DeKalb considers eliminating CEO government structure, replacing with professional County Manager

DeKalb Commissioners have requested that state lawmakers eliminate the current CEO style of county government and replace it with a traditional, professional system of County Manager, with a Manager hired by the entire Commission.

DeKalb stands alone with a CEO style of government. With the current CEO system, the impact that a County Commission can have is, in many ways, merely unwieldy veto power. The Commission does not even have the power to eliminate specific jobs.

The CEO has a great degree of control over DeKalb’s half Billion dollar budget. Revenue to the County is down $100 million over the last three years, and the County is facing further credit downgrades. The CEO style of government was theorectically supposed to be strong enough to prevent such problems. It wasn’t.

Only one Commissioner, Kathie Gannon, voted against requesting the study. Commissioner Gannon claimed her opposition was based on “more pressing needs” like fighting redistricting. Uh huh.

The AJC claimed in a story today that Gannon’s solitary “No” vote constitutes a “divided Commission.” Someone might want to tell the AJC reporter, April Hunt, that one single “No” vote is … not … a “divided Commission.”

No system of government works great. It’s just a question of what system is the least-bad.

If a voter referendum for this change is not placed on the ballot November, perhaps the DeKalb Democratic Party and the DeKalb Republican Party could independently consider putting a non-binding question on their Primary ballots next year.

32 comments

  1. Cassandra says:

    When the status quo is accepted and even liked by the majority, regardless of efficiency or cost, then the system will be protected. Everyone getting their ‘cut’ would never oppose a change in governance, hence incorporation(s).

    Those that oppose the CEO form of governance are too few and too divided in their views to mount anything more substantive than a non-binding resolution. DeKalb was screwed up in ’98 when the citizens voted in two, one-penny sales taxes.

    The CEO form of governance works ‘least-bad’ for the majority power and constituency.

  2. saltycracker says:

    The problem is not usually the form of county management but the implementation of sound/efficient/cost effective business decisions.

    Dekalb should run better with a BOC & County Manager but it is unlikely they could elect a civil BOC and for that BOC to hire the best qualified, professional and reasonably paid Manager.

  3. Cassandra, can’t agree with you there.

    The smartest thing DeKalb did in those days was to pass the HOST, which provided the biggest permanent property tax cut in Georgia history.

    In DeKalb, funds raised by the HOST one-cent sales tax go to permanently replace (not just roll back) property taxes for homeowners, by law. The money is lock-boxed. HOST provides that funds collected must provide a minimum of 80% homestead exemption from property for all homeowners to pay for the County government portion of your property tax bill — and at maximum a 100% homestead exemption for homeowners.

    In fact, since 2000 when the benefits of the property tax relief law went into effect, DeKalb has had a the maximum 100% homestead exemption from property taxes against the County portion of their property tax bill, except for bonds and 911 services (which were voted in by voters).

    But County operations is primarily funded by the one-cent sales tax, not property taxes.
    By law, however, the funds can’t be used to offset the bloated School Board property tax bill there.

    Without the HOST, DeKalb would face draconian property tax bills much worse than today.

    Also in 1998: DeKalb joined the rest of the state in passing a sales tax to fund capital improvements to fund school construction. Without that, property taxpayers would face even higher property tax bills. Nearly every county in the state passed the same sales tax.

    In DeKalb, a third of the money collected by a sales tax is from conventioneers, tourists and shoppers from other places. Without it, you’d pay vastly higher property taxes while still paying for school systems in Fulton and Gwinnett when you shopped there.

    • Cassandra says:

      DeKalb has two of their former School Board officials en route to prison for financial frauds. We gave a group of rank amateurs the authority to run the BILLION Dollar DeKalb School Central Office and Jobs Program, and now cannot be too surprised they blew it.

      When voters give a government authority money without accountability, voters lose. To say the HOST tax is a better value than alternative financing schemes may be true, yet DeKalb is hardly an example of proper educational funding stewardship.

      The property tax cut is routinely off-set by increases in either millage rates or valuations. In 2010, DeKalb steeply hiked their millage rate, since valuations plummeted due to the poor real estate market.

      How do other Counties avoid School System waste and malfeasance?

    • Progressive Dem says:

      Host is a hugh subsidy to the wealthiest residents. It has no limits on property tax relief ie: the more valuable a home – the greater the Host benefit is distributed to the owner. It is highly regressive. It is collected on groceries. All retail spenders in the County (including apartment dwellers who receive no benefit) provide the largest benefit to wealthiest property tax payers. I received a $1,578 host credit on my taxes. To generate that credit I would have had to spend $157,800 in retail sales. Believe me, I didn’t spend that much. Someone with a million dollar gets an even bigger subsidy. Who’s milking who In DeKalb.

