DeKalb’s Costly Shenanigans Should Be A Crime

January 27, 2008

Audit reports aren’t what I would call “pleasure reading,” but they are necessary reading for elected officials like me who care about the way your tax dollars are spent.  You can learn a lot from an audit report.  For example, consider this passage from a June 25, 2007 KPMG audit report on the spending practices of the DeKalb County Government:

“We reviewed the purchasing and contracting procedures relative to Information System (IS) consulting services.  We noted that there were numerous purchases that were required to be competitively bid in accordance with the County’s purchasing policy, that were not bid.  The County’s policy states that purchases in excess of $50,000 should be competitively bid except if there is a Georgia State Contract or Federal Contract covering such purchase.  The County’s Purchasing and IS Department did not solicit competitive bids on several purchases in excess of $50,000 when there were no applicable Georgia State or Federal Contracts.  In addition, the County’s purchasing policy requires the Board of Commissioners’ approval when a total contract exceeds $100,000.  Relative to the IS Department’s use of consulting services, on numerous occasions no such Board of Commissioners approved contracts could be located.”

That’s a mouthful, but here is what it means in plain English:  There is a state law that requires the DeKalb County Government to perform a competitive bidding process whenever the value of goods or services it is seeking to obtain exceeds $50,000, and to obtain approval by majority vote of the county commission whenever the value of goods or services it is seeking to obtain exceeds $100,000.  For certain technology consulting contracts, the county administration has been doing neither.

That’s bad news, but it gets worse.  DeKalb County officials, including the county’s highest ranking non-elected administrator, Richard Stogner, have been approving purchases in amounts like $49,000 — just below the competitive bidding threshold — to the same vendors for the same services over and over and over again.  These purchases are intentionally designed to skirt the competitive bidding and commission approval requirements.

In fact, county officials have paid a select group of vendors more than $22 million in flagrant violation of competitive bidding safeguards.  These safeguards are in place to ensure that taxpayers receive the best services at the lowest possible cost.  They are designed to thwart the practice of giving high-priced sweetheart deals to favored vendors.

I was astonished to learn that violating the competitive bidding and commission approval safeguards is not a crime.  That’s why I have drafted, introduced, and am planning to work toward passage of House Bill 922 during this year’s legislative session.  HB 922 will make this official misconduct a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine, jail time, or both.

The Audit Committee of the DeKalb County Commission, chaired by Commissioner Elaine Boyer, is investigating the failure by county administrators to comply with state competitive bidding laws.  As is the case with many things in our “strong CEO” county government, there is only so much our elected commissioners can do to rebuke county administrators who have run amok.  Thanks to HB 922, however, any future efforts to skirt competitive bidding safeguards can be prosecuted as a crime and appropriately handled as a fraud on the taxpayers.

A version of this post was published in the January 23 edition of the Dunwoody Crier.


Breaking News on School Sale Vote

January 18, 2008

Amidst news reports that the Sembler Company is scaling back its proposed project at the intersection of North Druid Hills and Briarcliff Roads, the DeKalb County Board of Education today voted unanimously against selling the 30 acres of school property on North Druid Hills Road to Sembler.

I know a substantial number of Toco Hills, Merry Hills, Sagamore Hills, and Oak Grove residents who worked very hard to communicate the community’s opposition to the school board members.  Good work.  This shows you can make a difference when you make your voice heard.

On a related note, this past week I conducted a telephone survey of registered voters in House District 80 who reside in the immediate vicinity of the proposed high-density, mixed-use projects at North Druid Hills and Briarcliff.  I thought you’d be interested to see what our neighbors are thinking.  Here are the results:

Do you support the high-density, mixed-use commercial and residential development projects that are proposed for the intersection of North Druid Hills and Briarcliff Roads?

Yes – 22% – 55

No – 66.5% – 167

Undecided or no opinion – 11.5% – 29

Would you support a decision by the DeKalb County Board of Education to sell the 30 acres of school property on North Druid Hills Road to the Sembler Company for redevelopment into a new high-density, mixed-use commercial and residential development project?

Yes – 22% – 55

No – 66.5% – 167

Undecided or no opinion – 11.5% – 29

Do you support the creation of a tax allocation district to use county and school property taxes from commercial properties in the local area to fund transportation infrastructure improvements at the intersection of North Druid Hills and Briarcliff Roads?

Yes – 24.5% – 61

No – 57% – 143

Undecided or no opinion – 18.5% – 47


New Year’s Diet for Bloated Budgets

January 14, 2008

Each year, the General Assembly is charged with setting a budget for our state government.  In fact, if we do nothing else during the annual legislative session, passing a budget is the one thing we absolutely must do.  It is mandated by the Georgia Constitution.

Georgia’s Fiscal Year 2008 budget exceeded $20 billion, and the FY 2009 budget we will consider during the legislative session that begins this Monday will be even larger.  These are your hard-earned tax dollars.

When budgeting for our households, we think about every penny we spend.  And that’s what the state government does with your tax dollars, right?

Wrong, at least until this year.

In the past, state budget-making has been governed by bureaucratic inertia.  Each department of the state government, through the Governor, submits an annual budget request to the General Assembly.  Previously, each department’s new annual request has been a carbon copy of the prior year’s budget, with some changes here and there that usually amount to nipping and tucking at the margins.  Consequently, the bulk of each department’s budget has been carried over from year to year to year.

This year, however, we will institute zero-based budgeting.  In a zero-based budgeting process, each department of the state government must come before the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives, start their budget at zero, and justify every penny of taxpayer money the department is seeking to spend.  Inertia no longer will be the driving force behind the state budget.

Due to the magnitude of the state budget and the brevity of the 40-day legislative session, we can only require zero-based budgets for a couple of departments each year.  This year, it’s the Department of Revenue (DOR) and Department of Human Resources (DHR) that will be required to justify every penny in their budgets.  The departments will rotate from year to year so that every department in the state government must start at zero every few years.

Eliminate bloated budgets.  Demand results.  Justify every penny that is spent.  As stewards of your tax dollars, we owe you nothing less.

A version of this post was published in the January 9 edition of the Dunwoody Crier.


DeKalb’s Plumbing Retrofit Rebate Program

January 14, 2008

In response to the drought and greater need for water conservation, DeKalb County has adopted a rebate program for homeowners who purchase new water-efficient plumbing fixtures.  Here are the details of the program, as quoted from a press release issued by the county:

“The program will provide a $100 rebate to customers who purchase and install a high efficiency toilet that has received EPA Water Sense labeling with a capacity of 1.28 gallons per flush and a $50 rebate to customers who install a low flow toilet with a capacity of 1.6 gallons per flush.

The program is only available for DeKalb County individually metered residential dwelling water and sewer customers whose homes were constructed prior to 1993.

With the goal of reducing the costs to retrofit homes and buildings with low-flow fixtures, $500,000 has been allocated to the Department of Watershed Management for this program.  Rebates will be issued for a maximum of three (3) toilets per household. The rebate check will be issued to the property owner.

The DeKalb County Commissioners approved the resolution to adopt a Toilet Retrofit Rebate Program during the regularly scheduled BOC meeting on January 8, 2008. The Retrofit Rebate Program will give DeKalb citizens an incentive to replace inefficient toilets and practice conservation.

For guidelines and more information on the Toilet Retrofit Rebate Program as well as updated outdoor water restrictions and conservation tips, please visit the DeKalb County Department of Watershed Management website at www.dekalbwatershed.com.”


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