DeKalb County and Ethics

June 17, 2014 13:05 pm

by Eric The Younger · 15 comments

It turns out that DeKalb County Commissioner Stan Watson has been billing DeKalb County for his personal cell phone. Over the past three years it adds up to almost $5000.

From the AJC

Watson put $4,882 worth of cellphone costs on his county debit card between May 2011 and March 2014 for an average of about $140 per month paid by taxpayers, according to Verizon bills obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request.

Watson, who represents about 350,000 residents in east DeKalb, said earlier this month that the expense was justified because he used his personal cellphone to talk with residents and government officials as part of his daily job as a commissioner.

“I do use my personal phone for county business. If the county thought it was wrong, why would they pay for it for three years?” Watson said. “I don’t see the big deal about the cellphone.”

This seems a bit ridiculous. I understand that sometimes you use your personal phone for work. I know I’ve done it; the only phone number I have is my cell. That being said, I don’t have a second work issued cellphone that is paid by the company (or in this case the government).

I can’t say I really buy the “but more people know my personal number” defense either. You’re an elected official. People put their trust in you to govern effectively and fairly. Not waste their money because you want to the County Government to pay for your monthly subscription to Verizon Navigation because you can’t find Google Maps.

Maybe there’s an argument that you can partially expense your personal cell phone bill to the county because you did county business on it. That’s fine, but all $140/month for three years? That’s stretching it.

The other money quote came from our own editor Stefan. And I don’t think I could have said it better.

Stefan Turkheimer, an attorney whose practice includes political law and employment law, said charging the government for personal cellphone bills could amount to ethical and criminal violations.

“If independent people were looking at it, they’d have a hard time justifying two cellphones,” Turkheimer said. “This is not an extension of his salary. Use of his P-card is not part of his benefits package. It’s something that allows him to do his job.”

It all seems like just another day using taxpayers’ money in DeKalb county.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Ghost of William F. Buckley June 17, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Another, far more serious Dekalb related case is being adjudicated in South Carolina, while everyone is a’twitter about the P-Card in flagrante dilecto. Has to do with ‘love tokens.’

That matter may very well end up being linked to the P-Card stupidity, creating a Perfect Storm for a RICO violations.

Things are going to get very uncomfortable for some folks over next three to four weeks, mark it.

George Chidi June 17, 2014 at 4:06 pm

The indictment lands sometime in July, when the trial starts. The target knows who he or she is. I expect some weird moves between now and then.

gcp June 17, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Lee May has been a disappointment as CEO. He should condemn the p-card abuse by Watson, Sutton, Boyer and who knows who else. He should have long ago fired the ” unindicted co-conspirator ” Kevin Walton and the former secretary of Burrell Ellis.

And where is the DeKalb ethics commission? Does it always require the feds to handle corruption? And why does May still employ a “director of public safety” or whatever he calls himself when the county already has a police chief and fire chief? Dekalb is the most corrupt county in Ga. Are there any ethical leaders in county government? It does not appear so.

FranInAtlanta June 17, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Not that I support what he did, but if it’s all right with the IRS, it’s all right with me. Having two cell phones or going through the bill to separate business from personal calls is a pain.

Harry June 17, 2014 at 3:34 pm

This is small potatoes. If he’s commissioner for 350,000 people then he should be able to bill his phone to the county. Let’s focus on the important stuff!

gcp June 17, 2014 at 7:10 pm

He needs to use his county cell for county business but because he uses his own cell phone he can bill the county? I disagree. This is another example of a politician using taxpayer money for personal expenses just like the other commisioners. Its a pattern that needs to stop.

George Chidi June 17, 2014 at 8:38 pm

I can imagine an employment contract for essential county employees getting a phone stipend. It’s not so much a perk as a necessary evil for people who are expected to answer a phone at 3 a.m. when someone gets shot or a tanker overturns.

I wouldn’t have a problem with county commissioners getting free cell phones … on the condition that they answer the damned things when I call them, and return phone calls with them when they can’t answer.

Dave Bearse June 17, 2014 at 11:20 pm

The reason for a personal phone for county business as well as the county phone is pretty simple. The government business conducted on the personal phone is much more easily shielded from an open records request.

MattMD June 18, 2014 at 12:14 am

Good point.

Where else but DeKalb would a politician then take that loophole and then attempt to bill the county for it?

I really liked living in Candler Park but I would not want to be a part of that horrific county.

The Last Democrat in Georgia June 18, 2014 at 12:57 am

DeKalb County = okay

DeKalb County government = BAD

Stefan June 18, 2014 at 2:17 am

except that when you have the county pay for the phone, it becomes subject to open records requests. The entire issue here is that the county is providing a cell phone with data service, which he accepts and uses, and then the county is paying for an additional cell phone for his personal use. It’s the paying for both that’s the problem, not the having both.

George Chidi June 18, 2014 at 9:11 am

Hmm. Well now. Some enterprising journalist should press the issue, and file a Georgia Open Records Act request for the billing record of Stan Watson’s phone for the last year. It might be interesting to see with whom he’s been talking.

Eric The Younger June 18, 2014 at 10:16 am

I look forward to your results.

Dave Bearse June 20, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Sure, county business conducted on a personal phone is subject to open records.

We can rest assured that the service provider has retained government business texts and e-mails in accordance with requirements and policies. No worries either about personal discipline and judgment in determining what is government business, and what is not.

What about deleted e-mails from Vendor Joe and Developer Jane?

The e-mails from Vendor Joe were campaign business. You didn’t know? Developer Jane and I have been social friends for years.

WeymanCWannamakerJr June 18, 2014 at 3:14 am

Molehill. The Mountain still resides on West Paces Ferry.