The office of Douglas County District Attorney David McDade said that a television news report that raised questions about the use of vehicles and nepotism in his office only tells part of the story.
After a week promoting the story, reporter Dale Russell of WAGA Fox 5 aired a report http://www.myfoxatlanta.com/story/22268776/i-team-douglas-co-da Thursday night that used information gleaned through open records requests that he said points to questionable use of cars owned by McDade’s office and a questionable pattern of hiring.
“If you are going to be a battleship — and I have been called that by others — then you are going to be a target and people will take shots at you,” McDade said. “That goes with the territory. However, I hope that after serving this community for 30 years that the people in Douglas County have good reason to believe in what we do and have faith enough in me to do what I believe is right and keep fighting for the victims of crime.”
As far as vehicles, McDade said on the surface it may appear that his office does have an inordinate amount of vehicles. McDade’s office has 18 vehicles. Counting McDade, there are 14 lawyers in his office. Seven of those, plus McDade, have cars assigned for their use. Three investigators have vehicles and two senior office staff have also been assigned vehicles. He said there are four others that are “pool vehicles” that are used as needed by staff in uses ranging from errands, transporting witnesses and other daily functions of the offices, according to McDade.
Lawyers often seek out witnesses, visit crime scenes and travel to other jurisdictions for paperwork and to gather information, McDade said. Investigators spend time in the field to help prepare cases for prosecution, according to McDade.
“This office has never used one penny of taxpayer money on vehicles,” he said. “Those vehicles were purchased with forfeited and seized drug funds in accordance with Georgia law. These vehicles are maintained using the same fund. Taxpayers don’t pay for these cars, the criminals do. This office has never been over budget — not once.”
While McDade admitted that many vehicles for staff may seem unusual, he said to consider where Douglas County is situated. In a metro area, trying to lure and keep top-notch attorneys and senior staff on a budget is tough, McDade said. He said that being able to offer the use of a vehicle can be a selling point.
The use of vehicles by office staff seemed to be a point of contention in the report. McDade said when you understand the duties of those employees and how much outside of the office time is required, a vehicle makes sense. McDade said those two senior office employees oversee administrative operations, handle all purchasing, postal chores, coordinate meals when needed and handle logistics.
“The report did point to one incident where the vehicle may not have been used in accordance to policy,” McDade said. “Even though the incident, where a parked staff vehicle was struck by another vehicle occurred at a time when she had asked me and I approved the trip, I appreciate that being brought to my attention. It has been handled, and the proper disciplinary action has been taken.”
McDade said that there was no attempt to cover anything up. In fact, county law enforcement and state troopers responded and it was handled in the open. All supporting documents were shared with Fox 5, McDade said.
“If there are things that we are doing wrong, sincerely, I appreciate them being brought to my attention,” McDade said. “I can assure you that we will make the proper adjustments and swiftly make any modifications deemed necessary.
“Let me make it abundantly clear that I recognize that having a take-home vehicle is a benefit that must not be abused and should be available to exemplary employees. No employee should treat the vehicle as a personal vehicle and have been so instructed.”
As for nepotism allegations, McDade said that as an elected state official, he has the right to “administer my office as I deem appropriate.” A county nepotism policy doesn’t apply to the District Attorney’s Office. The report alleged that he had favored one extended family as far as hiring and internships.
“While I recognize that there is always the potential that a relative of an employee may have the ability to exert undue influence over a related employee, there are a number of checks and balances that exist in an office like ours that minimize the potential for any difficulty,” McDade said.
Specifically, he addressed allegations made about one family being favored where four members of an extended family work in his office and others work in the courthouse in other departments.
“Consistent with my belief that family relationships should not alone be a disqualifier, several members of the Agan family work in my office,” McDade said. “This particular family is a perfect example of why families should not be disqualified. They are fine people who make hard-working, diligent public servants.”
One other point that McDade touched on was a state-sponsored training session at Brasstown. The report questioned why no registration fee was paid, yet lodging and other expenses were incurred by administrative supervisors.
McDade said that they go for specific software training, so registration for the entire conference is not needed. He also pointed out that even the training is paid for through drugs funds, which is an expense allowed for that fund’s use by Georgia law.
“You can look at information on paper and it may look strange,” McDade said. “You see a large amount for rooms under my name and think that is a lot for a hotel stay. But like most businesses, we use one credit card, in my name, to secure those rooms. When you understand that, that in many cases it is for several rooms and expenses, it explains itself.”
McDade said that there is always “room for improvement.”
“If rules need to be reviewed and employees reminded of them — the end result is better service to the to the public,” McDade said.