Lee May To Hold Town Halls on DeKalb County Governance

DeKalb County is unique in Georgia because it has a CEO, whose job it is to run the county’s operations. The position was established back in the 80s, when Manuel Maloof became the first CEO.

Since the indictment of former DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis in June, calls for eliminating the CEO position in favor of a county administrator hired by the Board of Commissioners have grown louder, led by Interim CEO Lee May. Over the next few weeks, May will hold a series of town halls to get input on the issue from citizens.

The first town hall is tonight from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Dunwoody High School, 5035 Vermack Road. Additional town halls will be held on Monday, December 2, at 6:30 p.m. at the Porter Sanford Performing Arts Center, 3181 Rainbow Drive in Decatur, and on Tuesday, December 3, at 6:30 p.m. at Rehoboth Baptist Church, 2997 Lawrenceville Highway in Tucker.

In order to change from the current form of government to what the rest of the metro Atlanta counties use, a vote would be required in the General Assembly.


  1. gcp says:

    The form of government is a secondary issue in Dekalb. The main issue is the quality of the individual that the voters place in the CEO position. When you elect an individual such as Burrell Ellis to any position you will have problems.

  2. George Chidi says:

    I was talking with a state rep (not my own) a couple of days ago and this came up. I’m all for this move, because if nothing else I think someone should be executing on the grand jury recommendations that called for a fully-funded ethics board, serious investigations of staff and elected officials and a change to the form of government.

    But an objection was raised to changing the CEO-form of government that’s worth discussion. Changing the charter of the county is easier and might accomplish the same thing. A charter change could strip most of the power from the CEO without requiring the state legislature to get involved, or so I am told. The power to manage the day-to-day affairs of the county staff could be reassigned to a city manager, leaving the CEO as a kind of figurehead. Whether or not the CEO retains some kind of veto-power over commission decisions would remain a question, but I suspect the charter could accommodate a change like that as well.

    I’m not certain a simple charter change really solves the problem, since part of this involves perception issues. Perhaps the county could begin with the charter change, to show that the commission is acting in good faith toward reform, and if the will is lacking on the commission move then to the legislature.

    My real fear is this: that the DeKalb legislative delegation is reluctant to amend the rules and de-power the CEO because the position is a lightly-observed trough from which clever hands can dip. In a Republican-dominated legislature, Democratic state representatives and senators have little access to the wheeling and dealing that can curry favor from donors. As a result, they’re beholden to the political networks of the Democrat-dominated commission for fundraising. The CEO position represents the only locus of power available to state legislators. I suspect that one of more members of the delegation aspire to the seat, and need to keep the web of financial interests around that seat intact to have a chance of taking it.

    A stronger county Democratic Party — one that could make or break party challengers — solves some of that problem, and that’s why I’m involved at the county level. But, man, they’re not there yet.

    The alternative may have political power in the county devolve to individual commissioners, each potentially carving out a fiefdom. If that happens, the politically conservative commissioners representing Dunwoody and Brookhaven would have even less incentive to move county resources into the poorer parts south DeKalb, and that might exacerbate the political fracturing exemplified by the incorporation movement.

    That would also replace one set of hands to watch in the till with eight.

    For all the talk about the destiny of demography and the eventual Democratic takeover of Georgia in 2016 or 2018 or 2020, the one thing that can surely screw all of that up is corruption. Despite talk and appearances, there isn’t quite a culture of corruption at play in DeKalb. Yet. The difference between a “corruption problem” and a “culture of corruption” is this: You can get business done in DeKalb without being dirty. Dirt does get done, but it’s not the only way things get done. People don’t look at honest folks as a threat. In a place with a culture of corruption, people who refuse to play dirty are shut out, targeted and marginalized. We’re not there … but I can see there from here. That’s why we should keep fighting.

    • gcp says:

      “So you don’t want to do business in Dekalb County” Remarks by Ellis to a donor that did not contribute to the Ellis campaign. The grand jury described it as a “culture of corruption.” I agree. Corrupt officials appoint corrupt subordinates. Formally corruption was confined to the Dekalb Sheriff; Sidney Dorsey convicted of murder, Pat Jarvis convicted of fraud but it spread to the school system; Pat Reid and Tony Pope convicted of racketeering and now Ellis and former CEO Jones (read the grand jury report). Juries can convict but it takes voters to elect ethical individuals no matter the form of government.

      • George Chidi says:

        I have a fairly specific sense of what a culture of corruption looks like from looking at international finance issues. The closest thing you see to something like real corruption culture — think Russia or Mexico or Nigeria — in America is the “Training Day” situations that can evolve in some police departments … which is why the drug dealer protection scandal from earlier this year continues to have me on edge.

        In a culture of corruption, honest people aren’t merely at a disadvantage — they’re at risk. That’s somewhat different than a culture where corruption is tolerated or one where it exists but is prosecuted when uncovered. We’re edging from the latter to the former, but we’re not all the way there yet. The District Attorney still does a brisk business prosecuting corrupt officials. In a true culture of corruption, the DA would not have been able to bring charges because no one would talk.

        We’re at a place where we have to take dramatic action, because we’re saveable here. If we were truly in a culture of corruption, by my standards, then I would simply move.

        I recognize that dramatic statements can help drive a narrative, but I don’t want to overstate things. I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush.

        In a

          • gcp says:

            While we disagree on the term “culture of corruption” (you use a foreign interpretation, I use a domestic interpretation) we agree on the problem. My concerns also go to the commissioners. So far none have been implicated but with several having personal financial issues, these folks are potential players in the corruption game. The sole positive in county government is D.A. Robert James. He ignores criticism and continues to do his job. As for any other county officials, let’s just say trust is lacking.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      The municipalization of DeKalb that is underway will cut off potential County Commissioner fiefdoms at the knees.

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