With the Board of Commissioners failure to override a veto by the county’s CEO, the movement to change DeKalb’s form of government has run into a roadblock.
That failure preceded some tense moments when CEO Burrell Ellis made a rare visit to the board meeting Jan. 10 to lobby for a controversial appointment.
Last month, with a vote of 6-1, the board passed a resolution that would have asked 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.
Just before the Christmas holiday, Ellis vetoed the measure.
Citing the 6-1 vote on the resolution, Commissioner Lee May said, “I’m disappointed that the CEO wanted to veto this.
“I stand by my previous statement on there being a real need to study this form of government,” said May, who brought the issue back to the board for the override vote.
“Let’s do a professional study of our form of government…to ensure that it is the most efficient,” May said.
With Commissioner Kathie Gannon voting against the override, Commissioner Jeff Rader abstaining and Commissioner Stan Watson being absent, there were not enough votes to override the veto.
Ellis said the real issues facing the county are jobs, housing, transportation and cityhood, not the county’s form of government.
“These are the issues that DeKalb citizens care about, not issues that are manufactured by some members of the board of commissioners,” Ellis said.
Board members are planning to revisit the form of government resolution when all members of the board are present at the Jan. 24 session.
“The board may bring it up again, but the people aren’t bringing it up,” Ellis said.
Ellis made an unexpected visit to the commissioners’ meeting after controversy developed over the appointment of Gary A. Cornell on Jan. 9 to serve as the interim director of the department of planning and sustainability.
Cornell has 33 years of professional experience in city and regional planning, including seven years as the director of Gwinnett County’s Department of Planning and Development, seven years as a principal transportation planner at the Atlanta Regional Commission, three years as a planner in residence at Florida State University, and 11 years as a senior community planning consultant for Jacobs Engineering.
“He is eminently qualified to serve as DeKalb County’s director of planning and sustainability,” Ellis said. Cornell “is the best planning director that DeKalb County has ever had.”
When Cornell appeared before the board to give routine zoning information, some board members objected.
May said he was concerned that the CEO is hiring an interim director when interim positions are usually filled by an existing employee.
“What you’re doing now is bringing someone from the outside to the position,” May said, adding that there is no job description for an interim director.
Commissioner Rader called the objections of some board members “petty.”
Rader said Cornell “is probably one of the most highly regarded planning directors in the state.”
Board members are holding up the confirmation of Cornell in their desire “to undermine the administration,” Rader said.
The whole issue is the result of “personal agenda to keep little pieces of power,” Gannon said.
“If the agenda here is what best for this county, we would be looking at a highly qualified person,” Gannon said. “We are not the administration. If we want that power, run for the office. I understand there’s an election this year.”
May said it is Ellis who has “really gotten very political.”
By law, the board has to approve all appointments by the CEO and “he did not have the votes necessary to approve that person…and we told the CEO,” May said. “We didn’t want to have this public confrontation.”
“This has nothing to do with Gary Cornell the person,” May said. “The guy has good credentials. It’s not about whether he’s qualified or not. But, especially in this economy, there are a lot of people with those same credentials that could do the job.”
May said Ellis is “force-feeding someone into [the position]. That’s unacceptable. I’m not going to take it anymore. He’s done it too often.”