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