DeKalb County’s chief executive officer, district attorney, solicitor general, police department and sheriff’s office all have public information officers. But not the Board of Commissioners.
Commissioners want “to be able to give the transparency that we’ve talked about for a long time,” said Commissioner Elaine Boyer. “I’ve served on the board for 20 years and we’ve never had any committee meetings taped or had the ability to show the community what we’re doing and how we’re doing and how we’re spending their money.”
At her request, Boyer’s chief of staff recently started recording, broadcasting and posting commissioners’ committee meetings online. In these meetings, commissioners hear reports from various county department heads and staff members and have the opportunity to vet out the proposals of the county administration before voting on the items during the board’s regular meetings.
“Let’s face it; this is where all the work is done,” Boyer said.
“The [county’s] communications office serves the CEO, but it’s something we need to have as a separate branch of government, to have our own public information officer,” Boyer said.
On April 24, the board voted to set aside $75,000 used to fund DeKalb County TV (DCTV) to create the DeKalb County Public Information Office. But the decision is not set in stone.
“We didn’t get anybody’s attention until we decided that we were going to extrapolate funds,” Boyer said of her suggestion to encumber the funds until a decision is made by July 1. “What we take out [of the budget] we can put back, but, for the moment, we would like to take it out. It would come out unless further discussions are held.”
The time-limited position of commissioners’ public information officer would broadcast via the internet all the public meetings of the Board of Commissioners and its various committees, according to the resolution. The position would begin in July and be limited to one year unless the board reaffirms its permanent creation by July 1, 2013.
Commissioners came up with the idea of getting their own public information officer after DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis’ administration denied repeated requests to cover the board’s February budget process on DCTV.
The administration stated that to produce the two-day finance committee meeting would take 56 hours to prepare the footage for airing and DCTV’s entire four-person staff would be tied up for two days.
Commissioner Jeff Rader supported the measure, but said “creating a public information office within the Board of Commissioners is problematic.”
“Since each member of the Board of Commissioners is independently elected, it is difficult for the commission to be able to articulate specifically a unified position,” Rader said.
Commissioner Kathie Gannon, the lone commissioner who voted against the resolution, said $75,000 is a large sum to move from the DCTV budget.
“Three out of four of our cultural arts institutions get $75,000 a year as their grant for operations from the county,” Gannon said. “I imagine they would enjoy another $25,000 each if we had this kind of money to give out.”
Burke Brennan, the county administration’s chief communications officer, said a communications specialist for the commissioners is a good idea, but if DCTV takes “a $75,000 hit in funding, that would be detrimental to operations.”
“We would love to help identify a different funding source that didn’t have quite an impact on our operations,” Brennan said.