DeKalb County is in dire straits.
First, there was the SACS decision to place our school system on probation. Next, we had the removal of the school board, saving our children from inept governance. That was followed by the indictment of CEO Burrell Ellis. Then, he was ousted.
Most recently, a special grand jury report showed us a disturbing pattern of corruption that spans Burrell Ellis, Vernon Jones and members of their administrations.
Sadly, the hits seem to keep on coming.
Gov. Nathan Deal made the final decisions on removal of the school board and Ellis. He did not choose the unfortunate circumstances that required these decisions to be made, but he navigated them masterfully. Our county is better for it.
Governor Deal installed Commissioner Lee May as interim CEO. May wasted no time becoming the first of the five individuals who have served as CEO to call for the abolition of the position. Our county is better for that, too.
Out of the 159 counties in Georgia, DeKalb is the only one with a hybrid CEO-commission form of government. To say that our county’s form of government is dysfunctional would be an understatement. The CEO holds most of the cards. The commissioners hold very few.
Yet citizens expect their commissioners, each of whom represents at least 138,000 people, to get things done. In reality, it’s the CEO who can make things happen with ease. Apparently, our prior two CEOs have seen fit to apply this vast power in furtherance of their own self-interest.
Even if the County Commission votes to award a contract to a vendor, the CEO can simply choose not to sign the contract. That sort of prerogative goes to the heart of the criminal charges against Burrell Ellis.
The alternative is a commission-manager form of government. The county commission would hire a professional county manager who is responsible and must be responsive to the commission as a whole. Every other metro Atlanta county has this form of government. There is no political CEO and the hubris this position has engendered.
The power to change DeKalb’s form of government belongs to the General Assembly. In my nine years in the House of Representatives, I’ve been a consistent advocate for scrapping the CEO form of government. There are others who agree, but we don’t comprise a majority of the members of the House and Senate from DeKalb County. That has been the impediment.
Until now, that is. It should be clear to all DeKalb legislators that a majority of our constituents, from Dunwoody to Lithonia and Druid Hills to Stone Mountain, want this change to happen. The shortcomings of Burrell Ellis have placed an exclamation point on the need for change. And for the first time, we have a CEO asking us to make the change.
There is always the option to make this change through sweeping statewide legislation that abolishes DeKalb’s unique form of government. The substantive change is necessary, but I hope such a tactical move – which would be initiated by North DeKalb legislators – can be avoided.
The handwriting is on the wall. Let’s hope other DeKalb legislators can see it. I certainly do.
District 80 State Rep. Mike Jacobs represents Brookhaven and portions of Chamblee and Sandy Springs. He can be reached at (404) 530-7377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.