More than a few things are rotten in DeKalb County

Mike Bowers releases a explosive corruption report on DeKalb County at Balch & Bingham LLP, Sept. 30, Atlanta. (AJC Photo / Curtis Compton)

Mike Bowers releases a explosive corruption report on DeKalb County at Balch & Bingham LLP, Sept. 30, Atlanta. (AJC Photo / Curtis Compton)

An investigation of corruption and fraud in DeKalb County turned up more than half a million dollars in possibly illegal spending, ethical lapses and stonewalling of public documents.

And if you think that’s bad, wait ‘til you get a load of what goes on in DeKalb that’s legal.

The report revealed this past week by Mike Bowers and Richard Hyde didn’t quite deliver the bombshells anticipated from a probe that lasted more than six months, for which they’re expected to bill the county some $850,000. Were the details troubling? Absolutely. “Appalling” and “stunning” and “sinister,” as the investigators put it? Not quite.

We may find there’s more to the accusations once Bowers and Hyde turn their evidence over to state and/or federal prosecutors. By all means, corruption and fraud on any scale — widespread or narrow, in big chunks of money or a nickel here and a dime there — should be prosecuted. Let’s not belittle that.

But neither let us ignore the “rot” in DeKalb that’s perfectly legal.

Where to start? Just two months ago, DeKalb commissioners approved spending $12 million of taxpayer money to attract a training complex for billionaire Arthur Blank’s new soccer team. That’s beyond the value of the land involved, estimated at $5 million, and a 30-year property-tax abatement on it worth a projected $540,000 annually. The vote came after commissioners refused to take public comments.

That, in one fell swoop, is many times more money than DeKalb employees may have misspent over the course of seven or eight years — albeit a fraction of the hundreds of millions Blank got for his stadium in Atlanta or the Braves got for their ballpark in Cobb, or even what Gwinnett shelled out for a minor-league stadium. Maybe it’ll yield some economic development in a blighted corridor overshadowed by the county jail, maybe not. But it’s just money, right?

Then there’s the DeKalb Ethics Board (oxymoron alert) and its kid-gloves treatment of Commissioner Stan Watson. No one disputes Watson voted to award a $1 million contract to a firm, APD Solutions, and later to increase the contract by 50 percent, while receiving $500 a month to give the firm “strategic advice.” But nor did a majority of the Ethics Board deem the conflict-of-interest deserving of more than a reprimand.

Everyday versions of “rot,” from slow-as-Christmas zoning and permitting to undetectable policing in some areas, have sparked a cityhood movement to improve some of these basic services. If referenda on the creation of Tucker and LaVista Hills succeed at the ballot box next month, nearly all of northern DeKalb will be part of one city or another, all in an effort to gain at least some measure of relief from county incompetence.

And let’s not even get into the county’s school system, which is so bad some residents wonder if they wouldn’t be better off as part of, yes, Atlanta Public Schools.

Taken together, the illegal and the legal, the corruption and the incompetence, the cronyism and the neglect, DeKalb is one of only four counties in Georgia where real median household income peaked in 1969, according to a Washington Post review of census data last year.

That might not be criminal, strictly speaking. But it’s an indictment of county leadership that won’t be fixed by a few resignations or prosecutions.

Reader Comments 0

40 comments
Wascatlady
Wascatlady

If you think a meeting or program needs flowers, pick them out of your own garden.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

If a taxpayer believes the money spent is money the government produces, they'll remain apathetic.

If a taxpayer realizes that the money is theirs, they'll bring about change by DEMANDING accountability. 

TicTacs
TicTacs

@FIGMO2 If the money was theirs,  they would still have it.

M H Smith
M H Smith

Your closing line Kyle brought to mind this quote: 

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing"

GlobeTrttr
GlobeTrttr

Having chosen Tucker recently to settle as close as possible to Midtown within my budget (as opposed to new construction in Cherokee County, or similar), I'm pulling for a continuation of the cityhood movements in LaVista Hills and Tucker.  Having local people govern locally seems to be what people want to insulate them from the cronyism of obscure big county government.  Worked for Decatur, seems to be working in Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, and Brookhaven. 

