Sharon Barnes Sutton avoids scrutiny in days leading up to electionFormer DeKalb County commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton File photo by: Dyana Bagby.
While most politicians jump at the chance to answer questions and meet the public, Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton has decided to lay low during her reelection campaign.
Sutton, who represents District 4, has been a no show at public events, like a recent forum hosted by DeKalb Strong. She’s also not been returning calls to media outlets. She hasn’t returned calls from Decaturish. Atlanta Progressive News recounted its efforts to reach the commissioner.
The website asked, “SHARON BARNES-SUTTON, WHERE ARE YOU, AND WHY WON’T YOU RETURN OUR CALLS AND MESSAGES?”
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Her opponent in the May 24 primary, Steve Bradshaw, said the answer is simple. She doesn’t want to.
“It’s deliberate. She doesn’t want to take questions,” Bradshaw said. “She doesn’t want to take hard questions. She doesn’t’ want to be held accountable for her performance or nonperformance in office.”
Bradshaw works as a sales business development manager at Delta Global Services and also is a U.S. Army veteran. He lost badly to Sutton in 2012. She her 2012 reelection bid handily, pulling in 73 percent of the votes cast in that election, according to Patch.com.
Messages left with Sutton’s other opponent, Lance Lawyer Hammonds, were not returned.
Some of the questions Sutton would be asked likely involve the numerous controversies surrounding Sutton’s time in office.
Even before her 2012 reelection bid, questions were raised regarding her campaign spending. Jim Walls, who runs the Atlanta Unfiltered website, wrote that despite being saddled with debt, Sutton was still able to personally spend $69,000 to win the DeKalb County Commission seat in 2008.
She has a penchant for alienating some of the politicians in her district. Former Clarkston mayor Emanuel Ransom, who was defeated in the 2013 elections, told Decaturish in 2014, “She’s one of the worst commissioners we’ve ever had in the fourth district.” She was accused of personally holding up a contract to reconstruct the fire station in Avondale Estates. Sutton said at the time she delayed awarding the contract because she wanted to explore the possibility of entering into an intergovernmental agreement with Avondale Estates that would ensure the city would pay a “fair market rate” for the station if the city ever wants to buy it.
The fire station reopened last year.
As the 2016 elections approach, Sutton is facing more questions concerning her use of her county-issued purchasing card. She sued the county’s ethics board, claiming it is unconstitutional.
There are questions surrounding her free memberships to the YMCA. Sutton voted in favor of a partnership between the county and YMCA, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported. The memberships were suspended after media inquiries.
Sutton was criticized for her handling of the issues surrounding the Brannon Hill Condominium Complex in her district. Brannon Hill has made national news after being featured in a Vice.com article. Brannon Hill Condominium Complex residents in DeKalb County are desperate for help in cleaning up their Clarkston neighborhood where burned out buildings, piles of trash and debris, open drug deals and violence have been the norm for many years.
She also recently came under fire for holding a festival in her district. She said the festival wasn’t political or related to her reelection campaign.
Sutton hasn’t been afraid to keep the controversy going. She recently honored one of the key sponsors of the event, Pepsi, by declaring May 10 as, ““PepsiCo 10 Year Anniversary Day.”
“PepsiCo has proven to be a vital member of DeKalb’s business community and is great supporter of District 4,” Sutton said in a press release. “It is most appropriate that PepsiCo be recognized and celebrated for reaching this milestone. I look forward to another 10 or 20 years of PepsiCo being in DeKalb County.”
Pepsi’s chief rival, Coca Cola, is headquartered in Atlanta.
Sutton has given some interviews. She recently told the Atlanta Journal Constitution she’s being targeted by her opponents on the County Commission, Jeff Rader and Kathie Gannon. Sutton’s political consultant Warren Mosby, who has been romantically involved with Sutton in the past, is running against Gannon in the May 24 primary.
She told the AJC she is the victim of a “smear campaign” and said she’s looking out for the interests of her district, which she says has been treated poorly compared with the northern part of DeKalb County.
Bradshaw criticized Sutton’s implication that the election pits one portion of the county against the other.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Bradshaw said. “I for one am sick of this whole north-south, black white debate. I think it’s the default position of those who have nothing else to offer.”
Bradshaw said he feels confident heading into Tuesday’s primary, even though history suggests he has an uphill battle. He said the people he has spoken to are ready for a change.
But will Sutton’s strategy of avoiding public events pay off?
“Time will tell,” Bradshaw said. “I don’t think it’s a good strategy personally. She’s made a bet that the voters aren’t that discerning. That’s her bet. We’ll know in six days. I don’t think it’s going to work, but I could be 100 percent wrong on that front.”