Does DeKalb corruption news bolster cityhood arguments?

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt February 28, 2015
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. 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

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • notapunk

    i’d like to know when someone is going to call out DeKalb Strong for the.BS posted on their Facebook page that goes unchecked. Rumors and fear mongering, making it look like county employee pension benefits won’t be paid (when, by law, they MUST be paid). No one corrects any of it. An honest debate would be much healthier than what we have now.

    • justinatl

      right because Lavista Hills and before them Lakeside has not been fear mongering the whole time with their page. The Lakeside people were not even honest enough from the start to admit they were a advocating for a city. All they have done is lie and deceive. They won’t even admit or answer questions from this site about using a rep that represents NONE of us to bring their bill forward. I thought it was bad when Milar who represented almost none of us was pushing this thing. To use Taylor and not admit to it despite the clear evidence shows how dishonest and uninterested they are in what this community thinks. I wish they all would just move and leave us alone. No one asked for them to do this and no one we elected feels this is what their people want.

      • anonymous

        The reality of this situation is quite simple. Most areas under consideration for cityhood are overwhelmingly represented by Democrats. As we are all too familiar with, the Democrats and Republicans are not playing nice together. With so few Democrats in our legislature now, the easiest path to success in the legislature for anything, not just cityhood is to get a Republican sponsor. If for example Michele Henson or Rahn Mayo were to be the sponsor it would be ignored by the Republican majority.

        • RAJ

          Brilliant!! Michele and Rahn may as well have a mild case of Ebola when it comes to city-hood. To be successful, a city in North Central DeKalb will have the business end run by Republicans, and the Democrats?…….Arts & Crafts and Community Gardens! Just kidding….we can all do this together….really!

      • notapunk

        So, that gives the opposition latitude to deceive and unnecessarily scare people? I don’t think so. Why not take the high road and gain some credibility among those of us who are looking for facts to help us decide? We’ll soon have proposed city charters to read that will supplant any spin the cityhood groups put out. What will the opposition give us to work with? Facts or more naive fear-mongering?
        BTW, “advocating” under the tax code doesn’t mean what you think it does. But it would take actually reading the tax code to know that. Just like it would take getting off Facebook for a few days and taking time to do some research to put together a head-over-heart counter to the claimed benefits of cityhood. Instead , the organized opposition chooses to spend its time stomping around yelling “it’s bad, it’s bad” and “they’re bad people.” Show me HOW it’s bad. Support your argument with facts. Prove it. Then you’ll get my support.

        • Teacher Reader

          Lavista Hills supporters and members who act like they are on the board (because we don’t really know who is behind the movement) have used fear tactics in some neighborhoods to try and gain support.

          One example of Lavista Hills not listening or caring about community input is the community surveys that community’s conducted at the urging of several elected officials. LVH does not feel that it needs to talk to communities about their surveys or even listen to why people feel the way they do. They soldier on with their mantra instead of listen to these communities and what they are facing-the loss of their high school and the breaking up of their community in certain circumstances. Is this what we can expect from a Lavista Hills Government?

          At the Young Israel meeting, LVH was asked who they were, who were the people that made up the board and their answer was they were volunteers. They would not say who they were or who was serving on committees or when committees met or who served on them. My count is that about 10 people are pushing this movement, and yet they won’t say who they are, when they meet, or announce when meetings are held to make them open to the public. Too much has been behind closed doors, is this what we can expect from an LVH government?

          Today in the AJC, L.G. Edmonds writes about crumbling roads and not having money spent in her area. I’m not sure what crumbling roads she is talking about, but I’d love to take her on a tour of other areas of DeKalb, so that she can see exactly what she is talking about.

          A city of Lavista Hills isn’t going to be this magical pill that supporters like to say. The lack of transparency from the LVH team is concerning. The supporters in my community are not open for discussions either, instead they have many fake names, threaten law suits and like to slander people that oppose their point of view in the community and to legislators.

          I was not in Atlanta during the years that the planning of Sandy Springs occurred. I have been able to watch the craziness in Brookhaven and it’s not something that I want for my community. If the process were more transparent, open, and seemed more ethical-on all levels, more people would be behind it.

          The citizens in DeKalb do not want more corruption, behind closed door meetings and decisions, and have a few make the decisions for the many. Taking a time out and making sure this process is done correctly is what makes sense. If incorporating DeKalb is “inevitable” let’s do it right. Right now it’s a complete mess with overlapping maps, communities that are islands, and a definite lack of community involvement or support.

