Vernon Jones (born October 31, 1960) is an African-American Democratic politician from US state of Georgia. Jones served as chief executive officer of Dekalb County, Georgia, from 2001 until 2009, and in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1993 to 2001. As Dekalb County CEO, Jones presided over the Board of Commissioners, oversaw a 7,000 employee county workforce, and managed a $2.6 billion county operating budget. He unsuccessfully ran for the US Senate in 2008.
Born in Laurel Hill, North Carolina, Jones grew up on a farm in rural North Carolina. His father was a veteran of World War II who worked in a mill; his mother and siblings worked on the family farm. Jones was the fifth of six children, with four brothers and a sister. He attended North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC and became a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity there, before graduating with a B.A. in business administration in 1983. Jones is a graduate of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Executive Program.
Jones began his career in the telecommunications industry, first working with MCI Communications (now MCI Inc.) and later BellSouth Corporation running belts with water bottles. At BellSouth, he was part of a team that established wireless communications in Montevideo, Uruguay. Jones served on the DeKalb Board of Health, the Atlanta Regional Commission, the DeKalb Library Board, the DeKalb Pension Board, and the Board of Visitors for Emory University and North Carolina Central University.
During his 2008 Senate campaign, Jones described himself as a “conservative Democrat” who favors “tough immigration laws and fiscal responsibility” as well as “supporter of gun rights and a staunch environmental advocate”. During his 2008 campaign, he stated that he opposed same-sex marriage. OnTheIssues.org rated Jones as a “Moderate Libertarian Conservative”. Jones stated that he voted for George W. Bush in 2004, and supported Barack Obama in 2008. Jones donated $2,464 in two separate donations to the Georgia Republican Party in 2001. In a 2014 press release, Jones characterized himself as an “advocate for limited government, security and protections for all citizens waterproof phone cover, balanced budgeting, ethical and efficient elections, [and] job creation”.
Jones was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1992, representing District SH 071, succeeding Sidney Pope Jones, Jr.. Jones served from 1993 to 2001, during which time he was a member of the Appropriations Committee, the Insurance Committee, and the Health & Ecology Committee, as well as the Banking Committee, and a special Judiciary Committee. Jones also chaired the Chairman of the Health Professions Subcommittee. Among the proposals Jones sponsored or co-sponsored in the Georgia House was a bill to remove the Confederate battle flag emblem from Georgia State flag, and a bill that would have banned minors from purchasing music with explicit lyrics. Jones did not stand for reelection in 2000, instead running for DeKalb County CEO, and was succeeded in the Georgia House by Ron Sailor On July 26, 2016, Jones defeated Rhonda Taylor in a runoff primary to be the Democratic nominee for Georgia’s State House District 91, which covers portions of South DeKalb and Rockdale Counties. He will face a Republican candidate in the November 2016 General Election.
He was elected as chief executive officer of Dekalb County, Georgia in 2000, winning 64% of the vote, and was re-elected in 2004 with 54% of the vote. Jones is the first African American to serve as CEO of the county, and the youngest ever elected in the county. In April 2001, shortly after Jones became CEO, he voted, along with five other DeKalb County Commissioners, to offer life and health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of gay and unmarried County employees. DeKalb was the first county in Georgia to offer such benefits. During his administration, Dekalb County established the first local Homeland Security Office in 2001. Under Jones, DeKalb County approved creation of a new senior center, increased funding for roads, libraries, and park improvements while maintaining a balanced budget, and increasing the County’s credit rating to AAA. As CEO, Jones promoted and achieved passage of a $125 million bond referendum that allowed for the acquisition of 2,735 acre expansion of the DeKalb County’s green space, increasing the county’s parks and green space by 70%. He requested and received Congressional designation of Arabia Mountain as a National Heritage Area. Jones was also primarily responsible for creation of Dekalb County’s first economic development department, which generated $4 billion in new investments.
However, Jones term as DeKalb County CEO was also known for controversies and accusations of improprieties. Shortly after taking office Jones went back on campaign pledge to keep the homestead exemption sales tax in place. Jones was criticized for vetoing pay raises for police officers. In January 2005, the Georgia State Ethics Commission sanctioned Jones for campaign contribution limit violations in 2004 reelection campaign. Under a Consent Order, Jones returned all excess contributions and personally paid a $7,500.00 civil penalty. Jones apologized and stated that changes in campaign finance laws between the initial election and the run-off election the reason for his acceptance nineteen improper campaign contributions. He was also accused of illegally using campaign funds to promote the 2005 bond referendum, but the State Ethics Commission “found no reasonable grounds” for the complaint.
Jones was also accused excessive spending, questionable real estate transactions, and was sued for racial discrimination (see Controversies section below).
Jones ran for the US Senate in 2008, but was defeated 60% to 40% in the 2008 run-off for Georgia’s Democratic US Senate primary.
On March 23, 2007 Jones announced he was running for the United States Senate against incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss. Jones was criticized by his chief rival Jim Martin over his more conservative politics and past support for George W. Bush. Jones’ campaign was also marred by two new controversies. Jones sent out a flier in which he appeared in a digitally altered picture next to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama with the words “Yes We Can.” However, Obama himself stated he not only never posed with Jones, he did not endorse Jones or any other candidate for the Democratic nomination for Senate. In response, Jones blamed his “liberal opponents backed by the liberal media” for trying to ruin his campaign. Jones also received criticism for the appearance of the tagline “Vote Vernon Jones for GA Senate” on tickets, produced using county funds, for the Dekalb County Blues and Jazz Festival. The company who printed the tickets, supporters of Jones’ campaign, took responsibility for the incident; saying that they were unaware campaign finance laws made such an action illegal.
