The flap between DeKalb’s Board of Commissioners and CEO over the county’s planning director is not over.
The board on Jan. 24 decided not to vote on the appointment by DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis of Gary Cornell to the position of director of planning and sustainability, although Cornell is serving as the interim director to the opposition of some commissioners.
“I believe this action is illegal,” said Commissioner Lee May, who said he wants an outside legal opinion on Ellis’ decision.
In its previous meeting, some board members expressed concern that Ellis had hired an interim planning director when interim positions are usually filled by an existing employee.
Ellis made an appearance at that meeting to defend his appointment of Cornell, who 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.
“There was a bit of a dust up here,” May said about that meeting. “Our CEO decided to come and disrupt the meeting for a bit.”
May said that Ellis had been warned late last year that he did not have the votes on the commission to put Cornell in place. The planning director is one of five positions that the board of commissioners, by law, must confirm.
“In the spirit of lowering any kind of public conflict and disarray, I personally went to the administration….and made them aware that the votes were not there to confirm his nominee,” May said. “[I] asked that they just withdraw the name so that we wouldn’t have to publicly vote down Mr. Cornell or publicly make the CEO look bad.”
But in December Ellis announced that he had hired Cornell as an interim planning director.
A majority of commissioners had an issue with Ellis’ “back door way of putting [Cornell] in charge of the planning department,” May said.
In a statement released after the board’s meeting, Ellis stated, “Gary Cornell is the interim director of planning and sustainability for DeKalb County, which is in complete accord with the Organizational Act of DeKalb County.”
May, who said he is going to ask Ellis to bring forward another nomination for confirmation or to bring Cornell for a vote, also said the issue over the planning director highlights a deeper issue with DeKalb’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.
In December, Ellis vetoed a resolution passed by the board that would have asked DeKalb’s state legislative delegation to create a commission to study the county’s form of government.
“We really need to study our form of government,” May said. “The CEO doesn’t want to study this form of government. He seems to think everything is fine and everything is hunky-dory.”
After the board meeting, Commissioner Larry Johnson said the form of government study needs to go forward.
Johnson cited a 2006 state senate committee report that recommended that there needed to be “legislation to balance control between the CEO and the Board of Commissioners on budgeting, spending and contracting, and bidding.”
“We’re not there,” Johnson said. “We still need to complete that.
“It’s been 30 years since this government has been this way,” Johnson said. “My constituents want something done.”
John Evans, president of the DeKalb NAACP, said his group wants a resolution of the problems board and the CEO.
“We know it’s broke,” said Evans, who asked for a public hearing on the form of government issue. “We hear it all the time.”