Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May told a packed room of residents Tuesday night that he takes responsibility for an expensive corruption investigation that resulted in a direct attack on his leadership.
The crowd of more than 250 people included supporters — some of whom waved signs reading “Stay Strong May” and “We believe in Lee” — and opponents who doubted whether he was up to the job.
Both sides called on May to explain spending so much money on the $850,000 investigation that ended with a report that he said was wasteful.
“My motives were pure. I wanted to get down to what we were doing in our day-to-day operations,” May told residents at the Lou Walker Senior Center in Lithonia. “I got something different than that. … I’m still upset.”
One citizen, Audrey Hinds, said May needs to be held accountable for the investigation that resulted in calls for his resignation.
“Do you take responsibility for your leadership?” Hinds asked. “You called them in” to conduct the investigation.
May said he has to live with his decision to hire the investigators, Mike Bowers and Richard Hyde, and he asked residents to read their report and assess its findings. He said he’ll do the same and work to improve services to residents.
The meeting was the first opportunity for residents to confront May since an investigative report on DeKalb corruption called for him to resign was released Sept. 30.
May acknowledged that he’s spent “quiet time” pondering his political future, and he has previously said he won’t step down unless he’s asked to by the taxpayers of the county. May, who was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal as CEO more than two years ago, will face an election next year.
Lloyd Alaman said he still supports May.
“To me this whole ordeal is nothing more than a witch hunt,” Alaman said. “We stand behind you, and please do not resign.”
The corruption report faulted May and other elected officials for “a stunning lack of leadership” that destroyed public confidence in the integrity of the county’s government.
The report took aim at May for suspicions about county-paid repairs to his flooded house, expenses he made on a business trip to Hawaii and money he borrowed from a subordinate.
May told residents Tuesday that the repairs were the county’s responsibility, he paid for personal travel expenses, and his borrowing of small amounts wasn’t inappropriate.
“I need you to hear it from me: I’ve never taken any money. I’ve never stolen any money,” May said.
But some residents called on May to answer for problems beyond those cited in the corruption report.
They asked May what he was going to do about crime, litter and a lack of enough jobs.
“I’ve seen this county go from wonderful to worse than awful,” said Sandy Morris. “Why should I stay here? I have to fight to get services. I want to see some action or I’m gone.”
Charles Peagler told May he made a mistake when he spent so much of taxpayers’ money on the investigation when residents, especially in South DeKalb, believe those funds could have been better spent on improving their communities.
“That money could have been used to clean up the county,” Peagler told May. “You have to take care of your home first.”
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