Ethics chief rejects claim of ‘rotten’ DeKalb government

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Ethics chief rejects claim of ‘rotten’ DeKalb government

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BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJ/bsanderlin@ajc.com
Stacey Kalberman, left, became DeKalb County's ethics officer in March 2015. BRANT SANDERLIN /BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

DeKalb County isn’t “rotten to the core.”

That’s the conclusion of DeKalb Ethics Officer Stacey Kalberman in her first annual report.

Kalberman disagreed with the assertion of special investigators Mike Bowers and Richard Hyde in 2015 that misconduct was rampant in DeKalb’s government.

“DeKalb has its issues, as do many counties,” Kalberman wrote. “Nevertheless, the greatest problems have been caused by a handful of individuals whose loyalties were aligned with their own personal interest and not the interest of the county. It is DeKalb’s great misfortune that those individuals have primarily been in leadership positions.”

Her report said government employees have been eager to improve the county’s image and learn about ethics. More than 1,900 employees have attended classes organized since Kalberman was hired in March.

But the county still has problems, and the DeKalb Board of Ethics has been hindered by a lawsuit that questions its legality. Pending ethics cases involving former Commissioners Sharon Barnes Sutton and Stan Watson have been put on hold until the lawsuit is decided.

“While I cannot say that the ethical health of DeKalb County is strong, I am certain that the work to bring systemic, positive change is well underway, and I believe that the future holds a different grade in ethics for DeKalb,” Kalberman wrote.

Voters approved an overhaul of the DeKalb Board of Ethics in November 2015 that created the ethics officer position and made the board more independent, removing appointment power from the county’s commissioners and CEO.

Kalberman highlighted several of the board’s accomplishments:

  • Resolved 11 ethics complaints. In two cases, the board reprimanded former commissioners’ aides for abuses of government charge cards.
  • Developed educational classes and established an online program that will be launched this year. Online education and an annual quiz will be required of all county employees.
  • Investigated 15 complaints and oversaw an anonymous ethics hotline.
  • Created an ethics website.
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