Ethics complaints filed against DeKalb officials

Ethics complaints have been filed against two DeKalb County staffers, including the star witness in the pending political corruption trial of suspended CEO Burrell Ellis.

County resident Viola Davis, who has pushed for more openness in county government, said her complaints against Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton and former Ellis assistant Nina Hall are based on their testimony before a special grand jury investigating corruption. The testimony was first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month.

“With all that is going on in DeKalb, we want the (county) ethics board to direct the administration to reassign Kelvin and Nina until we have more information,” said Davis, a registered nurse who lives in south DeKalb.

“Sometimes you have to suspend someone when you’re talking about taxpayer dollars, just to restore the public trust,” she added.

Her complaint specifically alleges violations that Walton and Hill benefited from gifts from others who could be involved in their official work.

Walton testified that he broke the law when he got free service from a county vendor to remove a tree on his property, then lied about it in his first appearance before the panel. He has not been charged with a crime and remains in his $153,000-a-year- job overseeing all DeKalb bids and contracts.

The ethics board has significant power over both workers. It is charged by state law to review complaints of specific violations to the ethics code and, if problems are egregious enough, has the ability to fire county workers and remove elected officials.

The board has never exercised such power. That’s largely because it remained in a weakened state for years, suffering from lack of funding and its own inability to find volunteers for its seven-member board.

Prosecutors have labeled Walton as the “unindicted co-conspirator” and key witness against Ellis, who faces 14 felonies for allegedly shaking down county vendors for campaign contributions and punishing those who did not give. Walton cooperated with District Attorney Robert Jnames by covertly recording Ellis during the probe.

Also released earlier this month is Hall’s testimony that she believed Walton was a conduit for money for money to her from at least two vendors. She testified she did not know how much cash she received and could not say why the money came from contractors.

At the time, Hall was serving on several selection committees for county projects. She also remains a DeKalb employee, earning $75,800 a year as a special projects manager in the county’s Watershed department.

The special grand jury that heard testimony from Walton, Hall and others as part of an investigation into corruption in county contracts criticized the ethics board for lack oversight in DeKalb.

Since the grand jury’s report on the matter last year, board members have pushed to be strengthened. Earlier this year it secured a new attorney to advise the board and completed new training for its full seven members.

The board is slated to meet March 31 for the first time in nearly two years, though there is not enough time under board rules to consider Davis’ complaint at that session.

It could be held at the board’s next quarterly meeting in May, or at a special meeting if the board calls one before spring.

“I would hope this would see action soon,” Davis said. “This is practical. We can’t restore public trust in government with this hanging over our heads.”

Through a spokesman, interim CEO Lee May declined to comment on the ethics complaint but said an outside consultant is still reviewing the testimony. There is no deadline for Mercer University law school dean Oren Griffin to compile his report.