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Bill by Republican members of DeKalb Delegation would eliminate county CEO

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Bill by Republican members of DeKalb Delegation would eliminate county CEO

Michael Thurmond. File photo obtained via Reporter Newspapers
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Michael Thurmond. File photo obtained via Reporter Newspapers

This story has been updated. 

Two Republican members of the DeKalb County delegation want to eliminate the position of CEO of DeKalb County.

The bill, House Bill 961, would allow current CEO Michael Thurmond to serve out the remainder of his term. After that, the authority given to the CEO — who manages the county’s day-to-day operations — would be transferred to the county commission, and those powers would go to the chair of the county commission.

The bill’s sponsors are Rep. Meagan Hanson, R-Brookhaven, and Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Dunwoody.

The governmental affairs committee approved the bill on Feb. 21.

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During the hearing, Hanson said that she believes the numerous controversies that have enveloped county government in recent years had to do with the existence of the county CEO position. DeKalb County, she noted, is the only county that has a CEO.

“I spent a couple of years talking on the ‘Georgia Gang,'” she said, referring to a local TV program dedicated to discussing political issues. “Every single time I was on it, we had some sort of DeKalb County issue and they all seemed to stem from a governance issue.”

Hanson brought Commissioner Nancy Jester with her. Later in the hearing, she said Jester, who represents the northern part of the county, was the only commissioner she’d spoken to.

Jester blamed the county’s infamous water billing issues and history of sewer spills on the CEO form of government.

“I think this is directly linked to the turnover we see with the reestablishing of government every time we have a CEO we have new folks come in,” Jester said. “In six years, I believe we’ve had five different watershed directors.”

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, strongly objected to the bill. She asked why it was being introduced as general  legislation and not local legislation carried by DeKalb’s representatives in the Legislature.

Hanson said the local delegation would not have supported such a bill. She said the idea has been floated to the delegation before.

“This is not something that has been able to successful,” Hanson said.

Oliver tried to table the bill, but was voted down, and she cast one of the few no votes to move it out of the Governmental Affairs Committee.

Other members were skeptical, like state Rep. Howard Mosby, D-Atlanta.

“I don’t understand how to bring this bill forward because if we are concerned about whether or not DeKalb County is going to be in the news,” Mosby said. “This puts it squarely in the middle of the news.”

Mosby asked how the county CEO is any different than a city with a strong mayor form of government.

State Rep. Buzz Brockway, R-Lawrenceville, asked if the idea shouldn’t be examined in a special committee before moving forward with a bill.

“This is a huge change in the form of government in DeKalb County,” Brockway said. “Would it be better to form a study committee of some sort to take a look at the implications of this sort of thing? We are being asked here very quickly to decide to remove a very prominent and powerful politician in the Atlanta region.”

That idea was not considered.

On Wednesday, Feb. 22, Rep. Oliver was still angry about the way the bill had been introduced. She said no notice was given to committee members and the bill wasn’t given to them ahead of the vote.

“I’ve been around a long time, but I still respond badly to raw power exercised in a way to abuse others,” Oliver said. “A bill that was not on the agenda, was not in the committee folders, that was introduced just a day before and called for a vote with no notice to any of the 800,000 people in DeKalb County, is bad form and makes all of us politicians look bad. When you deviate from a process where you claim to be interested in transparency and informing the public and engaging the public, this kind of behavior is highly problematical.”

State Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, contacted Decaturish and said that he had his own questions about the bill. He addressed them to Rep. Hanson in a letter dated Feb. 22. He provided a copy of the letter:

Letter to Rep. Hanson re HB 961 2.22.18

Editor’s note: This story was reported by viewing a live video stream of the Feb. 21 meeting. 

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