EXCLUSIVE: Head of DeKalb’s troubled small business program reassigned

The manager of a long-embattled DeKalb County program aimed at helping small businesses get lucrative government contracts has been removed from his position.

County officials confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Felton Williams is no longer employed as the procurements project manager for the Local Small Business Enterprise (LSBE) program, also known as DeKalb First.

They said Williams “requested a transfer to an open position in facilities management” — while calling the change “part of an ongoing process to improve the effectiveness of DeKalb County government.”

The county’s statement did not offer a more direct connection between Williams’ reassignment and ongoing issues with LSBE program. However, the move comes as officials await the final version of an audit likely to be critical of the program’s oversight and amid claims from a local businesswoman that her signature was forged on LSBE documents. The action also follows the resignation of Williams’ supervisor, another high-profile leader in DeKalb’s purchasing department.

“It appears that there is an ongoing compliance problem with the LSBE program,” County Commissioner Nancy Jester said. “I wish the administration would be more transparent and collaborative with the Board of Commissioners regarding their efforts to fix these problems.”

Attempts to reach Williams were not immediately successful Friday.

DeKalb’s LSBE program was established in 2006 and modified through a new county ordinance in 2016. The program’s stated goal is to bring more local businesses – including minority- and woman-owned firms – into the competition for millions of dollars in government contracts.

The thinking is that more work for local businesses keeps them and their money in the county. As of last month, about 400 vendors were certified through the program, though only a fraction had actually acquired contracts.

An external audit of DeKalb’s overall procurement system that was published last year raised significant questions about the LSBE program, suggesting it was “hampering competition and increasing DeKalb County’s costs.”

DeKalb’s Office of Independent Internal Audit is also conducting a separate review focused on the LSBE program. A draft of the audit was provided to officials last May but it has not yet been finalized. Chief audit executive John Greene said he expects the final version to be released early this year.

The draft version was plenty critical of the program.

It said LSBE had “inconsistent and inadequate monitoring procedures” and that certain reports, applications and other documents either “did not contain key data” or were “missing from the files” altogether.

There’s also the matter of Denese Love.

Love is the owner of Professional Office Solutions, a small printing shop in Avondale Estates. As Channel 2 Action News first reported, the business was selected as an LSBE subcontractor for a county job in early 2018.

But Love said she didn’t know she’d won the bid until 18 months later — and, upon examining contract documents, she believes her signature was forged on an affidavit tied to the contract. The Decatur Police Department is currently investigating.

Love told The AJC on Friday that she’s also had problems getting the work promised after winning bids for other LSBE subcontracting jobs.

“It would work with the right person in charge,” Love said.

Williams’ reassignment came a few months after the resignation of his supervisor, Chief Procurement Officer Talisa Clark.

Clark first announced she’d be leaving her position in late November, nearly a year after an outside audit found the purchasing and contracting department she oversaw was “at high risk for waste, fraud, corruption and abuse.” Clark also figures prominently in a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former employee, Teresa Slayton, who alleges that supervisors ignored her attempts to highlight conflicts of interest and potential bid-rigging within the department.

According to documents obtained by the AJC, Clark was given a severance package after signing a waiver that prevents her from filing her own lawsuits against the county.

She signed the waiver on Dec. 20 but remained on the county payroll until Jan. 31, collecting more than $10,000 in salary.

DeKalb officials said there “was not, nor has there ever been, a threat of litigation” from Clark. In an emailed statement, they said Clark was kept on “to ensure there was no disruption to county business.”

Cathryn Horner, a county procurement manager, was promoted to fill Clark’s position.

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