DeKalb School Board could face grand jury investigation

Updated:

DeKALB CO., Ga.,None - A DeKalb County grand jury is calling for a deeper investigation into the actions of school board members, citing questionable policies, spending and nepotism concerns.

The civil grand jurors spent more than a month looking at county operations and handed up their presentment Thursday.

"All of it concerns me. I'm a parent and I'm a taxpaying citizen of DeKalb County," said Robert James, who also serves as DeKalb County's district attorney.

He said he will spend the next few weeks deciding whether to ask the superior court judges to allow him to convene a special-purpose grand jury to look specifically at the DeKalb School Board.

"There is some validity. The question is, how much validity and does it warrant a further look?" said James, who called the report “explosive.”

The grand jurors listed five general concerns, including School Board influence in the hiring and personnel evaluation process, including friends and family with questionable salaries, and senior-level personnel employed in outside work that could impact job performance or lead to double-dipping on pay.

"Misrepresentation of information and fraudulently presenting certain things, that's when you get into criminal activity," said James. "But most of what they were talking about were not actual crimes, but waste and misuse of taxpayer dollars and nepotism and things of that nature. Which is -- however, in the province of a special grand jury."

They also cited the year and a half delay in hiring a permanent superintendent after Crawford Lewis's indictment on racketeering charges. He and other district workers are accused of accepting bribes and funneling work to his chief operating officer's husband.

Civil grand jurors also criticized School Board members for leaking information to the media regarding one of the candidates to replace Lewis. The candidate later removed her name from contention.

The grand jury questioned use of public funds to endorse and promote the last special-purpose local-option sales tax referendum. Public money is only supposed to be used for education relating to the projects, not a specific endorsement.

And the grand jury criticized Board policies for hiring attorneys and filing and managing lawsuits, with regard to exorbitant spending on a lengthy lawsuit to recover funds from Heery Construction, the district's former school builder.

James says several of the concerns are years old and stem from the prior superintendent's administration. A few have also surfaced previously and could come up in ongoing criminal cases.

School Board Chairman Tom Bowen was interviewed by the grand jurors and told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer that he answered the questions to the best of his ability.

He says there is more the district can do to investigate and provide proof that the concerns are being addressed, and that he would like that opportunity before a special grand jury is deemed necessary.

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