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2 DeKalb housing officials cleared of ethics allegations
By JIM WALLS
Two DeKalb County housing officials were cleared Wednesday of ethics charges stemming from their solicitation of political and charitable contributions from a private developer.
George Maddox and Dorothy Williams, both board members of the DeKalb Housing Authority, each accepted $2,500 in donations from NorSouth Companies, its “development partner” on a north DeKalb project, and the company’s owner.
But the DeKalb Board of Ethics found no evidence that the transactions influenced the officials’ public actions. Both Maddox and Williams voted last year to table NorSouth’s request to modify the terms of their development agreement so the project could move forward.
In Williams’ case, since the donations went to the non-profit DeKalb for Seniors Inc. and not her personally, the ethics board dismissed the charges without even hearing evidence. In doing so, the board accepted her lawyer’s argument that soliciting charitable contributions is not covered by the county’s ethics code.
DeKalb County’s ethics code bars officials from accepting or requesting anything of value if “it tends to influence him in the discharge of his official duties.” The code does not address whether officials may solicit non-charitable gifts from employees, vendors or others with a financial interest in the officials’ decisions.
Williams acknowledged during a break that she had also requested and received donations from Greg Worthy, the authority’s attorney; Sterling Bethea, its former executive director; Eugene “Pete” Walker, then the authority’s financial adviser and now its executive director; and an unnamed consultant to the authority. She said she did so at the request of Carleen Cumberbatch, another authority member who serves with Williams on the board of DeKalb for Seniors.
Maddox confirmed he had solicited and received campaign donations from NorSouth, Worthy and Walker. He also asked Matthew McClammey, then the authority’s deputy executive director, for a charitable donation to help put a new roof on a church building.
“I asked everybody I knew,” he said.
Only NorSouth’s donations were at issue in Wednesday’s hearing.
McClammey, in testimony before the Ethics Board, said he felt some pressure when asked to give to Maddox’s church, but he was not trying to curry favor.
“I received an envelope with a card,” he said. “I wrote a check just to get it off my desk.”
In response to the board’s questions, McClammey said he had expressed concerns about Maddox’s behavior as an authority official but declined to be specific.
“There have been things that have caused me to have many questions,” he said. But ultimately, he said, “you do your job and you move on.”
Maddox insisted he had done nothing wrong but told the ethics board he would be more cautious in the future.
“Going forward,” he said, “I would not ask for any contribution of any kind from anybody.”
The gifts NorSouth came to light after the firm’s vice president, David Dixon, told Bethea in an e-mail that he had made “generous” donations in response to requests by Williams and Maddox. Dixon said he felt that he knew them well enough as a result to call them to discuss the importance of moving the redevelopment forward.
Dixon said he later called Maddox about the proposal but not Williams.
Bethea forwarded the e-mail in April — six months later, and shortly before his own resignation from the authority — to DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis’ office, which passed it on to the ethics board.
Ethics officials noted disapprovingly the absence of Worthy and Bethea, both of whom had been subpoenaed to attend Wednesday’s hearing.
Worthy gave only a few hours’ notice that he was out of town and could not appear, just as he had done prior to an earlier hearing, Ethics Board chairman Bryan Smith said.
“I was a little disappointed about that,” Smith said.