Key department head leaving DeKalb County

Reginald Wells led DeKalb watershed management for more than three years

DeKalb’s director of watershed management — an important department that oversees the county’s water and sewer systems — is leaving.

Reginald Wells joined DeKalb watershed for nearly six years and has led the department since early 2018. Friday is his last day.

His departure comes at a crucial time, as the county prepares to lift a years-long ban on residential water disconnections and awaits approval of a new legal agreement that will guide more than $1 billion in much-needed sewer repairs.

“Director Wells played a very integral role in helping the county address the underlying causes of its water billing issues and he worked hard to bring stability and order to the watershed department,” the county said in a statement emailed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Director Wells helped the county get the water-sewer capital improvement projects back on track. His management and wealth of knowledge will be missed and we wish him much success in his future endeavors.”

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Those future endeavors are believed to include a return to the city of Atlanta, where Wells worked prior to joining DeKalb’s watershed team.

Asked about plans for finding Wells’ replacement and if a national search would be involved, county officials said only that David Hayes — a 26-year veteran of the department — had been named interim director.

Hayes, a former U.S. Marine Corps engineer, started as a treatment plant manager and has been deputy watershed director since 2019.

Wells was appointed acting director of watershed management in March 2018, after predecessor Scott Towler resigned with a scathing letter accusing county leadership of encouraging him to “violate the law and participate in unlawful activities in the operation of DWM.”

County officials have denied Towler’s claims, calling him a “disgruntled former employee,” and in March 2020 paid out $40,000 to settle a whistleblower lawsuit he’d filed. Towler also faced an internal investigation prior to his resignation, accused of collecting a monthly vehicle allowance for about a year while also using a county car. He later agreed to repay the roughly $5,000 he’d collected.

Wells was named the permanent watershed director in Jan. 2019.

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At the same time, DeKalb hired Maria Houser as its first-ever director of consent decree and environmental compliance. Houser, an attorney and civil engineer, is tasked with big-picture matters related to the county’s sewer system and the federal agreement that mandates repairs.

The role of directing day-to-day efforts, however, remains one of the most critical jobs in DeKalb County government.

“I’ve really enjoyed serving in DeKalb,” Wells said during a recent county commission meeting, “and I know that only the best is in the future.”