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2 DeKalb housing officials face ethics probe over donations
By JIM WALLS
Two DeKalb County housing officials face an ethics inquiry into their requests for charitable and political donations from a developer doing business with their agency.
The county’s Board of Ethics voted unanimously Wednesday to hold a formal hearing on its complaint against Dorothy Williams and former state Rep. George Maddox. Both serve as commissioners on the board of the DeKalb County Housing Authority.
Maddox acknowledged asking developer Dave Dixon to donate to two unsuccessful political campaigns in 2006 and 2008 and, last year, to help pay for a new roof for his church. Williams said she asked him for donations for charities benefiting senior citizens. Dixon said he or his business gave them each $2,500 for a total of $5,000.
DeKalb’s code of ethics provides that county officials may not
“(d)irectly or indirectly request, exact, receive, or agree to receive a gift, loan, favor, promise, or thing of value for himself or another person if … it tends to influence him in the discharge of his official duties.”
The issue came to light after Dixon, whose NorSouth Companies work as a partner with the authority, proposed reappraising land last year to move a north DeKalb redevelopment project forward.
Both NorSouth and the authority had invested in the property but could not sell it at values established before the recent economic downturn. “It was pretty clear that we were unable to sell those tracts at prices that were set in 2005 and 2006,” Dixon said Wednesday.
NorSouth and the authority’s staff worked up a proposal to reappraise the land so the project could be completed. But Sterling Bethea, then the authority’s executive director, told Dixon he thought Maddox and Williams would be hostile to the idea.
Dixon, in an e-mail, responded by offering to approach the commissioners about the request:
Given what you’ve shared with me about potential opposition to our appraisal proposal, I’m planning to call Comm. Maddox and Comm. Williams and see if I can talk to them before the meeting. They’ve both called me for fundraising at various times — to which I’ve responded generously — so I feel like I have enough of a relationship to at least call them and discuss ‘where we are’ in a quiet environment.
“I think that was probably unfortunate phrasing on my part,” Dixon told the Ethics Board. He said he only meant that he knew them well enough to talk to them about it.
Bethea discouraged Dixon, records show, and he never made the calls. Both Williams and Maddox, in affidavits, said the authority’s board discussed the reappraisal idea but did not pursue it.
Both said they believe Bethea raised the issue more than six months after the fact in retaliation for their questions about his job performance. Dixon’s e-mail, dated Sept. 22, 2009, was not forwarded to top county officials for review of a possible ethics violation until April.
Bethea resigned in June, prompting Maddox at the time to comment: “He just decided that he wanted to move on, and to be honest with you we didn’t have a problem with it.”
The ethics board scheduled an Oct. 19 hearing on the matter after hearing Dixon’s and the housing commissioners’ explanations of the transactions. Board members said they wanted to know more about the donations, which member Isaac Blythers characterized as bargaining chips.
“Those chips were out there in that they had made a request of you and you had reciprocated kindly,” Blythers told Dixon during the meeting. “Chips are generally, when it’s appropriate, they’re called in.”
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