      • bgsmallz says:

        Just help me with something here…
        Do those ‘wealthiest residents’ pay property taxes into the annual operating budget?
        Do those ‘wealthiest residents’ pay property taxes into the school system operating budget?
        Do those ‘apartment dwellers’ that receive no benefit for the HOST?

        Just taking the credit and somehow saying that the ‘retail spenders’ are giving money to the property owners through the HOST is misleading and not really accurate. By the way, those wealthy property owners have to buy things, too, right? In fact, I bet they buy more things with their tax savings than ‘apartment dwellers’. Gasp! You mean those evil ‘wealthiest residents’ are also ‘retail spenders’? Egads!!!!!

        And just as a side note, 20% of the HOST funds have to be spent on capital improvements…you know, things like sidewalks, roads, rec centers, pedestrian mall expansions at MARTA stations, bike and walking paths, etc. etc. I assume those are all examples of that ‘no benefit’ that these ‘apartment dwellers’ do not receive.

        Tired stereotypes and misleading information….that’s Progessive?

        • Progressive Dem says:

          Here is what I said with about the parenthetic phrase, which apparently sent you into apoplectic shock and completely derailed your already diminished cognitive function. “All retail spenders in the County provide the largest benefit to wealthiest property tax payers.” Do you want to argue that the homeowners with the biggest tax bill don’t receive the biggest benefit? It is not misleading or inaccurate.

          Everyone in DeKalb County pays property taxes through one way or another. The cost is passed along through rent and the cost of goods and services. However, Host is a way to reduce the cost of property taxes to homeowners and no other class of property owners receives a direct subsidy of their tax bill. Since commercial properties and apartments taxes are not subsidized by Host, it is accurate to say they receive no direct benefit. Since 80% of the Host tax flows to homeowners in the form of lower property tax bills, they receive the direct benefits. The homeownership rate in DeKalb is just under 60%. The 40% that do not own a home receive no direct benefit from Host. Meanwhile apartments and commercial properties which have no homestead exemption (and therefore don’t qualify for a Host credit) pay the full cost of their tax bill. Apartments, commercial businesses, manufacturers and their customers are subsidizing homeowners. Those homeowners with the biggest property tax bill get the biggest subsidy. (It ust be hard for Republicans to understand they are being subsidied by renters and businesses.)

          Notice, I didn’t say those with the biggest tax bill don’t pay taxes. Just that they get the biggest subsidy. Everyone in the county receives an indirect benefit from Host in the form of the 20% that goes to capital improvements. That 20% is now divided among the cities first for their capital projects and the remainder is spent in the unincorporated areas.

          • bgsmallz says:

            Cute paragraph…it’d be nice if you didn’t try to completely change what you said in the first place. Either way, you still don’t understand the facts.

            The parenthetical phrase was the key. Saying ‘no benefit’ is just false. Period. You can try to act like you didn’t say it, but you did.

            “Everyone in DeKalb County pays property taxes through one way or another”- No…that’s not really true. Property owners pay property taxes. Others don’t. Is it true that everyone in the county, including those that don’t pay property taxes, pay for the costs in the county, one way or another? That’s mostly true…but that assumes correctly that property owners pay both property taxes AND retail taxes AND taxes into the enterprise fund for sanitation and sewer AND pay monthly water bills AND pay cable franchise fees…something you so conveniently forget to include either out of ignorance or blatant miscommunication.

            And if you are going to make the argument that everyone in DeKalb pays property taxes indirectly, you can’t make the argument that the only benefit that matters to non-property owners is ‘direct benefits’…whatever those are. Frankly, they do receive direct benefits and they most certainly receive indirect benefits.

            If you want to deny that the 20% the county and cities in DeKalb must spend on capital projects is not a direct benefit to non-property owners, that’s fine. I’ve got some fine beach property in Kansas I’d like to sell you.

            And let’s not even go into the market forces and indirect costs/benefits that you seem to not understand. If DeKalb didn’t give the tax credit (which was chosen by the majority of voters in the county in 1997) ..do you think that would help or hurt home values in DeKalb? Would it help or hurt those poor non-property owners to have the demand in living in DeKalb sucked dry? The county uses all its non-captial HOST funds to pay for operating expenses and services. Those services already suck. What happens if instead of collecting HOST, the county raises the millage rate by about 8 to 12 mills on property owners to make up for the shortfall?

