Sutton: ‘I am good with everything I’ve done’



As the FBI and the county ethics board looks into how DeKalb County commissioners handle their budgets and county purchasing cards (P-cards), Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton said she has been fiscally responsible.

“There has been no misuse, no overspending,” Sutton told The Champion on June 16 about the handling of her budget, which was $274,400 for 2013 and is $262,800 for 2014. “You can sensationalize the spending if you don’t look at all of the numbers.”

Sutton admitted that “there have been some receipts that have been lost,” but added she now has a plan in place to better save receipts and to record them much sooner.

One of the receipts that were missing when The Champion filed an Open Records Request was for a $239.97 purchase from Bed, Bath & Beyond in September 2013. Sutton’s P-Card log lists the purchase as a chair, but Sutton said, “I don’t know what chair that was. That’s a typo. I don’t know.”

Sutton recollected that she purchased a fan, office supplies and air freshener from the store for her office.

On Sept. 3, 2013, she also spent $1,465 at Office Depot to set up her home office. Although no receipt was provided to The Champion, Sutton said she purchased furniture, including a desk, printer table and side table.

“I was setting up my home office after all these years,” said Sutton, who began serving as a commissioner in 2009. “I was supposed to do that my first year, but I was using my own equipment. It was so old that it wouldn’t support today’s technology and software, so I…set up my home office.”

Since commissioners’ P-card usage has been under the public microscope, Sutton said she has learned that the county needs to “have clear policies that are applicable to the position of the person with the P-card.”

“One of the problems that we had was that policies were designed for employees of the CEO,” Sutton said. “What is appropriate for an employee who only maybe orders supplies in a department and maybe travels once every five years…is different from what an elected official does.”


Business trips are ‘invaluable’

Sutton’s summary of travel expenses for the past three years shows that her office spent $16,496 in 2011; $1,648 in 2012; and $6,431 in 2013.

In March 2013, Sutton spent $170 in baggage fees, $52 for taxis, $48 for meals and $1,276 for a hotel room during a trip to Washington, D.C., for the National Association of Counties (NACo) legislative conference. Such trips are invaluable, she said.

“That is where you get to get all of your legislative and policy training,” Sutton said. “If you do not do that, you’re not fully able to represent your constituents. You know nothing about the most current legislation that affects your population.”

During the same trip, Judy Brownlee, Sutton’s chief of staff who is also a member of NACo, had another hotel room with a $1,311 price tag. Sharing a room was not an option, Sutton said.

“I’m a 54-year-old woman,” Sutton said. “Why am I going to roommate with my staff? I don’t think anyone would ask the governor if he should share with his chief of staff. Would you ask Congressman Johnson if he should share with his chief of staff?”

Laundry charge ‘appropriate’

During that same trip, Sutton charged $47 for room service and another $43 for laundry.

“I didn’t have a washing machine in my room and something spilled on my clothes,” she said about the expense. “I didn’t think [taxpayers] would want me to represent them with clothes that were dirty.

“I think that’s an appropriate expense,” Sutton said. “If I had not been away working, it would not have been an issue. I would have put them in my washing machine and washed it myself or I would take it to the dry cleaners. I had no other option. They had the service available. To have them cleaned, I don’t think that there’s a problem with that.”


Wine charge was an ‘oversight’

A $61.72 receipt for a lunch meeting in July 2013 with first responders at Blue Ribbon Grill shows that two glasses of wine were purchased with Brownlee’s P-card.

“Normally when we have wine with a dinner, they are paid for separately. That must have been an oversight,” Sutton said about the lunch at Blue Ribbon Grill. “Normally whoever has the alcohol pays for the alcohol.”

From Jan. 1, 2013, to April 1, 2014, Sutton’s office spent $1,077 for lunch and dinner meetings at various restaurants. When asked how lunch meetings were more helpful than office meetings, she said, “It depends on the meeting and the time of day and the location…and the purpose of the meeting.

