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Conflict of Interest Alleged in Termination of Probation Services Contract

Georgia’s Dekalb County has a $1 million contract with Judicial Correctional Services (JCS) to operate the County’s probation services. With the recommendation of his campaign manager, County CEO Burrell Ellis terminated JCS’s contract; a termination shrouded in controversy when it was revealed the campaign manager worked for a competing company.

In the last year, Ellis terminated three of the county’s more than 1,000 contracts “out of convenience.” It turns out that two of the three contracts involved attorney Kevin Ross, the campaign manager.

Ross, who says he is “a friend and advisor to the CEO,” recommended the contract with JCS be cancelled. “I did tell CEO Ellis to look into the procurement and he consider exercising the contract for convenience and to put it out to bid,” said Ross. “I advocated and appealed to the county discretion to look at a procurement that is flawed.”

The procurement process, however, had already been fully examined. In 2008, a lawsuit about alleged “improprieties” in the procurement process was dismissed. The termination of JCS’s contract by Ellis was violation of state law, which provides that only a judge may terminate a probation services contract.

In addition to informing Ellis of that law, Recorders Court Chief Judge Nelly Withers informed Ellis in a letter that JCS is doing a good job. “I have been completely surprised and blindsided,” wrote Withers. “I have no idea what the basis for this decision was, given the strong partnership we have developed with JCS and their willingness to go above and beyond the terms of their contract to help this court move forward.”

Withers noted that JCS has increased the County’s fine collection by $500,000 a year, and helped close more than 15,000 cases. Ross, however, told Ellis to review a year old grand jury report that found the previous chief judge dismissed 11,000 warrants without review.

JCS recommended those dismissals. An investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 6,000 of those warrants were issued by the company Ross works for: Sentinel Offender Services. The warrants were dismissed due to the mistakes by Sentinel.

Ross was also involved in the termination of the County’s contract with Care Ambulance. The new contract was given to Rural/Metro Ambulance, a company Ross represents. Ellis said Ross has never unduly influenced him. “I’ve never, in any way, tried to steer contracts one way or another.”

“You don’t have to be a detective to see what’s going on,” said JCS’s president, Jarrett Garlon. “I think it’s very saddening that someone who is a member of the bar of the state and supposed to stay away from conflict of interest is now in the middle of a huge conflict of interest.”

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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