            Anyway, my brain hurts from using my diminished cognitive function too much.

            Cognitive function? Oooooooh…..those big words are so scar-wee!!!

            Favorite line…”It ust be hard for Republicans to understand they are being subsidied by renters and businesses.” Bwah ha ha ha ha ha!!!! Who owns the businesses? Property owners!!! Who owns the rental property? Property owners!!!! Those jerks don’t know how much they are subsidizing themselves! Ha ha ha ha…

            • Cassandra says:

              For whatever reason, people left-of-center react to the statement ‘pay no taxes,’ either income or property, by invoking the “That’s not true, everyone pays ‘sales and use’ taxes” as if that is a great argument.

              America is by historical definition an ‘owner’ society that benefits the landed gentry and risk takers. That seems to make some people twitchy. As expected, those with more, pay more. Some are able to exercise artful accountants to pay less tax, and if legal, everyone who can afford that advice, is allowed to do so.

              Soon the US debt ceiling limit may be raised to around $US16,400,000,000,000 (Trillion.)

              Read more: http://www.news.com.au/business/pollies-warned-us-will-hit-debt-ceiling-in-early-january/story-e6frfm1i-1226231621110#ixzz1hqGVWzCY

              Most of America has not woken up to the fact that one year ago, in March, we had a $13,300,000,000,000 debt ceiling. Some estimate, the world credit markets will stop lending to the US, within 3-5 years.

              DeKalb’s issues will lead to bankruptcy, like Jefferson County in Birmingham, AL, if the budget cannot be reduced.

              But, please, make time to rearrange the decks chairs….

            • Progressive Dem says:

              Thanks for demonstrating your derangement. I don’t have the time or inclination to waste on your invented economic theories. If you’ll stop chasing your tail for a moment, you might recall the subject is Host and the subsidy it provides to homeowners and in particular homes with high values. Host is a form of income redistribution. It takes sales taxes paid by everyone and transfers 80% of them to DeKalb homeowners. Those with the most expensive homes receive the greatest subsidy.

              • Cassandra says:

                And they pay the most in taxes….your circular argument = #FAIL. “Host is a form of income redistribution.” Ba-waa-ha-ha, “income re-distribution,” you’re killin’ me, here. I fail to see what has been given to me, yet I can certainly see what is taken from me.

                When DeKalb takes it’s nosedive, and it will, you’ll blame it one something other than spending more than it derives in revenues.

                DeKalb cannibalized $40,000,000 (million) from Park bond referendum funds to maintain County operations this year. It’s s unbelievable someone is not going to prison. Without spending cuts, how will the County make up that difference, since the Park bond scheme was a one-time charade?

                Face it PD ‘tax and spend’ is so 1900’s….get a new ‘schtick.’

                • Progressive Dem says:

                  Cassandra, my comments above were directed to bgsmallz. I agree DeKalb is on an unsustainable budget. If you are a homeowner in DeKalb, “what has been given to you” is a Host credit on your tax bill. I received a $1,578 credit. It takes $157,800 in retail sales to generate that credit. Per capita retail sales in Georgia are $12,000 anually. Let’s say I spent $50,000 in DeKalb (still way too high). The other $100K+ needed to pay my Host credit comes from other people making retail purchases in DeKalb. Thank you very much. If I had a bigger and more expensive home, my Host credit would be even greater. Host is effective in lowering my property taxes, but it redistributes 80% of Host tax receipts to homeowners, and homeowners with the fanciest homes get the most Host tax receipts.

                  • bgsmallz says:

                    PD-

                    If you can’t see the ignorance in your argument, I’m not sure you’ll ever get it. You can lead a horse to water….

                    Just the idea that ‘renters’ are the ones generating the sales tax and it’s being ‘redistributed’ to property owners is just plain dumb. So all those folks at Perimeter Mall this holiday season were renters who live in DeKalb county? Property owners don’t buy groceries or cars or etc. etc. No property owner from outside of DeKalb ever spends money inside DeKalb?

                    It’s stupidity.

                    Plus, you continue to ignore that 20% is spent on capital improvements.

                    Don’t blame the messenger.

  4. Cassandra, since homeowners in DeKalb County get a 100% homestead exemption, a millage rate increase simply applies to the school board side of the tax bill, not the County Operations side of the tax bill.

