Some DeKalb School Board members tardy filing their financial disclosuresBoard Chair Vickie Turner spoke of serious needs for repairs in schools across the district during the DeKalb County Board of Education regular meeting on Monday, April 18, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.
Editor’s note: This reporting first appeared in The District, an exclusive publication for Decaturish.com subscribers providing a behind-the-scenes look at our reporting on DeKalb County Schools. To become a paying subscriber, visit supportmylocalnews.com
This story has been updated.
DeKalb County, GA — Reporting by Decaturish has revealed that three DeKalb School Board members haven’t filed their personal financial disclosures for years, and a fourth member didn’t file her disclosure last year.
Personal financial disclosures list the source of an elected official’s sources of income, their partner’s income, any properties they own, investments they have and any “fiduciary position” in a business entity, including nonprofits. Elected officials in Georgia are required to file them every year they are in office.
The current voting block that’s driving the district’s key decisions – Board Chair Vickie Turner, Vice Chair Diijon DaCosta, Dr. Joyce Morley and Anna Hill – weren’t up-to-date on their PFD fillings when Decaturish began looking for them. (These forms can be accessed by clicking here.) Following our inquiries, Turner filed five years’ worth of reports on May 3 and DaCosta filed this year’s PFD on May 5. Before that, the last PFD he filed was in 2017. Both DaCosta and Turner omitted information about nonprofit entities they are involved with, and Turner didn’t list a property she co-owns with her husband, Stonecrest City Councilman Rob Turner.
The four board members were behind the recent firing of superintendent Cheryl Watson Harris. The board members could be facing thousands of dollars in fines for not filing their financial disclosure forms, money they would have to pay personally according to state law.
DaCosta and Turner have not returned messages seeking comment for this story, including messages about whether their recent filings were due to questions from Decaturish.com. The other board members did not respond to a message about whether they intend to file their overdue personal financial disclosures.
Professor Usha Rackliffe teaches financial reporting at the Goizueta Business School and said filing financial disclosures is expected of every elected official.
“People who are in the public space have an interest in the public being informed about who they are and what they are dealing with,” Rackliffe said. “They tend to be open about these things. That is the expectation.”
William Perry, a local ethics watchdog, said, “Generally not filing is a huge red flag for me because the thought that comes to most people’s minds is, ‘what are they hiding?'”
Perry said ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
“It’s impossible when you run for public office or serve in an elected office not to know you have to file these documents and disclose your finances, so those who don’t are knowingly irresponsible, or if they claim they didn’t know or forgot, then they’re not taking their duties as a candidate or public official very seriously,” Perry said. “They owe it to the voters to be transparent and disclose their finances in a timely manner, in order for the public to trust that they’re not making decisions or casting votes that benefit their personal or business interests.”
Rackliffe said the failure to file the reports is “concerning.”
“This is really about letting the public being aware of your involvement in activities that could potentially affect any decisions you may make and what you might do as a board member,” Professor Rackliffe said.
In their most recent personal financial disclosures, Turner and DaCosta list their occupations as BOE member – School Board members make $23,400 a year, which includes a $5,400 a year transportation allowance. DaCosta also reported an ownership stake in a company called DII Solutions LLC which specializes in marketing and graphics.
The Turners created a nonprofit entity called the DeKalb Cultural Exchange 21st Century Career Training Institute. It’s an official 501-c-3 organization established in 2020. Its tax filings are supposed to be public, but recent filings were not available on websites that track nonprofits, including Guidestar.org. Vicki Turner is listed as the organization’s secretary and her husband as its CEO and incorporator. This nonprofit is not listed on her most recent personal financial disclosure.
According to its mission statement, the DeKalb Cultural Exchange exists, “To create a culture of collaboration through sharing information that will empower our community, city, county, state and country. – An informed people is an empowered people.” The DeKalb Cultural Exchange has hosted community breakfasts that have attracted local politicians and has also hosted political forums. One of the organization’s virtual events in 2020 featured Watson-Harris.
The organization was involved in a backpack giveaway as well. According to posts on social media, the organization began holding events as far back as 2017, but officially incorporated in 2020 according to the IRS and the Georgia Secretary of State.
In the past, the DeKalb County School district promoted the DeKalb Cultural Exchange organization via its official social media channels.
The DeKalb Cultural Exchange’s physical address is on Evans Mill Road. Decaturish visited the location on May 5 and found it was a rented mailbox in a shopping center. Vickie Turner is listed as the nonprofit’s secretary.
DaCosta’s disclosure form filed on May 5 does not list a nonprofit entity he created in 2014: the DeKalb Kids Project. DaCosta took office in 2018. Decaturish was able to find one tax filing for the group, from 2015. In subsequent years, the group filed an e-postcard, indicating it has taken in less than $50,000 in donations each year.
The 990 from 2015 shows the organization brought in $1,778 the prior year, mostly from contributions and had $1313 in expenses. On that filing, DaCosta reported working 35 hours a week for the organization with no reportable compensation.
The nonprofit’s website is no longer active, but according to its Twitter page, “Our goal is to support each and every child we come in contact with, by equipping them with proper tools and necessities they need to achieve success.” The group’s Instagram page shows the group has held beautification projects, a food drive and a backpack giveaway, among other community projects.
Like Turner’s nonprofit, a social media account associated with the DeKalb County School District promoted DaCosta’s organization while he was serving as a DeKalb School Board member.
The personal financial disclosure forms are clear that being an officer of a nonprofit is information should be listed on the forms as a fiduciary position.
“A fiduciary position is any position imposing a duty to act primarily for another’s benefit as officer, director, manager, partner, guardian, or other designations of general responsibility of a business entity,” the personal financial disclosure form says. “A fiduciary position may be a paid or unpaid position. A business entity is any corporation, sole proprietorship, partnership, limited partnership, limited liability company, limited liability partnership, professional corporation, enterprise, franchise, association, trust, joint venture, or other entity, whether profit or nonprofit.”
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