DeKalb oversight board member removed

A woman appointed to a committee charged with strengthening oversight of DeKalb County’s government has been removed, an action she says is the result of meddling by elected officials who want to control the panel.

State Sen. Gloria Butler recently rescinded her appointment of Harmel Codi to DeKalb’s Audit Oversight Committee, which the Georgia Legislature created last year. The board is responsible for hiring an independent watchdog who will monitor a county government that has seen numerous corruption investigations and criminal prosecutions.

Codi, a former county employee who has called for Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May’s resignation, said her removal was illegal and politically motivated.

“It’s evidence that, if you are not within the status quo, you’re going to have issues with people in politics in this county,” Codi said. “I’m one of those people who is outspoken about what’s going on in the county. It makes them very nervous.”

Butler, the chairwoman of DeKalb’s delegation to the state Senate, appointed Codi to the committee two months ago. She said she believed that Codi was using the Audit Oversight Committee to pursue her own priorities. Butler declined to detail her concerns about Codi, but said the committee’s members weren’t getting along.

“It appears to me that Ms. Codi has an agenda, and we want someone on the committee who has the agenda of the committee,” said Butler, D-Stone Mountain. “She can do that on her own but not as a member of the Audit Committee.”

Butler replaced Codi with Natasha Smith, a certified public accountant who Butler said is more qualified for the position.

Codi’s removal raises questions about the autonomy of the committee that’s designed to serve as an outside check on government misspending, said Patricia Killingsworth, a former member of the DeKalb Board of Ethics who advocated for the auditor legislation at the Georgia Capitol last year.

The committee is made up of five DeKalb residents appointed by various local elected officials. The panel will recommend candidates to serve as an outside auditor charged with finding fraud, reducing inefficiencies and exposing waste, according to House Bill 599. The auditor will then report to the committee as a way to maintain the position’s independence from the rest of the county’s government.

“It completely defeats the purpose of this being an independent body if the individuals making the appointments can change their minds at will,” Killingsworth said. “It’s not acceptable. If they’re constantly in fear of being replaced, they’re not independent.”

DeKalb officials don’t have a legal opinion about whether Butler could remove Codi, whom Butler had appointed to a five-year term, said county spokesman Burke Brennan. Generally, the authority to appoint comes with the authority to replace, he said.

The Audit Oversight Committee’s chairman, Harold Smith Jr., said Codi was removed before her term began. Butler wrote a Dec. 28 letter rescinding Codi’s appointment, and the committee’s members didn’t take office until Jan. 1.

“I believe prior to that (Jan. 1) date, there may have been some flexibility,” he said. “But going forward, no, there will not be any outside influence of anyone to remove someone from the committee.”

Codi, a former financial officer in DeKalb’s Department of Community Development, said she plans to attend the committee’s next meeting and continue to serve as the legal appointee.

She also had other concerns about the committee, saying one of its members previously had been considered for the auditor job, and another met privately with May. She said the committee argued over keeping their meetings private and inviting legislators for presentations.

The committee plans to conduct a national search for the outside auditor, Smith said. DeKalb’s Human Resources Department will present a timeline at the committee’s next meeting, which is scheduled Jan. 15.

The committee will nominate between two and three candidates to serve as the auditor. If the DeKalb Commission doesn’t appoint one of those candidates within 30 days, the committee will choose the auditor.

May’s proposed 2016 budget includes $1 million to launch the Office of the Internal Auditor.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.