DeKalb commissioners approve budget, but clash over ‘disrespect’

DeKalb County commissioners Larry Johnson (left) and Ted Terry clashed during a Tuesday morning meeting. SCREENSHOTS

Combined ShapeCaption
DeKalb County commissioners Larry Johnson (left) and Ted Terry clashed during a Tuesday morning meeting. SCREENSHOTS

County CEO calls commissioner ‘insulting’

DeKalb leaders approved Tuesday a $1.5 billion county budget with a focus on recruiting and retention for public safety agencies.

District 6 Commissioner Ted Terry cast the lone “no” vote on the budget — part of a lengthy, acrimonious meeting in which he, fellow commissioners and county CEO Michael Thurmond swapped allegations of bullying and disrespect.

“You are the most insulting and disrespectful person I’ve ever had to engage with,” Thurmond said to Terry at one point during the virtual meeting.

ExploreProposed DeKalb budget includes additional $14.1M for public safety

As approved, the county’s 2022 budget includes a 4% cost of living increase for all non-sworn county employees, as well as a 2% bump for retirees.

The county administration, though, has most heavily touted the roughly $14.1 million it says will help it hire and keep more public safety personnel. That sum includes money to fund 72 new police officer positions, hire a search firm to help with recruiting, and give most police and fire personnel a 6.25% raise.

Existing police officers and fire personnel would also have their county pension match doubled and receive $3,000 retention bonuses for the second straight year. New police hires who are already POST-certified would qualify for $5,000 bonuses.

Terry decried the short time period for commissioners to consider the budget and the lack of an evening public meeting to increase input from residents.

“I’m not here for my own personal health. I don’t like being attacked or told that I have a problem,” Terry said. “I’m looking for some mutual respect.”

Thurmond took exception to the tone and tenor of Terry’s questions.

“I’ve heard you talk all morning about being disrespected,” Thurmond said, “when in fact you disrespect people on a daily basis.”

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Terry, the well-known former mayor of Clarkston, represents a “super district” that covers the western half of the county. During his roughly 14 months on the commission, he has put forth a number of initiatives that have been stymied and hasn’t been shy about criticizing what he sees as the county’s tedious way of getting things done.

That has often put him in a position to clash with the administration and longer-tenured commission members.

Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting, a proposal of Terry’s to create a new subcommittee focused on housing issues came up on the agenda.

Commissioner Larry Johnson, who chairs the existing committee with purview over housing matters, had previously accused Terry of using “Proud Boy tactics” to ram the subcommittee through without consulting him.

Tuesday’s discussion followed a similarly contentious path.

Terry said he was just trying to get the new subcommittee on an agenda to have a discussion about it, then implied Johnson was stalling things because he was too busy with his outside duties as chairman of the National Association of Counties.

“Quite frankly, I don’t even care about decorum and protocol if it means getting something done,” Terry said. “No one cares what we think we stand for, they want to know what we did.”

Johnson then accused Terry of “microaggressions” and “daily verbal slights” and said the county was already awaiting an update to a housing study that was completed in 2018.

“The disrespect has to stop,” Johnson said. “It can’t be tolerated at any level. And it’s just an affront to what we’re doing.”

Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson accused Terry of wanting to be a “mini-CEO.”

“If you don’t stay in your lane, then you’re in someone else’s lane,” she said. “And you’re presuming that the person that’s in charge is incompetent.”

A vote on the subcommittee was postponed for 90 days.


HIGHLIGHTS OF DEKALB’S 2022 BUDGET

  • $14.1 million for public safety initiatives, including 6.25% raises for most public safety personnel; $5,000 hiring and an $3,000 retention bonuses for police and fire; and an increase in pension matches.
  • 4% cost-of-living increase for non-sworn county employees.
  • 2% cost-of-living increases for county retirees.
  • $6.7 million for various technological upgrades
  • $5.6 million for a new cell at the Seminole Road Landfill
  • $2.25 million for new rooftop cameras and cell locks at the county jail