The demographics around me seem to have a lot of the original residents who moved here 40 years ago still living in their same houses, though it is also a biological fact of life that these things are changing too.  Younger folks are moving in and renovating the 1960’s ranches and split-levels.  And with that come kids who will need schools, and with that you get a whole new demographic of home owners unseen in decades who actively care more about local government again. 

I hope this indictment results in a complete purge of the county’s government so that it can be rebuilt.

Starik
Starik

@GlobeTrttr People with kids in Tucker will not be satisfied with schools filled with kids from outside Tucker, 60% of them on the free lunch program.  Unless the Republicans in charge enable Tucker to create its own school system, like Decatur, Tucker will become Memorial Drive.

straker
straker

juanx - "it is written by Kyle"


Jay also wrote one a few days ago.

Robert1959
Robert1959

The problem with Dekalb County is not the location (within minutes from downtown Atlanta) but the people who live there.  Other counties across the USA had worst experiences but found away to re-invest in where they want to live.  For example DeKalb County is prime real estate (big houses on 1-1/2 acre lots with access to parks and interstates 85, 285, 400) for gentrification.  It is just a matter of time before people (families, senior citizens, college students) look at DeKalb County as a great place to live, work and play.  If you need more examples just look at other cities across the USA (NY, DC, Chicago, Charlotte, etc.) who are taking advantage of the rebounding housing market and cashing in.  Nobody really wants to live in the suburbs unless they have access to Atlanta the "hub" supporting all the counties that surround the City.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Robert1959 North DeKalb is a lot different from mid and south DeKalb. Homes in the north have recovered their value and some have increased beyond that by 25% in value. Mid except for Decatur is a hell hole, esp Memorial Dr. South DeKalb overbuilt and also has a crime problem causing home values to be stagnant at best.

bu2
bu2

@RoadScholar @Robert1959

Druid Hills, Oak Grove, Avondale Estates, "hell holes?"


Hate to see what you would describe midtown, inman park and parts of Buckhead as.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

DeKalb has been sliding downhill for a long time, real estate agents in the know steer out of town customers away from DeKalb and toward safer communities, what's left are low information voters who keep electing the same old sleazy candidates, nothing will change because most all the decent folks have already left the County 

Dusty2
Dusty2

@Infraredguy


NO, most of the decent citizens of DeKalb County have NOT left.  They are desperately trying to set higher standards and keep them enforced. 


Gradually, those who  vote for the shady characters will realize that they too are being cheated by crooks, that their taxes are being dumped to the crooked politicians in small and large clumps, that their freedom as equal Americans is NOT equal or fair.


IN Atlanta city school, the parents and others  stood up and said NO MORE.  They changed it.  The law was remembered and enforced. 


That is what is needed in DeKalb.  An uprising of protests over theft and partiality of all kinds.  There are still enough "decent" citizens to do that.  Kyle is working for us with his honest commentaries.  .

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

Then there’s the DeKalb Ethics Board (oxymoron alert) and its kid-gloves treatment of Commissioner Stan Watson.

Hehehehhahahahha! Did not know you had it in you Kyle! Please expose them for what they are! Man that is twice in one week I have had to co-sign on some good stuff by you!

Dusty2
Dusty2

If Commissioner Elaine Boyer was sent to jail soon after her crime was discovered, why can't the county move NOW to convict some of these people?  There has been an investigation.  Will these criminals grow OLD before the exact legal measures are taken and retribution is enacted?


Do we have a legal system or NOT?  It does not seem to be working and why is that?  Because the crooks are running it?


Someone, anyone,  MOVE IT!!

aep
aep

@Dusty2 The statute of limitations is running out on the rest of the crimes listed in the 2012 Grand Jury's report. So far only Burrell Ellis has been prosecuted.


Tick tick tick...

