DeKalb Ethics Board member ignores open records request

It’s been almost a month and a half since the AJC asked Thelma Grier, a member of the DeKalb County Board of Ethics, for any records she may have related to the mystery document that allowed a county government official to double as a county contractor.

She hasn’t responded yet, in apparent defiance of the state Open Records Act.

The Ethics Board’s own attorney told me he can’t even pry an answer out of her.

My first request was by phone, but she emphatically said that she would not answer my questions nor cooperate.

Then I asked in writing, citing the Georgia Open Records Act, which requires a response within three business days.

Since then, I’ve heard nothing from her. Zero. Crickets.

In this photo from a September 2010 DeKalb Ethics Board meeting, Thelma Grier is seated at far right.

In this photo from a September 2010 DeKalb Ethics Board meeting, Thelma Grier is seated at far right.

I called Grier during a crucial phase of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News investigation into how Vaughn Irons’ company, APD Solutions, won a $1 million DeKalb County contract for federal stimulus funds. We had already discovered that a purported 2011 advisory opinion from the DeKalb Board of Ethics allowed Irons to place a bid, despite being a member of the county’s Development Authority. The ethics code forbids the government from doing business with its own officials, but the Ethics Board is the final decider.

The DeKalb County clerk didn’t have a filed copy of the 2011 opinion, and the only meeting records she could locate showed the matter being tabled twice. The board was in a state of disarray at the time, often failing to reach a quorum to hold meetings, and sometimes neglecting to turn all their records over to the clerk’s office.

So that left me with current and former board members’ recollections, and any public records they might have.

As I polled them, none recalled ever voting on Irons’ request for an opinion. Some scoured their emails and personal files, confirming that the matter came up in a few meetings in late 2010, got pushed off, then never came back up in any meeting before the so-called ethics opinion mysteriously showed up in DeKalb’s contracting department in late 2011. Bryan Smith, the former board chairman whose signature is on the purported opinion, said he doesn’t recall signing it, doesn’t know why he would have, and doesn’t rule out forgery.

(Irons, for his part, says he has no knowledge of where the document came from or how it wound up in county files.)

Five of the 2011 Ethics Board members and their former lawyer, Stephen Irving, cooperated with us. Grier was the only exception.

Ethics Board attorney Gene Chapman has responded several times that he is trying to comply with the request, but Grier won’t work with him. He assures me Grier is aware of my request.

The AJC filed a request for records in Thelma Grier's possession on January 30.

The AJC filed a request for records in Thelma Grier’s possession on January 30.

At one point, he said, she told him she was traveling for work and was unable to check her records for me.

That was February 19 – or 14 business days ago.

The AJC is still waiting.

The AJC's last communication from Ethics Board attorney Gene Chapman, on Tuesday.

The AJC’s last communication from Ethics Board attorney Gene Chapman, on Tuesday.


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