Opinion: Defeat of Sharon Barnes Sutton is a good sign for DeKalb County
As a general rule, I try not to involve myself in local politics. Aside from being the ethical thing to do as a journalist, sucking up to powerful people has never been my style.
But I will admit there were times during the runoff election between Sharon Barnes Sutton and Steve Bradshaw where I was tempted to speak out. Sutton ran an absolutely vile campaign against her challenger. In one notorious mailer, she made an issue out of Bradshaw’s marriage to a white woman.
Thankfully the voters saw through Sutton’s antics and made a sober, forward-thinking choice about the leadership of District 4.
I’ve met Bradshaw. As best I can tell, he kowtows to no one. I expect he’ll make a fine public servant, assuming he beats Republican Willie J. Willis in the November general election.
If he ever decides to stray from his promises of transparent, ethical leadership, you can rest assured he will be held accountable by Decaturish and other media. Reporters have been camped out down at the Manuel Maloof building, the center of county government, for years because DeKalb’s shenanigans are a gift that keeps on giving and Sutton is like Santa Claus.
Unfortunately, it often feels like corruption is somehow endemic in the culture of DeKalb County. Sutton in many ways embodied that culture of corruption. No, she never faced an indictment, but her spending of taxpayer money was worthy of scrutiny.
Voters in November voted overwhelmingly to revamp the county’s Ethics Board. In the ultimate act of contempt for voters, Sutton sued the Ethics Board claiming it is unconstitutional, delaying hearings on the charges against her.
When Sutton should’ve been looking out for the interests of District 4 voters, she was worrying about her own. Sutton has a reputation for only representing certain parts of District 4 and ignoring others. We can only guess at her motives for her actions, because the commissioner also has a well-earned reputation of being hard to reach.
I remember distinctly how she held up a contract to reconstruct the fire station in Avondale Estates back in 2014. 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.
She delayed a critical public safety upgrade over some silly question about who would buy the fire station. Avondale Estates, a city of about 3,000 people, doesn’t even have a fire department.
I was skeptical of Bradshaw’s chances. Sutton beat Bradshaw badly in 2012, a result that mirrored the outcome of Tuesday’s runoff. Like many DeKalb residents, I too wonder if DeKalb County voters – and voters everywhere, really – can overcome their apathy and vote for decent people who want to serve the public.
On Tuesday they did, resoundingly. This could be a welcome new trend for DeKalb County: voting for candidates who promise competent, honest governance. Lord knows, we need it. Sutton’s defeat is a step in the right direction.
I do thank Sutton for her years of public service. I’m certain she believed she was getting into public service for all the right reasons. But her last term has been a profound disappointment, and certainly didn’t make a compelling case for her reelection.
During his remarks to Decaturish on July 26, Bradshaw said DeKalb County voters are “Tired of the trash.”
He got that right. Sutton may have suffered a personal defeat on Tuesday, but it was a victory for all of DeKalb County.