Recording reveals campaign donation request

The following conversation is a partial transcript of a recorded conversation played Tuesday during the corruption trial of DeKalb County CEO Burell Ellis. The Oct. 10, 2012, phone call was between Kelvin Walton, DeKalb County’s suspended director of Purchasing and Contracting, and Terry Merrell, the chief financial officer of Merrell Bros. Inc., an Indiana biosolids company that had been selected for a contract to dispose of wastewater sludge:

Kelvin Walton: How are you today?

Terry Merrell: I'm fine.

Walton: I was following up on a call that my staff told me that they had spoke (sic) with you, I think late Thursday afternoon, about you were no longer interested in having the contract for the Watershed Management Department, is that true? …I'm the director the Purchasing and Contracting Department, so I wanted to follow up with you to make sure that you were still interested in the contract and also to find out you know what happened [with] the CEO, to follow up on any interaction about the contract. …The CEO called you and asked you for a campaign contribution of about $25,000?

Merrell: Yes.

Walton: Are you sure he said $25,000, because I thought the maximum was $2,500 that a person or a company could give?

Merrell: I believe you're right. I am sure it was $25,000. It just seemed odd.

Walton: We're concerned about losing a good contractor for this project, so I wanted to find out from you exactly, you know, what they told me the CEO did, was you know, to call you and ask you to contribute to his campaign, is that correct?

Merrell: Correct, he called me out of the blue. I can't get awarded a project that was influenced in any way, by anybody for anything. I was just trying to do the job.

Walton: We were just concerned that, you know, we want contractors, we want people who win contracts, we want to make sure that we operate above board. Did he say, well I noticed that you had a contract for so many dollars?

Merrell: He said, "This is Burrell Ellis." He said, "I'm the CEO of DeKalb County," … and he said, "I just got re-elected, and I don't know that you're aware that it takes $1 million to get elected, … and we're having a fundraiser Oct. 11, and I see that you have been awarded a $4 million contract with DeKalb County, and I'd really like to count on you to come to that fundraiser and bring $25,000 as a donation." And it really caught me off-guard because I said, "Well first of all, we're not even a DeKalb County vendor because we're still trying to work through the LSBE [Local Small Business Enterprise] issue…and then [his response] was that, "I have a feeling that will get worked out," and that just sent shivers up my spine.

Walton: Yes, sir

Merrell: I was literally shaking when I got off the phone, and … then he said, "Do you want me to make a phone call?" And I said, "No, I don't want you to make a phone call," and then he said, "Well, I think I know what you mean." … When I got off the phone I called [DeKalb Purchasing and Contracting employee] Yolanda [Broome] and said … "I can't have any part in getting a contract that was influenced in any way shape or form by anybody" … I don't even know if it's legal. And it doesn't seem like it should be, but maybe it is. I don't know enough about campaign stuff… We would love to work with DeKalb County, but I want to win it fair and square … He [Ellis] said, I know what you mean. I'll call you back in a month.

Walton: If we can work everything out with the LSBE, you're willing to move forward with the contract?

Merrell: Yeah, if we get the LSBE thing figured out, and I can be convinced that this contract was not [influenced] … then yeah, we're ready to start.