Pro and anti-cityhood groups decry county corruption, disagree on solution

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt August 10, 2015
DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

Opponents of creating news cities and proponents of creating a new city of LaVista Hills have each issued blistering statements about corruption in DeKalb County.

But while the two groups agree that the county government is in dire need of reform, they disagree about whether a new city is part of the solution.

DeKalb Strong and LaVista Hills YES each issued statements about two recent news events: A hastily approved deal to spend public money on soccer fields and a scathing letter by an independent investigator calling DeKalb’s government “rotten to the core.”

Both statements condemned the decision to block public comment before the soccer deal was approved in a 4-3 vote. Both statements also referenced the summary report published by former attorney general Mike Bowers who was hired to investigate corruption in DeKalb. While LaVista Hills YES held up Bowers’ letter as proof that residents in the proposed 65,000-person city would be better off governing themselves, DeKalb Strong blasted the county’s handling of the investigation.

“If anyone in the LaVista Hills area is still not sure whether they support forming a city, these events clearly demonstrate the need for us to have our own government that operates more efficiently and effectively,” LaVista Hills YES! Chair Allen Venet said in the letter, adding that he is not claiming any government is “immune from corruption.”

“We’ve worked with you,” DeKalb Strong wrote to CEO Lee May. “We’ve attempted to support you. We’ve even at times defended you. All of the misdeeds above are reminiscent of a time recently passed when citizens were disengaged and county government was rather free to misbehave. That freedom no longer exists. Citizens are watching. Media is watching. The board and the supporters of DeKalb Strong are watching. County government WILL be held accountable. Please give us evidence that you’re going to make genuine effort to change the conduct of county government.”

DeKalb Strong President Marjorie Snook told Decaturish that the steady drip of negative publicity for DeKalb is making it easier for cityhood groups to sell their message to voters. But she said the creation of new cities is not a panacea for DeKalb’s troubles.

“It makes it easier because they’re leading people to believe they will get a separate government independent of DeKalb County by forming a new city, but that’s not what a new city does,” Snook said. “Residents will still get most of their services from DeKalb. The county still handles tax assessments. The county police force you’re going to call if something serious happens. When we have a pothole in the road, the water system underneath the road is just as often as not the culprit causing the pothole.

“Yes, they’re using it because they’re trying to tap into voter frustration, which is frustration we feel. We agree with them the situation with DeKalb County is unacceptable. They’ve tried to portray us as pro-county. We’ve never been pro-county. We are pro good governance.”

Venet said his group feels cityhood is not going to solve all of the problems with DeKalb’s government, but new cities are a part of the solution.

“We all understand the county will continue to be there and will continue to provide county-wide services,” Venet said. “Our real focus is creation of a city is part of the solution. Right now we have a county that is doing too much and doing it poorly. If the unincorporated parts of the county become cities, shifting some of the governmental services to cities, then we have a county government that has less to focus on.”

He added, “The other, I suppose, one thing Marjorie and I certainly agree: We all want a better DeKalb County. It’s a question of whether cityhood helps that effort or hinders that effort. We think it helps that effort and we respect their different opinion.”

Here are the two statements from LaVista Hills YES and DeKalb Strong:

Confirmation of Corruption within DeKalb County & Soccer Complex
Decision Supports Value of Cityhood Movement:  LaVista Hills YES!

August 6, 2015 ― Featured front and center on the cover page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution(AJC) today is an article titled “Investigators: DeKalb is ‘rotten to the core’.” The article describes the content of a letter written by investigators hired to identify corruption within the county government, in which the letter’s authors stated that DeKalb County is “rotten to the core.”

The AJC article reported that investigators hired to “root out corruption”, including former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers, wrote that they discovered unethical behaviors, such as spending taxpayer money for personal purposes, taking bribes and racketeering. The letter, which will be followed by a more detailed report in three weeks according to the AJC, follows the recent conviction of former DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis for perjury and attempted extortion, for which he was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

“If anyone in the LaVista Hills area is still not sure whether they support forming a city, these events clearly demonstrate the need for us to have our own government that operates more efficiently and effectively,” says LaVista Hills YES! Chair Allen Venet. He adds that LaVista Hills YES! is not claiming that any size government is immune from corruption.

Noting a string of other DeKalb county officials listed in today’s AJC article who have been convicted of crimes – including former DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer and former school Superintendent Crawford Lewis, among others – Venet said: “It’s a matter of comparing the persistent level of corruption in DeKalb with the excellent track record of cities old and new across metro-Atlanta that have demonstrated a high level of efficient and responsible government, something DeKalb County is desperately lacking.”

