State Sen. Butler Pulls DeKalb County Critic From Audit Oversight Board

Harmel Codi

Audits should be boring. Audit committees should be extra boring. In DeKalb, not so much.

Last month, State Sen. Gloria Butler unceremoniously ganked the DeKalb senate delegation’s appointee to a county audit oversight committee, telling the AJC that Harmel Codi appears to have “an agenda,” and “we want someone on the committee who has the agenda of the committee.”

Codi, an attorney who worked in finance for DeKalb County before resigning in disgust, has been an outspoken critic of the county’s governance. She – along with nine others – ran for the commission seat opened up by interim CEO Lee May’s resignation of the post.

Codi expressed concern about the composition of the new committee, noting that at least one member – Belinda Pedroso, senior auditor for the University System of Georgia’s Office of Internal Audit and Compliance – is a close political ally of Commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton and had applied for the job of auditor with the county.

Codi had also spoken against making the meetings private, citing open meetings laws.

State Sen. Gloria Butler (D-DeKalb)
State Sen. Gloria Butler

Shortly after Codi’s removal, Harold Smith Jr., an appointee of the county commission and the chairman of the board, said he planned to resign his post as well, citing “current uncertain circumstances.” Smith said he has since changed his mind, though he no longer intends to serve as the board’s chairman.

Codi’s still planning to show up to meetings. In a letter to Butler, Codi called her rescission “illegal” and “arbitrary” and that she “will continue to serve as the legal appointee of this committee.”

The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 22, according to meeting minutes from Dec. 7.

Butler, chair of the DeKalb delegation in the state Senate, appears to have made the decision to replace Codi without consulting other members of the seven-person delegation. At least two senators – Elena Parent and JaNice Van Ness – have sent letters to the Attorney General’s office asking for its interpretation of the legality of Butler’s actions. The enabling legislation required appointments be made by October 27. Butler sent word of Codi’s removal on December 28.

“Sen. Butler’s actions undermine the infrastructure and processes the voters approved to provide some measure of oversight for a county government that has been plagued with scandals and malfeasance by elected and appointed officials,” wrote Commissioner Nancy Jester, calling for Codi’s return. “Any actions that undermine the independence of the Audit Oversight Committee reinforce DeKalb’s image as corrupt and secretive. It gives credibility to the idea that DeKalb’s government is often used for the benefit of a small number of the well-connected residents and businesses at the expense of the larger public.”

Last year, legislators created a new citizen panel to oversee the hiring of an independent auditor for DeKalb County’s finances. The auditor itself will hold a powerful position, because whoever gets the job is bound by the new law to report findings of illegality immediately to the district attorney and to the public through the oversight board.

Other than suggestions of “an agenda,” Butler hasn’t spelled out exactly what she learned between the time of the appointment and the 28th to justify removing Codi. She has not returned calls to her legislative office.

Removing a critic will be seen by many as a signal that the committee is in the bag for the county government. Even if the auditor says that the county’s financial activities are honest, no one will be convinced.

Butler has to know that. Which means whatever embarrassment Codi might have offered was substantially worse than the damage done by removing her.

So let’s play a game: beat me to the crime.

I’ve pulled some records using the Georgia Open Records Act. (Got a free 8-gig stick out of it, too.) I am going to do the trivial and obvious act of matching those records to contracts, and those contracts to both the timing of campaign donations and to actual work performed. It won’t take long.

This is something any auditor should be able to perform drunk with the dogs barking for a walk. Though I’m an excellent researcher and hold an MBA, I am not trained in government auditing. So if I manage to find something, and the auditor misses it, little more will need be said. Because I don’t think Codi wouldn’t have let that happen.

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