By outside accounts, the two aren’t speaking any more. Irons, a politically-connected property developer and former Freddie Mac executive, has been close to the commission for years. But Irons and May appear to have fallen out.
May went out of his way to issue a press release yesterday disavowing Irons. “I look forward to talking with some of the announced candidates about their priorities and vision for DeKalb County,” May wrote. “A decision on whether to endorse a candidate will be made after these discussions. However, let me be clear: I have not and will not endorse the candidacy of Mr. Vaughn Irons to be the next District 5 Commissioner.”
That’s about as plain as it gets. Anyone but you.
Scandal takes its toll. First, Irons tried to win approval of what he assures us all is not a casino in south DeKalb — even though it would be permitted for hundreds of video lottery terminals and is owned by an Indian gambling concern from Louisiana. The project stalled when it became clear that commissioner Stan Watson couldn’t vote on it because Watson is on Irons’ payroll.
Then the press uncovered what appeared to be a forged ethics document granting Irons clearance to bid — and win — $1.5 million in HUD-funded rehab business from the county, despite clear county ethics rules preventing him from doing so. Commissioner Stan Watson, who works for Irons’ firm, voted on this contract in plain violation of the county’s ethics ordinance.
Irons said at a February 28 press conference that he would take a polygraph test … then took six weeks to prepare for it. I would recommend ignoring Irons’ noise about passing that polygraph test.
Never mind that polygraph tests aren’t generally admissible in court, nor that the low-profile testing service — Gary Lancaster in Lawrenceville — hasn’t returned phone calls to validate Irons’ claims, nor the lack of witnesses to the feat, nor that Irons arranged for “relevant” questions to exclude ones like “do you know who forged the ethics opinion,” or “did you arrange for the ethics opinion to be forged?”
To have even the veneer of honesty, Irons would have had to publicly declare in advance which testing service he planned to use. Given polygraph accuracy rates of 70 to 80 percent, the promise of client confidentiality and a little coaching, Irons could quietly test with several services around Atlanta, declaring victory in public the first time he passed. Announced this way, it’s a PR gimmick. Nothing more.
But here we go again. Another scandal magnet is running for office. “Vote for me, I passed a polygraph test,” one might imagine him saying on the campaign trail. “There’s less than a 30 percent chance I’m dishonest.”
Perhaps that will fit on a Mother’s Day card.
Nonetheless, given the short prep time for a June 16 election and his access to campaign capital, Irons may be viable.
But he has some stout … and surprising … competition.
Harmel Deanne Codi works as an education consultant, with an MBA from UGA and a law degree. She’s an accidental politician of sorts. Codi served as a contracts review officer for DeKalb County in the Ellis administration, until she began raising questions about misconduct there. When nothing happened, she resigned in disgust and has been dogging public officials ever since. She’s says she’s raising money by the fistful as an outsider anticorruption candidate, reaching out to DeKalb Strong and Blueprint for DeKalb on reform issues. Her task now is to pick up enough ground support in the district without ties to existing power structures in south DeKalb.
Mereda Johnson is a founding member of the DeKalb Lawyers Association, a former magistrate court judge in DeKalb county — the first black woman to serve as such here — and the wife of U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson. Hank came under fire earlier this year after the press revealed that Mereda has been on the congressman’s payroll since 2008 as a community liaison. And Mereda’s been relatively silent on the county’s controversies. But Hank Johnson, former District 5 commissioner, won all but one precinct there in a strong primary challenge last year. It remains to be seen whether Mereda Johnson’s candidacy will be illuminated by Hank’s halo or rejected as an attempt at political nepotism.
Gina Mangham’s been wearing a “District 5 commission candidate” nameplate in community meetings for at least a year. She ran for the seat in 2012, placing third against the incumbent May. A Lithonia attorney and longtime activist, Mangham has been a vocal critic of county mismanagement and was instrumental in blocking a biomass gasification plant in south DeKalb. She’s been working closely with the South DeKalb Improvement Association on bread-and-butter economic issues like the on-going foreclosure crisis. Mangham is counting on her familiarity with the district’s grassroots activists to overcome a weak fundraising track record.
Gregory Adams — not the municipal court judge, the other one — is the guy more people probably would have voted for, if they knew then what they know now about Stan Watson or Burrell Ellis. Adams is a military veteran, a former police officer and a pastor who lost to Watson two-to-one last year in the supercommission district contest, generally underperforming even that mark in the precincts of District 5. Adams ran for CEO against Ellis in 2012, losing in the primary. But he has the distinction of having challenged both men when they needed challenging. Still, Adams has to shake off the perennial candidate tag with something dramatic this round to compete effectively.
Undoubtedly, other people are considering a run as well. State Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick declined to contest the seat this time (despite my best efforts to convince her otherwise), as has Jason Lary, proponent of the Stonecrest cityhood movement in the district. George Turner, May’s pick as an appointed replacement before the entire process devolved into acrimonious chaos, has been silent about his intentions so far. Dr. Kathryn Rice, president of the SDIA, says she hasn’t made her mind up yet. (One wonders if she’s waiting for Watson’s seat to suddenly become vacant in the near future.)
Expect a runoff in July. Qualification begins Monday.