the Hwy. 155 corridor and with our focus on just warehouses. Warehousing isn't bringing in the commercial tax dollars you would receive from your professional service type industries such as tech, biotechnology cyber security and big data analytics.”

A resident of the Lake Spivey community in Holmes’ district, Bickers is known as a pastor at an Atlanta church and a former member of the Atlanta school board, where she served for a decade in the 1990s and early 2000s. She ran unsuccessfully in 2003 for chair of the Fulton County Commission and has worked since then as a consultant for political candidates in and out of Georgia.

According to a Atlanta Journal Constitution report from two weeks ago, Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. pled guilty in federal court recently to conspiracy to commit bribery and money laundering for paying upward of $1 million to an unnamed person to secure construction contracts in Atlanta over a six-year period. His companies reportedly won millions of dollars in city contracts between 2010 and 2015.

Last September a brick was thrown through Mitchell’s window with a message for him to keep quiet. Dead rats were also left on his property. That incident led to the arrest of Shandarrick L. Barnes, who was listed as chief financial officer for a public relations company owned by Bickers before he was imprisoned for racketeering in 2010 over a bail bonding scheme in Dekalb County. Bickers also was reportedly a vice president in one of Mitchell’s companies at one time.

Bickers is credited with playing an important role in Kasim Reed’s 2009 win in the Atlanta mayoral race. After that she went to work for the city and city records indicated that she reported directly to the mayor as director of human services. She left that post several years later after a report by WSB-TV uncovered that she failed to properly disclose income earned from her consulting business while working at City Hall.

Two weeks ago, after the most recent stories surfaced, Reed distanced himself from Bickers, stating that she did not report directly to him but rather to his chief of staff.

Bickers has been referred to as a “kingmaker” by Jackson, Miss., mayor Tony Yarber, according to the Jackson Free Press.

“She is a very well-connected woman,” Yarber told that newspaper last month, praising her ability to reach out to various federal departments as well as to donors, something he was able to capitalize on during his campaign for mayor.

Bickers’ name also surfaced in a sexual harassment lawsuit against Yarber, the Free Press reported. The complaint, filed by a former employee of Yarber with whom he had an intimate relationship, alleged that Bickers organized fundraisers for the mayor in Atlanta and New Orleans which supposedly included “spray-painted strippers,” the paper reported.

Bickers’ business interests in Mississippi have competed for city business but she has not received a single contract from the city of Jackson, Yarber told the Free Press.

Elsewhere is Mississippi, Bickers was credited in 2014 with a sizable increase in black voter turnout for Sen. Thad Cochran, who won a primary runoff against challenger Chris McDaniel thanks in part to efforts by Bickers’ organization which was reportedly paid $44,000 for “phone services” such as robo-calls.

That race was characterized as “nasty and personal” by National Review, whose story from 2014 still on its website carries the headline, “A scandal-plagued Democratic operative worked the black vote for Cochran.”

Holmes said that he has heard absolutely no concerns from his constituents about Bickers.

“I recall hearing that she left the City of Atlanta around four years ago. I'm not aware of her breaking the law. If this remains the case, I don't see a need to make a change,” he stated.

“What I know about Ms Bickers is that she will lead Henry County away from warehousing and the massive amounts of semi trucks which are squeezing out our residents and destroying our road infrastructure. The big picture for me is that our Development Authority moves in a direction that will attract the high paying jobs Henry County citizens deserve, not political issues that are being covered in Atlanta.”