DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News has learned that a senior DeKalb County official closed nearly 30,000 code enforcement complaints even though the problems had not been corrected.
DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond has made cleaning up blight one of his top priorities, but he inherited a system in which one of the top county administrators closed tens of thousands of complaints by simply directing subordinates to close them.
Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher found out none of the underlying problems were fixed in the complaints, which stretched back as far as 10 years. A total of about 6,000 properties are involved. Most of the properties had multiple code complaints.
Among the sites Channel 2 Action News visited Monday was an apartment complex on Waverly Place in Clarkston, where some of the buildings are uninhabitable, and an apartment building across the street on Indian Creek Way. Liberian immigrant Alfred Karlar told Belcher he moved out because of the filthy conditions.
"There's a lot of things. The rat -- the little animals -- live here and a lot of roaches. Not fixed," he said.
A whistleblower tipped Channel 2 to use the state open records law to request the records of 28,353 individual code compliance complaints that were declared closed in April and July of 2016. No one disputes what our whistleblower told us: None of the complaints had been officially resolved when they were closed.
We spoke with Joe Arrington and Charles Peagler, longtime DeKalb residents who are on the county Code Enforcement Advisory Committee.
"I don't think there's any visible, transparent process of how they handle old cases. They just sort of get wiped off," Arrington said.
Peagler agreed, saying, "There's nothing on the record for dismissing any cases."
The complaints were closed on the orders of then-Code Enforcement Administrator Marcus Kellum, who resigned last month after a Channel 2 Action News investigation raised questions about his travel expenses and conflicts between his DeKalb County job and his private company. Kellum was promoted to director of Beautify DeKalb in May 2016, but retained responsibility for code enforcement.
Peagler and Arrington both say Kellum isn't entirely to blame, because the entire code enforcement system has to be fixed.
"There's no subject that's on more citizens' minds than code enforcement," Arrington told Belcher.
Peagler says improvements in code enforcement are critical. "You know, if you clean up the county, we're going to get reputable businesses in the county," he said.
County spokesman Quinn Hudson sent a statement intended to underscore the county's more aggressive posture on code enforcement without specifically criticizing Marcus Kellum. The statement reads in part, "Compared to 2016, the county’s code enforcement department issued 32 percent more court summons and performed 14 percent more inspections in 2017.”
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