Thursday, June 18, 2009

Decision on tax break for Sembler postponed

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution after much conflict with the school board, county commissioners and community the DeKalb County Housing Authority Board postponed its decision on a $52 million public subsidy for a project in north DeKalb County for Sembler today.

The DeKalb County School Board went into the DeKalb County Superior Court Wednesday afternoon to try to stop the vote on Thursday morning due to the conflict of interest of Dr. Walker being a member of the Dekalb County School Board and the Dekalb County Housing Authority Board. Dr. Walker apparently did not see this as a conflict as interest after taking $18,000 from the Sembler family members for his school board campaign. Sembler is known for possible buying political votes throughout the country. Regardless of the conflict Dr. Walker intented to vote anyway on this possible item which was definitely a conflict of interest and made this none. Many of us did question why our county commissioners would appoint Dr. Walker to the Dekalb County Housing Authority Board when he was elected to the school board. We raised our concerns to our county commissioners and they ignored our concerns and now four county commissioners are strongly opposed to how the situation is being handled and apparently Mr. Ellis is also not pleased with how the situation was handled.

I do not dislike Dr. Walker but I do think you can only have your hands in so many cookie baskets at one time. I think he may be trying to put his hands in two many cookie baskets and he does not want to take his hand out of one cookie basket in order to get cookies from the other basket. He wants to continue to get cookies from both baskets at the same time. The problem is that this is a conflict of interest to the citizens of DeKalb County. He needs to take his hand out of one of the cookie baskets.

Read the entire article at:


Anonymous said...

I've heard that DDA members get a tiny commision fee every time a transaction is approved by the DDA. Does anyone know anything about this?

Anonymous said...

What is it going to take for Gene "Keep your hands to yourself, Mr. State Senator" Walker to get the message that he is clearly in a conflict of interest?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if an average citizen can file any kind of action (legal, ethics complaint, impeachment) to get Gene Walker off the DDA?

Ella Smith said...

I questioned Mr. Ellis about this tonight at the Northlake Community Alliance and he indicated that there was no legal conflict.

Kevin Levitas indicated that he had a bill ready to go to make sure that no one could serve on any two boards like this again. He said many legislature members feel that it is a conflict of interest and if there is not a law that can stop him then their does need to be one.

Ellis did say that he normally would not vote on things that he or anyone might have any questions about conflict.

Ella Smith said...

I do believe that in the past this would not have been a conflict but because of the new tax laws involving the school board which also involves the Dekalb Housing Authority Board and the Board of Commissioners it would be now inappropriate and a conflict of interest to serve on both boards.

It is a sad day when a bill has to be written because of the decisions of one school board member. How can be this serving the public in the best way possible.

I do understand that Dr. Walker is vested and has interests in what happens to the housing authority but he should have decided if he wanted to be on the school board or the housing authority. The DeKalb Legislative Body should not have to write a bill because he cannot make up his mind.

I hope that we did not become investigated by SACS because of this but I suspect it is a possiblity and a sad possibility. Dr. Walker needs to make a decision for the citizens of Dekalb County. It should be either the DEkalb Housing Authority or the Dekalb County School Board?

Ella Smith said...

I have been pretty hard in my judgement of Mr. Walker's decision to be on both boards. I do not approve of his decision at all. I personally do think it was a mistake and looks bad for the DeKalb County School Board and they are working so hard to try to do the right thing.

I do respect Dr. Walker. I respect his educational achievements. I think he is probable one of the strongest intellectuals on the school board. He received his PHD from one of the top schools in the nation. I would imagine he was a wonderful teacher. I am sure he can still teach me many things about History as it was never my favorite subject. He is a professional and acts like a professional whenever I have seen him. Again, I just think the decision to be on both boards is questionable. As a person I am sure he is a fine man and in his heart feels he can make a fair decision regardless of the large donation he received. But, how could anyone make a fair decision when someone donated this amount of money to your school board campaign. This is the biggest campaign donation I have seen particularily from a family who do not even live in Dekalb County and who have no children in the Dekalb County Schools. I am sure he knew them through his dealings with the Dekalb Housing Authority Board.

