Questionable contract for ex-DeKalb official

Jodie Fleischer is an investigative reporter for Channel 2 Action News.

A little more than a year after he accepted $3,500 in bribes to help a nightclub owner, zoning official Jeremy "Jerry" Clark began billing DeKalb County taxpayers as a consultant, a Channel 2 Action News/Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found.

Records show between March and August of 2014, Clark submitted invoices totaling $24,500 for youth outreach services, skirting multiple DeKalb County policies, and possibly state law.

“It’s either a crime was committed, which is what it smells like, or someone has played loose and easy with the regulations,” said former DeKalb District Attorney Bob Wilson, who reviewed the situation at the request of Channel 2 and the AJC.

But DeKalb Interim CEO Lee May said he won’t request an investigation of Clark’s contract; the high-ranking official who facilitated it was May’s chief of staff and long-time advisor, Edmond Richardson.

Richardson refused repeated requests for an interview.

In a written statement he said, “I regret and apologize for this matter. If I would have known then what I know now, Jerry Clark never would have been hired.”

Richardson claimed all laws and administrative policies were followed.

May also declined an interview request, but issued a statement saying, “I am very disappointed in how it 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 issued his statement before special investigators this week found "appalling corruption" in DeKalb and called on May to resign. May's spokesman, Burke Brennan, said Thursday that the CEO had nothing new to add, and stood by his intention not to investigate the handling of Clark's contract.

‘Clark’s contract’

The first mention of the youth outreach contract in documents released to Channel 2 and the AJC after an open records request was in an email on Feb. 14, 2014.

Richardson, who admits being friends with Clark, emailed the county’s then-purchasing director and asked, “What’s the status of Jeremy Clark’s contract?”

The reply was, “Will be going out for competition on next week.”

The current purchasing director, Scott Callan, said it’s “clearly not” appropriate to refer to a bid as a specific person’s contract.

The contract did go out for bids in March, but the county ended up cancelling the entire process, saying Richardson didn’t properly define the scope of work.

Within days, Clark submitted his first invoice, for $4,000, using that cancelled bid number.

“Clearly the focus was on that individual and getting that individual here, work,” conceded Callan.

There was never a signed contract.

When an accounts payable coordinator directed Clark to get a purchase order number from his boss, Clark instead forwarded the email to Richardson asking, “What are we gonna do about this?”

Clark got paid from March through August, and even threw in a back-dated February invoice, five months late, which Richardson also approved.

A search of email records found no correspondence between Clark and his supposed boss, the youth programs director, in February or March. And in April, two months after Clark started work, Richardson was told to ask the youth programs director “exactly what she needed the consultant (Clark) to do.”

An aborted bid

When the request for bids went out, Austell businessman Lawrence King thought the youth outreach contract sounded like a great opportunity. But he could tell the county already had someone else in mind.

“I wanted to hear them tell me what it was, and they couldn’t do that,” recalled King.

He actually wrote an email back to the county saying it sounded like they had a “preferred provider” in mind, which the purchasing official denied.

He was stunned, but not surprised when reporters showed him the emails labeling the contract as Clark’s.

“Disingenuous, dishonest, [it] didn’t pass the smell test,” said King, “It’s totally unfair.”

He never knew what happened with the contract, or that just as Clark was coming up on the $25,000 limit he could bill to DeKalb without competition, the county bid the contract again, and again it was cancelled, this time by the new purchasing director, Callan.

“After four months you would expect that a department would be able to answer a scope of work on a small contract?” Channel 2 and the AJC asked Callan.

“Absolutely,” he replied, especially if Clark had already been doing the job.

Clark’s conviction

Last September, DeKalb hired Clark as a county employee, also at Richardson’s direction.

Clark made an additional $16,000 before getting fired in January, when he became aware he was under federal investigation for bribery.

Clark is awaiting sentencing on his federal guilty plea, as is the nightclub owner who bribed him in exchange for his vote to grandfather in Lulu Billiards as a nightclub.

The DeKalb County ethics code strictly prohibits members of the governing authority, including appointees to county boards, from doing business with the county.

Records show Clark was still serving as a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals during February and March of 2014; during that time he billed $6,500 for his consulting.

All of Clark’s invoices, totaling $24,500, were paid out of the county’s sanitation department budget, even though they were designated for youth outreach.