“There are times when it’s appropriate to meet in the office and there are times when it’s appropriate not to,” she said, “especially when you’re working with people that you want support and help from and you’re going to inconvenience them and they have to squeeze you in around a meal time, I think you should go on and pay for the meal.”


Donation supports approved nonprofit

In October 2013, Sutton spent $1,100 at a silent auction supporting the Africa’s Children Fund. The money, which Sutton said was a donation to the nonprofit, bought a picture of President Barack Obama for her office.

Based in Chamblee, the Africa’s Children Fund “provides assistance to under-served children and their families to improve the quality of their lives and civic contribution through educational, medical, housing and nutritional programs,” according to its website.

“That’s a charity that the county supports,” Sutton said. “We have supported that charity for many years. That year we were not able to support them at the level they requested through the general fund. They were having a fundraiser, and I committed to at least $1,000 from my budget.”

“I could have just given the $1,100 straight from my budget,” she added.


Sutton believes she is a political target

Sutton said she believes she is “absolutely” being targeted for her P-card use.

“It’s for political reasons and [by] people with controlling natures…to further political agendas,” she said, adding that she knows who has been targeting her but would not name the person.

“For years when people have been doing disingenuous stories about me and misrepresenting the facts, I’ve been silent,” Sutton said. But at this point in my life, I’ve got to set the facts straight and set the record straight.

“The commissioners aren’t the only elected officials that use the county P-cards…but our usage has been targeted,” Sutton said. “I can’t say one way or the other if there has been improprieties in anybody else’s P-cards, but when you only target a small number of people—seven, and only a couple out of the seven—you’re being disingenuous.”

Sutton said she has handled her budget well and even saved the county money, underspending by $19,366 in 2011; $11,354 in 2012; and $26,073 in 2013.

“As people follow the money, I want people to understand it and I want them to follow my service and see how well I serve the people of this district,” Sutton said.

“I am good with everything I’ve done,” she said.

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  1. Diana M. says:

    How is she serving the people of her community if she is spending tax payer money to decorate her house? Conveniently losing receipts does not explain how the money was spent. She needs to be in prison with former CEO Ellis.

  2. Carole Baker says:

    What a dork!!

  3. Jody Norwood says:

    If lunch and purchases at Bed, Bath, and Beyond are appropriate then get behind spending money on the animals of DeKalb County. They deserve so much more than what this county commission has ever done for them.
    Just a hint Mrs. Barnes-Sutton, you might want to consider your constituents before you take such cavalier attitudes about spending so much on personal items, with our tax dollars.

  4. Diana says:

    $170 in baggage fees? Ridiculous. If the dinners on our tab are so valuable, you’d think that she could give a little more detail than “oh, it depends on what you’re talking about.” But overall it’s the lack of self-reflection I find disturbing. No indication of “I’ll try to do better”.

  5. Marilyn Poliakoff says:

    As a tax paying citizen of DeKalb County I am appalled by your lack of regard for responsible use of our urgently needed money. Money that needs to used to pay for education, roads, public workers salaries and a desperately needed new animal shelter,and things much more urgent than your laundry, wine, or anything from BB&B. Your excuses for the way you manage money are disgusting and you are serving no one but your self. Certainly not me or the tax payers of DeKalb. You are a disgrace and should be ashamed of yourself.