Anonymous said...

Son of awcomeonnow, signing in.
Yes, there's a huge conflict, and yes Ellis needs to grow a spine against Walker and other good old boys in the county resident's best interest.
BUT Walker is on the Development Authority. Last time I checked the HOUSING authority website, he wasn't one of the listed officials.
Both authorities fiance structures that invariably have harmful effects to surrounding areas, but Walker isn't on one of them.

beenroundtoolong said...

Dr. Walker is and has been in violation of DeKalb School Board Conflict of Interest Policy stating that no board member may also hold county public office.

I have been disappointed that there has been no action taken by the chair, Tom Bowen, to enforce this policy -- even if it has no teeth. If public censure is the best the board could do, they should have done it.

I am concerned with leaders who consider individuals over policy and whole communities, including local press, who are content with such cronyism.

I was very encouraged that the Sembler Request was repelled on so many fronts: CEO commissioners, and the school system (even if the board would not react.) This broad-based rejection is a sign of an increasingly healthy environment -- maybe??

beenroundtoolong said...

Upon re-reading Ty's article I am now unclear. Did the School board or the school system file an injunction? The article uses the two interchangeably but it makes a lot of difference who made the call.

Anyone know how it happened?

pscexb said...

Welcome to the blog, beenroundtoolong! Hope to post often. I asked the same question regarding how this was initiated. My 'assumption' is that it had to come from a majority of board members, i.e. at least 5 members. I believe any action like this can be recommended by the superintendent but ultimately has to be authorized by the board. Again, this is how I understand the separation of powers.

As Ella indicated earlier, while citizens may feel Dr. Walker holding both positions does not pass an 'ethical' test, there is not a 'legal' conflict. He did recuse himself from that vote out of concerns of conflict of interest.

I believe it has been mentioned before that CEO Ellis reappointed Dr. Walker to the Development Authority after he was elected to the BoE. Would he have done so if he believed there would be a conflict of interest?

Anonymous said...

I like County CEO Burrell Ellis, but he allowed Vernon Jones appointee Gene Walker to remain on the DeKalb Development Authority. Ellis had an opprtunity to bring in his own appointee, but he chose to re-appoint Walker. Actually, Ellis has allowed many Vernon Jones appointees to remain on the various boards and authorities.

Burrell Ellis was one elected official who could have removed Walker. Ellis has allowed and enabled Walker's incredible conflict of interest.

It's on you, CEO Ellis.

Anonymous said...

Surprised and disappointed Ellis didn't remove all Vernon Jones appointees from every baord, authority, etc.

Did you know that Harold Buckley has been the DeKalb rep. on the MARTA Board for over 20 years, and many suggest that Buckley has used his MARTA board membership to gain business for his realty business?

Buckley would have profited greatly from a Kensington MARTA TAD. I believe Buckley's company was also involved in some of Vernon's shady property purchases on Memorial Dr., where the county purchased property for much higher prices than were appraised.

Anonymous said...

“My time was better invested in shaking hands than in filling out forms.”

Sembler donations went undisclosed until election results were in

June 25 -- Eugene Walker (right) failed to disclose nearly $20,000 in campaign donations from a developer seeking a multimillion-dollar tax break until after his Dec. 2 election to the DeKalb County school board.

The donations – and Walker’s service on both the school board and the DeKalb Development Authority -- have become a focus of community opposition to the Sembler Co.’s request for a 20-year, $52 million property tax break.

Last week, the authority tabled the proposal and Walker, its chairman, recused himself from the deliberations. He insisted the money from Sembler interests had not influenced him and had been fully disclosed.

“From Day One, I have been totally transparent,” Walker said at the June 18 meeting. “Every penny … has been reported.”

