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Does DeKalb corruption news bolster cityhood arguments?

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Does DeKalb corruption news bolster cityhood arguments?

DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.
DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

News about DeKalb County dysfunction and corruption is as common as the rain.

It’s also a constant source of fuel for the fires stoking some residents to seek local control by creating new cities.

The latest news about DeKalb shenanigans comes from the dogged reporting of the Atlanta Journal Constitution and WSB-TV. The Cox Media-owned journalism outlets broke the story that DeKalb Development Authority Chairman Vaughn Irons won a $1 million contract from the county due to a “phony document.” The document in question was a legal opinion that said it would be ethical for the chairman to win such a contract. The story is a must-read, and you can read it by clicking here.

That news coincided with the news that there will be cityhood bills introduced on behalf of LaVista Hills, Tucker and Stonecrest.

Allen Venet, with LaVista Hills Yes, alluded to Irons story when asked for a comment about the LaVista Hills bill.

“It seems that each week brings more evidence of the problems in DeKalb’s county government,” he said.

Decaturish.com asked the cityhood groups whether the latest news strengthens their case as legislators prepare to consider their bills.

Venet avoided passing judgment on Irons at this point, but said DeKalb’s dysfunction does make the cityhood argument more compelling.

“Because I believe that Vaughn has denied any wrongdoing, and has not been charged with a crime, it is not appropriate for us to focus on this particular matter,” he said. “But, we absolutely believe that the seemingly unending series of scandals, charges, trials, guilty pleas and convictions involving DeKalb County government officials bolsters the case for cityhood. Cities are not perfect, and no government can be totally free of wrong doing, but city governments are more accountable and more manageable. On the first day of its existence, the City of LaVista Hills will have in place the auditing and ethics provisions which DeKalb County government has spent years debating without implementing – because too many county officials want to protect the status quo.”

The scandals are hard to keep track of, at times. Here’s a sampling:

– County Commissioner Elaine Boyer resigned last year and pleaded guilty to misusing her county-issued purchasing card.

– CEO Burrell Ellis was indicted on charges of bid-rigging and taking bribes from contractors. The first trial ended in a mistrial, but Ellis could be tried again this summer.

– DeKalb County’s school system nearly lost its accreditation due to micromanagement by the School Board, resulting in Gov. Nathan Deal removing six of its members. AdvancED, the organization that accredits high schools across the nation, recently upgraded the school system’s status from “warned” to “on advisement,” which is one step below full accreditation. Former Superintendent Crawford Lewis was indicted along with former schools officials Pat Reid and Tony Pope. Pope and Reid were accused of being involved in a scheme to steer lucrative construction contracts to family members.

There are other examples, but those are the big ones.

But there are arguments against forming new cities, too.

DeKalb Strong, a group opposed to the current cityhood process – which Venet himself has described as a “hot mess” – argues that new government doesn’t automatically mean better government. The group says that the creation of Dunwoody in 2008, and Brookhaven in 2012, hasn’t changed DeKalb’s trajectory.

“DeKalb County is in dire need of reform, which is one of DeKalb’s Strong’s major causes,” DeKalb Strong President Marjorie Snook said. “Unfortunately, cityhood in DeKalb has failed to provide any positive change. In the years since cities began forming, corruption has gotten worse, not better. Fixing county problems requires all of us to come together as a community, not to fragment. Creating new cities does little about corruption, it just adds more seats to the trough.”

Tucker 2015 declined to comment for this story. A message was also left with Stonecrest and Greenhaven, another proposed city that is expected to be considered in the current legislative session. This story will be updated when representatives from those cities respond