DeKalb County may be getting ready for a government do-over — again.
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A special-purpose grand jury, after a yearlong investigation into how DeKalb County awards contracts, singled out eliminating the CEO form of government, which it concluded gave the CEO too much power. The grand jury, made up of 23 DeKalb citizens, recommended other changes, including:
- Hiring an internal auditor who is independent of management and the CEO. This position has already has been approved but is unfilled.
- Eliminating the director of public safety position, currently appointed by the CEO. The position runs the risk of “becoming a repository of ‘internal investigations’ where cases can be hidden and never see the light of public scrutiny.”
- Establishing a website that promotes transparency by allowing citizens to track spending.
- Training employees better who are involved in awarding contracts
About the CEO form of government
DeKalb County is one of only a handful of Georgia counties with a CEO form of government. It means:
- The CEO operates much like a strong mayor, giving DeKalb distinct legislative and executive branches. In all but a few Georgia counties there is no executive branch, only an elected commission.
- An elected CEO runs the day-to-day operations of the county. In all other metro-Atlanta counties a hired professional, such as a county manager, runs the government. The county manger answers to the commission.
- In DeKalb, the CEO has authority to grant and cancel smaller contracts; he also exerts control over the bidding of larger contracts through his power power to appoint committees that award large contracts.
- The CEO has veto authority over the commission. The commission can override the CEO with five of seven commission votes.
More corruption allegations
A DeKalb special-purpose grand jury investigating contracts in the water department and beyond recommended criminal charges for former DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis and criminal investigations of other top administrators. Ellis has been charged with crimes and has pleaded not guilty.
Former CEO Burrell Ellis
Ellis, who was CEO from 2004 until his suspension in July, has been charged with 15 counts of attempted extortion, theft and conspiracy stemming from allegations that he strong-armed contractors into giving to his campaign. The grand jury investigation says Ellis engaged in bid-rigging by steering contracts to preferred companies.
Former CEO Vernon Jones
Served as CEO between 2000 and 2008. The report claims Jones may have used his office to engage in bid-rigging. It recommends a criminal investigation.
Former public safety director William ‘Wiz” Miller
The report recommends a criminal obstruction-of-justice investigation into allegations that Miller halted a DeKalb police investigation into bid-rigging.
Former chief of staff Jabari Simama
Simama, who served as chief of staff under Ellis, is accused in the report of manipulating the committees that award contracts. The report recommends a criminal investigation into possible bid-rigging.
Former Ellis campaign manager Kevin Ross
Ross ran Ellis’ first campaign for CEO, and the report accused him of using his influence in the administration to steer contracts to clients he represented. The report recommends a criminal investigation into possible bid-rigging.
Digging Deep. The Atanta Journal-Constitution has followed the investigation into DeKalb contracting for more than a year. The newspaper’s investigations have shed light on financial ties between suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis and county contractors and uncovered details about how Ellis may have strong-armed vendors into donating to his campaign. Some of the newspaper’s reporting is cited in the recently released special grand jury report that recommends removing Ellis from office and alleges a culture of corruption in DeKalb County contracting.