APN Interviews with Candidates for DeKalb District 1
(APN) ATLANTA — The Special Election for the seat of former DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer (District 1)–who resigned amidst a scandal involving her funneling public funds to her personal checking account–has five candidates.
Atlanta Progressive News spoke with three out of the five candidates, including Larry Danese; Nancy Jester, the former DeKalb School Board Member who sought the Republican nomination for Georgia School Superintendent; and Holmes Pyles; all three Republicans.
Candidates Wendy Butler and Tom Owens did not return APN’s calls. Butler seems to be avoiding most press requests for reasons unknown. She has offered little information about her platform on her websites, other than such platitudes as “restoring the public trust,” “protecting communities,” and “building a better county government.”
Owens has struggled with revelations about personal issues in his run for District 1.
His run-in with a Peach Pundit blogger George Chidi–who allegedly approached Owens and said “I will destroy you”–led to a temporary protective order against Chidi, but Owens failed in his request for a permanent protective order. All of this appears to have taken the wind out of Owens’s sails.
WHAT IS YOUR PLAN, IF ANY, TO REIGN IN THE DEKALB CEO’S POWER? AND WHAT PLANS DO YOU HAVE, IF ANY, TO REFORM ETHICS AT THE COUNTY LEVEL?
DANESE: I will make District 1 a model for ethical performance in county government through transparency and accountability in our office financial transactions. I will provide the record of the appropriate use of public money by me and my staff by posting a record of transactions on the District 1 website and will support verification of appropriate use through periodic external audit. The important thing is to provide an ethical model that other Commission offices and positions (CEO)–which we will not control–can use and improve to begin a much needed change in our county.
JESTER: I support a change in the form of government in DeKalb that eliminates the CEO and goes to a county manager position reporting to the Board of Commissioners. I will advocate for more stringent policies and oversight regarding purchasing, contracts, and p-card usage. I believe that one hundred percent of purchases and reimbursements must have accompanying receipts for validation. DeKalb must have a strong, independent internal auditor.
I look forward to working with groups like Blueprint DeKalb and others to further strengthen oversight and restore ethical government in DeKalb.
[APN was not able to reach Pyles to pose this question, but asked other questions in a separate interview.]
WHAT IS YOUR BLUEPRINT FOR DECREASING SPENDING (WITHOUT RAISING TAXES) IN DEKALB?
DANESE: There are four options. First, eliminate personnel. Second, eliminate some services. Third, cut spending across the board at 8.357 percent in all departments. And fourth, privatize in the hopes that we can remove those salaries from the line item budget. At the moment, I believe we should really look at the salaries of current employees. The best option is to tell every Department that they have to reduce their cost by X, don’t know what X is… shouldn’t be more than five percent.
I loathe to cut some services, like libraries. If we try to cut specific personnel or services we’re going to run into a buzz saw of objection of “why me?” I’m not going to vote in favor of raising taxes. The only taxes we can increase is your property tax. The other taxes are kind of fixed by other things. DeKalb County general sales tax… that won’t be increased. The tax that comes from the HOST can’t increase because of the HOST law. In the sense that the millage increases your property taxes, I’m not going to vote for that. We have more than sufficient staff to staff the services that we should be providing.
We have websites that haven’t been updated in months and that’s not acceptable.
I can only ask the questions, I can’t force change except through the budget. Let’s say only one vote counted and that was mine, I would tell them they have to cut staff and leave it up to the integrity of the managers to do that. Whether they did that well or not is unfortunately not in my arena.
JESTER: I’m the only person that brings the financial skills to the race. Looking at the audits that have been done where we are overstaffed, DeKalb has the worst of both worlds, the service and timeliness is inexcusably poor. We need to really shore up things in Watershed, with a fine tooth comb. We are getting very poor service. There needs to a review of that department and how it’s operating… liabilities and employee benefits.
The county has made some poor decisions in the past. We need to look at outsourcing some services, rather than everything done in the county. I’m steadfastly against a millage rate increase. I do believe we can do a much better job on services. If we modernize, conduct audits…these are the types of things I want to work on. I’m very concerned about the borrowed money from the pension plan… that offered an early retirement and buyout for employees. I’m concerned about funding given the money that was taken out and payment plan from the county… at seven percent. Why would we not go take out a loan right now for less than seven percent? It doesn’t make sense.
PYLES: Don’t raise taxes… If we can cut down on bureaucracy… Property taxes in general need to be lowered.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON ANNEXATION AND CITYHOOD EFFORTS?
DANESE: In the interest of full disclosure, I was on the Brookhaven Cityhood Committee. I resigned because [State Rep.] Mike Jacobs changed the way the city districts were divided. [It originally was] three [district] people and three at-large that would overlap… Jacobs changed it to four districts and a Mayor.
Jim Eyer, of District 2, could not get anything done, so he resigned. I had warned them in my resignation that the first three people that came together would control everything. The City left that position vacant for a year and had no one to represent them. When the Mayor and other representatives don’t care, that’s just wrong.
I have to be honest, I generally support the formation of cities because I think you get more visible use of the tax money that you’re paying. In Brookhaven for example, sidewalks, repaving, transportation studies, park maintenance… it would not happen if Brookhaven was part of unincorporated DeKalb.
I served on the planning commissions for four years. We made decisions on planning in relation to suburbs, those decisions were made not necessarily local to the property. That kind of local interaction… you can see that kind of unhappiness in other cities, at least their local people.
There is a loss of revenue, but I don’t want that to be exaggerated. The police force for example, when a city is formed, a lot of those officers are hired on by the city. DeKalb doesn’t end up with a lot of extra people. They are dissolved into other cities.
This is where the county has a problem: they have promised pensions (bonds are similar to this) to people, the unincorporated part is having to bear a larger portion of the pension expense. They were serving more people at that time and less now that those employees are retiring. The cities need to contribute their prorated share. The counties are fighting about that.
My local library is also very important. The city should have to offset the cost of the library, it serves the locals but is paid for by unincorporated Dekalb. There are wonderful people running our libraries; they are keeping these libraries open on a shoestring budget. 2015 is projecting a deficit equaling the cost of running our libraries.
JESTER: I support municipality efforts. District 1 may be fully municipalize if the efforts continue. I would anticipate this Legislative Session having the same efforts from last Session to this Session.
They [Lakeside, Briarcliff and Tucker] are supposed to have boundary issues clarified soon. It is great wisdom to have smaller units of government taking on responsibilities. It’s not a layer, but a replacement. You can control your zoning… there are different needs… policing… responsibilities of government and officials… when you have smaller government… sidewalks, streets being paved.
I’m very positive about efforts to municipalize. I don’t support any one effort over any other efforts. The community has a right to bring those proposals to the Legislature. I support their right to determine that. I will not be a Commissioner that will decide for them. That’s for them to decide.
I always remind people when looking at other issues and government agencies… when you remove a revenue stream…that’s not the end of it. It’s called a balance sheet. You’ve now taken the liabilities off the books. For instance, you no longer have to provide services for those areas. We should have a balance sheet effect there. You can’t have the same size government when you’ve changed your liabilities, you have to match that. We have not done that in DeKalb.
PYLES: It’s just creating more bureaucracy in these cities… need to see if it’s feasible… this is kind of… all these different cities… if the county doesn’t do the job what choice do they have anyway?