Review and Response to the DeKalb Report of Special Investigators
In April of this year, Interim CEO Lee May took unilateral action under questionable authority to hire Mike Bowers, without a contract or budget, to serve as “Special Investigator” for DeKalb. Insofar as the County Attorney supported his authority to take this action, and given swirling scandals, I, with you awaited the results of Bowers’ investigation.
Now Bowers’ report is in, and I’m in it (as are all members of the Commission with over a year’s service). My first reaction was sticker shock ($885,000 or $22,700 per double-spaced page!) and disappointment in some sloppy errors and lack of consistent documentation. As a consequence, I’ll wait for the dust to settle on his conclusions about others. The Governor has announced a review by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that will provide some perspective, which based on his tone, I think Mr. Bowers has lost.
As it relates to me, I was offended by the tone and sweeping conclusion that working with non-profits to deliver services to DeKalb residents is evidence of corruption. With a government as dysfunctional as ours, partnering with public service organizations are often the only way we can serve residents. Below, you will find facts that refute Bowers’ assertion that my expenditures to non-profits are “gratuities”.
But I also I took a step back and explored the underlying law, and agree that we need better controls to differentiate between permissible and impermissible use of public funds; rules that if in place, would prevent the abuse that now overshadows DeKalb’s government. Because the legislature this year newly empowered the County to adopt enforceable laws governing procurement and contracting, that power is in hand, though the Administration has delayed a draft of a new purchasing code since the new law’s July 1 effective date. Also, with accusations of improper activity extending into the District Attorney’s office, now is the time to formally request an outside taskforce empowered with subpoena authority to take over the investigation.
As for the specifics of my expenditures over a six year period challenged by Bowers, each one materially advanced a tangible interest of DeKalb County, and was made within the budget for my office approved by the Governing Authority. Over the past few years, my Commission District expenditures have been scrutinized by the media, the DeKalb Ethics Board, its legal counsel and outside investigators; our annual audit, an outside special auditor, and the County Finance Department’s own Internal Audit staff. None have previously suggested anything improper in these expenditures, and I believe they stand on their own merits. It is significant that Bowers and his investigators never asked any questions about the material he received from our office, and as detailed below, made errors in the interpretation of the documents.
With those caveats, here are more details: Fully two-thirds of the cited expenditures went to entities that have existing formal relationships with DeKalb to provide contracted services and/or, supplement County operations. For instance, Senior Connections contracts with DeKalb to provide Meals on Wheels, and operates senior centers, with my expenditures increasing that service delivery in response to federal budget cuts. Park Pride contracts with DeKalb, is paid to support Friends of Parks citizen organizations and also makes grants from other sources to improve DeKalb parks. My expenditures supplemented neighborhood contributions and Park Pride grants to make improvements. Eighty-six percent of my expenditures were for specific work products with tangible deliverables – a fee for service. For instance, the DeKalb History Center produced a survey of Ranch House subdivisions, a popular architectural form now eligible for County historic district designation. Eleven percent was for membership in organizations that provided my office valuable information and technical support on issues critical to constituents like pedestrian safety and watershed protection, or for registration at events where the topic was relevant to DeKalb, like the Georgia state budget. That leaves three percent of the questionable expense for things like youth athletics or police life insurance. While there wasn’t a quid-pro-quo return, your money delivered direct and incremental benefit towards a public purpose.
Finally, Bowers excerpted a finding of the Plunkett and Company Audit of Commission Office Expenditures that noted only 77% of my P-card transactions had supporting documentation. The fact that the undocumented transactions were over five years old and were purged in compliance with DeKalb’s Document Retention Policy was noted in my response to that audit, but Bowers failed to acknowlege that exception. Comm. Gannon and I sponsored the resolution instituting the outside audit he cites.
DeKalb needs a cleanup, and Bowers’ report generates a lot of heat but not so much of the light that is essential to reform. More significant is our lagging progress in implementing the reform package advanced through the 2015 legislature by the citizens of Blueprint DeKalb. Laws requiring the adoption of a purchasing code and the installation of independent Audit Oversight were effective July 1, but our leadership has not yet implemented these important laws. Ethics Reform is on the November 3rd Ballot for ratification by voters. Citizens must stay engaged over the long term to insure their interests are served, and that DeKalb is reformed, but it looks like we will have to wait for the smoke to clear to see the way forward.
