DeKalb County Commissioner Kathie Gannon responded to a controversial report on county corruption in an Oct. 2 email, saying that all her expenditures cited in the report were for the “public good.”
“All are services that are a priority to our citizens, and the expenditures I have made are for specific needs, not some unrestricted contribution for a tax exemption,” Gannon wrote in the email to constituents of her Super District 6, which includes Brookhaven and Dunwoody.
The report by investigators Mike Bowers and Richard Hyde listed “questionable spending” and “suspicious charges” by Gannon and various other officials. Gannon’s email includes a point-by-point explanation of each spending item cited in the report. She also describes Bowers and Hyde’s investigation as “not legal and an example of poor management” by Interim CEO Lee May and says that various county government reforms are already in the works.
Gannon acknowledged one minor personal-spending item that came to her attention through the report: A $7.75 Jimmy John’s sandwich that staff bought for her. “I recently paid it back upon learning about it,” she wrote.
Gannon’s full response, edited only for style and typographical errors, is as follows:
The Bowers Report was released this week and there are many conversations that will need to continue. First, I need to converse with you as a listing of some of my expenses has been included. This will also be sent to Mr. Bowers, the GBI, FBI, attorney general and governor.
As a County Commissioner serving the public, my duties include supporting my community. Among the ways I support my community are my office’s constituent services, public appearances, community meetings, dissemination of information and—when appropriate and when manifestly in the public interest—expenditures from the commission discretionary budget intended to facilitate these things I do to support the community. My constituents expect this sort of involvement, and I am confident that they approve what I do. Each commission office, which operates much like a separate department, is allocated the same budget amount.
At the outset of this investigation I did two things. First, I requested a meeting with Mr. Bowers, where I pledged my full cooperation and agreement to provide any information he sought. All supporting records or documents that were requested were delivered. It was my hope he would delve deeper, especially into Watershed, where previous attempts to investigate were sidetracked, and into those expenditures for which there is no work product. Second, I notified ICEO Lee May and our county attorney and the public that without a contract, scope of service and adherence to budgetary policy, controls and procurement procedures, this venture was not legal and an example of poor management. It is unfortunate that the citizens of the county had to pay over $800,000.
Mr. Bowers takes a very hard line against contributions to nonprofit organizations. As you will see in my expenditures report that follows, the nonprofits are organizations that the county contracts with to run our senior centers, enhance our parks or help our libraries and school programs. All are services that are a priority to our citizens, and the expenditures I have made are for specific needs, not some unrestricted contribution for a tax exemption. I will work with the county attorney to clarify this issue, as there are few guidelines in a discretionary budget. At the same time, the assertion that state legislators and elected officials are not allowed to make small grants for good public purposes is unusual. The question, it seems to me, is whether or not the grants are genuinely for the public good, not whether or not the grants are made.
Citizens should take some comfort in knowing that the reform legislation that I helped to initiate last year is coming to fruition. The county is establishing an Independent Internal Auditor that will be in place soon. In November, citizens will have the opportunity to vote on a stronger and more independent Ethics Commission. And new purchasing and procurement policies will be codified into law very soon. It is citizen advocacy that made this happen. Please do not give up.
In a spirit of full governmental transparency, here are details on the items listed in the recent report by former Attorney General Bowers. Any constituents who want to learn more know that they only need to phone me. Thank you.
Bleakly Advisory Group, Nov. 10, 2008: $3,220
Development of the Briarcliff Tax Allocation District (TAD) Study and public hearing presentation prior to adoption of DeKalb County TAD #3 Briarcliff/North Druid Hills Resolution adopted by the board in December 2007. A primary duty of the commission is as a policy-making or rule-making body, regulating land use and adopting ordinances and resolutions for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens. A TAD is a legal and financial tool that relates as much to economic development as to planning. The DeKalb County Planning Department does not possess the financial, legal or economic specialty expertise to prepare such studies.
Coles Italian Ice, Nov. 5, 2008: $400
During a hot summer visit to a senior center, we decided to distribute ice cream. (Nov. 5 refers to the date the invoice was received and paid.) The five neighborhood senior centers in DeKalb are operated by Senior Connections through a contract with DeKalb County. Four of the centers are in District 6. Their funding is paid for with grants through the Atlanta Regional Commission and DeKalb County. There are no frills, program expenses or extras provided for by the state or county. We had Coles Italian Ice provide each center with some ice cream. $100 was provided for each center. There were approximately 50 seniors in each center at the time.
