Lee May at the 2016 State of the County. (Photo Dyana Bagby)
DeKalb County Interim CEO Lee May at the 2016 State of the County. (Photo Dyana Bagby)

DeKalb Interim CEO Lee May decided to give his last State of the County by not standing behind a podium and delivering a speech but rather sitting down with WSB-TV reporter Erin Coleman in a Q&A.

During the discussion, May said the county is set to test a pilot program in the fall for middle school students by partnering with faith-based communities and nonprofits and to be paid for by private and corporate funds.

“Middle school students, at that age, are at the most risk I would say,” May said. “When I was in the 8th grade I was a hellion. My parents didn’t know what to do with me.”

Providing students a place to spend time in a positive environment after school to receive academic help and mentorship adds value to our youth, he said.

May also said to remember the number 4-1-7.

“That’s the number of miles needing repaving in DeKalb. We’re behind 417 miles,” he said.

And he is urging DeKalb citizens to vote in favor of the 1 percentage point Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum on Nov. 8 that would raise the sales tax rate to 8 percent.

“It’s not sexy,” he said. “But after you vote for the president, remember to go all the way to the bottom [of the ballot],” to vote on the SPLOST referendum.

Approving the SPLOST would pay for the entire 417 miles of backlogged roads needing to be repaved, he said, as well as cover costs of heavy infrastructure improvements and more.

Local municipalities in DeKalb, including Dunwoody and Brookhaven, would receive some of the SPLOST money based on 2010 Census data. According to the county, the SPLOST is expected to raise $544 million for capital projects in its first five years. Cities would receive approximately $152 million.

May took office in July 2013 after being appointed to the post by Gov. Nathan Deal after Deal suspended then indicted CEO Burrell Ellis. Ellis was later sentenced to 18 months in prison for perjury and extortion. He was released last month after serving eight months.

In March 2015, May commissioned former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers to conduct an investigation of the county and Bowers came back with a scathing report alleging DeKalb County was “rotten to the core.”

May said if had to do it over again, yes, he would still commission an outside investigation.

“Would I choose the same individuals? No,” he said.

WSB-TV anchor Erin Coleman and DeKalb Interim CEO Lee May at the 2016 State of the County. (Photo Dyana Bagby)

At the time, numerous agencies from the FBI to the GBI, were investigating the county – but the investigations were being secretly, as they should, May said. But the county needed to have its own third-party investigation, May said.

“The county needed a real robust investigation into what was going on … to help us in the day-to-day operations … and to deal with this head on,” he said. “We went through a rough and big storm and got through it.

Beautifying DeKalb and maintaining a high quality of life for residents is also key to sustaining a strong economically viable county, May said. He announced that 50 new employees are being hired with the sole job of picking up trash in public right of ways as part of the Keep DeKalb Beautiful movement.

May stressed his desire for a “downtown DeKalb” area at Memorial and I-285. “That [location] has a real opportunity for robust development in DeKalb; it can transform the landscape of DeKalb,” he said. He did not give specific details.

May announced last month he was not seeking to run for a full term as DeKelb CEO and to instead pursue a career as minister. He recently wrote a column for Reporter Newspapers saying the county should do away with the CEO system of government.

When asked about his legacy, May said he hopes the county can be remembered for thriving during a particularly difficult time in its history.

The county has gained a level of stability the citizens want and need, May said, and he hopes people remember this time as a time the county was thinking forward, to addressing infrastructure, its finances and extending MARTA.

“[T]hat we, not me, built a strong foundation for the county during a tumultuous season,” he said.

May’s State of the County discussion with Coleman and for the business community took place Thursday afternoon at the Thalia N. Carlos Hellenic Community Center. Another State of the County for the public is set for 7 p.m. at the Porter Sanford III Performing Arts Center in Decatur and can be streamed live by clicking here.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.