  6. Judy says:

    “I am good with everything I’ve done” says Commissioner Sutton? REALLY? Why should that bring me any level of comfort? If anything, that makes me terribly uncomfortable with her lack of any accountability.
    Targeted? Her spending is extremely disproportionate. That alone would give reason to look into her spending patterns. Call it what you will, but I appreciate the fact that SOMEONE cares about where her poor constituents’ money is going.
    Sensationalize spending? Again, REALLY? I see no sign of sensationalizing her spending. It speaks for itself. Where is the proportionate tie from over $250K in unexplained expenditures to the benefits she has produced for her constituents? To me, that is unsupported delusion. There are some receipts missing? Again, SOME is a FAR CRY from what SHOULD BE REQUIRED BY ANY PUBLIC OFFICIAL. What percentage of $262.8K is undocumented with lack of receipts? I would love to know. SOME, MOST, ALMOST ALL OF THEM?
    DeKalb County is SERIOUSLY LACKING a decent animal services facility, which is a very serious passion of mine and many other people in the county. From a statistical standpoint, I would think that a considerable percentage of the animals turned in or picked up by animal control would be traced back to Commissioner’s Sutton’s district. Knowing that could be true, we would expect the Commissioner to actually EMBRACE this new facility. We would expect her to embrace rescue groups in her constituency who are attempting to education pet owners/guardians on how to better take care of their pets as required by the county ordinances. Or better yet, we would have expected her to initiate programs on her own to educate her constituents since the care of pets is directly linked to how people handle their children, their elderly, etc., and she says she deeply cares about her constituents.
    NO. No initiated programs by Commissioner Sutton to educate her constituents. Instead, she not only does not embrace the help she is being given, but is unable to accurately have an intelligent discussion about the facts concerning the proposed new facility. She continues to use the $8M as some sort of benchmark for the price tag for the new facility. THAT NUMBER HAS NO FACTUAL BASIS, AND NEVER DID. IT WAS A NUMBER OUT OF THE BLUE. SHE TOLD THE CEO’S OFFICE THEY HAD TO FIGURE OUT A WAY TO GET BACK TO THAT NUMBER. REALLY? THAT NUMBER IS BOGUS, AND TO TRY TO FORCE THE SHELTER INTO A BOGUS BUDGET NUMBER WOULD BE ANOTHER SELF-IMPOSED DILUSION.
    I would welcome Commissioner Sutton to work with the real facts and to help DeKalb County as a whole, and certainly her own constituency. She needs to play a vital role to get the resources desperately required to care for her discarded pets in her role as a County Commissioner. We need an animal services facility that actually meets the needs of the County, not one that meets a bogus budget target.

    Commissioner Sutton – step up to the challenge. Spend wisely and document your expenditures as you know you should. And spend wisely by giving this county the animal services facility that it desperately needs and deserves.

  7. Carole Baker says:

    Good for you Judy. I agree with everything you said. Commissioner Sutton does not attend meetings about the shelter and then complains that she doesn’t know anything about the budget Of course she doesn’t. She just likes to play the drama queen and scream about wasted taxpayer dollars. That’s a joke. She should be fired. I hope her constituency kicks her out and elects an intelligent, ethical, caring commissioner who takes her responsibility seriously. Sutton is a joke!!

  8. BS Filter says:

    I hope and pray the people of her district get rid of her. DeKalb County is seemingly hopeless to change such reckless and fiscally irresponsible behavior. Sutton is playing the race card to try and weasel her way out of this. Do not be fooled by Lee May’s false presentation of change. He is just as corrupt and careless and his predecessors. Just look at his initial appointment to chair the Ethics Board. Do not wait around for the county to change. Cityhood is the only option. Leave these crooks with the constituents that elect them repeatedly. See how much money they have left to misuse then. At that point, maybe those idiots will wake up and go vote the crooks out. I am definitely hoping Elaine Boyer is defeated. She is a liar and a crook like the rest of them, besides Gannon and Rader.

    • Harry says:

      Keep in mind that even with cityhood, one is still part of DeKalb County. To me, that’s not the answer. The answer is cleaning house by not re-electing these people (Gannon and Rader excepted.. let’s keep them!!) In fact I’d like to see Rader run for CEO!!!

  9. Harry says:

    Barnes-Sutton says she lives in the “real world”. If that’s the case she should come to the shelter and volunteer for an 8 hour shift and see what the real “real world” is like.

  10. JS from Dekalb, now Rio Grande Valley, Texas says:

    As I read your comments, I see that many are upset that they want Sutton to get more involved in the workings and funding of an animal shelter. This may be a valid request, depending on her scope.

