DeKalb commissioners told to halt spending on charities

DeKalb County's attorney is advising commissioners to stop using their office budgets to benefit nonprofit and charitable organizations, a practice that investigators have said may be illegal.

County Attorney O.V. Brantley wrote Tuesday that there's no "bright line rule" that prohibits public funds from being allocated to charities.

But she also said government donations that don’t bring a substantial benefit to the county appear to run afoul of the Georgia Constitution’s ban on gratuities.

“As you make expenditure decisions in the future, I suggest that you try and ensure that the expenditure does not result in the appearance of providing personal gain or benefit to you. If you and your staff use this concept as guidance as you make decisions, I am hopeful that your future expenditures will not be questioned,” Brantley wrote.

Brantley's legal opinion came after a report by investigators Mike Bowers and Richard Hyde questioned more than $537,000 in government expenses.

Some of that spending included donations by commissioners to organizations such as Park Pride, the DeKalb Historical Society, the International School Foundation and the DeKalb Library Foundation.

“Most of the spending we reviewed appears to have been for gifts and services or goods that could not have been lawfully purchased using government funds,” said the investigators’ report.

Brantley suggested that commissioners should use contracts, grants and official resolutions to specify budgeted funds for causes that benefit the county.