Net Progression, Inc., 2008-2009: $5,000
The first District 6 website was designed with access control by the provider/host. $2,500 per year for two years: 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. No website service was provided by the county.
Druid Hills H.S. Foundation, 2008 – 2013: $1,800
The actual amount is $1,200. Our schools establish foundations to help provide items for the children that the school budget does not cover. Two high schools (Druid Hills and Decatur) that are in Districts 6 and 2 requested support. My budget did not allow for this assistance last year.
Lynwood Park Community Assoc., April 10, 2009: $100
Lynwood Park was a historic African American community that annually held a Lynwood Park Day to celebrate their heritage. The contribution was to help provide food for the festival day.
Georgia Institute of Technology, June 11, 2009: $6,435
Graduate Co-Op student internship. Travis Grubb worked for one semester analyzing and learning about the policy-making aspect of planning and zoning. It is my practice to provide jobs and experience opportunities to college students whenever possible. It is a valuable learning opportunity for our youth and a great asset to the citizens of DeKalb. As a “Department” head I have the latitude to provide this type of augmentation for staffing the office and provide a community service.
Senior Connections, Inc., 2009-2013: $1,980
Senior Connections is the county contract provider of senior services for our five neighborhood senior centers. Four of the Centers are in District 6. They are paid through a state grant. The county provides very little local tax-funded support for our senior program. Every year, District 6 provides a needed item to each of the four centers at Christmas time. Items included a camera, Wii Fit computer exercise programs, and a cord-bundling system for one center’s computer room. The 2012 purchase is documented below under a purchase at CVS. No donation went to Senior Connections, Inc.
DeKalb County Police Alliance, 2011-2012: $1,100
The amount is incorrect; it is $725. The DeKalb County Police Alliance provides a $100,000 life insurance policy for all full-time sworn officers in the county. They are starting new programming to focus on educational rebates and training. Two donations were made to their signature “Beat the Badge” race event.
DeKalb Historical Society, Nov. 17, 2011: $3,000
An oral history project of the Fork Creek Mountain Park, an area steeped in history and located within the Soapstone Ridge archaeological site. The land later became part of a 1,200-acre farm. DeKalb County acquired the initial 35 acres in 1980 in an effort to save some of the significant soapstone quarry sites. A later owner of part of the farm property sold their 10 acres to the county as development began to take over the area. The historic barn structure was lost to a fire and the homes have been demolished, but the history of the antebellum farm and one of the first murders in the new city of Atlanta live on, thanks to this history. I continue to work with the Parks Department to develop this area for the passive park it was purchased to be and will then develop an exhibit for the history. See also The DeKalb History Center “Times of DeKalb,” Summer 2012, “The Bird Farm’s Strange Story.”
DeKalb Library Foundation, 2011 and 2013: $3,000
The Library Foundation provides resources for literary services and material collections to our libraries, which are sorely needed since their materials budget has been decimated in the county’s budget. I became aware of the Scottdale Tobie Grant Library after-school Homework Helper Program, which serves disadvantaged youth. The center has many needs and I try to supplement their small budget, up to $1,000 per year, whenever my district budget will allow. The Foundation simply collects the money for the library system, and I did not take any tax deductions.
Decatur Bulldogs Booster Club, 2009-2013: $950
Our schools establish foundations to help provide for items for the children that the school budget does not cover. Two high schools (Druid Hills and Decatur) that are in Districts 6 and 2 requested support and the amount is over six years. My budget did not allow for this assistance last year.
Turkheimer and Hadden, LLC, Dec. 7, 2012: $5,000
For legal research related to commission work.
DeKalb Library Foundation (Exhibit F), May 25, 2012: $100
This is Exhibit F in the report. The Foundation, as noted above, raises funds to supplement an inadequate library budget. I thought the buy-a-brick campaign was an innovative way to raise funds. Even though this library is not in District 6, I felt it was worthy of our $100 tax-dollar support to encourage others to give.
Poplar Springs Baptist Church (gift card), April 2013: $50
This was a contribution of water for their annual Health Walk, as they were trying to combat obesity and promote activity.
Fred Mucci (guitarist/vocalist), April 2013: $250
The Green Expo was an annual conference sponsored by DeKalb County, District 6 and other jurisdictions. It included workshops, lectures, entertainment and an exhibition by vendors of green products from around the county. Vendors provided samples and exhibits. We provided the venue, snacks, PR and signage, and at this particular Expo, background music in the snack/children’s area.
