The Gist: Two DeKalb lawmakers have introduced a bill that would dramatically change DeKalb County’s form of government by eliminating the county’s unique CEO position. The bill was introduced Wednesday, and unlike prior attempts to change the county’s CEO structure, this was introduced as a general bill instead of a local bill. Democratic members of the DeKalb delegation say they were not informed the bill was going to be introduced. The bill is being fast-tracked in an effort to beat the legislature’s 40 day clock. For a bill to pass, it must move from one chamber to the other by crossover day, on Feb. 28.
Who’s Behind It: Two republican representatives, Meagan Hanson, of Brookhaven, and Tom Taylor, of Dunwoody, co-sponsored the bill.
What Difference Does It Make?: DeKalb County is the only county in Georgia that uses a CEO/Commission power structure. In DeKalb, the county’s day-to-day administration is run by an elected official who is given the title CEO. The current CEO is former Labor Commissioner and former DeKalb School Superintendent Michael Thurmond. Recent CEOs have included Burrell Ellis, Vernon Jones and Liane Levetan.
Most counties have a county manager who is appointed by the county chairman and commission. This structure allows the elected officials to appoint someone to run the day-to-day operations of the county based on their qualifications and experience.
This would be a fundamental shift in DeKalb county government and politics, as it would take the decision about who runs the county’s executive branch away from voters and place that decision on the county commission.
What’s In The Bill?: Since House Bill 961 is a general bill and not a local bill, it doesn’t actually mention DeKalb County. It simply abolishes the CEO/Commission form of government in Georgia. The bill would allow Thurmond to finish out his term and would abolish the position entirely the day his term ends.
The Reaction: Democrats in the DeKalb delegation have criticized the bill’s sudden introduction and the fact that it bypasses the delegation. Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick voiced her complaints in the following tweet:
HB 961 to eliminate the DeKalb CEO position without so much as a notification to other members of the delegation. Unacceptable and unprofessional!
Call Rep. Megan Hanson and Rep. Tom Taylor and tell them NO!
— Dar'shun Kendrick (@DarshunKendrick) February 22, 2018
According to the AJC, Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver expressed concern that the bill would impact 800,000 people and their elected representatives weren’t informed about the bill in advance.
Thurmond, who was elected to the CEO post in 2016, agrees with Oliver. He was quoted in the DeKalb Neighbor as follows:
“We need to allow the voters in DeKalb County to determine the direction of the county and our government, not two or three individuals meeting at night under the cover of darkness.” -Michael Thurmond
Commissioner Nancy Jester said in a tweet that changing the CEO structure was an “important and necessary step to reform DeKalb.”
Thank you Rep. @Meagan_M_Hanson for introducing HB 961 to eliminate the CEO form of government. This is an important & necessary step to reform DeKalb. In 2017 we had more sewer spills that ever. We have gone 783 days w/o a CFO. CEO form of govt generates this failures.
— Nancy Jester (@nancy_jester) February 22, 2018
What Happens Next?: The bill has passed the governmental affairs committee and moves to the state House. The House has until crossover day to pass the bill, at which point it would move to the Senate. If the House doesn’t vote on the bill by Feb. 28, it will effectively kill it.