Ethics board throws out cases against four officials

Ken Watts | 8/15/2014, 6:40 p.m.

Lee May

Lee May

The DeKalb Board of Ethics threw out complaints against four of eight elected leaders at its meeting in Decatur on Aug. 14 but decided to continue cases involving four commissioners. The board heard ethics complaints that had been pending against all six commissioners, Interim CEO Lee May and Sheriff Jeff Mann.

It dismissed complaints against May, Mann and commissioners Stan Watson, super district 7 and Jeff Rader, district 2.

On July 1, Decatur resident Timothy Brantley accused Rader of influence peddling by using his elected position to benefit his former employer, Jacobs Engineering.

On July 2, Decatur community activist Rhea Johnson accused May of overstepping his authority by establishing a chief integrity officer through executive order to help monitor and investigate ethics issues in county government.

Jeff Rader

Jeff Rader

The board’s reasons for the dismissals included complaints lacking a specific claim of unethical action or the board lacking the authority to investigate a claim.

“It is gratifying to see that our revitalized Board of Ethics is proceeding deliberately, responsibly and rapidly to process the concerns of our residents,” May said in a statement Friday. “There was never a doubt in my mind about the propriety of my actions, but the point is that complaints can be vetted thoroughly through an independent organization.”

Rader said he has always avoided voting on matters related to Jacobs Engineering. The Board of Ethics rejected the complaint against Rader because it lacked claims about any specific unethical action he took that could be investigated.

“The complaint against me was frivolous and it was found to be unspecific,” Rader said. “Nevertheless, the public deserves a venue when they don’t have to go through some politician in order to get someone to review their concerns.”

Sharon Barnes Sutton

Sharon Barnes Sutton

However, cases are still pending against commissioners Elaine Boyer, district 1; Kathie Gannon, district 6; Larry Johnson, district 3; and Sharon Barnes Sutton, district 4 over charges that they used their county-issued Visa purchase cards for personal purchases.

On July 7, Lithonia resident Monica Tarrott accused Gannon, who represents Super District 6, of misusing her county budget to buy votes and influence zoning decisions. “This board takes every complaint very seriously, and we evaluate every complaint on its merits. If the Code of Ethics calls for action, we will act,” said John Ernst, Chairman of the Board of Ethics.

Sutton told Crossroadsnews on Aug. 14 that she has no problem with the board taking a look at the allegations filed against her by Viola Davis, President of the Unhappy Taxpayer and Voter community watchdog group.

In her complaint filed May 30, Davis said Barnes Sutton and her chief of staff Judy Brownlee have spent $75,000 on personal purchases since 2011.

“Citizens have a right to voice their concerns.” Sutton said. “However, when the board looks at the details of my case I’m confident that I will be completely exonerated.” Sutton added that DeKalb imposes no penalty on complainants who file frivolous cases or do so for political purposes. Sutton said Davis was her opponent in the 2008 BOC race.