I know that many people in District 3 have felt for a long time that no one listens or cares when they cry foul. But it appears that at last, the winds of change are starting to blow through here. On Sunday, a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, outlined the complex corruption investigations in county government.
I wish I could say this was shocking news. When I started my campaign, I painstakingly reviewed the school budget. One of the things I kept finding is just how difficult it is to question the status quo. For example, my team and I noticed with curiosity a line item "Banking Fees and services for central office and local schools (including fees for investment ad." It turns out this is where the the $150,000 is buried (and probably has been for 5 years) to pay for 2 economic development folks at the Chamber. When GCPS defended the positions by claiming without empirical data that Partnership Gwinnett brought $800 million to the area, providing $6 million in tax revenue to GCPS, curiosity turned to disbelief.
Disbelief turned to frustration when we saw that the board had plans to continue building new schools, despite almost stagnant anticipated growth, declining revenue and thousands and thousands of available seats in existing schools. How can we be in expansion mode when we don’t have enough teachers?
Earlier that same year, the AJC had released several articles about school board land deals. Presumably because of the stories, the school board did an internal investigation (at tax payer expense) that recommended more transparency and professionalism. As a taxpayer and a parent, I would have expected that at the outset and I would have insisted on it as a board member. Do you really have to pay internal investigators to learn that your staff should only buy properties that you, the board, approved?
Most “regular people” (like you and me) would have better sense than to base million dollar deals on executive summaries of appraisals. If appraisals on a single property vary by more than 30 percent, can you not guess that more research is needed? And, I am certain that most “regular people” would know better than to discuss sensitive financial information while a negotiation is in progress.
It bears mentioning that GCPS could have allowed the county district attorney to investigate allegations of impropriety without needing additional funds. It’s what I would have elected to do. How much did this cost taxpayers? Stay tuned on Facebook this week to find out!
Since we are still building schools and buying new properties, I hope our board has learned from their mistakes. In the meantime, I am heartened to see that the district attorney and even the FBI are taking notice of area politics in general. Of course it brings none of us any joy to see tarnish on the sterling reputation of Gwinnett County. It affects our property values, our job growth potential and those things affect our schools and therefore, our children’s futures. But the time has come to clean up the mess so that we can start fresh and restore our collective reputations.