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David Pendered

DeKalb County’s interim CEO: Works with Republicans, funded by Democrats, educated as a cleric

By David Pendered

The Democrat chosen by Gov. Nathan Deal to serve as interim CEO of DeKalb County wrote a piece with a Republican colleague that appeared last week on Shirley Franklin’s website. It calls for the position of CEO – and DeKalb’s entire form of goverment – to be eliminated.

DeKalb County Commissioner Lee May (left) takes oath of office July 17 as interim CEO. Credit: DeKalb County

DeKalb County Commissioner Lee May (left) takes oath of office July 17 as interim CEO. Credit: DeKalb County

Although DeKalb County Commissioner Lee May will reach across the aisle, he has strong backing from the state’s leading Democrats. Former Gov. Roy Barnes’ law firm contributed to May’s 2012 reelection campaign, along with the family-owned company headed by former Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.  Michael Thurmond, the former state labor commissioner who now serves DeKalb as interim school superintendent, contributed.

May opposed the proposed 2012 transportation sales tax, saying it provided too few benefits to south DeKalb. About the same time, May said he was considering running against incumbent CEO Burrell Ellis because he disagreed with the direction Ellis was taking the county.

May was sworn into office Tuesday evening, following Deal’s suspension of Ellis as CEO. A grand jury indicted Ellis on 15 counts of allegedly trying to extort campaign contributions from companies and their employees.

Ellis has denied any wrongdoing.

DeKalb’s government issued a statement Wednesday that provides information about May, taken from his county website, and the following comment from May:

  • “Although this appointment comes out of some very unfortunate circumstances, I am humbled by this responsibility to serve the citizens of DeKalb County.  I am committed to working with my fellow commissioners to ensure the citizens of DeKalb are provided the high quality county services they deserve.”
DeKalb County's interim CEO, Lee May, was elected to serve District 5, shown here in light green in southeast DeKalb. Credit: DeKalb County

DeKalb County’s interim CEO, Lee May, was elected to serve District 5, shown here in light green in southeast DeKalb. Credit: DeKalb County

May was elected to serve the farther reaches of eastern DeKalb County. District 5 is bordered to the south and east by Rockdale County, and to the west by (basically) I-285. The northern border is generally in line with Decatur.

May ran his 2012 reelection campaign on about $117,000, according to his campaign’s financial disclosures. May reported a balance of $2,454 on his June disclosure.

May ran in a four-way primary in 2012 and pulled almost 68 percent of the vote, thereby avoiding a run-off election. No Republican stood against him in the general election.

The statement released by the county reports that May was first elected in 2006, was reelected in 2012, and served as the commission’s presiding officer. May is the son of a pastor, a graduate of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, with a masters of divinity degree, and earned his undergraduate degree from Clark  Atlanta University.

The column May co-authored with Republican DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer appeared on the website started by former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin – bloggingwhileblue.com. Boyer serves north DeKalb. The site intends to provide commentary on timely topics.

The column outlines the history of DeKalb’s form of government, which is unique in the way it provides the CEO the authority to run the county’s daily affairs, and allocates policy-making responsibilities to the commission.

Lee and Boyer make their case for restructuring DeKalb’s form of governance after an introduction that states:

  • “It’s no secret that DeKalb County has seen better days.
  • “Distrust in county government is high and county revenues are at a low. Our school system has been diligently working to regain full accreditation. And a number of new cities have sprung up, purportedly in protest to a lack of county government responsiveness. Georgia’s third largest county has, as of late, been seen as a hotbed of dysfunction, not unlike the reputation of Congress.
  • “Simply put, DeKalb is at a crossroads and real change is necessary.”


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.



  1. Burroughston Broch July 18, 2013 12:49 pm

    Mr. May appears a nice fellow, but he is no expert on financial affairs. He has bankrupted multiple times, as detailed in this link: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/financial-woes-dog-dekalb-budget-chairman/nQSPj/.
    By the way, he is also the DeKalb Commission’s budget committee chair. Just a small indication of the dysfunction in DeKalb government.Report

    1. moliere July 19, 2013 3:17 pm

      Burroughston Broch So basically he is in good company with Nathan Deal (who ran for governor while under water financially due to bad business deals) and Tom DeLay (who ran for Congress because he blamed government regulations for ruining his pest extermination business … never mind that tons of other exterminators in Texas had no problems succeeding in that same regulatory climate). And then there was the total professional failure that George W. Bush was until he got into politics (and even his first attempt to get elected in Texas on his father’s coattails failed … he lost to a Democrat in a practically all white Texas district.)
      May made the same mistake that Magic Johnson and a bunch of other black businessmen have: to locate businesses in a bad area for them as part of an attempt to “save” or “revitalize” the area. In other words, to try to locate businesses in an economically depressed area to try to generate jobs and tax revenue in order to lift the areas out of decline and poverty. This is based on the theory that the decline in those areas in the first place was due to white flight, redlining and other forms of racism that destroyed the local tax and jobs base.