Venet also described the decision by DeKalb County on August 4 to locate United Atlanta FC’s soccer complex on 41 acres along 285 near Memorial Drive at a cost of $12 million to DeKalb taxpayers without allowing public comment as “a lousy way to govern.” The 4-3 decision by the DeKalb Commission made the front page of the AJC Wednesday, in which it was reported the Commission denied a request before voting on the deal to hear from a crowd of unhappy residents, some of whom “shouted in protest.”

Venet said: “There was there no public debate about a decision in which county residents become responsible for bearing the expense of clearing the land and providing new and perhaps unnecessary office space for the government while roads, water management and public safety suffer,” Venet said. “There was also little information shared about the deal before the decision was made.”

“Not only are these events proof that a radical change to the structure of the DeKalb County government is necessary and appropriate,” Venet said, “but they support the value of cityhood – of people being able to come together and have more control over what goes on in their communities, of cities being able to make decisions based on a more true and accurate community consensus.”

Open Letter to Lee May


About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • RAJ

    Interesting that “Snookie” and DeKalb Strong, long associated with projects like Panola Slopes(Prostitution,Gambling,Drug Dealing),and the status quo,that is DeKalb County Government now makes a plea for government reform after never having promoted any reform in the past and in fact was only formed to protect the current administration!

    • Marjorie Snook

      How are we long associated with anything? We formed in January of this year. A few months later, three reform bills passed the legislature. Pushing those reforms was one of the reasons we created. But of course, you know that, my friend, I know you just like to try and push buttons.

      Tel me, what “reform” have cites accomplished? Creating even MORE politicians that can give jobs to family members, bloat budgets, and blow taxpayer money on vanity projects?

      Has DeKalb County government improved since we started forming cities?

      • Guest

        Don’t worry about what RAJ says. He/she posted all of these cryptic statements last March and April sounding like he/she knew what was going on, and none of it came true. I don’t know who this person is, but he/she is a master of making up things.

        • Marjorie Snook

          I know him. In person, he tells me to run for office, online, he accuses me of supporting prostitution. He’s fun.

          The three reform bills are a start. It will take some serious watchdogging to make sure they are properly implemented. And then, there need to be further charter revisions. Hopefully, the new cities fail so we can have focus–the last thing we need is even more politicians to watch over. Considering how many of the same people are involved in LVH as were involved with Brookhaven, it would take immense effort to stop this area from turning into the trainwreck to our north west.

          In the long run, we don’t get anywhere unless we can dial back the north/south, us/them acrimony. It’s at the heart of this, and new cities only make it worse.

          • Guest

            That “north/south” acrimony is only being dialed up by the actions of the County Commissioners. Talk about a divide!

          • RAJ

            OH! What do I do with this “I LOVE SNOOKIE” Bumper Sticker!

        • RAJ

          My March and April posts were mostly spot on(except who can predict Fran and the women in his life)and the map making skills of the reapportionment office. I have published annexation maps for 2016 but no predictions.

      • Guest

        It certainly seems to have gotten even worse since your group formed. What exactly does DeKalb Strong plan to do to fix things? Go back to sleep after the LaVista Hills referendum?

  • Ed Williams

    Expediency over process, and money over people. What you think does not matter to certain commissioners. The people voices are silenced. No time for debate or discussion, take the deal, no other offer. This is what economic development looks like on steroids., it can be done without being a city.

    Lee May acting like Donald Trump with Taxpayers money. Arthur Blank, Lets Make A Deal. The DeKalb County Commissioners 4 Blind Mice supports deal. Citizens Against Cityhood in DeKalb and Concerned Citizens for Effective Government support DeKalb Strong open letter to Lee May.

  • HB

    Venet’s position strikes me as the smartest. Cityhood doesnt fix all problems, but it takes some of the burden of governance off Dekalb’s shoulders. They CLEARLY are unable to govern effectively, and have too much money under their control. People, it’s just too big. And it is naive — foolish, frankly, to believe that some small suburban group like dekalb strong is going to be effective in fixing or replacing the prevailing machine. The machine is huge in southern politics and it’s not going away. Best we can do right now is wedge in there with some local leverage. SOME control is better than none, better than the status quo of corruption. I want some of my tax dollars to benefit my neighborhood, and I want less of my dollars padding personal pockets.

  • Frustrated DeKalb Parent

    Serious question – what recourse do we have? The county has shown they will not listen to citizens. If May does not do the right thing, if the majority coalition of commissioners does not do the right thing (and we cannot vote them out if we don’t live in their districts), if the DA does not do the right thing, what is left? We have been vocal and no one has listened!

