Election brings full representation to DeKalb

The election of Mereda Davis Johnson to the DeKalb Commission not only restores representation to a long-neglected area but also shifts the balance of power in a divided county.

Johnson, an attorney who is married to U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., won a runoff Tuesday against retired MARTA manager George Turner.

She will represent 144,000 people in southeast DeKalb, which hasn’t had a district representative since Lee May became the county’s interim CEO two years ago.

The election brings the DeKalb Commission to a full seven-member panel, ending a split on the board that resulted in tied votes and stalled decision-making. Johnson will also give political influence to residents in the Lithonia and Stonecrest areas who say they need economic growth and road repairs.

“I’m not beholden to anyone except for my constituents,” she said Wednesday. “I plan on being their biggest cheerleader and lobbyist.”

Several voters said they supported Johnson because they hope she’ll govern in the same way as her husband, who represented the same district on the county commission before he was elected to Congress in 2006.

But Johnson, who became DeKalb’s first black female judge when she served in magistrate court in the 1980s, said she’s independent.

“Some may have voted for me because of Hank, but many voted for me because they know who I am,” she said. “We both share some of the same values, and that is treating people right, respecting each other, doing the right thing.”

Johnson said she wants to be known as the “pothole commissioner” who will help get streets repaired, and she plans to use her position to attract businesses to the area.

“We were without our own commissioner for a long time. That person better make a difference,” said Bettye Beatty-Wilson after voting for Johnson at Salem Middle School on Tuesday.

Another voter, Yvonne Walker, said she believes Johnson will be as strong a leader as her husband.

“Her political background and association with her husband makes her a better candidate than a grassroots activist,” said Walker after casting a ballot for Johnson over Turner.

Southeast DeKalb has lacked a commissioner since July 2013, when Gov. Nathan Deal promoted May to replace suspended CEO Burrell Ellis, who was found guilty of attempted extortion and perjury this month.

A prolonged dispute over filling the seat resulted in repeated stalemates by the commission during debates over who should become the district’s temporary commissioner. May broke the impasse when he resigned his commission seat in May, clearing the way for voters to decide in a special election.

The commission’s six members have been divided on several issues. They haven’t moved forward for months on choosing a presiding officer, appointing board members to the DeKalb Development Authority and building a new animal shelter.

Commissioner Stan Watson, who represents a superdistrict covering east DeKalb, said Johnson’s election will “provide a lot of stability.”

Commissioner Larry Johnson, the board’s presiding officer who represents southwest DeKalb, said he hopes his newly elected colleague will work to bring business development to the area.

“We want that member here so residents can get their voice heard,” he said.