      Unfortunately for Johnson (whose efforts to help save black urban communities by locating theatre and restaurant chains in those areas) and May:
      1. blacks don’t patronize businesses in black areas either. Plenty of blacks who live in DeKalb, Clayton and south Fulton can be seen shopping and dining in Gwinnett, Cobb and north Fulton. The “buy black” movement, which goes as far back as in the 1920s, has been a long, dismal failure. 
      2. Locating a business or two in an economically depressed area is not going to make a difference. You will provide a few (mostly low paying) jobs for a few people but that’s it. What turns an area around is several large employers, not a few small ones.
      3. Putting the cart before the horse. Basically, communities don’t fail economically because businesses refuse to locate there. Instead, businesses refuse to locate in a place because it is economically failing. 
      4. Unfortunately, what May did is commonly taught and reinforced by the black community through its leaders and media. Many of them are hostile to capitalism and market economics (indeed, the civil rights leadership was overtly Marxist with members of the Communist Party influential in its founding) because of the (only recently abandoned) tendency of the private sector in this country to discriminate against blacks on a large scale. Because of this, they associate free enterprise = oppression of and discrimination against black people. Seriously. So, the only acceptable economics that are promoted are what can be called “activist economics.” Simply going out and starting a business for the sake of making a profit is considered bad and wrong. But starting a business with the primary goal of advancing a (liberal) agenda is OK. Not ideal, not the equivalent of being a progressive activist or politician, but more good than bad. Running a green energy company = not as good as being a Greenpeace activist but far better than running an oil company, for example. And since May has a theology degree from Emory University’s Candler school – noted for its liberal and liberation theololgy – that likely made May’s desire to change the world with activism instead of seeking tried and true paths to becoming a successful businessman worse, not better. The best way to help the communities that May was trying to aid by starting his businesses there would have been to become a successful businessman in another side of town with a better environment, and using the wealth that you generate for yourself to help the underprivileged. Such as by making millions for yourself and using that money to start a charter school, provide scholarships etc. The philanthrophy route basically, but that is unpopular because you have to follow the regular practice of capitalism to become wealthy enough to become a philanthropist in the first place. 
      Add it all up and there is little evidence that May is personally incompetent or unethical. Just that he was pursuing an unworkable activist political philosophy while trying to be a businessman. (In contrast with George W. Bush and Tom DeLay, who were just trying to make money and still failed.) That being said, I do feel that it would have been better had DeKalb’s CEO actually been successful in business. But again, it would have been also better for the state of Georgia had Nathan Deal been successful in his business, for the nation had Tom DeLay been successful in his, and also had Newt Gingrich remained with his first wife (among other things that Newt did). The first test of leadership for May is if he will continue to support and press for the position of CEO for DeKalb to be abolished. That was his position prior. If he continues to lobby for the job that he currently holds to be done away with, he just might prove himself to be ethically capable of holding it until it is.Report

  2. Wish for MIlton County July 19, 2013 2:21 pm

    Sad to see DeKalb County circle the drain and now so close the the abyss.  Once was a prosperous, well run county.  Now total dysfunction at all levels.  Corruption everywhere.  Absolute power corrupts absoulutely!!!
    Wake up citizens of DeKalb.  Block voting is getting you nowhere!  True political discourse is needed badly. 
     Listen to other ideas!  The old political guard needs to be removed before your county goes into THE ABYSS!Report

    1. moliere July 19, 2013 3:43 pm

      Wish for MIlton County 
      It is also sad that you do not see that:
      A) Plenty of Democratic-run cities are doing just fine. This, by the way, includes Atlanta, which is adding 11,000 residents a year and will surpass 500,000 residents – an all time high – in 5 years. And that is only if current trends stay the same. It does not factor in the possibility that economic growth might accelerate, or the impact of Coca-Cola and several other large employers moving their IT operations downtown or the in-progress development of several large intown upscale apartment complexes, including renovation of the old Sears building for that purpose and several developments near the Beltline. 
      B) Plenty of GOP-run cities are not. This includes Dalton, led by the fellow who wants to give Nathan Deal a primary challenge David Pennington, who has an unemployment rate of 11.0% and under his watch was #3 in job losses of the 372 metropolitan areas in the nation. Basically, pretty much any of the GOP-run areas outside of metro Atlanta would LOVE to have DeKalb’s problems right now, because for them DeKalb would represent a significant economic improvement. And if you want to talk about decline, there it is. In prior times, before the 1980s, there was no real economic advantage in living/working in the Atlanta metro area unless you were in certain industries. But ever since the collapse of the family farms and manufacturing sectors and the post-Cold War defense cutbacks, Georgia outside of metro Atlanta has seen its economies contract for decades despite its being generally run by Republicans and conservatives. 
      C. And this is just Georgia. Outside the state, plenty of Democratic-run cities are doing fantastic. Look at all 3 major Texas cities (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio) as well as San Diego, San Francisco, Miami, Seattle, Portland etc. And then you have cities that while not exactly booming aren’t falling apart either like Philadelphia, Boston, Nashville, Denver, Jacksonville, etc. When conservatives talk about the failure of urban liberalism, they have a tendency to focus only on the urban areas that have, you know, actually failed like Detroit, Washington D.C., Newark and Chicago. (Though oddly conservatives didn’t start considering Chicago to be “failed” until Barack Obama was elected.) That most of our urban areas are prosperous, functional and growing “despite” being generally Democratically run is ignored.Report


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