|District Two Expenditures Alleged By Mr. Bowers to be Suspicious:|
|DeKalb Historical Society 2009||$6,000||Actually DeKalb History Center. Fee for service producing an inventory and evaluation of DeKalb Ranch House neighborhoods conducted upon their eligibility for historic district designation to assist the public in considering forming an historic district.|
|Decatur Bulldogs Booster Club 2009 – 2013||$475||Half of $950, sponsoring youth athletics/split with Super District 6.|
|Druid Hills Athletic Foundation 2009 – 2013||$525||Half of $1050, sponsoring youth athletics/split with Super District 6.|
|The Arts Leadership League of Georgia October 21, 2009||$2,500||Fee for Service. Project expense for supplementing capacity of DeKalb’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department.|
|Northlake Community Alliance, Inc. 2009 – 2013||$2,500||Membership over five years. The NCA served as a liaison between business and surround neighborhoods and led to the successful creation of the Livable Centers Initiative, zoning overlay district and ultimately the Northlake Tucker CID. Disbanded on CID’s formation.|
|Georgia Shakespeare Festival December 20, 2010||$1,000||Project expense to provide theater programming for DeKalb children.|
|Senior Connections, Inc. 2010 – 2013||$2,500||Project expense to subsidize programming and increase meals for DeKalb low income seniors.|
|DeKalb County Police Alliance 2011 – 2012||$500||Half of $1,000 sponsorship of Beat the Badge 5K run, funding DeKalb Law Enforcement Life Insurance Policies/split with Super District 6.|
|PEDS February 23, 2011||$1,000||Fee for service to underwrite a Buford Highway Pedestrian Safety Audit and report to GDOT.|
|Georgia Budget & Policy Institute December 4, 2012||$500||Membership. GPBI provides valuable information to our office on Georgia budgetary policy and its impact on local government service delivery.|
|DeKalb Historical Society November 20, 2012||$75||Membership|
|DeKalb Library Foundation February, 2012||$250||Expenditure for books in DeKalb Libraries.|
|Cross Keys Foundation, Inc. July 3, 2012||$1,000||Expenditure to support disadvantaged student travel to National Science Technology competition for Cross Keys HS Solar Car Challenge Team.|
|Leadership DeKalb, Inc. August 24, 2012||$3,200||Tuition for a member of our staff to participate in Leadership DeKalb.|
|Park Pride Atlanta, Inc. January 3, 2012||$10,000||Expenditure for improvements to County Parks, matching community fundraising.|
|Park Pride Atlanta, Inc. December 28, 2012||$10,000||Expenditure for improvements to County Parks, matching community fundraising.|
|South River Watershed Alliance August 19, 2013||$150||Event Registration|
|Atlanta Area Agency on Aging July 9, 2013||$250||Event Registration|
|DeKalb Library Foundation March 1, 2011||$65||Event Registration|
|Atlanta Bicycle Foundation January 26, 2012||$100||Actually Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. Membership|
|The Civic League for Regional Atlanta March, 2012||$40||Event Registration|
|South River Watershed Alliance August 19, 2013||$150||Duplicate Error (see above)|
|PEDS December 15, 2014||$500||Membership|
|Senior Connections December 19, 2014||$500||Project expense to subsidize programming and increase meals for DeKalb low income seniors.|
|Atlanta Bicycle Coalition December 19, 2014||$250||Membership|
|Georgia Budget & Policy Institute December 19, 2014||$250||Membership|
|Georgia River Network December 19, 2014||$100||Membership in support of DeKalb water resources|
|DeKalb Historical Society December 19, 2014||$125||Membership|
|The South Fork Conservancy, Inc. December 23, 2014||$100||Membership in support of DeKalb water resources.|
|Park Pride December 21, 2013||$200||Membership|
|Just Give March, 2014||$26||Membership for DeKalb Citizen Advocacy in support of citizens with developmental disabilities working with ordinary citizens.|
|Georgia Budget & Policy Institute December 6, 2013||$500||Membership|
|PEDS December 6, 2013||$500||Membership|
|DeKalb Historical Society December 6, 2013||$75||Membership|
|Georgia River Network December 6, 2013||$35||Membership|
|Net Progression, Inc. 2008 – 2009||$5,000||Fee for service. Official Web-site maintenance.|
|Davis Fox Multiple||$6,000||Fee for service to develop a feasibility analysis for a Community Improvement District in the I-85 Corridor. Work completed prior to Mr. Fox’s County employment.|
|Total “suspicious” per Bowers (corrected for shared expenditures):||$56,941|
|Expenditures with organizations with whom the County has other contracts or other agreements for service delivery||68%|
|Expenditures for specific project expenses, improvements, or service delivery in DeKalb||86%|
|Expenditures for membership or event registration with organizations active on issues critical to DeKalb||11%|
|Observations of the Plunkett Audit of Commission Expenditures: “District Two expenses included 424 transactions, with 77% supported by receipts. However, 23% of the charges were not included on the transaction logs.”||The 23% undocumented fell outside of DeKalb’s 5-year document retention policy and were previously purged per that policy.|