By Maria Saporta
Cobb County Chairman Sam Olens and DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis stood like bookends at a recent DeKalb Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast that provided a snapshot of the region.
Despite being of different races and different political parties, the similarities of the two men is striking. Both are roughly the same age — in their early 50s; both are lawyers. And both appreciate the importance of the region as a critical part of being leaders in their individual counties.
Yet Olens, who is also chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, is fading from the regional scene while Ellis’ presence is ascending.
“While I’m leaving office this March, it’s really been fun watching Burrell Ellis — another bright lawyer seeking public service,” Olens said. “Burrell is an excellent lawyer…. We are thrilled to have him working as CEO.”
Ellis has been CEO of DeKalb County since January, a position that has placed him on ARC’s board. After the breakfast, Ellis said he is still learning the ropes at the ARC, but he did hint that he would be interested in becoming more involved with the organization.
Olens, who will be resigning his post to run for Attorney General in next year’s state elections, said he believes Ellis will emerge as one of the leaders at ARC.
When both men spoke to the DeKalb Chamber, they also had similar thoughts on how to govern in their separate counties.
For example, Olens said that Cobb had adopted a “Complete Streets” policy. “We should never be building a road without sidewalks,” Olens said.
Then Ellis chimed in. “It’s not just about putting in sidewalks,” Ellis said. “Whenever you do road improvements, you should also include bike lanes.”
Then Olens countered. “In Cobb, we have a plan for trails and bike lanes,” he said. “You look for those parks where you can add bike and running trails. We just have to be more creative.”
The DeKalb regional breakfast, part of a series that ARC has been having with chambers from all over the metro area, brought more than 80 people, the largest such gathering yet.
And while listening to Olens and Ellis, it was clear that Cobb and DeKalb have more similarities than differences.