          • RAJ

            TR, I have answered most of your concerns in previous posts. If LaVista Hills becomes a city and things should go wrong you can always come and see me and I will FIX everything, since we live in the same neighborhood. I am a trained County Code Enforcement Volunteer and most people should know that we have no vacant or foreclosed homes or poorly maintained homes in our little 800 home corner of DeKalb County. No broken windows,no unkept lawns(I have my guy Chuck mow them if need be)because I have been quietly taking care of things for decades before you moved in and started complaining. I do however appreciate your interest in further improvements and hope that as the City of LaVista Hills we can get our streets paved sooner rather than later and my street will not cave in from lack of stormwater maintenance. All the Best!

          • DH

            Incorporation and annexation can never be anything other than a “complete mess”, reformations never are. What is happening here in Dekalb is a sort of land rush. The county has a serious corruption problem that even with the best efforts by some commisioners to fix (Elena Parent et alia) still cannot be solved because other commisioners block reform – the latter knowing they will be re elected no matter what they do. So neighborhoods are looking for the best option for themselves which often comes into conflict with other parts of Dekalb. Without reform people / neighborhoods have to look out for themselves. That may seem cynical to some but I would see it as realism. Only fool tries to catch a falling knife.

          • Guest

            We don’t know who’s really behind DeKalb Strong either.

          • Hugh Bean

            We do know. Their names are on the website.

            That’s hilarious though coming from someone who posted as a “Guest.”

          • notapunk

            So that gives DeKalb Strong the right to be opaque? Then they are no better than LVH and are to be ignored. There are very few yard signs from either group in my neighborhood. You have a long way to go to convince us that you are right. You have no idea how much support either side has, because the silent majority has not spoken. We are not convinced. You must convince us. And to do that, you need to present FACT, not feelings or fiction, which is all I’ve seen out of DeKalb Strong so far. The lack of transparency from the opposition is equally concerning. That, and the use of short-timers and non-residents of the affected area to sell their wares. (Plus the lack of ability to do actual research.)

  • MAC

    There leaves little doubt that corruption and corruption news bolster cityhood arguments in DeKalb. Having a clear, specific, and unpopular target that cityhood supporters can point to with ire and shame becomes, at very least, a powerful silencing agent against the opponents of cityhood, be those opponents fellow citizens trying to keep the county ship afloat or county leaders making a feverish last stand to justify the political status quo. What’s much harder to discern, however, is what truly rests in the heart of the individual voter out of view of the public argument.

    Are the supporters of Greenhaven, LH, Stonecrest, and Tucker cityhood as a whole, a bunch of angry grumps ready to take down the county “machine” at all cost? I don’t think so. There is a great deal of diversity and motive among the cityhood supporters. Some indeed are angry. Some are snooty elitists. Some are bandwagoners. Some are preservers and protectors of their local heritage. Still many others are simply motivated enthusiastically by a rare opportunity to have a direct hand in taking a new and observable direction–for better or worse, the changes that come with cityhood are changes that a supporter can see and say proudly that their OWN effort brought into fruition, and that in itself is both exciting and empowering. Empowerment and agency frequently win out over the fear of what if.

    The American voting public is very cynical about politics, politicians, and the political process in general–voter turnout illustrates this point easily–and DeKalb voters are no exception to this fact. The existence of political corruption is a reality that many accept as a given, but when corruption coincides with the opportunity to do something about it (like to vote the bums out…or to support a cityhood referendum), real frustration becomes also a rhetorical tool to mobilize and/or to rattle the status quo.

    • RAJ

      I’m at my desk, working on the solutions !!

    • Hugh Bean

      “There is a great deal of diversity and motive among the cityhood supporters.” No, not a great deal, but diversity is utterly absent among the foremost proponents. Wear skin protection because the boards are so white they’re bright.

      • Russell Carleton

        Really? You went there…

  • whodean

    It should. As Dunwoody and Brookhaven citizens know, insulation (as much as possible) from the Dekalb bureaucracy greatly benefits the new cities.

    • Hugh Bean

      And if self-interest were a laudable goal, that would be a great reason to promote additional cities.

      Rather than “insulating” ourselves from problems – thereby ensuring their continued existence – how about if we do what’s necessary to cooperate and fix them.

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