Watchdog hired to protect DeKalb taxpayers’ money

DeKalb County’s scandal-plagued government, often accused over the years of wasting money or stealing it, is getting some outside supervision.

The DeKalb Commission voted 6-0 on Tuesday to appoint John Greene as the county’s chief auditor, responsible for finding fraud, reducing inefficiencies and exposing waste.

The hiring of an independent auditor is a major milestone in instituting reforms mandated by state law last year. Greene will join Chief Ethics Officer Stacey Kalberman, who started her oversight position in March and is also charged with monitoring the county’s government.

“Everybody will know somebody is looking,” said Harold Smith, the chairman of the citizen-led Audit Oversight Committee that vetted candidates for the position. “It’s a step in the right direction. We’re looking to move this county forward to the right side of history.”

Greene is currently the inspector general for the Florida Secretary of State’s office, where he coordinates audits, investigations and management reviews, according to his resume.

DeKalb officials had debated creating an outside auditing position since 2010, but no one was ever hired because of disputes over the position’s powers and independence from political influence. Legislators broke the stalemate by requiring the auditor’s hiring in state law.

“This gives hard-working DeKalb citizens the certainty they deserve that their tax dollars are being spent efficiently and appropriately, and that they can have faith in their government,” said Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta. “If everything was fine and going great, the impetus for reform wouldn’t be so clear.”

Financial irregularities have been at the core of many of the county government’s problems.

Former Commissioner Elaine Boyer spent a year in federal prison for bilking taxpayers of more than $100,000 through kickbacks and personal spending. And DeKalb officials had more than $537,000 in questionable expenses, to pay for everything from personal lunches to consultants to craft their public images, according to a report by special investigators Mike Bowers and Richard Hyde. Most government-issued charge cards were revoked by Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May last year after they were used for plane flights, cellphone bills and ski resort bookings.

Greene said in his interview with county commissioners last week that he would dig into government finances and stand up for what’s right.

“Anytime when money goes missing, that’s taxpayers’ money,” Greene said during his interview. “Anytime somebody is taking money or getting a benefit, you have to look into it.”

Greene, who will be paid a salary of more than $130,000, will first conduct a risk assessment to determine what needs investigating, Smith said. Then he’ll begin seeking government records and interviewing employees to ensure that public money is being handled appropriately.

He’ll have the power to issue subpoenas to seek records if government officials resist his inquiries, according to House Bill 599.

Greene was one of two finalists submitted by the Audit Oversight Committee to the DeKalb Commission. The other candidate was Tracy Smith, an audit manager for Schneider Downs in Ohio.

“Mr. Greene will be fair, transparent and impartial, and I feel that he will help us continue to move the county forward,” said Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson. “This shows and reflects that this board can work together.”

Commissioner Larry Johnson said he was impressed by Greene’s experience in government oversight.

“He’s going to focus on how we can improve what we’re doing,” said Johnson, the commission’s presiding officer. “It bodes well that we’re moving forward in terms of having someone do that kind of work.” 

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