By David Pendered
DeKalb County interim CEO Lee May delivered a State of the County Address Thursday in which he promised a bright future while acknowledging his temporary seat in the county’s top office.
May named problems and proposed solutions. He portrayed his office and the Board of Commissioners as working together, rather than feuding. He said DeKalb’s young people will benefit from a new Office of Youth Services and a functioning school superintendent and board of education.
May took the stage around 8 p.m. and introduced his wife and mother of his two, soon to be three, children, Robin May. Quickly, the faith leader reached into the Old Testament to open his address with the biblical figure Nehamiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem – a task May likened to the rebuilding of DeKalb after CEO Burrell Ellis was indicted last year on felony charges of public corruption.
“At this time of uncertainty in our county … we have to step forward, all of us, and serve as leaders,” May said. “We have to come together, just like Nehamiah. … The future of our county does not reside in one. It resides in the foundation of unity.”
May appeared comfortable as he spoke for about 30 minutes. He moved easily about the stage in the Porter Sanford III Performing Arts & Community Center, in Decatur, referencing at times the videos playing on a screen behind him.
May plainly addressed DeKalb’s major problems – a troubled public school system just recently reaccredited; broken public trust in ethics following the Ellis indictment; littered streets and unkempt properties; a perception, if not reality, of lax public safety.
May said his office intends to reshape the county government to meet the challenges. Gov. Nathan Deal chose May to serve as interim CEO after Deal removed Ellis from office last July.
“This administration is prepared to take our struggles of today to define our progress for tomorrow,” May said. “This administration is meeting DeKalb’s challenges, and we’re meeting them head-on.”
Highlights of May’s proposals include:
- Asking the state Legislature to hold off for a year on authorizing the creation of new cities. During this time, a charter review commission will be reviewing the county’s form of government – which is unique in Georgia. Pressure is building for three new cities proposed in areas east of I-85.
Acting on a “blueprint” for retooling county services. For instance, trash trucks may pass each home just once a week, instead of the current four times a week.
- Promoting a quality county workforce by providing “fair compensation and opportunity for advancement.”
- Beefing up public safety by hiring 160 police officers and 100 firefighters a year for the next three years, for a total hiring of 480 police and 300 firefighters.
- Promoting economic development by improving the processes for permits and business licenses; creating a strategic economic development plan with help from the private sector; and possibly retooling the county’s development authority into an economic development agency that could implement the strategic plan.
- Improving DeKalb’s aesthetics by removing litter and illegal signs, enforcing codes against overgrown or unkempt properties, improving gateways to commercial and residential areas.
May concluded by saying he recognized his remarks hadn’t addressed the “elephant in the room” – how he can make these promises when Ellis could be exonerated and returned to office.
“We must do it together,” May said. “This is not a county of one. … You must not stop working alongside government to improve the community. … We will do it together. This is DeKalb County, Georgia. I believe in our future. The best is yet to come.”