In a rare use of his veto power, DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis tried to suppress the discussion on changing the county’s form of government.
Ellis is opposed to a resolution passed by the Board of Commissioners on Dec. 13 that would ask DeKalb’s state legislative delegation to create a commission to study the county’s form of government.
Currently, the county is run by the seven-member Board of Commissioners, which is the legislative branch, and an elected CEO who runs the day-to-day operations of the government.
“A change in the form of government would, at this time, bring instability and create a distraction from addressing the ongoing financial issues that the county faces,” Ellis said in his veto memo to the commissioners.
To study the form of government would “send the wrong signal to financial rating agencies that could jeopardize the recent restoration of the county’s credit ratings,” Ellis said in the statement.
Two agencies have upgraded the county’s credit ratings on outstanding debt after the ratings were downgraded earlier in 2011.
“The rating agencies expect stability in management and that all branches of government will work in concert to address structural financial issues,” Ellis said.
Commissioner Lee May, in a statement after the veto, said Ellis’ reasoning for vetoing the resolution is flawed.
“The rating agencies do not care what form of government we have as long as it is professionally run,” May said. “These are the same agencies that earlier this year stated that CEO Ellis’ administration has a ‘budgeting methodology that, in (the rating agency’s view), incorporates revenue assumptions that are unrealistic.’
“It was [Ellis’] failure to manage the county that caused the uncertainty,” May said. “They even criticized him for not having a financial plan. It was astonishing to me after three years in office, CEO Ellis did not have a sound financial plan to run this county.”
Ellis also cited the Georgia General Assembly’s 2008 adoption of a bill that gave the Board of Commissioners the authority to chair its own meetings. This change gave the board “additional powers and responsibilities to bolster the checks and balance,” Ellis said.
“Three years is not enough time to fully determine the effectiveness” of the bill, Ellis said.
Commissioner Elaine Boyer, in the statement, said the law “was a great change, but it didn’t go far enough. There still seems to be a daily intertwining of the political and professional management of this county.”
“To not allow the citizens of DeKalb to study the form of government is beyond belief,” Boyer said. “The fact that [Ellis] does not want to have an objective study is the hardest thing to swallow. Only people trying to protect their own power would be against having public discussions on the topic.”
Kathie Gannon, the sole commissioner who opposed the resolution, said the move to study the form of government is “simply an issue of power.”
“I think it has ‘personal agenda’ written all over it,” Gannon said. “Some commissioners didn’t complain when they had power on their side” with a different county administration.
Gannon said it would be “very political” to put the Board of Commissioners, which she said does not use the power it already has, in charge of making day-to-day decisions for the county.
“If people don’t like the way the CEO is managing, they can vote one person out,” Gannon said. Change would be more difficult with seven commissioners in charge.
The Board of Commissioners is expected to address Ellis’ veto, which could be overridden with five votes, at its Committee of the Whole meeting on Jan. 3.
“One thing I was incredibly proud of was that this resolution passed 6-1,” May said. “It was not a partisan resolution. For CEO Ellis to veto a resolution that had that much support shows that he is out of touch with the citizens of this county.”