Opinion: DeKalb contracting deal rightly raises questions about appropriateness

A DeKalb County Department of Watershed Management traffic cone is placed along the construction site where a water issue caused a brief outage on Mt. Olive Drive in Decatur on Jan. 11, 2019. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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A DeKalb County Department of Watershed Management traffic cone is placed along the construction site where a water issue caused a brief outage on Mt. Olive Drive in Decatur on Jan. 11, 2019. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

THE EDITORIAL BOARD’S OPINION

DeKalb County continues to do business with a company connected to a woman who’s pleaded guilty of conspiring to defraud the federal government of millions in pandemic relief money.

This is the latest of too many examples of what happens when government behaves in ways that erode citizen confidence.

In an exclusive report Monday in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, we reported that DeKalb has made payments to CamKen Consulting as recently as last month as part of the county’s work to address long-running problems with its sewer system.

The company’s founder, Chandra Norton, was indicted in 2020. Federal prosecutors accused her and another, unnamed person of using federal Paycheck Protection Program money for personal purchases, including a $172,000 Range Rover. Prosecutors say more than $7.8 million in loan payouts were made.

Norton was charged with a single count of federal wire fraud conspiracy. She pleaded guilty, awaits sentencing and is cooperating with federal authorities.

CamKen Consulting was founded in 2001 and our reporting found it listed on various DeKalb County contracts since at least 2015. The company’s work involves water and sewer projects that are part of DeKalb’s $2 billion program to address the county’s aging and long-neglected wastewater systems.

For their part, DeKalb County officials say that Norton no longer owns the company and has not profited from any work in the county for about two years.

That’s plausible -- as far as it goes.

However, documents obtained by this newspaper through the Georgia Open Records Act suggest, as we reported, that Norton “merely transferred her ownership stake in the company to her husband, as the company continued performing work for the county’s historically scandal-plagued water and sewer departments.”

In a statement, the county said it had “taken steps to obtain current documentation of the various ownership interests to protect the best interests of the county” and that “the Administration is taking further steps to ensure that Ms. Norton will not be eligible to work on any DeKalb County contracts until she has paid her debt to society.”

Given all this, county taxpayers are right to wonder how this could happen.

In this time of shaky confidence – if not outright distrust – of government, the county should go above and beyond in ensuring that expenditures of taxpayer money are appropriate and beyond reproach.

The Editorial Board.