Blue Soda, April 10, 2013: $360
At the Green Expo, vendors provided samples; we provided the bags, purchased from Blue Soda Promo, which were used by participants to carry everything, including program information from county departments. A donation of actual bags was not available in 2013.
QuikTrip (gift card), May 2, 2013: $100
The South Precinct, in my district, initiated a Police Appreciation Day and needed a prize for the event. The gas gift card was a prize for a citizen attendee.
Park Pride Atlanta, Inc., May 1, 2013: $6,000
DeKalb County has a contractual agreement with Park Pride Atlanta, Inc. to coordinate Friends of Parks (FOP) volunteer programs for the beautification and maintenance of our parks. Park Pride helps raise private-sector funds for area parks, in addition to other responsibilities. They raise money from private sources for grants to parks with active FOP groups who make an application and receive endorsement from our Parks and Recreation Department. The goal of the grant program is to help communities build capacity in taking on park improvements. As a commissioner, I actively promote and foster the development of a Friends of Parks (FOP) volunteer group for every District 6 park as a much-needed health and general welfare service for our citizens. I contribute to the FOP park project that has an approved project as a way to encourage continued involvement. The money goes to the park. There is no tax-deduction and the project is a direct benefit to citizens.
DeKalb Library, Dec. 19, 2013: $1,000
This is a repeat of the same support for the Homework Helper Program at Tobie Grant Library. The Library Foundation provides resources for literary services and material collections to our libraries, which are sorely needed since their material budget has been decimated in the county’s budget. The Homework Helper Program serves disadvantaged youth. The center has many needs and I try to supplement their small budget whenever my district budget will allow. This year was for books.
Target (gift card), Dec. 19, 2013: $100
Actual amount was $200 for two gift cards to support the holiday gift contribution for two DeKalb County children in foster care, gift drives by DeKalb County CASA and DeKalb County Child Advocacy Center.
CVS Pharmacy (gift cards), Dec. 7, 2012: $1,000
Senior Connections is the county contract provider of senior services for our five neighborhood senior centers. Four of the Centers are in District 6. They are paid through a state grant. The County provides very little local tax-funded support for our senior program. Every year at Christmas time, District 6 provides a needed item to each of the four centers. In this year, the items were purchased by the centers using Visa gift cards for the specific purchase of two microwave ovens, a printer and a stereo.
Kroger (gift card), Dec. 6, 2012: $100
A food gift card to the Mountain View Personal Care Home, a county-owned nursing home for indigent seniors.
Jimmy John’s, Jan. 14, 2014: $7.75
Staff purchased a sandwich for me due to a full Commission-related work schedule. I recently paid it back upon learning about it. Check #10257.
Davis Fox, Dec. 1, 2010: $2,000
Prior to him joining my staff in 2011, Mr. Fox was paid as an independent contractor to finish organization of the 2010 Green Expo. His duties included:
- Recruiting and qualifying potential vendors
- Working with the Georgia Perimeter College Facilities Management personnel to reserve the location and make meeting arrangements
- Assisting vendors with set-up and break-down.
- Organizing door prizes by finding donations
- Coordinating with various trade organizations and partners to promote the event and increase attendance
Harriet Hollis, 2008-2010: $4,000
Harriet Hollis provided research, writing, updates to the District 6 legislative website and written information for launch of Green Commission. Paid at a rate of $50 per hour over a period of three years, for a total of $3,400. Her contract was for a time period following the 2008 election, while I was serving as Commissioner, and it directly related to that work. No county funds were used in my campaign.
PRISM, Multiple: $600
$150 per year contribution toward the annual Firefighters and Police Officers Holiday Luncheon in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. This annual event is open to all public safety workers in DeKalb County. Pride Rings in Stone Mountain (PRISM) is a community organization of neighborhoods to promote and advocate for their Stone Mountain area. To my knowledge, they are not a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. They sponsor the Annual Holiday Appreciation Luncheon.
This is a small amount of money, but a significant way to show appreciation to our public safety staff who risk their lives every day for the protection of all DeKalb County citizens. Mr. Arrington, noted in the report, is a founder of PRISM, but is not their operator. Also, the Arringtons supported my opponent in the last election.
Rita Morgan, 2010: $2,171
After Ms. Morgan left full-time staff position and before she moved, she was retained on a contract basis to provide technical support to the DeKalb County Green Commission. Duties included research in the field of sustainable resources; planning and coordinating Green Commission sponsored events; attending all Green Commission meetings; and providing administrative support related to the Green Commission and District 6 staff. When she left this contracted position, Mr. Fox was contracted with to finish staffing the Green Expo that year.