DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader

DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader

DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader has issued a detailed response to claims of his “questionable spending” and “suspicious charges” made in Mike Bowers and Richard Hyde’s controversial report on county government spending and corruption.

“DeKalb needs a cleanup, and Bowers’ report generates a lot of heat, but not so much of the light that is essential to reform,” writes Rader, whose District 2 includes Brookhaven. The response also includes a point-by-point explanation of the expenditures cited in the report and how they relate to county needs or improvements.

Rader also calls for a full outside investigation with subpoena powers and implementation of ethics reform laws.

Rader’s full response, edited only for style and typographical errors, is as follows:

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 nonprofits to deliver services to DeKalb residents is evidence of corruption. With a government as dysfunctional as ours, partnering with public service organizations is often the only way we can serve residents. Below, you will find facts that refute Bowers’ assertion that my expenditures to nonprofits 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 task force 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 3 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 percent 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 acknowledge that exception. Commissioner 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 Nov. 3 ballot for ratification by voters. Citizens must stay engaged over the long term to ensure 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 $1,050, sponsoring youth athletics, split with Super District 6.

The Arts Leadership League of Georgia, Oct. 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, Dec. 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, Feb. 23, 2011: $1,000

Fee for service to underwrite a Buford Highway Pedestrian Safety Audit and report to GDOT.

Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, Dec. 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, Nov. 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 High School Robotics Team.

Leadership DeKalb, Inc., Aug. 24, 2012: $3,200

Tuition for a member of our staff to participate in Leadership DeKalb.

Park Pride Atlanta, Inc., Jan. 3, 2012: $10,000

Expenditure for improvements to County parks, matching community fundraising.

Park Pride Atlanta, Inc., Dec. 28, 2012: $10,000

Expenditure for improvements to County parks, matching community fundraising.

South River Watershed Alliance, Aug. 19, 2013: $150

Membership.

Atlanta Area Agency on Aging, July 9, 2013: $250

Event registration.

DeKalb Library Foundation, March 1, 2011: $65

Event registration.

Atlanta Bicycle Foundation, Jan. 26, 2012: $100

Actually Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.  Membership.

The Civic League for Regional Atlanta, March 2012: $40

Event registration.

South River Watershed Alliance, Aug. 19, 2013: $150

Membership.

PEDS, Dec. 15, 2014: $500

Membership.

Senior Connections, Dec. 19, 2014: $500

Project expense to subsidize programming and increase meals for DeKalb low-income seniors.

Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, Dec. 19, 2014: $250

Membership.

Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, Dec. 19, 2014: $250

Membership.

Georgia River Network, Dec. 19, 2014: $100

Membership in support of DeKalb water resources.

DeKalb Historical Society, Dec. 19, 2014: $125

Membership.

The South Fork Conservancy, Inc., Dec. 23, 2014: $100

Membership in support of DeKalb water resources.

Park Pride, Dec. 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, Dec. 6, 2013: $500

Membership.

PEDS, Dec. 6, 2013: $500

Membership.

DeKalb Historical Society, Dec. 6, 2013: $75

Membership.

Georgia River Network, Dec. 6, 2013: $35

Membership.

Net Progression, Inc., 2008-2009: $5,000

Fee for service. Official website 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 percent.

Expenditures for specific project expenses, improvements or service delivery in DeKalb: 86 percent

Expenditures for membership or event registration with organizations active on issues critical to DeKalb: 11 percent.

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 percent undocumented fell outside of DeKalb’s five-year document retention policy and were previously purged per that policy.

 

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