DeKalb officials spent tax money on dance lessons, flowers, flights

An outside investigation of DeKalb County has found that government employees used their taxpayer-funded charge cards for questionable purchases such as dance lessons, computers and international plane flights, according to preliminary findings released today.

The report submitted by special investigator Richard Hyde led Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May to suspend almost all purchasing cards Monday.

“The waste and apparent abuse has continued unabated,” Hyde wrote in his report to May, dated June 2. “We have found a number of questionable and troubling instances of P-card use resulting in expenses charged to, and paid by, the county with no apparent direct benefit to the government.”

The investigation, led by Hyde and former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers, reports several more suspicious P-card expenses:

  • Flowers
  • Membership dues to bar associations and private organizations
  • "Self-aggrandizing" donations to charities
  • Employee meals totaling thousands of dollars
  • Coffee, water and break room supplies

Hyde also wrote that employees had split purchases to circumvent the county’s $1,000 per transaction limit, and that tax-exempt status was improperly used.

Purchasing cards are meant to be used to buy items for official county business, and personal purchases are prohibited, according to DeKalb’s P-card policy. Acceptable uses include supplies and services, such as stationary, parts, books, repairs and maintenance.

“Given this stunning pattern of apparent mishandling and potential crimes relating to P-card usage we have found throughout all levels of DeKalb County government, I recommend you immediately suspend all P-card use until this investigation is concluded,” Hyde wrote.

May complied with the recommendation with the charge card ban that applies to county commissioners, their staffs and most of the nearly 300 DeKalb employees who have been issued P-cards. The cards may still be used in some circumstances, such as for emergencies, motor vehicle repairs and court expenses.

Former Commissioner Elaine Boyer pleaded guilty to federal charges last fall that included P-card abuse for plane flights and ski resort bookings, and ethics complaints have been filed against several commissioners for their spending.

The investigators, whom May hired three months ago, are continuing their work. A public report will be released when the inquiry is completed.