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DeKalb County’s charter could change following review process

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DeKalb County’s charter could change following review process

From left to right: John Turner, Claudette Leak, Lance Hammonds, Ted Terry, Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, and Susan Neugent speak during a meeting about DeKalb County's charter review process. Photo by Jaedon Mason

By Jaedon Mason, contributor 

DeKalb County, GA — DeKalb County Commissioners Lorraine Cochran-Johnson and Ted Terry held a special town hall at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23, at Manuel J. Maloof Auditorium to educate residents about the Charter Review process.

Following the review, there could be changes to the way DeKalb County operates, and residents have an opportunity to give their input.

The charter review process refers to an ongoing review and discussion about DeKalb County’s Organizational Act, commonly referred to as the Org Act, by the county’s Charter Review Commission. Former state senator and charter commission member Steve Henson described the Org Act as being, “Kind of like the US Constitution or state constitution. It’s the overall framework of [county] government”. 

Henson gave an insight into the process explaining, “At this time the commission has not identified any specific changes, but we will be discussing issues this summer and will wrap up with recommendations by October.”

Some areas of the charter that could be changed include “appointment powers of the CEO, the number of Commissioners, the County Ethics Board and [the role of an] Independent Auditor”

The charter review process began in 2019 by the Executive Order of DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond, who created the Charter Review Commission (Charter Commission) with 17 appointees: 

– One by The Board of Education

– Three by the Chief Executive Officer

– Seven by DeKalb County Commission

– Three by the Dekalb State House delegation

– Three by the Dekalb State Senate delegation. 

These appointees serve without pay and with the goal of “review[ing] the Org Act to harmonize all parts of the Org Act and recommend changes in order to achieve the best delivery of services to the citizens of DeKalb County.”

The process was delayed by COVID-19, but is continuing with public meetings the second Thursday of the month. The next meeting is March 9. Details of the meeting, when they are available, will be posted here

After introductions from the members of the commission in attendance, DeKalb County Commissioner Cochran-Johnson opened the town hall, by overviewing the responsibilities of the high-profile county positions under the current iteration of the Org Act. 

Henson, appointed to the commission by the CEO, then gave an update detailing how the commission is getting through the initial review stage, focused on collecting data on the real-world gaps in and reach of the current charter, presenting his view on specific problems with the charter that need to be addressed by the commission that emerged out of this initial stage. He cited addressing vacancies, emergency response parameters, conflicts with newer state law, roles of the county commissioners and the CEO, and a general lack of clarity throughout the charter. 

He clarified that the commission doesn’t actually have any authority and is only serving in an advisory role. 

Once the commission has suggested changes, they will be sent to be voted on by the state Legislature, then need to be signed by the governor, then voted on by the public in a referendum, before being enacted. 

“It is daunting,’ Henson said, but “We are really excited about our work.” Other members of the committee agreed.

At around 7:15, the floor opened to public comment where resident’s shared their perspectives on the charter review process, a few drawing attentions to specific flaws in governance they wanted the commission to keep in mind throughout the process. Code enforcement, accountability and the issues arising from residential vacancies were the big points. 

The town hall closed with statements from the panel applauding the turnout and encouraging attendees to bring more people and stay involved.

Charter Review Commission member Claudette Leek emphasized said, “You still have the opportunity [to be involved]. I would hate for us to get to the end of this process and for folk to feel like they didn’t have an opportunity.” 

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