Ethics complaint filed against Ellis

Suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis appears before Judge Courtney L. Johnson in DeKalb County Superior Court during a second day of motions hearings Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
Caption
Suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis appears before Judge Courtney L. Johnson in DeKalb County Superior Court during a second day of motions hearings Tuesday, April 1, 2014.

Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON/AJC

Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON/AJC

Suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis – already faced with the threat of jail time and loss of his office permanently from a pending 14-count indictment on political corruption – could soon contend with a civil case on the same charges.

Rhea Johnson, a DeKalb resident and regular at county meetings, filed a complaint against Ellis Tuesday with the county's ethics board.

In it, Johnson claims the charges that allege Ellis shook down county vendors for campaign cash and punished those who did not give are also violations of the county’s ethics code. He wants the board to remove Ellis from office, a power it has never exercised.

“The criminal prosecution … does not answer fully the question of whether Mr. Ellis should merely be temporarily suspended or permanently removed from office,” Johnson writes in the complaint. Ellis is currently suspended with pay pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings.

The complaint is the latest high-profile case to wend its way to the seven-member ethics board. The board struggled for years without proper funding or a quorum but recently completed new training and began holding regular quarterly meetings.

The board will take up Johnson’s complaint at its May 8 meeting, where it will decide if it has jurisdiction to review the matter, said acting chairman John Ernst.

State law grants the board the authority to remove any elected official from office and fire nearly every county worker, if it finds egregious violations.

It has never exercised those powers but is being asked to consider them in two pending complaints, one against Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton and Ellis’ former secretary, Nina Hall, and a second against County Commissioner Elaine Boyer.

The complaint against Walton and Hall stems from sworn testimony where they admit to links to the corruption case against Ellis. Interim CEO Lee May this week suspended the pair, with pay, as the Ellis case proceeds.

The complaint against Boyer and her chief of staff cite an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation that revealed she rang up thousands of dollars in personal charges on her county-issued debit card.

Boyer paid many of the $16,800 charges back within days but has reimbursed or pledged to reimburse another $8,000 after the AJC began asking questions.

Those cases are expected to take months to resolve, as the ethics board must first handle two outstanding complaints from 2010 and 2011.

If the board agrees it has jurisdiction over the Ellis case, it will likely set hearings for the Aug. 14 meeting. Ellis’ criminal trial is scheduled for Sept. 8.