DeKalb CEO May’s chief of staff resigns

Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May’s chief of staff and top adviser, Edmond Richardson, is resigning after news reports that he steered a county contract to a former official who later pleaded guilty to an unrelated bribery charge.

Richardson, who has been on paid medical leave for nearly three months, will step down Jan. 3, according to his resignation letter to May.

Richardson took medical leave after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News reported Oct. 1 that he funneled a youth outreach services contract to Jerry Clark, a former member of the DeKalb Zoning Board of Appeals and a friend of Richardson.

Richardson approved payments to Clark under a contract that was never signed, through a bidding process that was put on hold because Richardson didn’t properly define the scope of work. Clark submitted invoices totaling $24,500, just short of the $25,000 limit he could bill DeKalb without competition.

Clark was later hired as a county employee at Richardson’s direction, making $16,000 before he was fired in January when he informed his superiors he was under investigation.

Clark pleaded guilty in February to accepting $3,500 in bribes in exchange for his November 2012 vote to approve a zoning request for a nightclub.

The zoning board’s 4-2 vote overturned a DeKalb Planning Department decision that Lulu Billiards couldn’t continue operating as a nightclub with a dance floor. A special land-use permit is required for a dance floor, and Lulu’s was approved only as a late-night business. Clark is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 20 in federal court.

Richardson, whose salary was $131,652, didn’t provide a reason for his resignation or respond to a phone message.

His medical leave began Oct. 6 as he was facing further scrutiny. A day earlier, Channel 2 had filed an open records request seeking information about whether he had earned the 10 weeks of paid leave he took during his 2012 campaign against Commissioner Kathie Gannon.

May didn’t ask Richardson to resign, said spokesman Burke Brennan. May will assume Richardson’s duties.

May said in a September statement that he was “very disappointed” in how Richardson handled Clark’s hiring. May declined to launch an investigation into how Clark’s contract was handled.

“It might have been to the letter of all laws, but certainly not in the spirit in which I expect this government to be operated,” May said at the time.

Richardson said in September statement that he signed off on Clark’s work with the county because of his experience through the Jerry Clark Foundation, which mentored children and helped prevent drop outs.

Richardson said at the time he was “shocked and felt a deep sense of betrayal” when he learned about Clark’s involvement in a bribery scheme.

Richardson said he had no knowledge of any questionable activity when Clark was retained as a consultant in February 2014 and as a DeKalb employee in September 2014. Some of the time Clark appeared to be working as a consultant, in February and March of 2014, overlapped with his service on the zoning board, which is a violation of the county’s ethics code.

“I regret and apologize for this matter,” Richardson said in the statement. “If I would have known then what I know now, Jerry Clark never would have been hired.”

Jerome Edmondson, a friend acting as a spokesman for Richardson, said in October that Richardson took medical leave because he was having chest pains caused by stress.

“He’s always wanted to make a decision that if things get to where his position is hindering the county from moving forward, it would be in his best interest to move on and not affect the governing of the county,” Edmondson said at the time.

Edmondson didn’t respond to a phone message this week.

May, who was elected as a county commissioner representing southeast DeKalb in 2006, hired Richardson in August 2006 as an office aide. When May replaced DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis in July 2013, Richardson followed him, first as a senior policy adviser and later as chief of staff.

Richardson’s resignation comes a few months before he would have reached 10 years with DeKalb’s government, which would have made him eligible to begin receiving pension benefits at age 55 instead of 65 without penalty.

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