DeKalb Commissioner Nancy Jester, center, held three public meetings last month of the county’s sewer problems, including capacity limitations affecting several businesses. Seated from left at the meeting Aug. 29, 2016: Watershed Director Scott Towler, Senior Assistant County Attorney Matt Welch, Deputy County Attorney Vivane Ernstes, Chief Operating Officer Zach Williams, Jester, Commissioner Jeff Rader and Watershed Deputy Director Margaret Tanner. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM
Photo: Mark Niesse
Photo: Mark Niesse

DeKalb sewer problems lead to power struggle

Two DeKalb commissioners are in a power dispute over who should oversee the county’s efforts to fix its sewer problems.

It’s an unglamorous but important role after five developers were told by the county government last month that aging sewer lines can’t handle the additional load.

Commissioner Nancy Jester accused Commissioner Larry Johnson of “petty politics” when he took control of the issue from her Tuesday. Johnson, the commission’s presiding officer, said he will handle sewer problems from now on in his Planning and Economic Development Committee.

The dispute arose as commissioners are trying to understand the scope of the county’s sewer limitations and fix them before businesses’ plans are delayed. Committee meetings are where commissioners study issues and recommend policies.

“I wanted to make sure we address the economic development part so businesses don’t get hindered,” Johnson said. “We were not, I felt, moving forward.”

But Jester said that after she helped expose the sewer capacity problems during three public meetings last month, she’s being pushed to the sidelines by Johnson. He had named her the “point person” on sewer issues this summer after the Public Works Committee was suspended following the resignation of its chairman, Commissioner Stan Watson, in March.

“He has now decided to continue to cheat the citizens of DeKalb County because we still don’t have a Public Works Committee,” Jester said. “It shows what kind of leadership we have right now.”

Johnson said if his actions were politically motivated, he never would have trusted Jester to handle public works issues in the first place.

“It wasn’t political. It was about making sure we move the county forward,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to get to the crux of the matter.”

Jester said she believes she’s being punished for starting uncomfortable conversations about the county’s deficiencies, including its management of public works and finance committees. She said the committees haven’t been holding government officials accountable.

“If someone was minding the store and asking the right questions, our hair would have already been on fire,” she said.

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