Booted board member was once an ignored DeKalb whistleblower

An outspoken critic of DeKalb County’s culture of malfeasance has been yanked off a board charged with the crucial decision of hiring an independent watchdog. State Sen. Gloria Butler told the AJC that Harmel Codi “has an agenda” and “she can do that on her own but not as a member of the Audit Committee.”

The AJC’s Mark Niesse reports that Butler, the chairwoman of DeKalb’s delegation to the state Senate, appointed Codi to the Audit Oversight Committee two months ago, then rescinded her appointment. Codi blames unnamed elected officials for meddling and influencing the senator’s decision.

Harmel Codi said she quit working for DeKalb County when she found that rules were often not followed. BILL TORPY / BTORPY@AJC.COM

Something to keep in mind about the affair is that Codi was once something of an internal watchdog herself, and she wound up chafing some folks in high places within DeKalb’s power establishment.

Specifically, she's been a major thorn in interim CEO Lee May's side.

Back in 2013, soon after interim May ascended to the top office, he was paid a visit by Codi, then a rank-and-file county employee.

Codi voiced suspicions about a $1 million housing rehab contract that had been awarded to a politically connected insider, Vaughn Irons. An extra $500,000 had been allotted to Irons' company without a bid process. At the time, Irons was a member of the DeKalb County Development Authority board.

Codi, working a temporary job as a financial officer for Community Development, had also filed a written grievance. In a six-page letter, in which she mostly complained about then-Director Chris Morris' management style, she described being ordered to draft APD's contract amendment for the additional half million dollars, and being ignored when she questioned how such an amount could be awarded without a procurement process.

Codi says May told her it was a "non-issue," which May denied in an interview with the AJC. May said their talk came amid about 100 meetings, and Codi had a litany of complaints about the department. Either way, May took no action and later endorsed Irons to co-chair a task force he set up to propose reforms for the county.

"Hindsight being 20/20, of course, yeah, I could look at it differently now," May told the AJC in February.

It turned out Codi had been onto something.

An investigation by the AJC and Channel 2 Action News revealed Irons had been making monthly payments to a sitting county commissioner who was helping him with a casino-style resort development, and that he won the county contract thanks to a phony legal document that allowed him to bid despite being a Development Authority member. Irons has strongly denied having anything to do with creating or submitting the fake document.

Codi later became one of 10 candidates to vie for May’s vacant seat on the DeKalb Commission, which was eventually won by Mereda Johnson, the wife of U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson and a former DeKalb associate magistrate judge. Codi also blasted the county's aborted soccer deal with Arthur Blank, which May championed, and she has publicly called for May to resign.

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About the Author

Johnny Edwards
Johnny Edwards
Johnny Edwards is a member of the AJC’s investigative team, focusing on the private sector and state and federal regulation. He has worked at the newspaper...