    So a higher millage rate essentially brings in higher tax revenue from non-homeowner owned properties (such as cars, rental homes and commercial properties) but not homeowners. Increases in millage are essentially irrelevant to homeowners because they get a 100% exemption.

    The HOST gives them great relief.

    • Todd Rehm says:

      Mark said “In DeKalb, funds raised by the HOST one-cent sales tax go to permanently replace (not just roll back) property taxes for homeowners, by law. The money is lock-boxed. HOST provides that funds collected must provide a minimum of 80% homestead exemption from property for all homeowners to pay for the County government portion of your property tax bill — and at maximum a 100% homestead exemption for homeowners.”

      That’s not true and hasn’t been true for several years. The law requires that 80% of HOST collections go toward homestead exemptions, not that homeowners will receive an 80% homestead exemption. There is a Difference!

      In fact, the value of the HOST homestead exemption over the last three years has been less than 50% of county operations. I have the property tax bills to prove it.

      • Cassandra says:

        Todd is correct. Moreover, the “millage rate increase simply applies to the school board side of the tax bill, not the County Operations side of the tax bill,” while true, is misleading.

        The School portion of the tax bill is about 70-75% of the entire tax bill.

        You are correct that “By law, however, the funds can’t be used to offset the bloated School Board property tax bill there.” It is bloated, and it will be resolved as it adversely affects regional growth.

      • Yes, Todd’s right about the formula.

        And Cassandra, yes, I agree with your points about the need to fix the school system budget and improve results. As a product of Smoke Rise Elementary in Stone Mountain and Tucker High School, I know I like to see, hear and read more of sense of urgency to structurally address the problems there.

  5. Progressive Dem says:

    Let’s see… so those that would replace the CEO form of government will entrust Larry Johnson, Lee May, Stan Watson and Sharron Barnes Sutton to choose and hire a County Manager. To keep his job, all he has to do is keep them happy. Wow, that makes me feel better already. Watson and May don’t have jobs. Sutton who was busted for check kiting has a made-up job with the Board of Ed. And Johnson works for Fulton County. Have you seen these clowns in action?

  6. bgsmallz says:

    #1- It boggles the mind that Kathie Gannon would be the sole dissenter on this. And she wonders why those folks in Brookhaven feel like they have no connection to their representation? Seriously, she couldn’t be more out of touch. I think the key point on this is not that the county manager would be some cure-all, but that it would at least be better than the status quo. The CEO’s office for the past 13(?) years has become nothing more than a dairy farmer. They just milk the property owners in DeKalb so they can pay for the best budget to get them re-elected.

    #2-http://www.ajc.com/news/dekalb/dekalb-debates-ceo-vs-1274260.html

    Not sure why the link to the article isn’t included. Here it is.

    #3- “‘There are some fatal flaws about this form of government that really cause real issues on service delivery and quality of life issues,’ said Commissioner Lee May.” So on the one hand, you have Jeff Rader and Lee May telling the people of DeKalb that their government is fatally flawed (while Kathie the Ostrich buries her head in the sand), and on the other hand, they are telling the good folks in Brookhaven that they shouldn’t have the right to incorporate?

    #4- This is the money quote…”Ellis, in support of the leadership position he holds, said he believes such a division of power makes DeKalb more accountable to voters. Residents apparently agree. No one has asked for a structure change in the 40 community meetings Ellis has held since taking office three years ago”

    That’s just a lie. Period. I just can’t believe the AJC would shill for its sources like that instead of challenging that kind of overarching bull crap statement. I like some of the work April Hunt has done, but did she actually interview any people at these community meetings or did she just take the CEO’s word on it? I can tell you for a fact that it was brought up in 2008 at the CEO’s budget meeting at Montgomery Elementary. (maybe that’s why he stopped holding meetings on my end of the county) I can also tell you that it was brought up at the budget meeting held by Gannon the Ostrich and Ms. Boyer at the same venue.

    I would suggest anyone that disagrees with Mr. Ellis’ proclamation that it isn’t an issue citizens in DeKalb are concerned about email Mr. Ellis to let him know that in fact it is an issue. I would CC Ms. Gannon(assuming she can read her blackberry while her head is buried in the sand) and Ms. Hunt to make sure that the record is corrected, as well.

    [email protected]
    [email protected]
    [email protected]

    • NoTeabagging says:

      “No one has asked for a structure change in the 40 community meetings Ellis has held since taking office three years ago.”

      Ellis does not hold ‘official public meetings’. He only sends out notices via his campaign office (not official DeKalb CEO emails) for community meetings. If you send an email to the official CEO email /office, you will not receive a reply. You will, however, get placed on his campaign email list and receive official looking public meeting notices.