In fact, campaign records show Walker disclosed virtually all of the Sembler-related donations on Day Two – the second day after he won a Dec. 2 runoff election. Georgia law requires candidates to report contributions promptly so voters have access to that information before casting their ballots.

In an interview, Walker said donations were reported as they came in but that he delegated responsibility for the disclosures to his campaign staff.

“I was trying to win,” he said. “My time was better invested in shaking hands than in filling out forms.”

Anonymous said...

Cerebration said...

That is so true - I'm so glad you pointed that out anonymous! I knew that but it really didn't ding the gong in my head - but it's true. Walker didn't post his campaign contributions until AFTER he won the election...

Cerebration said...

Amazing article from Unfiltered -- here's more:

"Walker did report a Sept. 19 donation of $2,300 from Dan McRae, Sembler’s bond lawyer. But the disclosure came Nov. 17, in a report filed nearly a month late and nearly two weeks after the Nov. 4 general election.

Walker’s campaign did not report an additional $19,200 in donations from Sembler family members and executives until Dec. 4, two days after he won the runoff. The campaign reported receiving $10,000 on Sept. 27 and $9,200 on Nov. 19.

The campaign may have received the money even earlier, according to Walker’s campaign treasurer, Constance McCrary, who is also his sister-in-law. In an interview, McCrary said the dates recorded for donations were the days she deposited the money in the bank, not the dates on the checks.

Some contributions were disclosed late, McCrary said, because it took her time to gather information – required for the reports -- on who employed the donors.

“I wasn’t really looking at who it was from as much as trying to follow the correct procedure,” she said.

She said she typically asked Walker for that information if it wasn’t recorded on the check, but she didn’t recall if she asked him who the Semblers were."

Cerebration said...

"Election records show Walker qualified to run for the school board Sept. 8. The next day, documents on file with the development authority show, he met with McRae. Later that day, McRae asked Walker if he could speed up a vote on a bond resolution for Sembler, the records show."

Cerebration said...

Just an FYI - Sembler gave out a whole bunch of money to political campaigns in 08.

From Atlanta Unfiltered -

Records show DeKalb Chief Executive Officer Burrell Ellis’s campaign received another $19,500 from Sembler interests. They were early backers of Ellis’s CEO bid, kicking in $5,000 in July and August 2007.

Campaign records show Sembler interests also gave $4,600 to the 2008 campaign of Commissioner Elaine Boyer and $2,500 to Commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton.

Boyer issued a strong statement opposing Sembler’s request this week.

Sembler also gave $20,000 in 2007 to a booster club founded by Boyer’s husband at Lakeside High School, where the couple’s two daughters were on the cheerleading squads. The booster club severed ties with the school last fall.

Cerebration said...

This is also from Atlanta Unfiltered -

Fuqua, asked about the numbers at a standing-room-only community meeting Monday night, agreed to explain details of the company’s economic analysis after the meeting ended. Afterward, though, he walked briskly from the room and refused to answer questions.

Fuqua also declined several times to say what Sembler would do if the tax break is denied.

Fuqua insisted the benefits of the Brookhaven project would far outweigh the loss of property taxes there.

“There must be 10,000 jobs lost in that mess of Peachtree [Road]. It’s a blighted area,” Fuqua said. “We’re the only ones willing to invest that kind of money there."

(Bear in mind - the blighted area Fuqua is referring to Brookhaven - just up the street a few blocks from Buckhead!)

andi said...

Give me a break! I live near there and it is a higher rent district than where I live. I just looked up 2 bed/2 bath houses in Brookhaven and they are over 200,000. Sembler is going to save Brookhaven!

Cerebration said...

The ONLY blight in that area belongs to the school system -- it's called Cross Keys High School - where they recently found homeless people living in the mass of kudzue on site!!

Cerebration said...

And a final update (hopefully...)

Dist. 2 DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader declared "effectively dead" the proposed 20-year, $52 million tax abatement incentive plan for Town Brookhaven ...

Brookhaven Reporter