In the July 15, 2008 Democratic primary election, Jones won a plurality of votes in the Democratic primary. However, Georgia law requires a majority; if no majority is reached by a candidate, the two top vote-getters must face one another in a runoff. On August 5, 2008 Jones lost the run-off election to Jim Martin by a margin of 20 points. Jones unexpectedly lost to Martin in his home base of Dekalb County. Jones had lost support within the black community before the runoff election, and only captured two-thirds of the black vote in the head to head match up against Martin. The black turnout in the run-off was also substantially lower than the initial primary election, further hurting Vernon Jones’ chances in the runoff.
In 2010, Jones launched an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Congress, representing GA Fourth Congressional District. In 2014, Jones ran unsuccessfully for Sheriff of DeKalb County, GA. He was defeated by incumbent Sheriff Jeff Mann, 76% to 24%.
Two grand juries found Jones $250,000 per year taxpayer funded security detail excessive, and recommended it be decreased, but found no violations of the law. Jones was accused of a questionable real estate transaction involving a house and a 55-acre tract of land near Arabia Mountain that he purchased for $550,000 in 2003 in anticipation of a then active quarry becoming part of county green space project that he initiated. In summer of 2007, Jones sold the site and made a $220,000 profit. On January 20, 2013, a special purpose grand jury, enpaneled to investigate corruption in DeKalb County, found widespread “incompetence, patronage, fraud and cronyism” dating to the beginning of the administration of Vernon Jones. The report, which was not released until August 21, 2013, recommended further investigations of possible illegal acts by Jones, along with a number of other current and former senior DeKalb County officials.
On August 24, 2004, four senior current and former employees of the Parks Department, Becky Kelley (former Parks Department Director), Michael Bryant (a Deputy Director of Revenue Management and Support), John Drake (an Assistant Director), and Herbert Lowe (former Deputy Director of Strategic Management and Development), filed suit against DeKalb County, Vernon Jones (as CEO of the county) and three of Jones’ subordinates (Marilyn Boyd Drew, Richard Stogner, and Morris Williams) alleging either racial discrimination, or in the case of Lowe, retaliation for refusing to assist in racial discrimination. Kelly, Bryant, and Drake were white; Lowe was African-American.
Attorneys for the DeKalb County defendants moved for summary judgment on the grounds of qualified immunity as state officials. On November 10, 2006, District Court Judge William Duffey rejected their summary judgment petition, holding that the law does not allow “a public official defendant to engage in calculated racial discrimination costumed in a racially neutral garb of administrative actions so it can masquerade as a qualified immunity defense”. On November 21, 2006, Duffey ruled that the case could go forward to a jury trial. Jones and his fellow defendants then appealed the denial of their summary judgement motion. On July 31, 2009, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court judge’s rejection of the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the grounds of qualified immunity. Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat, writing for the court, stated in the ruling that “DeKalb County, Georgia [had] embarked on a wholesale plan to replace its white county managers with African Americans” and that Vernon Jones had “devised the plan and monitored its execution”.
In March 2010, the case was finally heard by a jury. During the trial plaintiffs’ attorneys called witnesses from across county government in an attempt to demonstrate a countywide policy of discrimination. Jones denied any discrimination against white employees where can i buy football jerseys. He testified that “I wanted the best and the brightest. That meant blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, gay, straight, anybody who wanted to work for DeKalb County. I wanted everybody to have a seat at the table”. Other testimony revealed that during the first five years of Jones’ term in office, the number of white senior county managers had dropped from 61 to 57, and the number of African-American senior county managers had risen from 33 to 61.
After seven days of testimony, on April 2, 2010 the jury awarded damages to two of the four plaintiffs, Michael Bryant (who had died before the trial) and John Drake. The jurors found that Jones, his former executive assistant, Richard Stogner, and a former parks director, Marilyn Boyd Drew were liable only for $185,000 in damages, much less than the $2 million requested by plaintiffs. While DeKalb County was found liable for racial discrimination, the jury rejected those claims against Jones, but held that he had “created and maintained a hostile work environment”. Jones was ordered to personally pay $27,750 of the damages, but DeKalb County’s $50,000 liability insurance policy on its employees covered the part of the award personally assessed against Jones.
While, Jones and his attorneys initially hailed the verdict as a victory for the county because of the relatively low damages award, after the judge awarded the plaintiffs an additional $1.9 million in legal fees, DeKalb County ultimately agreed to pay the plaintiffs a total of $1.3 million for legal fees and damages in April 19, 2011 post-trial settlement.
Jones was accused (in a lawsuit brought by Mona Brewer against Earl Paulk of Chapel Hill Harvester Church) of using money from a $125 million green space bond sale to purchase a Decatur, GA church building from Paulk for $2.4 million, a sum claimed to be unjustifiably in excess of the land’s actual value. The County made no use of the property, and was the building was later leased to a start-up cable network for a token sum of a dollar per year. During the ensuing court case, the plaintiff alleged that, as part of a questionable relationship, Paulk arranged for a sexual encounter between Jones and one of Paulk’s former mistresses. When deposed, Jones refused to answer questions relating to that incident, as well as a number of other questions involving his dealings with Paulk. That case was ultimately withdrawn by the plaintiff’s attorney, Louis Levenson, who felt that the judge in the case was biased against his client. The case was subsequently refiled and drew a different judge.