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DeKalb Charter Review Commission hoping to have charter referendum on November ballot

DeKalb County

DeKalb Charter Review Commission hoping to have charter referendum on November ballot

Members of the DeKalb Charter Review Commission met with the DeKalb House delegation on Monday, Feb. 26, to present the updated charter. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb Charter Review Commission has been working for the last 18 months, or so, to review the county’s Organizational Act and propose revisions and new additions to the document. The commission is hoping there will be a referendum on the updated charter on the ballot in November.

Members of the commission presented the updated Organizational Act to the DeKalb legislative delegation on Monday, Feb. 26. They also asked the delegation to encourage the county CEO and Board of Commissioners to meet with the review commission to discuss the charter.

The delegation acknowledged that they received a letter from the county administration earlier this month saying the staff and Board of Commissioners have not had a chance to look at the revised Organizational Act.

“Michael Thurmond appointed the charter review commission. He started to do so after hearing from the legislators and other people that the charter might need some revamping,” Review Commission Member Steve Henson said.

There were 18 members of the commission appointed by the CEO, the county commissioners, the DeKalb House and Senate delegations, and the DeKalb School Board.

The commission considered some issues like increasing the board of commissioners from seven to nine members and shifting from a CEO to a county commission-chairman form of government. In the final report, the commission did not recommend changing the commission districts or replacing the county CEO with a hired county manager.

Some minor changes were made to comply with state law and some major changes were made like adding new sections to the Organizational Act, which is the equivalent of a constitution for county government. The most notable changes to DeKalb County’s current charter are an increase in the county government’s power and responsibility to fill vacant offices at all levels and giving the board of commissioners (BOC) the power to subpoena county officials.

The subpoena power could allow the county commissioners to more consistently find answers to questions from constituents, by giving them a tool to ensure they get answers without interfering in the county’s formal chain of command. County employees report to the county CEO, under the county’s current form of government.
Henson said the subpoena power may fill some gaps in terms of getting information.

“I think it takes care of some people presenting that they couldn’t get information, so if they really wanted to they could get a subpoena,” Henson said.

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D – Decatur) noted that the state senate is subpoenaing witnesses and putting them under oath and do their investigations.

“I’ve taken a public position against that,” Oliver said, adding that there’s an “opportunity for mischief in that.”

The revised charter includes a process for filling temporary vacancies, which could happen if the county CEO or a commissioner is suspended. If the CEO were to be suspended, the BOC’s presiding officer would be the acting CEO until the end of the suspension.

If there’s a vacancy on the board of commissioners, the remaining commissioners would appoint someone to fill the vacancy within 30 days. If the commissioners did not fill the vacancy in time, then the chief judge of the superior court would make an appointment within 30 days.

A few other highlights of the charter review include:

– Removing a section that allowed the CEO to vote in board of commissioner meetings to break a tie. Review Commission Member Jim Grubiak said they suspected that was a holdover from when the CEO chaired the board of commissioners.

Henson added that the county CEO has broken a tie twice in the last 12 years.

– Requiring the board of commissioners to establish citizen engagement programs, like community councils, neighborhood planning units or other initiatives.

– Changing the deadlines in the budget process. The CEO would have to submit the budget to the board of commissioners on Oct. 1, and the BOC would have to approve the budget by Dec. 31 of any given year.

– The revised charter also includes a new section that requires the CEO to designate an open records officer who would be responsible for handling open records requests.

– The update recommends that a future charter review commission be created by January 2029 and every eight years after that to evaluate the Organizational Act.

Writer Jaedon Mason contributed to this story.

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