When you are a celebrity, I’m told, people want to give you things: free swag, free food, free resort vacations in the Caribbean. All for the pleasure of seeing your famous face! It must be pretty nice. However: the unspoken rule is that all these gifts must be given freely. If you demand them, you’re a jerk. If you retaliate for not getting them, you’re an even bigger jerk, and you must pay.
Case in point: five years ago, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, Elton Alexander, a city councilman in Stockbridge, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, visited the Georgia Championship Barbecue Company and asked the owner, Arick Whitson, if he wanted to do business with the city. Whitson, perhaps sensing an opportunity to sell more barbecue, said that he did.
Alexander’s interpretation of doing business was slightly different. He did order $60 worth of food. But when the bill arrived, he refused to pay. “I thought you wanted to do business with the city?” Alexander told (threatened?) Whitson. And then he left without paying.
Over the next year, Whitson was harassed by the Stockbridge’s code enforcement officers, who made several visits to Georgia Championship Barbecue. He had trouble getting a liquor license and signage and building permits. To make things worse, Alexander filed false complaints with the Henry County District Attorney’s office that claimed that Whitson was on the National Sex Offender Registry and was abusive to women. After Whitson filed an ethics complaint against Alexander in January 2017, the attacks only got worse.
So in May 2017, after a year of “doing business” with Alexander, Whitson sued the city of Stockbridge. The lawsuit was recently settled out of court for $1.7 million: $1.2 million to Whitson and the remaining $534,000 to his lawyers.
Despite writing out a big check, the city denies any wrongdoing. “There is no admission of liability by the City of Stockbridge,” the city said in a statement. “Our legal counsel and the insurance company felt a compromise could and should be reached. Though the City of Stockbridge itself did nothing wrong, the settlement avoided a protracted legal process that would have resulted in uncertainty by all parties.”
Alexander, now the city’s mayor pro tem, issued his own statement, reprinted by the AP: “This is a business decision by the insurance company to settle this lawsuit in its entirety and to release the City of Stockbridge and Elton Alexander from all claims. Mr. Alexander does not support the settlement and does not have the authority to override the insurance company’s decision to settle this lawsuit.”
But does he still have the authority to demand freebies from local restaurants? It is unclear. It is, however, extremely likely he won’t be getting them from Georgia Championship Barbecue.