DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis said an idea to change the current balance of power in the county government is “silly.”
The issue is “really silly when [we’ve] got issues like jobs creation, and transportation improvements, and getting people back in their homes,” said Ellis, in his third year as DeKalb’s CEO.
“We have much more pressing issues,” Ellis said. “The real issues that we’ve got to resolve are issues regarding how we can get our citizens back to work, helping them protect their homes and to continue to deliver the services to them.”
The county’s Board of Commissioners is considering a resolution that would ask the legislature to create a charter commission to re-examine the county’s CEO-commission form of government.
The “delineation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of DeKalb County government has been an ongoing source of conflict that has impeded the efficiency and effectiveness of the county government,” the resolution states.
Commissioner Lee May said DeKalb’s government is not a balanced form.
“It’s a heavy, heavy CEO form of government,” May said. “If the CEO wants to do something that is completely against what the [commissioners] wants to do, he can.
“We’ve seen so many instances where the CEO—and not just this CEO, but previous CEOs—have completely gone against the will and desires and legislations of the board and done what they wanted to do.
May said an example is the recent process for choosing projects for a proposed one-cent, regional sales tax.
“A super-majority of commissioners signed a letter asking for the CEO to take all of our transit dollars, split it in half and subdivide them between Clifton corridor and I-20 [proposed projects],” May said. But Ellis did not present that idea to the transportation roundtable that determined the funding allocation for the projects.
Among the options for changing the form of government are continuing to tweak the CEO-commission form of government and setting up a commission-county manager government similar to those in the rest of the counties in Georgia, May said.
“It’s not about getting more power,” May said. “It’s about having a more balanced approach to government. It’s about removing some of the politics.”
Commissioner Kathie Gannon, who said she believes the county has good checks and balances, said the form-of-government issue “distracts us from our job.”
“It’s difficult to get our work done,” said Gannon, adding that several of her fellow commissioners have been posturing for a change in the form of government for the past three years. “It seems like it is something that needs to be looked at because the commissioners that want to be in charge keep bringing [up the issue].
“I think we have entirely enough power,” she said about the commissioners.
Gannon said she is concerned about putting a Republican-controlled state legislature in charge of the task of studying the county’s form of government.
“This is not the time to do it,” Gannon said. “We’ve got a Republican legislature and the [county] delegation is in turmoil.”
Ellis said the form-of-government issue is not a legitimate, resident-driven idea.
“This is not an issue that the citizens of DeKalb County have cared about,” Ellis said.
“You haven’t heard [people say], ‘We don’t like our form of government. We don’t like having a CEO that gets invited to the White House and gets invited to shape national policy with the president and vice president of the United States.’”
Instead, Ellis said the resolution, which he did not see until it appeared on the board’s Oct. 11 agenda, is “a waste of time by certain commissioners.”
“This is an issue that, about every six months or so, certain members of the commission raise just so they can have access to more power,” said Ellis, who served for eight years on the Board of Commissioners, including five as the board’s presiding officer.
Ellis said DeKalb County’s form of government makes it a progressive county.
“Those large, urban counties that are known to be progressive, forward-thinking, successful, efficient, bringing jobs and opportunity to their people….have a county executive form of government,” Ellis said.