DeKalb Interim CEO Lee May has signed an executive order that clarifies ethics rules for all Administration employees and announced that he plans to create a full-time watchdog position that will report to the DeKalb County Board of Ethics.
The measures come as four DeKalb County commissioners face ethics investigations over the use of their county charge cards known as “P cards.” Commissioners Elaine Boyer, Larry Johnson, Sharon Barnes Sutton and Stan Watson all are under investigation. In addition, news sources say Watson has been named in a corruption case in South Carolina involving a kickback scheme. Watson, however, maintains his innocence. He has not been indicted in the case.
Meanwhile, May is pushing to hire a Chief Integrity Officer and two other positions to support the position.
“This will be our full-time Ethics Watchdog, but he or she won’t report to me. He or she won’t report to the BOC (Board of Commissioners). Our Ethics Watchdog will report directly to the Board of Ethics who are standing with me today,” said Interim CEO May.
The Chief Integrity Officer will be responsible for training all county employees, fielding tips about unethical behavior and monitoring an ethics hotline. The Chief Integrity Officer will have the unilateral power and responsibility to bring all ethics concerns directly to the attention to the Ethics Board, without having to wait for a citizen complaint.
“I firmly believe in due process, and allowing the issues that have already been brought to the table to run their legal course,” said May. “Having said that, it’s the improper and possibly illegal activity in DeKalb’s ranks that we don’t know about that keeps me awake at night.”
May said he plans to also hire a support staff for the position by adding an investigator and an administrative assistant. He said the cost for the three-member team should run around $300,000 annually.
John Ernst, chairman of the DeKalb Board of Ethics, said it’s time for the county to take action.
“It’s become quite clear that the time for talk is over and the time for action is now,” said Ernst. “The bottom line is that it takes significant resources to hire investigators, gather the necessary information, get to the bottom of these complaints, take action, and potentially remove DeKalb County employees.”
May also activated a new ethics policy for all administration employees. The new policy compiles ethics guidelines found in the Organizational Act as it pertains to merit system employees, is now applicable to all employees under the supervision of the CEO.
Specific guidelines as it pertains to gifts, meals, travel, tickets and honoraria were updated as follows:
Gifts are only allowed up to $40 per source. No source can give gifts totaling more than $120 per year to any employee, except for awards or certificates, gifts from family members, gifts from other governments or gifts that are given to the county as a whole, not an individual.
Meals can only be paid for in connection with an official government purpose. Otherwise, the max is $40 per source or per meal, with a maximum of $120.
Travel expenses can only be claimed for an official government purpose.
Tickets to sporting or cultural events are not allowed unless there is an official government purpose.
Honoraria is not allowed.
An ethics website and hotline will be established and monitored regularly. The website is www.co.dekalb.ethicspoint.com. The phone number will be 855-224-8216.
“By taking this bold step, CEO May makes DeKalb, by far, the shining example of what an ethics board should look like in the state of Georgia,” said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia.
“I am sick and tired of where we are and what we’ve become. What we have accomplished today is part of a holistic approach, and ultimately, a hard-line approach, to restore the public’s trust in DeKalb County government,” said May.