    As she discloses and explained expenses, I also heard things like, I worked with my own equipment, until it needed replacement and was outdated. And the $1400 pricetag was extremely reasonable for such an expense.. People questioning $239 for a fan and fresheners or a chair, and asking why she didn’t share a room in which she could expect privacy, with a coworker, are acting like this is a witch burning.

    I have been the one who was accused of overspending, because my husbands and my expenses were issued as one check, because we did share a room on business trips ( a financial benefit to the company, because we happened to be very familiar privately). We were questioned for spending less than double the per person per dium for food, despite impecible receipts, and our larger bills were examined as though they were for one person, not two. We never mis-spent company funds, and were enduring great hardship,while some at the same rank as my husband were not finding deals, living in fancy hotels and eating lavish meals for two days, unexplained, to be there for a one day event.

    Our Superintendent makes 1/4 million, has paid visits to the White House and invites anyone from any district, and even provides school bus pick up at the Mexican Border. Using a relative’s address, anyone can attend our school district with no tuition, while we could loose our property if we don’t pay the taxes that support our kids in school where they are overcrowded, apply for waivers to the student/teacher ratio in every class, some are in trailers in dangerous heat that subsides two months per school year, and there is mold. When they miss school, they better not rest at home, because school district police will serve you with tickets to appear before a justice of the peace for as little as 3 absences in a semester.

    Pick at the structure that is bureaucracy heavy, and eliminate jobs that do nothing but reward friends of the winners. For the little guys who got a job that they do well, and that pays their family’s bills remember “Whatever you have done unto to the least of these, my bretheren, you have done to me.”

    BTW, a helicoptor to the inauguration, hundreds of friends in Spain with the first lady, nullifying the worth of any expense in the Iraq war? Where’s the financial disclosure on King, I mean President Obama and the First Lady? They spend like new rich–I am embarassed by their display of spending.

  11. Steve Kitts says:

    If there is a lack of clear policies that are applicable to everyone using a County p-card, then the County needs to correct the situation now that invites misuse and abuse. Perception weighs in heavily that as long as receipts and documentation for expenditures are not required of a Commissioner, one can spend taxpayer money for whatever one wants as long as he or she doesn’t overspend “their budget.” … Another reminder that a lack of accountability and transparency is an open door to corruption.

  12. The Snoopy Dog says:

    Well who voted her sorry self in ?

    Well who is sitting on their hind legs as these DeKalb Commissioners rob us all blind ?

    And where in Hades is Rep Jason Carter at ? He talks about cleaning up The State of Jawja all the while he live in the most corrupt county in Jawja and Jason Carter has not said a word ?

    The Citizens of DeKalb deserve everything that they receive for they and they alone voted these PIGS into office !

    And US DA Sally Q Yates, please wake up !!!

  13. Muffie Michaelson says:

    If Sutton is “good with everything” she has done, she has very low standards. She rang up many thousands in undocumented charges despite serving on the Finance, Audit & Budget Committee AND being warned about her lack of receipts after a 2011 audit. Yet in May she had the moxie to tell a reporter, “I didn’t even know that we were supposed to keep receipts, because I thought we had a record every time you swiped the card.” Really? After all the financial trouble she has already experienced in her personal life, she still hasn’t learned the basics of financial management? Anyone of her age and experience knows that a credit card statement doesn’t itemize what you purchase. We taxpayers know how easy it is to tuck itemized receipts in a wallet or write “copier paper and toner” on a receipt if necessary. Failing to meticulously record the expenditure of taxpayer money reveals extreme laziness or entitlement or both.

Trackbacks for this post

  1. […] into a wide-ranging look at P-Card abuses by the commission. Commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton has similarly come under fire for her use of her county card. The FBI has reportedly begun investigating the […]

  2. […] website and his phone or whatever the heck was going on in South Carolina, or Sharon Barnes-Sutton for her P-card misuses or the payments to her partner for consulting work, or the ethics complaint alleging improper […]

  3. […] $45,000 or so initially had no matching receipts. Her first reaction was to tell the media “I am good with everything I have done.” Barnes-Sutton issued a press release later saying that an outside auditor had declared all […]

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