DeKalb Tightens Government Spending Rules

Aug. 07--In an effort to prevent corruption, Interim DeKalb County CEO Lee May on Wednesday enacted new rules for government purchasing that he said will ensure competitive bidding and ban dishonest companies from doing business with the county.

The rules aim to eliminate lax spending practices identified nearly a year ago in a special grand jury report.

Beginning immediately, most contracts must be competitively bid. Companies deemed to have operated unethically or performed poorly will be placed on a list barring them from doing business with the county for up to three years.

Taxpayers will save money in the long run because of the more transparent process, said Scott Callan, the county's acting purchasing director.

"We will be holding people's feet to the fire," May said after unveiling the purchasing rules. "The changing of procedures helps to eliminate the ability of any individual to manipulate the system."

Government contracts were at the center of a grand jury's investigation that led to the indictment of county CEO Burrell Ellis, who is now suspended. When Ellis goes on trial next month, he'll fight allegations that he inappropriately pressured contractors for campaign contributions.

With a $1.2 billion annual budget, DeKalb County needed to create a more accountable environment in which to do business, Callan said. The 39-page policy is posted online and is easier to understand than the old regulations, which were contained in two thick binders.

"By going through an open, transparent, competitive process, now you must compete for our business," Callan said.

The rules require competitive sealed bidding for contracting whenever possible.

They call for an "ineligible source list" of people who may not do business with the county because of bad faith, breach of contract, a pattern of unethical behavior or a conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude. The list will be formed by a committee made up of government employees from various departments.

Callan said the policy also creates a "cone of silence" that prohibits any attempt to influence the outcome of a contract prior to it being awarded. Companies may be disqualified from consideration if they violate the rule.

"What that means is those people -- those contractors, companies and persons that are involved in any particular procurement -- are not able by policy to try and influence the outcome of that evaluative process," Callan said.

The new rules also don't allow contracts to be split into smaller pieces to avoid competitive bidding, something that auditors have found occurred in the past.

Two separate audits said that, in 2007, suspended Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton approved multiple payments under $50,000 for vendors. Contracts less than $50,000 don't have to be competitively bid.

Viola Davis, a DeKalb resident and longtime advocate for honest government, said she was optimistic about the new purchasing rules.

"You can always create new laws. But, if you don't act on them, they mean nothing," said Davis, who attended a press conference announcing the policy.

Copyright 2014 - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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