DeKalb’s Costly Shenanigans Should Be A Crime

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.

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