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DeKalb Charter Review Commission considers whether DeKalb County should have an elected CEO

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DeKalb Charter Review Commission considers whether DeKalb County should have an elected CEO

A map of DeKalb County, GA. Image obtained via Google Maps

By Jaedon Mason, contributor

Decatur, GA — Wednesday’s Charter Review Commission meeting was a continuation of the larger discussion about the DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer position.

DeKalb County is the only county in Georgia with this style of county executive officer. Discussion around the efficacy and practicality of the  “CEO system” has recurred since it was adopted, and tackling questions that have arisen around accountability, CEO engagement and balance of power in these discussions are central to the commission’s mandate. 

The Charter Review Commission invited former Chairmen of the Board of Commissioners for Gwinnett County Charlotte Nash, and former Chairmen of the Board of Commissioners for Fulton County Dr. John Eaves, to speak and provide their expertise on the role of the Chief Administrator or Chief Executive office of the county.

Chief Operating Officer and Executive Assistant of DeKalb County Zach Williams was also invited to give another experienced perspective on county government. As Executive Assistant to the CEO, Williams is the person serving in the capacity most similar to the chief executive offices of other counties. 

The speakers explained that while the chief executive position has different names in Fulton and Gwinnett, the chief executive functions similarly in both counties, where an executive is appointed by and differential to the county commission. However, in DeKalb County, the chief executive position is a separate, elected office, the CEO, that comes with substantially broader executive powers. 

One of these powers is to appoint the Executive Assistant, who serves in a more traditional, “county manager” type of executive role and serves at the pleasure of the CEO as opposed to the county commission. 

Nash, Dr. Eaves and Williams answered a series of questions, primarily on their experience in and with executive roles in county government. 

Nash, having served as both Chairmen of the Board of Commissioners and as County Administrator (the chief executive office of Gwinnett County) was able to offer insight and perspective, introducing the idea that the executive’s job was mainly internal.

She saw the job as, “Making sure department directors are doing their jobs, setting the culture at the staff level and essentially trying to turn the policy that has been set by the elected body into reality,” Nash said.

Williams echoed this in his statement.

“Any jurisdiction needs a professionally trained administrator who focuses on the internal, call that person whatever you like…who has been trained and understands their job is to keep the shop run,” Williams said.

Dr. Eaves clarified that while Chairman of the Board of the Commissioners for Fulton County is its own elected office, the role was much more about coalition building, using soft-skills to gain votes while having no unilateral power. 

The three answered other questions from the commission about super districts and contract versus HR hiring systems, but all three aligned on one point. Nash and Dr. Eaves commended DeKalb for taking the steps to reassess itself.  

Charter Review Commission member Steve Henson also distributed a rough schedule for the coming months, laying out roughly when discussions on certain sections of the charter will happen. Henson also noted that commission meetings will be moving away from having speakers and into deliberative discussion of the actual Charter language.

The Charter Review Commission announced they would be moving into discussion and recommendation of changes to the charter at the April 13th meeting and provided Decaturish with a rough schedule of the upcoming months to meet the October deadline.  

To see the county’s current charter, click here.

– April 13: Begin First review and possible recommended changes of Sections; 1-5

– May 11: Continue review and recommended changes Sections 6-12

– May 25: Continue review and recommended changes Section 13-20

– June 8: Continue Review and recommended Changes Sections 21-end

– June 22: Continue Review and recommended changes New/charter review and other.

– July 13: Continue Review and recommended changes review reserved sections August 10th Review reserved sections that needed additional time and work/review written recommendations for the Final report.

– Aug. 24: Public hearing

– Sep. 7: Review recommendations and public hearing September Public hearing.

– Oct. 5: Possible meeting

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