Working to regain trust in DeKalb

The past few years have been tough ones for DeKalb County. It is outrageous that anyone would violate the public’s trust, and it is frustrating to realize that our county has refused in years past to identify and correct bad behaviors. It is maddening that the people of DeKalb have had to endure a shaming of DeKalb County government over the actions of a few. The truth, as they say, hurts.

For years, DeKalb CEO’s have looked the other way when it came to Board of Commissioners (BOC) spending. The BOC, of which I have been a member since 2006, talked a good game of auditing and oversight, but when the rubber met the road, could not reach a consensus on pulling the trigger on hiring someone to do the job.

Part of the issue that caused these problems is inherent in DeKalb’s structure of government, which before now has produced a laissez-faire style of oversight. Elected officials simply cannot control other elected officials in the same way an employer can control an employee. This is one reason I have been an advocate for changing DeKalb’s form of government, and why I created the Government Operations Task Force: to deal with this issue and several others DeKalb is facing. It remains my expectation that this task force will make substantial recommendations to our government which will provide a framework on which we all become accountable.

However, the larger issue has been a wholesale lack of leadership to work together to become the open, transparent and responsive government that we all say that we want.

I share the collective frustration of our residents. The practice of government in DeKalb County has allowed much of what has been exposed recently by the AJC and others to go unchecked. To address the issues, this administration implemented several safeguards and oversight to find incidences of wrongdoings and address them quickly.

The direct actions we have taken to address the malaise we find ourselves in at the present moment are as follows:

1. Facilitated appointments of a full complement of Board of Ethics members to ensure consistent quorums.

2. Increased Ethics Board funding from $15,000 to over $200,000

3. Created full time positions: Chief Integrity Officer, Investigator, and staff for the Board of Ethics.

4. Increased funding for District Attorney’s office by $197,000 to expand its Public Integrity Unit.

5. Revised P-Card policies to cover all cardholders, including elected officials, which requires annual training and annual audits of all cardholders.

6. Revised purchasing policies to make the process for purchasing goods and services more efficient and transparent and created a list to ban vendors who violate our policies or fail to complete work.

7. Restructured the Purchasing and Contracting and Finance departments to provide greater oversight and transparency.

8. Implemented a new ethics policy for the administration to cover meals, travel and tickets for all employees under the CEOs power, including myself.

Admittedly, these changes have only occurred under my administration and only affect conduct moving forward. Much of the spending irregularities discovered by the AJC, Channel 2 Action News and others date back several years and cover multiple administrations. Those cases are now being investigated by federal prosecutors, the local district attorney and the DeKalb Board of Ethics. In due time, these agencies will take appropriate actions as needed. Furthermore, we will be taking additional measures as circumstances warrant.

Make no mistake: I am, and I remain very concerned about improper and illegal spending in DeKalb County. The repercussions go far beyond the acts themselves. It impacts everything from job creation and business recruitment to federal funding allocations. It is imperative that all elected officials, myself included, continue to do everything possible to correct the underlying problems and restore the public’s trust in DeKalb County government. It takes years to build trust, but only a day to destroy it. Our job moving forward is to restore that trust, day by day, in DeKalb County.

About the Author