Clayton County vs. DeKalb County: A scandal scorecard

The dysfunctional counties face off

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Not long ago, Clayton County was metro Atlanta’s cautionary example of municipal dysfunction. Then came DeKalb. We rank each venality out of 10.


Clayton Co. vs. DeKalb Co.
Corruption Charge
Clayton County: Last year, the director of Clayton County Senior Services was convicted of siphoning $16,000 off the program, and, in a four-month period, two Forest Park clerks were charged with stealing city funds.
Score: 5

DeKalb County: Commissioner Elaine Boyer went to prison this spring for pocketing more than $75,000 from fraudulent invoices and kickbacks laundered through an evangelical preacher.
Score: 8

Clayton Co. vs. DeKalb Co.
Bad Education

Clayton County:
In 2008, Clayton became the first public school system in the country since 1969 to lose accreditation due to ongoing micromanagement and ethics code violations by its board.
Score: 10

DeKalb County: Six of nine school board members were removed by Governor Deal in 2013 when their squabbles endangered the system’s accreditation. That’s after Superintendent Crawford Lewis was indicted in a construction scam.
Score: 8

Clayton Co. vs. DeKalb Co.
Service Disruption

Clayton County:
C-Tran, the county-run bus system that provided 2 million rides a year, was unceremoniously shut down in 2010 by county commissioners worried about a $19 million budget shortfall.
Score: 6

DeKalb County: A special grand jury in 2013 blasted the county’s $1.7 billion sewer upgrade as riddled with theft and bid-rigging. The county later yanked a $7.7 million contract from a company whose president had donated money to DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis.
Score: 6

Clayton Co. vs. DeKalb Co.
Shady Sheriffs 1

Clayton County:
When Victor Hill took office in 2005, he posted snipers on the roof as newly fired employees left the building. He was reelected while under indictment for using his office for personal gain. Acquitted of all 27 felony charges in 2013, Hill remains in office.
Score: 6

DeKalb County: Pat Jarvis, a former Atlanta Braves pitcher, was convicted in 1999 for mail fraud relating to a long-running kickback scam involving jail contractors during his nearly two decades as sheriff.
Score: 6

Clayton Co. vs. DeKalb Co.
Shady Sheriffs 2

Clayton County:
Sheriff Hill again made headlines this May for shooting a female friend in the abdomen inside a model home in a Gwinnett subdivision. He claimed the gun accidentally went off while he was conducting “police training exercises.”
Score: 7

DeKalb County: Former Sheriff Sidney Dorsey went to prison for life for arranging the 2000 assassination of Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown, who’d promised to investigate claims that Dorsey had jail inmates work on supporters’ houses and sent deputies to run his personal errands.
Score: 10

Clayton Co. vs. DeKalb Co.
Abuse of Power

Clayton County:
In 2007, then-D.A. Jewel Scott fired an employee who planned to run for commission chairman, for which Scott’s husband was also a candidate. The move resulted in a closely watched civil trial. Scott later ran for a commission post against her own husband.
Score: 3

DeKalb County: Seemingly clean-cut CEO Ellis was suspended from office by Governor Deal in 2013 after being indicted for trying to shake down county contractors for campaign contributions. Ellis was convicted in July on four counts of attempted extortion and perjury.
Score: 8

Grand Total
Clayton County Total: 37
Its schools were reaccredited in 2009, MARTA is looking to expand new bus routes in the county, and the worst ravages of the foreclosure crisis are behind it. Clayton appears to be on the rebound from what had been a long period of financial misery and political shenanigans.

DeKalb County Total: 46
With Ellis packed off to the big house and the county famously described as “rotten to the core” by former state attorney general Mike Bowers, corruption investigations show no sign of abating. Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton faces complaints that she misused her county charge card to pay for gift cards, hotel rooms, and a speeding ticket. Interim CEO Lee May is accused of accepting improper loans from a staffer and a vendor. Even the D.A. was asked by Bowers to turn over his office’s charge card documents.

Key to totals:
1-15 A shining city on a hill
16-30 Getting shady
31-45 A serious PR problem
46-60 Crooked as a dog’s hind leg

Illustrations by ILoveDust

This article originally appeared in our November 2015 issue.

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  • JJAudubon

    Thanks for this scorecard which IMO is a fair comparison and a good review of the history. I’m surprised at the lack of comments whether good or bad — which may mean readers are probably indifferent — like the thousands of voters who sat on their “hands” and did not bother to vote in the recent LaVista Hills referendum that barely lost. Or possibly they are afraid any kind of comment will be seen as racist. The broader question raised by the comparison is: why do African-American majority governments seem to have this pattern of problems? Of course, merely asking this question will likely be seen by some as racist which illustrates my point.

  • TheBigGuy

    From what I’m reading, this Sheriff Victor Hill is a racist to his core. His stupidity has cost the city millions.