'Stigma of corruption' haunts DeKalb

DeKalb County is the proud owner of a "Comprehensive Market Development Strategy" that notes, in mulitple places, the continuing "stigma of political corruption," poor county leadership and other problems the county faces.

To prepare the report, the county hired a private contractor, which in turn hired a subcontractor to supply research and background. That subcontractor was Michael Hightower, who knows a thing or two about political corruption, having pleaded guilty to it in 2000 after accepting nearly $25,000 in bribes while serving on the Fulton County Commission.

Back to the present day: In the grand jury investigation that led to the indictment of DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, Hightower's name comes up in connection with a payment allegedly given to Ellis' assistant, Nina Hall. Hall asserts in her testimony that the county's purchasing director gave her money "to help me out of something" and told her that two county contractors were the source of that money. She said she believed one of the contractors was Michael Hightower.

Hightower, founder of the Collaborative Firm, which has handled many local government contracts, is a certified policy wonk with deep experience and deep local connections. He tells the AJC that he can't talk much about the market assessment contract, since he is a subcontractor, but he says he committed no wrongdoing.

“As one who understands challenges and obstacles often associated with politics and business, I recognize the importance of moving forward and not dwelling in the past, as it stunts growth and doesn’t provide a path towards the future,” Hightower told Bill Torpy.

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