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DeKalb County, GA – The DeKalb Citizens for Advocacy Council (DCAC), a volunteer group pushing for transparency in county government, hopes to keep the beleaguered DeKalb County Board of Ethics from becoming a secondary victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group recently released the results of a survey sent to candidates for all DeKalb state House and Senate seats measuring their support for new legislation to fix the board’s appointment process.

“If or when the legislators return either this month or next, their focus must be on the budgeting process, and ethics will most likely not be on their agenda,” Mary Hinkel, chair of DeKalb Citizens told Decaturish in an email. “Nevertheless, the citizens of DeKalb County, who are responsible for developing and passing the 2015 Ethics Act and who wisely refused to weaken the act with the November referendum, must continue to make sure the issue of the nonfunctioning Board of Ethics remains a priority for the delegation.”

DeKalb County has not had a functioning Board of Ethics since 2018 when the state Supreme Court ruled its appointment process unconstitutional.

Last year, District 10 state Sen. Emanuel Jones filed a bill in the Georgia Legislature to fix the appointment process, but later revisions to the bill led some members of the delegation to oppose it. The measure was passed by the Legislature but ultimately rejected by DeKalb voters in a November referendum, leaving the board in limbo.

 

You might go to the polls and see a ballot item asking, “Aren’t puppies cute?”

You click “Yes,” and next thing you know, some senator’s brother-in-law is getting a no-bid contract to sell food to dog pounds across Middle Georgia.

DeKalb County voters next month will face a seemingly innocuous question: “Shall the Act be approved which revises the Board of Ethics for DeKalb County?”

Hmm. I can almost see voters’ thought processes while trying to decide that question: “Ethics are good, right? And almost a quorum of the former County Commission has been indicted. So I suppose I’ll vote yes!”

However, if it read: “Shall the Act be rewritten to weaken the Ethics Board and stick it to an ethics officer who has overstepped her bounds?”

Well, then voters might not be so enthused.

  

Lawmakers on Monday held the first of four town hall meetings to discuss the contents of the ethics bill, which requires voters’ approval in order to become law. That referendum will be on the ballot countywide in November, and delegation members say misinformation is clouding the debate.

“It’s just not true to say that this bill is weak on ethics,” Rep. Renitta Shannon, D-Decatur, said. “And we would not have voted for it if it was weak on ethics.”

 

Tuesday was one of those days that cause good government boosters in DeKalb County to bite their knuckles in dismay.

First, former Commissioner Sharon “Walking Indictment” Barnes Sutton was finally acquainted with the back seat of a law enforcement vehicle for allegedly shaking down county contractors.

Later that day, the feds announced the county will have to repay $750,000 for almost certainly misappropriating federal job training funds.

This should have been a gimme, a simple legislative fix to put the DeKalb County Board of Ethics back in business.

But, no, this is DeKalb, where political fiefdoms flourish, personal feuds fester, racial resentments seethe and ethics enforcement suffers.

Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled that DeKalb’s ethics board was unconstitutional because its members were selected by private organizations — such as the chamber of commerce or the bar association — rather than by elected officials. This was a board created in 2015 by 92 percent of county voters tired of the words “DeKalb” and “sleazy” being uttered in the same sentence.

State legislators have for a couple of years tried to remedy the flaw in the ethics board. But there have been those in the Legislature who seem to make passing ethics laws more difficult. Notable among them is Vernon Jones, the former county CEO and renowned incendiary, who in 2017 helped scuttle a fix, thereby leaving the board largely inoperable for months.