AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Investigator's notes: DeKalb CEO promoted aide who gave him loan

DeKalb County interim CEO Lee May's credibility has come into question after he assured the public that he never told his special investigators about taking a loan from a subordinate, when a recorded conversation shows he did.

In that same conversation, he admitted promoting the subordinate despite a lackluster work ethic, which May tolerated, according to an investigator's notes.

May denied the conversation took place in a news conference Wednesday, where he slammed the results of former state Attorney General Mike Bowers' six-month, $850,000 corruption investigation. Bowers hit back by releasing three pages of notes from an interview between May and investigator Richard Hyde, then publicly calling the county's top leader a "liar."

This reporter heard audio of a snippet of that conversation with Hyde. The investigator asks May if he ever took a loan from aide Morris Williams, and May replies, "... I may have, you know, said, 'Hey, can I borrow a couple hundred dollars?' ... It hadn't never been more than a few hundred dollars."

The county's ethics code forbids such financial dealings between government officials and their underlings, and it even says why: A loan could cloud a boss' decision-making about the lender.

May’s treatment of Williams could be called into question along those lines, a closer examination of Hyde's interview notes shows. It's not clear when May might have received any loans, or how much the loans were for, but May describes promoting Williams despite poor work habits.

It wouldn't be the first or last time May has appeared soft on waste or abuse, which a story in Sunday's AJC laid out in detail.

The interim CEO has repeatedly seemed out of touch with the scope of unethical behavior in DeKalb, particularly when it involves his friends and allies.

You can read Sunday's AJC story here.

"So, ya'll were friends, too," Hyde said of Williams, according to his notes of the May 7 conversation.

"Yeah, I ... considered him a friend," May is quoted saying.

When May went from being the District 5 commissioner to the county's acting leader, after the indictment of CEO Burrell Ellis, he brought Williams up with him. Williams went from being Board of Commissioners chief of staff to deputy chief operating officer over public works and infrastructure, putting him over the Watershed Department and its $1.35 billion construction program.

May takes responsibility for promoting Williams in the interview notes. Yet he describes him as anything but upper-management material.

"My biggest challenge from Morris … he didn’t work," he tells Hyde in the notes. "He didn't show up for work ...

"Here's the thing. Morris didn't have the best reputation," May says. "But I chose to ignore it."

May also said that "word on the street" had it Williams went golfing instead of working.

"I told him," the notes quote May saying, "I need to see his face at least once a day."

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About the Author

Johnny Edwards is a member of the AJC’s investigative team, focusing on the private sector and state and federal regulation. He has worked at the newspaper since 2010.