    • HB

      Bingo. The stadium deal– 12 million of OUR dollars that were effectively stolen from us in that we were given no say in spending–for something that doesn’t improve our area at all–says it all. People, we will be paying for this graft, for no gain, for a long long time. It renders the whole argument of those worried about ‘more taxes’ moot. First, those folks dont understand yet that the taxes we already pay will be shifted to local access. It wont be an increase unless my home suddenly surges in value. To the contrary, with cityhood we will see MORE for our money.

  • CMR

    I just returned from the BOC meeting this morning where about 10 or so members of our community were allowed to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. Noticeably absent was iCEO Lee May. Sharon Barnes Sutton managed to grace us with her presence about 5 minutes prior to the end of the public speaking portion.
    Here is what I observed, (Dan may end up writing more about this later, as I believe I saw him diligently composing at the back of the room):
    The first speaker, wanted to offer thanks for the soccer complex deal. She spoke less than a minute.
    The next 8 or so speakers had two common themes. They called out the self serving fab 4 (Barnes Sutton, Johnson, Davis, and Watson) on their backroom deal to forward the approval of the soccer complex without public input or discussion. Secondly, they called out Lee May for his response to the Bowers investigation. Of course he wasn’t there. Hopefully he will get the memo.
    Virtually all of the speakers were compelling and pulled no punches. Corruption, graft, and the organized criminal activity of Dekalb government, were at the heart of all of their concerns. At least two-thirds of the speakers identified themselves as residents of either South or Central Dekalb County. Of these speakers, all were black.
    The take away was, the problem of corruption that exists here in Dekalb County, transcends the boundaries of race, city-hood, and economic status. No one is being fooled. It is affecting all of us. Those that have broken laws must be held accountable. Until then, the people will not rest.

    Lastly, there was one speaker who had a separate agenda. She stated it was her fourth time pleading her case to the board. She was accompanied by roughly two dozen senior citizens who stood in the audience to show their support. They had but one simple request, pave the parking area at her senior center. It about brought me to tears.
    A $12 million handout to a billionaire, or $12K for a parking lot for our seniors. Where and when will this all end?

  • guest

    wtf RAJ–prostitution and gambling–who here is supporting that–and how?

    • RAJ

      County supports Panola Road “Paradise in the Ghetto”project(hourly chalet rates)and DeKalb Strong is ALWAYS is in favor of DeKalb’s progressive redevelopment projects!

  • Factivist

    Guest is right — the commissioners are now split exactly north/south, with the 4 S. DeKalb commissioners ruling our county in a high-handed, “we don’t care what you think” manner, while the 3 N DeKalb commissioners are a helpless minority. Reverse racism has a firm grip on our county government, as recently pointed out by an AJC reporter.

    The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. We’ve put up with county-level corruption too many years, always hoping it would get better. We love our homes and our neighborhoods. The time has come for us to take control of our own future. The old “don’t do anything until we know everything” attitude has to go. We know more than enough to determine that our only hope for a brighter future is to vote “yes” for LaVista Hills and Tucker in the Nov. 3rd referendum.

    • jbotcha

      First off, there is no such thing as “reverse racism”. Second, there are plenty of voters in South DeKalb that want the same things as everyone on the North side. The problem is voter turnout. Usually, less than 15% of voters show up to the polls. When District 5 held it’s special election, only 6% of voters turned out and the person with the biggest name recognition won. Until this county is rid of Lee May, Robert James, Stan Watson, and Barnes-Sutton, we will continue to endure more of the same.

      • Factivist

        REALLY? No such thing as reverse racism – you lost me right there, jbotcha. Of course there is such a thing, as our old friend Hosea Williams pointed out way back in the 60’s. In case that’s before your day, the term “reverse racism” came into use as the struggle for African-American rights divided the white community. In 1966, Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), publicly accused members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) of reverse racism in their efforts to exclude or expel whites from local government in Alabama to make room for blacks. Williams argued that the SNCC’s intended “all-black” campaign in Alabama would drive white moderates out of the civil rights movement. “Black racism” was a more common term in this era, used to describe SNCC and groups like the Black Panthers.

    • RAJ

      This was on full display today a few hours ago, very sad to see race baiting by the South Side in today’s emotionally charged atmosphere……just not what we need when Cedric is trying his best to keep the situation in DeKalb as cool as possible. Watch the tape of today’s Commission meeting …does not do us proud!

  • Tom Doolittle

    fewer voters in the B’haven Mayor election than the paltry number that voted in the cityhood referendum.

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