by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:
DeKalb County Commissioner Stan Watson has decided to pay back nearly $5,000 after a Channel 2 Action News investigation into commissioners' debit card spending.
"I represent 355,000 people, half of DeKalb County," said Watson. "So it's a great way for people to contact me."
DeKalb County gives every commissioner and their aides the option of a county-issued cellphone, which Watson also has.
A 2011 audit of Watson's spending questioned a single $150 charge, the only one he'd made at the time of the audit. The commissioner replied that he'd received pre-purchase authorization for that charge.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer asked Watson why he doesn't just use his county-issued phone.
"Um, I've had that (personal cellphone) number for a number of years as a state representative. It's been a great way for public utilization to contact me, so I think that it's been good," replied Watson.
Records show since May 2011, Watson billed at least
"It's basically for public use, I think that's what I'm trying to get at," said Watson.
In 2013, Watson even used his taxpayer-funded purchasing card for a $267 charge to replace his personal phone.
"That's correct," said Watson
"Do you feel like there's a problem there?" asked Fleischer.
"Not really, because I think that I've still been accessible to the citizens of DeKalb County," replied Watson.
He says he only uses his county-issued phone for email and scheduling, not calls.
Most of his personal charges ranged from more than $100 per month to nearly $300. Watson says sometimes bills were higher because he didn't pay on time.
The 2011 audit noted that now-suspended Procurement Director Kelvin Walton authorized that very first charge.
"I counted it as permanent permission
But now he says he'll stop.
"Going forward, I won't be doing that," said Watson.
Fleischer asked why Watson was stopping if he believes it's permissible.
"Because Channel 2 is asking the question," Watson replied.
But Channel 2 isn't the only one asking.
As Fleischer first reported in May, federal agents are requesting many of the same records she has, and questioning county officials.
Earlier this year, Commissioner Elaine Boyer repaid more than $3,700 she had billed taxpayers for her personal
Commissioner Jeff Rader and several of the commissioners' aides used the county card to pay just a portion of their personal phone bills.
Records indicate none of them had a county-issued phone at the time, and instead used their personal phones for county business.
Monday afternoon, Watson sent an email to the county finance department asking to set up a plan to repay the money for his phone bill “in an abundance of caution.”