Interim DeKalb County CEO Lee May recognizes that his county has seen better days, but he’s confident that things are turning around.

In his “state of the county” speech Jan. 23, May touted his plans to target public safety, economic development, beautification and ethics to improve DeKalb County.

“This administration is prepared to take our struggles of today to define our progress for tomorrow,” May said.

May was appointed CEO in June by Gov. Nathan Deal after CEO Burrell Ellis was indicted on several charges including extortion and perjury.

Public safety is a priority in May’s proposed 2014 budget, he said.

To combat high levels of attrition, May said he would like for the county to hire 160 new police officers and 100 new firefighters every year for the next three years.  In December, public safety officers received a 3 percent pay raise, which for some officers was the first increase in six years, May said.

“That is something we are doing to keep our streets safe,” May said.

May would also like to see DeKalb do a better job with economic development, an area in which he said the county has “faltered,” he said.

“While government itself does not create jobs, it is our responsibility to create an environment in which businesses can grow and thrive,” May said.

He would like for county offices to make it quicker and easier for businesses to get permits and licenses in DeKalb.

“This has been a nightmare for business to come in and either open or expand their business,” May said.

He said the county is also looking to hire a firm to create an economic development strategy.

Another way to help recruit businesses and improve quality of life is to work on cleaning up and beautifying the county, May said. A  program called “Operation Fresh Start” would focus on improving the gateways and major corridors of the county by increasing efforts to mow grass, pick up litter and remove illegal signs.

May said he also plans to step up code enforcement on private properties. May said he would like to hire seven more code enforcement officers next year to help combat nuisances like abandoned properties.

“We are changing the way we do business y’all,” May said.

As for ethics, May called for continued investment in the DeKalb County Board of Ethics, restructuring auditing positions and creating a commission to study the county’s ethics ordinance and make recommendations.

May also used his speech to comment on three proposals to form new cities in the central area of the county.

“Cityhood is not necessarily a bad thing. But the cherry-picking of commercial properties and quickly drawn enclaves aren’t good for anyone,” May said. “I’d like to renew my call to the General Assembly to refrain from creating any new cities this year until we can draw up an equitable solution to the current law.”