DeKalb County commissioners (from left) Jeff Rader, Stan Watson, Larry Johnson, Sharon Barnes Sutton and Kathie Gannon listen during a public comment session at a meeting at Dekalb County Government Administration Building in Decatur on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: Hyosub Shin
Photo: Hyosub Shin

Report finds loose spending by DeKalb officials

DeKalb County has been lax in its oversight of spending by elected commissioners, and some officials frequently paid for items on their government debit cards without submitting required receipts, according to an audit released Thursday.

The audit shows the seven commissioners used taxpayer funds to pay for everything from steakhouse dinners to speeding tickets.

Total spending on purchasing cards, first issued in 2006, peaked at nearly $64,000 in 2011 before dipping to less than $44,000 last year.

The report called attention to Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton, who spent $1,650 on 35 gift cards, and former Commissioner Elaine Boyer, who resigned last month and pleaded guilty to racking up more than $15,000 in personal expenses on her county-issued Visa card as well as engineering a $78,000 kickback scheme.

The DeKalb Commission ordered the audit to evaluate purchasing card spending after a series of articles by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed some commissioners were making personal charges. The audit cost the county $83,000 and was conducted by O. H. Plunkett & Company accounting firm.

The audit didn’t delve deeply into the legitimacy of numerous expenses questioned by the AJC. For example, it apparently didn’t seek examine assertions that some commissioners used their purchasing cards to pay personal cellphone bills. It also didn’t mention Commissioner Stan Watson’s use of nearly $1,900 in taxpayer money earlier for a website that solicited campaign donations. Watson has said he wasn’t aware the website,, sought campaign contributions.

The audit recommends mandatory training for purchasing card users, stronger internal controls and a review of P-card policies.

Interim DeKalb County CEO Lee May signed an executive order in April that allows him to suspend or revoke P-cards for misuse. The order also makes clear that all elected officials must comply with card rules.

But the audit didn’t spare May. It found that, as a commissioner representing southeast DeKalb, his office provided receipts or transaction logs for only 39 percent of transactions.

May said government employees now understand the importance of responsible P-card use.

“P-cards are a privilege; they’re not a right,” May said. “I think it was just loose handling of receipts. I don’t think there’s been much ill-intent in terms of not presenting them.”

Joe Arrington, who lives near Stone Mountain and regularly attends county commission meetings, said the county needs a deeper forensic audit. He said the AJC and Channel 2 Action 2 have done a much better job of revealing deficiencies, and this audit is too little, too late.

“I really don’t think it tells much at all,” he said. “It gives me the impression of a brush-over, to get rid of it and make it go away.”

The report found that Sutton’s office has spent $108,720 on its P-cards since 2006, the highest amount of any commissioner, and she submitted receipts for only 25 percent of all transactions. A total of $60,585 in transactions didn’t have supporting receipts.

Sutton used her P-card to buy $1,650 worth of gift cards at Office Depot, Wal-Mart and Staples, with no documentation explaining how the gift cards were used. Sutton’s top aide explained to the auditors that they went to volunteers at various events, including the Ovarian Cancer Walk and Youth Empowerment Breakfast.

Sutton also charged the county $130 for a ticket she received while driving a rental car, and she spent county money for home office supplies, printers and a computer, the audit said.

Sutton didn’t immediately respond to a Thursday evening email seeking comment, and no one answered her office phone.

Overall, the Board of Commissioners and its staff has spent $257,170 on P-cards since 2006, and receipts were submitted for 57 percent of those transactions.

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