Sunday Morning Meditation – Doing is believing

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt July 13, 2014
File photo of DeKalb County Commission. Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

File photo of DeKalb County Commission. Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

A county commissioner that I covered in Anniston, Ala., had a sign hanging behind his desk.

It said, “People hear what you say, but they believe what you do.”

There’s often a lot of distance between rhetoric and reality. This is especially true in DeKalb County.

Interim CEO Lee May recently announced new ethics rules. He also said the county would create an ethics watchdog position. There was a big-to-do about it. The county invited the media out to watch May sign the executive order.

Based on my conversations and interactions with May, I don’t doubt his sincerity. But I don’t think a press conference and an executive order are going to convince anyone that the county has gotten serious about cleaning up its government.

Behaving ethically shouldn’t be newsworthy. That’s how elected officials are supposed to behave.

May said in his press release he was “sick and tired of where we are and what we’ve become.”

All governments are susceptible to corruption. Influence chases power. The difference between one government’s corruption and another’s is the amount of chaos it creates. The footprint of DeKalb County’s failings is large. Any entity wielding a $584 million budget can do a lot of damage.

A consultant’s report purchased by the county offered a sobering assessment of DeKalb’s dilemma.

It lists “history of corrupt county government” as one of the weaknesses of the county’s business climate.

“The county also faces political issues relating to governance and financial oversight that reverberate into economic conditions,” the report’s executive summary said. “The recent indictment of the County CEO and the conviction of the former superintendent of the public school system have led to mistrust.”

Several commissioners are facing ethics complaints, and the FBI is poking around in the county’s business, too.

While the school system is a separate entity, the distinction hardly matters to voters. Dysfunction in the county schools nearly cost the system its accreditation. Things have started to stabilize, but Gov. Nathan Deal had to kick most of the School Board members off the board for that to happen.

DeKalb paid $300,000 for that study so they could hear what residents have been telling them for years. Voters in Dunwoody and Brookhaven opted to break away from county government and form cities of their own. Other people in unincorporated DeKalb County are sure to follow.

I’ve personally never subscribed to the idea that the solution to bad government is creating more government. But when you see how oblivious the elected officials in DeKalb are to their own predicament, it’s hard to blame people who want to try something else.

One of the things I notice about our commissioners is how impressed many of them appear to be with their elected positions. At the meetings I’ve attended, the commissioners spent a great deal of time discussing who should act as the commission’s presiding officers.

I wonder if commissioners realize they’re supposed to serve the people that elected them and not the other way around.

When it comes to the task of fixing what’s broken, some commissioners act like they’ve got better things to do.

During the July 2 meeting of the DeKalb Government Operations Task Force, former members of the Briarcliff and Lakeside cityhood movements were openly planning their escape.

DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton, a member of the Task Force, was planning her escape, too. When state Rep. Mike Jacobs, another Task Force member, asked questions about the state of the Tucker cityhood movement, Sutton cut him off.

“We’re not supposed to be debating tonight and I want to go home at eight o’clock,” she said.

People hear what you say, but they believe what you do.

The county CEO wants to right the ship. But when commissioners get together, the most pressing concerns appear to be who chairs what and getting home at a decent hour.

If things keep going the way they’re going, commissioners won’t have to worry about who presides over meetings.

They will also have plenty of free time on their hands.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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