Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May told Dunwoody residents that plans are in place to begin addressing many of the troubled county’s issues.
“I try to look at what we do through a business lens,” May said. “Getting up each and every day to see what we can do to fix our county once and for all.”
May was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to fill the position temporarily after CEO Burrell Ellis was removed from office for allegedly extorting county vendors for campaign contributions.
As part of a series of meetings with constituents around the county, May held a town hall meeting at Dunwoody United Methodist Church on Sept. 5.
He said DeKalb’s issues have been overshadowing the great things the county does every day. “We are a great county. I truly believe that. But we haven’t been operating great all the time,” May said.
May said his priority for the 2014 budget will be improving public safety. He said DeKalb County has had trouble keeping up with the high level of attrition in the Police and Fire and Rescue departments.
“It’s been an unusually high year for people leaving those two departments,” May said.
Using the fire department as an example, May said there are currently three officers on each fire truck. However, the optimal staffing level is four firemen.
There county has authorized 783 fire and rescue positions and 676 have funding. However, only 600 are currently filled. “We have a 183-position gap,” May said.
May said he would like for the county to address the “back door issue” of public safety officers leaving and begin aggressive hiring to replace them.
“I don’t want it to be said we don’t have the money to do it,” May said. “We’ve got to make some tough decisions to put the money in place to do just that.”
May also said it’s “an indictment” of DeKalb County that they so often have to hire top officials from outside the county.
“We have to do better to develop leadership,” May said. “We want to keep our leadership here, keep them happy … and give them the resources they need.”
Many of Dunwoody’s elected officials attended the gathering and commended May for his performance so far in his role as the county’s top administrator.
Former councilman Danny Ross asked if May would consider giving Dunwoody the $7 million designated for Brook Run Park from a bond referendum.
“We need that $7 million desperately to make it what it can be,” Ross said. “If you would get us out of the court and release that $7 million to Dunwoody so we can get the things done we need in Brook Run Park.”
May said he would like for the city and county to have an open dialogue about the issue.
“I’m definitely open to sit down and have a conversation to what that looks like,” May said. “Protracted litigation is something we’ve mastered staying in as long as we can.”
May said the county’s initial dealings with the new cities have been messy.
“Our fight has always been about money versus what’s best for the citizens of DeKalb County,” he said.
May also talked about his desire to do away with the CEO position entirely. “Our form of government was intended to be checks and balances 30 years ago. But it hasn’t rang true,” May said.
He said though Dunwoody no longer depends on DeKalb for all of its services, May said it’s important for the two jurisdictions to maintain a strong relationship.
“A strong DeKalb means a strong Dunwoody. I can’t say that enough,” May said.