For DeKalb, Form Follows Function


By Lee May and Elaine Boyer


It’s no secret that DeKalb County has seen better days.

Distrust in county government is high and county revenues are at a low. Our school system has been diligently working to regain full accreditation. And a number of new cities have sprung up, purportedly in protest to a lack of county government responsiveness. Georgia’s third largest county has, as of late, been seen as a hotbed of dysfunction, not unlike the reputation of Congress.

Simply put, DeKalb is at a crossroads and real change is necessary. As form follows function, it’s time to address the government structure of the county in hopes of creating something that is more responsive, more efficient and less political than what we see today.

DeKalb’s CEO form of government is an anomaly in Georgia – the only one of its kind in all of Georgia’s 159 counties – and taxpayers and civil servants deserve something that works. Exploring a different form of governance is the first step towards that end.

As it’s currently configured, the CEO runs county operations and oversees hiring and firing, while the commission adopts legislation, votes on the budget and establishes zoning guidelines and tax rates. In effect, the commission sets policy and the CEO decides how its carried out. And any commissioner will tell you that the devil is in the details.

DeKalb lawmakers have long spoken out in favor of re-examining DeKalb County’s form of government. This isn’t a novel idea, but one whose time is long overdue.

Dating back to 1994, a study committee by the DeKalb Civic Coalition concluded that the separate executive and legislative branch form of government creates gridlock, is less responsive and reduces accountability.

Recommendations from a senate study committee led to the 2008 passage of SB 52, which gave the Commission the power to set meeting agendas and elect a presiding officer to chair meetings. That was a small step in the right direction, but it did not go far enough.

Accordingly, the Commission went back to the gold dome and formally requested a re-examination of local governance with a resolution in 2010. In 2012, the Commission voted to request the creation of a charter commission by a margin of 6-1. Both of these attempts to further examine our structure were thwarted before they could produce results.

There is no question as to whether the CEO form of government has been a continual source of conflict over the last three decades. There is a reason no other county has adopted this form of government, simply put…it doesn’t work.

Ultimately, the nearly 700,000 residents who call DeKalb home will be the beneficiaries of a more civil, less divisive government. But to get there, we need everyone at the table as good faith partners to tackle this issue.

It’s time for DeKalb to elect a system that’s consistent with counties around the state and across the majority of the nation. Removing this distraction will help leaders focus their efforts and attention where it belongs – on making DeKalb County the single best place to live, work, play and learn not only in Georgia, but across the Country.

Commissioner Lee May, District 5, Presiding Officer
Commissioner Elaine Boyer, District 1


  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    I have resided and paid taxes in North DeKalb for 25 years, and have watched the county government and county schools deteriorate at an alarming rate.
    The deterioration is a direct result of the profound demographic and political changes in DeKalb since the late 1980s.
    The DeKalb CEOs and the DeKalb County Commission have been fighting each other for political control for decades, and both have well-documented tin ears when the residents speak. What interests the CEO and the Commissioners are increasing tax revenues, who controls the overspending, and who is able to put friends and family into county jobs.
    I see no assurance that sole control by the County Commission will bring any lasting benefit.
    The new cities in North DeKalb (and those being considered in Mid and South DeKalb) are direct efforts by residents to regain a level of control over their destinies by lessening the role of the deteriorating county government in their communities. I live in Dunwoody and am pleased with the services provided by Dunwoody, contrasted to what DeKalb County formerly provided. I expect Dunwoody to provide more services as time passes, further reducing the negative effect of DeKalb County. I also expect more communities in DeKalb will incorporate.

  2. Tough Cookied says:

    I’m not for ANYTHING that gives Elaine Boyer more control in DeKalb County.

  3. So long as DeKalb remains with the CEO form of government we will likely see the rest of DeKalb incorporate into reasonably sized cities until there is no more un-incorporated DeKalb. Doing so will remove planning and zoning control from the DeKalb County commission as well as dramatically reducing the outsourced contracts the county leaders get to award. DeKalb can then focus on the specific services like elections, superior court, libraries, property appraisals and other services delegated to them specifically by the state. For now this includes schools, a vast portion of the county budget, but I think the writing is on the wall that overly large school systems do not serve students as well as smaller districts and this restriction on new city school districts is not likely to last. With 100% incorporation there will be substantial cost savings,with no need for a DeKalb County planning department, code enforcement, etc.

    With this dramatic reduction in power, that can often be used to solicit large campaign contributions, and with much less responsibility to decide controversial issues, DeKalb County government can be dramatically scaled back and it will make even more sense at that time to shift from the CEO form of government.

    At that point there will still be a substantial DeKalb County Government, but I think it will also be much less political and more focused on providing certain services at a high level of quality and reasonable cost.

    The new cities are not about “leaving the county”, they are about localizing certain services and decision making. A simpler and leaner county government can become one we can respect and trust and rely on.


  1. […] CEO Lee May and Commissioner Elaine Boyer posted on the site, Blogging While Blue (here), where they say that there is no question as to whether the CEO form of government has been a […]