Lift DeKalb to a better place

Resolution of high-wattage problems seems exceedingly hard to come by in DeKalb County. That’s unfortunate, as Georgia’s third-largest county deserves better.

DeKalb residents and leaders should keep the pressure on to fix current sticky wickets and make any other needed changes to prevent future ethics and corruption challenges.

That won’t be easy, given that unsettling questions keep popping up. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last Thursday carried a story by a pair of Channel 2 Action News reporters which revealed new details into the death of a DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department recruit after a grinding round of physical training.

We understand that prepping new deputies for a demanding, dangerous job requires a rigorous regimen. Yet, legitimate questions around the recruit’s 2013 death still demand answers. Why did it take so long for help to be summoned after George Ward first showed signs of serious distress? And why did it take 30 minutes for emergency medical help to finally arrive? Ward’s family and the rest of DeKalb’s citizenry deserve detailed answers. Interim DeKalb CEO is right to demand them.

Given variations in human physiology, training for law enforcement officers can likely never be fully risk-free, but DeKalb needs to examine whether changing training protocols can reduce risk without hindering necessary standards.

A second DeKalb story on Thursday updated political empire-building that’s seguing into a second round as the 2015 legislative session approaches. The cityhood battles fought over the streets and subdivisions in part of North DeKalb are far from over. No one now knows what will result come from the block-by-block skirmishes. The county’s overall stability shouldn’t suffer further damage as a result.

And the Gold Dome is not the only place where DeKalb’s future is on trial. The county’s criminal courts have recently produced events which prove the old saying that truth can be stranger than fiction.

Consider that DeKalb Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker announced last week she will be resigning from the bench in the wake of an official inquiry into her actions around the criminal corruption trial involving DeKalb County Schools’ former construction chief and her ex-husband.

The entire story is too long to recount in full, but suffice it to say that Becker’s actions led first to the jailing of former DeKalb schools’ Superintendent Crawford Lewis, this after he’d reached a plea deal with prosecutors that called for no jail time in exchange for his testimony. Becker’s doubts as to truthfulness of Lewis’ court testimony also led her to set aside the corruption convictions of Pat Pope and her ex-husband, Tony Pope. Becker ordered them freed from prison as a result. Prosecutors fought that move and the pair remain locked up – at least for now.

The end result of all this is undecided, but there’s no doubt this dramatic string of events has left many DeKalb countians shaking their heads.

Ditto for the also-unresolved matter of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis. Criminal proceedings against Ellis ended in a mistrial after the jury proved too divided to reach a verdict.

DeKalb District Attorney Robert James, who has his hands full for sure, has not said yet whether he will retry Ellis. The once-popular CEO, as well as DeKalb County as a whole, both deserve closure and that can best come from either a future jury’s verdict, or a decision by James to not re-try Ellis. One or the other should happen asap.

While we’re reviewing court dockets, it’s worth briefly recalling DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer, who pleaded guilty in federal court to charges that arose after this newspaper reported on irregularities in her use of county discretionary money.

All of the above paints an unflattering portrait of a county where dysfunctionality and wrongdoing have seemingly gained the upper hand.

Yet, despite what some may believe, DeKalb is not alone in having alleged, or proven, corruption; just plain incompetence, or some combination of both.

We could go on. Concerns linger, for example, about the overall quality of education in DeKalb’s once-excellent schools. And old tensions between the northern and southern parts of the county show no sign of ending.

Yet, DeKalbians stick it out in large numbers, seemingly making peace with the contradiction of an otherwise-good place to live that’s dotted with too many bad marks. It’s a shame that a succession of outsized challenges have overshadowed what works in a large county that remains central to the Atlanta region.

The odor of government corruption creates a barrier to fixing problems that affect DeKalb and also leach far across its borders.

That’s no way to govern in a growing, 21st-century metro and state. DeKalb must do better.

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