Saturday, October 3, 2015

DeKalb Commissioner Misconduct: The Root of the Problem

Interim CEO of DeKalb County, Lee May, told investigators he wanted to "determine the extent of waste and abuse in county government and then to specify findings and recommendations to prevent further wrongdoing".  May spent $600,000 so far on this quest, with another $250,000 or so to be paid.  Had Lee May simply asked the DunwoodyTalk staff to 'specify' and 'recommend', we would have done so for a smaller fee, perhaps lunch at Village Burger (home to juicy hamburgers) or dinner at Mellow Mushroom (home of cold, fresh Hoegaarden on draft).

Every DeKalb commissioner has an office budget, let's call it the Commissioner Budget.  The budget is approximately $275,000 per commissioner.  

The bulk of this budget is used for salaries.  A commissioner collects about $36,000 annually for getting elected. Due to the horrendous customer service in certain departments (water), each commissioner needs one or two staff members to help do stuff.  These commissioner aides answer phones, try to resolve issues for constituents, help with scheduling, and other tasks.  An aide could make $30,000 to $100,000 each - we don't have those numbers.  The aides can be part or full time employees. This is all legal as commissioners get paid and they need office help.

Each commissioner is responsible for other expenses, and these expenses come from the $275,000 budget.  Land lines run $20 each, times three per office, and you have $720 a year in land lines.  Cell phones is another line item, if a commissioner so chooses to use a county paid cell phone.  Another line item for the office is postage.  A commissioner may choose to spend some money on consulting fees or other miscellaneous services for their district's office.  

Let's imagine a commissioner spends $200,000 on salaries and other office expenses, similar to office expenses in the public sector.  The commissioner has $75,000 left over (maybe more because if a commissioner does not spend their entire $275,000, the leftover rolls over to cover a commissioner who spends $300,000).  So, what should happen to the $75,000?  In the real world, it flows back to the general fund.  But not in DeKalb.

In DeKalb, all the commissioners, except Nancy Jester and Mereda Davis Johnson, spent money where it probably should not have been spent.  In Georgia, we have the Georgia Constitution.  Within this document is the Gratuities Clause. 

As this investigation moves upstream to the State level, an Opinion from the Attorney General will be needed to determine if the Gratuities Clause was violated by DeKalb commissioners.

The Gratuities Clause of the Georgia Constitution provides that “the General Assembly shall not have the power to grant any donation or gratuity.” Id. While this clause specifically addresses gratuities conferred by the General Assembly, it also applies to cities and counties. A gratuity is defined as “something given freely or without recompense; a gift.”  
In other words, DeKalb commissioners were (still are) giving gifts (taxpayer money)to pet programs in their districts. Many see this as vote buying or some other form of corruption.  

Lee May and several other commissioners routinely spent money on programs they felt like supporting. 

Here's a brief list of groups receiving taxpayer money, at the sole discretion of Lee May or one of the commissioners:

South DeKalb YMCA
Alliance of Innovation
Ray of Hope church
Druid Hills Athletic Association
Decatur High School Booster Club
The Arts Leadership League of GA
GA Shakespeare Festival
Senior Connections
The Civic League for Regional Atlanta
Atlanta Bicycle Foundation
GA State Univ Foundation
Leadership DeKalb
Africa's Children
Rotary of South DeKalb

The list goes on.  See it HERE. DJs, pizza, automobile fines, party supplies, and tons of other things were bought with taxpayer funds, then handed over to pet charities and projects.

This type of free spending shows a lack of control in DeKalb.  Many of these commissioners sure are generous, with OUR MONEY.  

You may look at the list of groups receiving these taxpayer gifts, and approve some or all.  What about when a commissioner gives to a group you don't support?  Can I request my commissioner donate to the NRA, Tea Party of Georgia, Right to Life, Confederate Veterans?

There are many instances to call out a commissioner on these gifts of taxpayer money.  We've selected to show a brick purchased by Commissioner Gannon's office.  The library hopefully put the funds to good use, and many folks in DeKalb probably believe a public library is a good thing.  If commissioners want a better library system, put it on an agenda and vote on it.   In this case, the DeKalb Library Foundation raised funds for improvements.  All good.  But let the private sector make the donations.

Here is the brick taxpayers bought. 

Here is what the brick should look like

 If an investigation shows this gift giving is all legal and encouraged, then I suggest Commissioner Jester donate her leftover budget funds to new city-hood initiatives and to the schools in District 1