Candidates pledge to fix DeKalb

Five candidates pledging to sweep out corruption and restore honest government to DeKalb County began their race Wednesday to replace former Commissioner Elaine Boyer, who pleaded guilty to a kickback scheme.

The four Republicans and one independent will have less than two months to campaign before the Nov. 4 special election to represent about 140,000 residents in the northern part of DeKalb County, including the cities of Brookhaven, Chamblee, Doraville and Dunwoody.

The candidates are Wendy Butler, a land use attorney; Larry Danese, a retired electrical and nuclear engineer; Nancy Jester, an actuarial consultant; Tom Owens, a Vietnam veteran; and Holmes Pyles, a retired state government employee.

Whoever wins the election will join a government beset on all sides by accusations of corruption.

Boyer admitted to federal charges that she tapped taxpayers for more than $93,000 and funneled most of that money to her personal bank account. The county’s suspended CEO, Burrell Ellis, went on trial this week to fight charges that he strong-armed county contractors for campaign donations. And ethics complaints are pending against the remaining five county commissioners.

“Public confidence is shattered, and rightly so, because their money hasn’t been used wisely,” Jester said. “I’ll be relentless in exposing any financial mismanagement so DeKalb citizens can rest assured that their county government is operating in their best interests.”

Voters previously elected Jester to the DeKalb County Board of Education in 2010, but Gov. Nathan Deal removed her and five others from the board in 2013 after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed the school district on probation. She also ran an unsuccessful campaign for state superintendent, and her husband, Stan Jester, drew no challengers in this year’s run for a seat on the school board.

One of the candidates said he’s already shown that he’ll combat corruption in DeKalb. Owens filed an ethics complaint against Boyer in April, alleging that she misused her government purchasing card for personal items including plane tickets and meals.

“It’s totally out of control. There needs to be more accountability,” Owens said. “Commissioners checking themselves is like a bank robber counting the bank’s money.”

Danese said he’s running for the DeKalb Commission in an effort to reduce the size of government and remove the temptation for commissioners to dip into their $250,000 annual office budgets.

“If the budget wasn’t so large, and if it wasn’t so sloppily managed, then I think we wouldn’t have this many problems,” said Danese, who previously ran against Boyer in 2012.

Butler said that if she were elected, she would work to improve DeKalb’s business reputation and strengthen ethical standards.

“There needs to be an expanded and broader oversight process for commission spending and department spending,” Butler said.

Pyles, the independent candidate in the race, said he’s lived in DeKalb for more than 60 years and witnessed the failings of both Republicans and Democrats in office. He said his experience and personal integrity would give voters honest representation.

“They need somebody in there that’s not on the take,” he said.

If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election would be held Dec. 2

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