DeKalb County Interim CEO Lee May.
DeKalb County Interim CEO Lee May.

As a commissioner, I strongly advocated for the elimination of the office of the CEO for DeKalb County.  DeKalb is the only county in Georgia that is governed in this manner, thanks to the political maneuvering by state lawmakers in the 1980s.

Then, ironically, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed me to the very position I was trying to eradicate.

As Interim CEO, I have lobbied state lawmakers and appointed citizen committees to review DeKalb’s unique structure and get the ball rolling on changing the form of government.

One might assume that I would be inclined to favor the legislation introduced in the General Assembly this year by Democrat Rep. Scott Holcomb and Republican Sen. Fran Millar to change the form of government. While Rep. Holcomb’s bill is a step in the right direction, Sen. Millar’s bill takes us backward.  The devil is always in the details, and that can make the difference between a good solution and a bad mandate.

Rep. Holcomb’s bill, authored as “local legislation” under the long-supported promise of home rule, is the appropriate mechanism to address our form of government.  By definition, home rule is the power of a local government to set up its own system of self-government.

“Local legislation” would be advanced only by those who represent DeKalb County and only voted on by consent when the full Legislature votes.  Therefore, the bill offered by Rep. Holcomb has promise to truly help DeKalb move forward.

The other bill, authored by Sen. Millar, is untenable to me for more than a few reasons.  One is that it is authored as “general legislation,” meaning all legislators across the state will determine how DeKalb County is governed, which goes against both the letter and the spirit of the law. Legislators from Albany, Bainbridge, Milledgeville and Valdosta will tell DeKalb residents what’s best for them.

This is wrong and it’s a slippery slope.  Remember, nothing in politics is permanent and what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

Sen. Millar’s version of the bill goes as far as to draw five commissioners into two commission districts. This will have the net result of getting rid of a minimum of three commissioners at one time. Now regardless of your personal thoughts about the DeKalb Board of Commissioners, this reeks of back-room, dirty politics and goes against everything a democratic and just society stands for in America. I don’t believe that was Sen. Millar’s intention, but it has the affect nonetheless and it does more to divide this county than to bring it together.

It’s legislation like this that has been approved over the years which has hamstrung DeKalb, placing our county at a disadvantage to the other 158 counties in the state of Georgia.

All of my efforts regarding our form of government have been singularly focused on letting the voters determine through an election whether changing the form of our government is the most appropriate thing to do.

Whether voters say yes or no is irrelevant; allowing the voters to have a say is the critical thing.  However, the legislation offered by Sen. Millar is not the most appropriate way to accomplish this much-needed task and has too many undisclosed and harmful ramifications to it.

I call for our local DeKalb legislators to seriously consider Rep. Holcomb’s legislation before something is created that kills all of our efforts to move this county forward and truly see reform in DeKalb County.

I recently announced that I would not be running for office this year as I plan to pursue my calling to serve in the ministry.  In my short time as Interim CEO, I am proud of the many accomplishments that we have made. Some of our accomplishments include improving the county’s bond rating, increasing the county’s budgetary reserves to more than one month’s balance, overhauling purchasing and contracting policies, getting rid of the P-cards, ethics reform, giving employees the first raise since 2008 and giving the first property tax cut in a decade.

I plan to leave this house to my successor in a better place than I found it.  As it pertains to the position of the CEO and the form of DeKalb County’s government, I am in exactly the same place where I started. It needs to go, but it should not be handled carelessly.

Sen. Fran Millar responds to DeKalb CEO Lee May

Fran Millar
Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody)

We have waited 10 years for the Democrats to deal with abolishing the CEO position in DeKalb, and I dropped my version of the Holcomb local bill as general legislation after Senate Democratic Minority Leader Steve Henson said verbally – and then in print – that Holcomb’s local bill was going nowhere.
It is time to let the people vote. Also, Gov. Nathan Deal supports elimination of the position he had to fill when the prior CEO went to prison.

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.