Lukasatl
Lukasatl

$500 for a pocket commissioner? going cheap these days.

bu2
bu2

Kathie Gannon sent off an e-mail with detail of her expenditures in the list and a description of what was done and why.  She was very transparent.  And also oblivious to the concept that one commissioner with a blank check shouldn't be able to just throw money around because it makes some of her constituents happy.


There's just a culture with a lack of accountability and a lack of respect for the taxpayer's money.


Hopefully LaVista Hills and Tucker will be passed and get some of that money away from the county commissioners and CEO and into an entity with a more accountable structure.

TicTacs
TicTacs

Sounds like congress

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Georgia needs an analog to the Opportunity School District for counties like Dekalb.

WhiteRedOne
WhiteRedOne

The next election is 13 months away, and the names of qualified honest citizens are already being discussed in DeKalb county.

bu2
bu2

@WhiteRedOne

Probably by the powers to be in an effort to stop them from running.

SaveTucker
SaveTucker

@Infraredguy @WhiteRedOne DeKalb residents have been stuck here due to the fact that the home values were not allowing for a sale of a home without taking a personal financial loss.  We might want out, but not that badly.  It's the one time when residents might actually realize that it is actually cheaper to stay and fight back rather than flee to greener grass calling from other pastures (or nearby counties).

Cogito Ergo Erras
Cogito Ergo Erras

"That might not be criminal, strictly speaking. But it’s an indictment of county leadership that won’t be fixed by a few resignations or prosecutions."

And THIS is exactly why we need to do away with sovereign immunity. People is government are NOT really accountable for their actions like you and me and everyone else. And that is a BIG problem that has existed since the founding of our country.  

straker
straker

"an indictment of county leadership"


I suspect the corruption and fraud is every bit as bad as advertised.


So, I was surprised that Jay seemed to think these charges are overblown.


I wonder why he thinks that?

Juanx
Juanx

@straker ...I just re-reviewed the author of this article...it is written by Kyle Wingfield.

trueno815
trueno815

And after they get out of prison, they will be re-elected.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Yep, Dekalb is in need of some good leadership and ethics overhauls. 


Can the cityhood movement actually help those citizens overcome the incompetence in the county? Or will the same ol' same ol' happen in those new cities too? 

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@LogicalDude @LogicalDude  In Brookhaven, more street overlays, curb replacement, sidewalks, and attention to infrastructure and parks have occurred in 3 years than in the past 10-20 years under the county. Our millage rate for the city has gone down twice covering these city functions. Our rainy day surplus is at $3 million.

We do not have to travel to Decatur at rush hour to gain access to meetings and our elected officials. One County Commissioner has about 10-12,000 constituents as opposed to a county commissioner having over 50,000 to answer to. DeKalb still does not adequately fund public works or parks, let alone their other fiscal and ethical issues.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Sounds more like a criminal enterprise than a functioning government.  Too bad the governor can't just vacate all elected positions, and have them run again for their office, if they claim they aren't culpable.

mowogo
mowogo

I've come to the realization that Dekalb County government as an independant unit, needs to cease to exist.  The rot goes far too deep for just a simple cleaning.  The cities actually make it easier to do.  Dream would be to allow the northern cities to merge with North Fulton, re-form Milton county with the north Deaklb cities, Allow the rest of Fulton to become a consolidated government like Athens Clarke county, Stonecrest gets to vote on cityhood, or becoming unincorporated Rockdale county, South Dekalb can become its own city, or be integrated into the consolidated Atlanta government.  There would be a lot of work to figure out how to handle every bit of the destruction of Dekalb as a single government unit, but at this point, that is the only solution

steveatl
steveatl

I agree - it's time to clean house in Dekalb.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Watson should be fired/resign. May , unless he comes "clean", apologizes, and has the DA investigate Watershed Management immediately and thoroughly, should resign. The Commissioners should pay back any money in 30 days wrongly spent , or they should resign. 90% of the misspending was on their tab/actions. Others should be given a week to prove they repaid the money, or repay the money or be fired.

Get off your butts. Prove you are innocent. If not leave Dekalb Government...now.