DeKalb County leaders don’t dispute a special grand jury’s scathing report about problems in county government but want to hire outside help to fix what they agree is a culture ripe for corruption.
“We are responding and want to present a game plan to move forward,” Interim CEO Lee May said Monday in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Today, May will present to the county commission a month-long internal review of a special grand jury report released in August, which concluded that opportunities for corruption abound in the government and recommended sweeping changes.
Key among them, aside from structural changes, were improvements to the county’s purchasing policy. The CEO form of government gives the top elected job nearly full power over contracts. Accusations of abuse of that system lead to the 15-count indictment against suspended CEO Burrell Ellis.
The review, conducted by chief operating officer Zachary Williams, calls for the county to hire an outside consultant to develop a purchasing plan.
That plan will continue the county’s program to help local- and minority-owned businesses — which the grand jury recommended scrapping — but will likely include major overhauls, May told the AJC.
Also at today’s regular commission meeting, May will present a separate internal audit of that program that found shortcomings.
For instance, while 350 firms are qualified as locally and minority owned, only 54 of them have received county contracts.
“Those are just facts, but does it mean almost 300 were not able to do the work, or was there special treatment?” May asked. “At this point, we don’t know.”
County Attorney O.V. Brantley also has yet to complete, with an outside attorney, a review of every county employee named in the special grand jury report.
None of those recommended for criminal investigation still works for DeKalb. A handful of the dozens of others mentioned at least once in the report, such as Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton, who is listed as an unindicted co-conspirator, hold high-level positions and have long tenure with the county.
Brantley is also overseeing a review of the internal purchasing policy, set entirely by the CEO. May has been operating under procedures established by Ellis but said he hopes to have a new purchasing policy soon that he can present to commissioners.
Under the current county government structure the commission lacks authority over purchasing policy, but May will seek a resolution of support to signal unity.
Meanwhile the county has agreed to pay $79,900 to hire Management Partners, a firm selected via bid to conduct the purchasing policy review.
Williams said the company is expected to begin its 90-day review as early as this week once commissioners are advised of contract, signed by the CEO alone because it’s under a $100,000 threshold requiring board approval.
“We want to get some expert help to put in the best practices we need,” Williams said.
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