Let’s play a game of Connect the Dots . . .
By now, we all know about the 15-count indictment of DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis. We remember that a former DeKalb Superintendent and COO were indicted in 2010 and their cases are still pending. And, of course, the DeKalb Board of Education was removed after the sole accreditor, SACS/AdvancED downgraded the district’s accreditation status to “probation”, opening the door for the Governor to exercise his legal power to take drastic action.
Add to this mix, the recent formation of new cities (the City of Lakeside being led by a committee comprised of power players such as former DeKalb School Board member/State School Superintendent, Brad Bryant who is currently Executive Director of Georgia Foundation for Public Education), new areas seeking to incorporate and, talk of independent school districts forming – DeKalb County, GA is in crisis.
The DeKalb Crisis Connections Matrix:
- The Governor’s Co-Liaisons to the DeKalb Board are Brad Bryant and R.L. Brown.
- R.L. Brown and Associates has a connection to the indictment of CEO Ellis. The CEO made his alleged shake-down calls from Mr. Brown’s offices.
- R.L. Brown served on the Board of Grady Hospital during its financial crisis and received lucrative contracts with Grady while on the Board. There’s even an ethics complaint filed against Mr. Brown and former CEO Vernon Jones.
- The real kicker – Mr. Brown bids and receives contracts from DCSS.
- Is there a pattern here? Why would anyone think it was a good idea to appoint Mr. Brown to be a liaison between the Governor and DCSS? Who is advising the Governor on DeKalb matters?
- Our interim superintendent Michael Thurmond and former DeKalb School Board Chair Eugene Walker served together in the state legislature.
- Dr. Walker worked with the former CFO Marcus Turk’s mother in the administration of DCSS in the past.
- Michael Thurmond lives next door to the former DCSS CFO’s mother. Here are the property tax records: http://web.co.dekalb.ga.us/TaxCommissioner/TCDisplay.asp?ParcelStatus=Y&pin=1180228
- With the interesting departure of Dr. Atkinson when she abandoned her job most likely in part to avoid revealing illegalities, yet was given a golden parachute; with the events that removed the school board and disenfranchised most voters in DeKalb County; and with the curious selection of liaisons and a superintendent who, according to the Professional Standards Commission is not qualified to hold the job, we are seeing an even stronger resurgence of Friends and Family. Have Governor Deal and Mark Elgart been played? Or have we been played by the Governor and Mark Elgart?
A common thread in DeKalb’s various governmental issues is that the governmental executive, whether elected (DeKalb County CEO) or hired (DeKalb County School Superintendent), has unchecked operational and fiscal control. Let’s call this The CEO Model. With school boards and county commissions, there rests little power to robustly hold the executive or superintendent – the CEO – accountable.
The only tool the school board has is simply to hire and fire the superintendent. They have no other way to hold the superintendent accountable or even to get accurate data about district expenditures, staffing and programs – even as they are asked to approve expenditures of more than $100,000, approve hiring of staff, and approve a budget that may have no resemblance to financial reality. What is “financial reality”? No one knows. In the end, the only option the school board has is the nuclear option of firing a superintendent. Boards are hesitant to pull that trigger because it requires them to deal with all the perception problems, the contractual golden parachute dilemma, instability, legal entanglements, etc.
Let’s be clear, a strong executive system combined with a weak decision/policy making body increases the likelihood the executive has the opportunity to engage in unethical behavior (kickbacks, vendor favoritism, tainted information delivered to the board and obstruction and/or manipulation of facts and data).
The CEO Model for DeKalb does not work. The school system and county government are showing evidence of the “Curley Effect”. There appear to be no checks and balances that can counter this executive control. The SACS version of governance fails and we should all take special note of what Dr. Elgart said to ousted board member Sarah Copelin-Wood in her reinstatement hearing: “You’re not there to represent the constituents who voted you into office.” In quiet little corners while we were not paying attention, Dr. Elgart enshrined governance principles that disenfranchised voters. Yep, the board is gone, those naïve about DeKalb politics have been played and we all have to admit things won’t get better.