Brookhaven, GA – Rounding out a “Town Hall Tour” that stopped at various locations around the County over the last few weeks, DeKalb County Interim CEO, Lee May, spoke to a crowd of 65+ attendees Tuesday night in the Rec. room at Briarwood Park.
May provided some insight on what he and the Board of Commissioners have been up to and offered a preview of some of the things that he will be addressing moving forward. “I’m in a very unique position right now. Nobody in the history of DeKalb County, Since 1822, is in the position that I am. I’m both a Commissioner and I’m also acting in the role of Interim CEO.” He said that in this interim period, he and the Commissioners are going to do as much good as they can. “We’re going to do as many things as we can dynamically to shift us in the right direction, where at the end of the day, you all feel proud, that you feel confident in saying that DeKalb County is my home and you all are going around the state bragging about who we are and what we do.”
May explained how the County is going to be adding Police Officers and Fire Department personnel to ensure the citizens are well protected and to increase their effectiveness. He said that they are looking to add over 100 fire fighters, for example, which will help reach the goal of having four fire fighters on each vehicle.
On economic development, May said that the County is trying to become more competitive. Over the last few decades the County has been largely reactive. One thing the County is doing is considering more of an “outside the box” approach – looking into the benefits of partnering with the private sector and business sector to strengthen the County’s economic development position – a non-traditional, more collaborative model for growth.
May fielded questions and comments from the audience; several on cell phone towers at or near school sites, Peachtree DeKalb Charter air service, and the goings on within the DeKalb County School Board.
Resident Ronnie Mayer brought up issues with 911 stating that he was on hold for nine minutes during a recent call. “The 911 system needs to be improved. I don’t know if we need to hire more people or what.” Mayer also said that he has heard that there is not a great deal of professionalism in the 911 office and suggested that perhaps there be cameras installed to watch over the 911 operations center employees in an effort to ensure that people were as attentive to the incoming calls as they should be. May said that he and the police chief need to do an assessment to see if they have the staffing levels right and the infrastructure – such as the number of phone lines for example – needs to be investigated further.
Resident Zoe Reichmann, whose property abuts Margaret Harris School for the disabled, presented May with her concerns regarding cell towers on and very near school grounds. She explained that they have been chasing the person whom which they need to interface with to have their concerns addressed for four years. She urged May, that with his new position as Interim CEO, as she understands it, May has the power to issue a moratorium for new cell tower construction. She urged May to stand up and help put this issue to rest.
May responded, “As a Commissioner, we all signed a letter that the cell companies felt like they didn’t have to go through the zoning process in order to get their cell towers. All other private property in our County has to go through the zoning process to get a special land use permit for cell towers. The letter that we signed said that cell phone companies should have to go through that process.” He also said that he was not completely certain if he could issue a moratorium, but that if he could, and were to issue a moratorium, the County would likely be sued. Going through the zoning process via the same zoning process as other private property owners – Community Council >>> Planning and Zoning >>> to the BOC for a Vote, will likely stimulate suits as well.
Resident David George, raised the issue to May regarding the DeKalb County form of Government. “You are in the unique position. You’ve seen the office of CEO from both sides of the door. Do you have an opinion candidly on whether the DeKalb County system of government still works or could we use some changes?” May replied, “I believe that we can use some changes, changes in our form of government has to take place. The public dialog has been whether to change or not to change.”
May said that there are opinions on both sides of the subject. There are people who want the change and people who do not, and May sees the dialog being stuck right there. “The dialog is not really moving beyond that to say, if it changes what does it change to? That is just as important in this conversation. And, if it remains the same, what do we need to fix within our current structure.”
Recalling a time prior to the CEO form of government, back in the Maloof era, May said there was an argument that the Chairman had too much power, and they went down the road to change the form of government. He also said that they didn’t necessarily fully consider all of the future issues that could arise from that decision. “There were just alot of grey areas and loopholes frankly in what it was changed to.”
May, a proponent of doing away with the CEO form of government, has been outspoken in suggesting that County operations would be more efficient should the County change the current structure. May also – nearly in the same breath – cautions that moving too swiftly without thorough consideration of potential issues, could be a mistake too.
Resident Melissa Chevalier, questioned May on the operation of an airline out of Peachtree-Dekalb Airport. She said that over the years she has lived in the area, the noise level has increased because of the size of the jets has increased. Mario Evans, Assistant Airport Director of DeKalb Peachtree Airport, explained that the charter service that is going out of PDK can only travel four times per week out of the airport and that the planes only carry nine people. Chevalier said that her concern is that this could open the door for more of this type of activity in the future. Williams explained that it wouldn’t.
Brookhaven’s District 3 Councilman, Bates Mattison urged the May to consider strategies where the cities and the County can work together to improve the schools. May said that one of the biggest things that can be done is to have proactive conversations and discuss issues – then address those issues proactively. “In my seven years on the commission, we have had exactly one joint meeting between the Board of Commissioners and the DeKalb County Board of Education. That says alot,” said May. He went on to say that in order to have the best chance of improvement in the future, the County needs to have more collaboration with the Board. Although the Board of Commissioners does not control the school board, it is vital that they have synergy.
District 2 City Councilman, Jim Eyre, asked May to comment on the infrastructure in DeKalb County, such as water, sewer, and any improvements that may be on the horizon. May explained that the County has a $1.3 billion Water and Sewer capital improvement program. “We’re going to be spending around $600 million of that fixing, expanding and rehabilitating our water system and around $700 million fixing, improving and rehab’ing our sewer system. We have an aging system, over 50 years old,” said May. He went on to say that although $1.3 billion sounds like a huge number, the City of Atlanta had a $4 billion consent decree.
District 1 Councilwoman, Rebecca Chase -Williams, told May how much she welcomes the message that he brought with him to the Town Hall. “I really look forward to what I think is a new era of harmony. It’s probably true that Brookhaven came into being with a lot of contention with DeKalb County, and even as we were forming our city and going through the transitions, we were having a little tug of war back and forth with DeKalb. I will tell you that there was a noticeable difference the day that you came in to office – things got resolved, agreements got signed – and I really appreciate that.” Williams went on to say that the City and the County need to keep the productive dialog going and keep the doors open to working together in the future.