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20 People to Watch - William Perry

The ethics watchdog wants elected officials from Atlanta to Zebulon to stay in line


As executive director of Common Cause Georgia, William Perry was a fixture at the Gold Dome and Atlanta City Hall, toting petitions, haranguing politicians, and pushing for tighter restrictions on lobbying, contracting, and other issues. But in August, amid a controversial overhaul of the good-government group's mission and makeup, the silver-haired Chamblee native was shown the door.

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So Perry did what any ethics watchdog would do: He started two new organizations that aim to watch politicians behaving badly. He thinks that's a good way to keep lawmakers in line in a state that recently received a D- from the Center for Public Integrity for its ethics laws — and where judges last year locked up two commissioners from the state's second-biggest county.

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Yes, DeKalb County alone will probably provide material for years to come, Perry says. Come the 2017 Atlanta municipal elections Perry plans to host some mayoral forums "to talk about good government as a whole" and cover topics such as ethics, transparency, open meetings, procurement, and contracting.

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The first group, Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, will highlight and promote ethical conduct, making noise about conflicts of interest and questionable public spending. As necessary, it will file complaints when it appears public officials are up to no good, like closing meetings that should be open or withholding records that should be public.

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The second, Georgia Ethics Watchdogs Education Fund, will teach others to do the same. Perry says people from all over say they see corruption in their cities and counties. He wants them to know how to advocate for ethics at home.

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Atlanta will be a big focus for Perry simply because it's Georgia's biggest city. He's long been a critic of Mayor Kasim Reed, especially over airport contracts.

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"Citizens and taxpayers really don't get the best services from their government when contracts and appointments are going to political allies rather than best companies for the job," Perry says. Everything from trash services to road quality suffers when there are "poor choices" made about department heads and contractors, he says.

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For Perry, making complaints, digging through campaign spending disclosures, writing, talking to the media, educating, and even the occasional public clash with officials is part of a strategy to make sure there are tighter standards.

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That includes using the media to call out ne'er-do-wells for their misdeeds and build public pressure to prompt reforms. Georgia Ethics Watchdogs' goal is "to change the direction away from public policy and start, quite frankly, embarrassing some of these folks into doing the right thing," he says.



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