DeKalb County’s government is “rotten to the core,” according to investigators hired by the county. Investigators Mike Bowers, the former state attorney general, and Richard Hyde reported in a letter to Interim CEO Lee May that they had found widespread waste and fraud throughout county government, including an apparent “bribery scheme involving a major county department.”
“The DeKalb County government we have found is rotten to the core,” Bowers and Hyde wrote. “The misconduct starts at the top and has infected nearly every department we have looked at.”
Their final report has not been completed. We asked District 2 County Commissioner Jeff Rader, whose district includes parts of Brookhaven, what he thought of the claims made in the letter.
Were you surprised by Bowers’ statements?
I have no factual context to evaluate Bowers’ pronouncements, and was not aware that this summary report would be circulated. I look forward to his comprehensive report, and to the explanations provided by those whom he faults. ICEO May commissioned Bowers’ engagement, and I would have thought that Bowers’ work products would have been structured in the engagement. I am surprised at the presumptuous tone of ICEO May’s renouncement of Bowers’ conclusions.
How should the county handle Mr. Bowers’ investigation now and once it is completed?
I believe that DeKalb should formally request an outside investigation under the control of the State of Georgia, and under the color of law, so that formal evidence can be obtained in support of indictments if warranted. Mr. Bowers may also have useful recommendations on needed changes in county operating procedures that would correct bad practices that do not rise to a criminal level, and if so, we should reform county practices in response in order to rebuild public trust.
What’s your perception of the status of corruption in DeKalb County? And what’s your take on what’s going on with Bowers and May, and on Bowers’ investigation?
Several elected and appointed officials have been indicted and convicted of crimes, mostly by the US Attorney. The Superior Court Special Grand Jury that completed work in 2013 recommended many targets of investigations that, to my knowledge have not been acted upon. There is likely work remaining to clean things up, but law enforcement is silent on their activities. With reference to the Bowers investigation, I believe that an outside investigation under the color of law would have been more appropriate. ICEO May issued, and then amended the Executive Order establishing the Bowers Investigation, and appears to have issued further direction to Mr. Bowers on what departments to investigate. Such input by an interested party that also controls the resources available to the investigation is fraught with problems.
What should the county do now? Should it clean house or wait for the criminal justice system to get involved? If officials want to act quickly, how should you go about it?
Criminal actions are the proper focus of law enforcement activity, and the county cannot intercede. I would expect that if Bowers has evidence documenting such, he has already alerted law enforcement, and that law enforcement will inform the public of steps that they are taking. Those who are formally accused of crimes are to be suspended from employment pending resolution of their cases, according to the county’s personnel code. Suspension, termination and the exaction of restitution would be an appropriate course for those found guilty. Reform of processes that lack accountability or transparency should be a top policy priority of every DeKalb elected official in order to re-establish public trust. Also, every elected official in DeKalb should go the extra mile to insure that the public is well informed of their actions and transactions, and that the public has every opportunity to offer input into county decisions.