Allegations left unresolved after judge dismantled DeKalb Ethics Board

Credit: Mark Niesse

Credit: Mark Niesse

For scandal-weary DeKalb County residents, a new ethics oversight system was put in place to handle allegations of misspent public money, conflicts of interest and other infractions.

It lasted less than 16 months.

A court order disabled the DeKalb Board of Ethics last week, leaving allegations of inappropriate behavior by government officials without a resolution.

The board's unfinished business included a case against Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton, whose lawsuit against the board led to the court ruling. She denies accusations that she spent government money for her personal benefit.

Cases were also pending against former Commissioner Stan Watson and former Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton, among others.

Even Ethics Officer Stacey Kalberman was facing a complaint over whether she was allowed to support legislation to change how Board of Ethics members are appointed.

Board member Robert Tatum said he's disappointed the board can no longer function after 92 percent of voters supported its creation in November 2015.

Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson invalidated most of the board's members because they were appointed by non-governmental groups instead of elected officials.

“There has to be a remedy to this, where the people can feel comfortable with normal checks and balances,” said Robert Tatum, one of the board’s surviving members, who was appointed by Superior Court Judge Tangela Barrie.

The court decision could be appealed, or the board could be restarted next year by state legislators.

Supporters of the board say it’s an independent check on government wrongdoing. Critics say it’s an unaccountable tool used to attack elected officials.

Here’s a look at the DeKalb Board of Ethics’ actions since it was rebooted in January 2016:

  • Reprimanded and issued a $1,000 fine against Judy Brownlee, a former assistant to Sutton, for using a government charge card to buy $150 worth of Office Depot gift cards for herself and participating in a political campaign event during work hours.
  • Reprimanded Bob Lundsten, a former assistant to ex-Commissioner Elaine Boyer, after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanors for using a government charge card on $310 worth of items at Kroger and the UPS Store.
  • Dismissed ethics complaints against former DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis after the Georgia Supreme Court overturned his convictions for attempted extortion and perjury.
  • Limited the number of mass messages government officials can send from their official email accounts before elections.
  • Hired Kalberman as the DeKalb's first ethics officer, responsible for training the county's 6,000 employees and investigating misbehavior.