      Kathie Gannon only answered emails during campaign years, even those are rather cryptic and usually off base to the subject of my letters.

        • Cassandra says:

          My experience with Ms. Gannon, over the years, is that she is utterly out of touch with my values. We have refuse pick up four times per week. Ms. Gannon indicated to me, that would be changed, almost one year ago.

          Ellis ‘wowed’ a Roundtable crowd earlier this year by showing how to say virtually nothing for 30 minutes. He spent 15 minutes talking about himself, then picked his COS and a County economic official for softball questions. People noticed….

          Dekalb Sanitation is absolutely great, yet, unsustainable at $265 per year.

          You deserve the government you get, PD.

  7. bgsmallz, agreed. This article read more like a series of subjective comments in the form of press release for a re-election campaign.

    It’s absurd for the reporter to simply write, “it was never brought up”. For one, I doubt the reporter was there for all the meetings, so she just heard that from someone and shilled it. It’s a *structural* change — that wouldn’t be on anyone’s agenda in that sort of format in the first place. It doesn’t mean that the community wouldn’t be for it.

    I bet if we polled it that a large number would actually support going to a County Manager system, and that it would pass in a referendum if it was detached from a simultaneous election year for CEO, thus reducing the issue of personality-based politics. Regular people would have a more direct voice in what happens in the county by being able to be represented by a more local representative on the council.

    For that matter, I bet people would vote to eliminate the Super Districts, as well, in favor of seven localized ‘neighborhood’ districts.

    • Progressive Dem says:

      Not surprising, I have a different view of DeKalb’s government than a political consultant. First, the county elected jobs should be non-partisan, as they are in most cities. That way more people participate in the elections, including Republicans. Second, if you think the BOC is a responsible group of leaders, you must be on crack. When Vernon Jones went off the reservation with his egomania, did the BoC take charge and correct his behavior? When Burrell Ellis proposed a budget with no significant budget cuts and a 4 mil budget increase, did the BoC come up with responsbile budget cuts and change the trajectory of spending? Hell no – in both cases. There is no basis for putting your faith in the Board of Commissioners. They can’t run this county.

      In DeKalb we have to have a government with checks and balances on the legislative and executive branches. Neither side can be trusted. I prefer an executive branch selected countywide, and I prefer to have some commissioners to run in a district that has some racial diversity. DeKalb has a hard time bridging the racial split. The super districts make elected officials stretch to bridge the gaps. It takes a more talented politician to survive in those districts. Small districts will present us with people elected from a narrower demographic who are interested in their local district and not the broader community.

      DeKalb has a professional manager. He is nominated by the CEO and must be confirmed by the BoC. Several other positions are set up the same way. The tension betwen the BoC and CEO is not always pretty, but it is safer than having the BoC make these decisons on their own.

      • Progressive, you actually literally prove the point of those who are arguing to change to County Manager: that the CEO structure is less effective because it is reliant on one person.

        You wrote, “When Vernon Jones went off the reservation with his egomania, did the BoC take charge and correct his behavior?” Exactly. The BOC can’t. They don’t have the power to implement anything, yet clashed with him constantly.

        BTW, you seemed to assume I have some strong opinion on this topic. I actually don’t. I do not live there, was just reporting on the intricacies of local government and politics.

        • Progressive Dem says:

          “Actually literally” you are incorrect. The BoC has a lot of power. They set the millage rate and approve the budget – probably the most important function in local government. The budget controls the operation of every department. The BoC approves all consultant contracts and outside purchases made by the county. The BoC must approve the appointments of the county manager, attorney, finance director, HR director, planning director and all appointments to State boards. They can fire the manager and the attorney with 5 votes. The county attorney reports to both the CEO and the BoC, so they have equal access to independent, legal opinions. All legislation must be approved by the BoC, and the CEO has no vote. It is subject to his veto and their overide power. The BoC establishes policies which the CEO must implement. The BoC sets their own agenda and decides which issues they will address. The CEO cannot make any zoning decisions, which are all made by the BoC and the Board of Zoning Appeals. The CEO can’t even veto those decisions. The BoC cannot however give work direction to any county department head or employee. This frustrates the legislative branch, but it is an appropriate separation of powers. The last thing that should happen is for 7 commissioners to give work direction. They run around and complain about the CEO, but the BoC has plenty of power. They are simply ineffective, but not because of a lack of authority.

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