A House committee created after a failed attempt to eliminate DeKalb County’s unique CEO form of government has concluded its work with a report that avoids taking a position on the controversy.
The House Study Committee on County Governance by law had until Dec. 1 to submit its recommendations to the General Assembly. But the committee’s work appeared to be affected by the Election Day defeat of its chairwoman, Rep. Meagan Hanson. She was the impetus of the committee after trying unsuccessfully to prevent DeKalb from having an elected chief executive, a position currently held by Michael Thurmond.
A meeting scheduled for mid-November was cancelled, and the final report was submitted without members discussing recommendations publicly.
Hanson, R-Brookhaven, did not respond to multiple emails asking for comment about the report. Before it was released, she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that recommendations would be based on items where members reached consensus.
The study committee’s mission was to analyze the various models of governance among Georgia’s 159 counties and identify whether a more streamlined system could improve residents’ perceptions about how their counties are run.
Sixty-two Georgia counties are overseen by multi-member commissions who hire a county manager to handle day-to-day duties. Another 62 commissions have hired county administrators who serve in an advisory role with limited control of budgets and department heads.
Twenty-six counties have a multi-member commission that handles all managerial duties, and eight counties have a sole-member commission with one person doing all the work.
Only DeKalb has a chief executive elected countywide who manages daily operations, leaving the county commission to make policy decisions.
Hanson fast-tracked a bill during the 2018 legislative session that would have eliminated DeKalb’s CEO position, but it failed to gain support and died. She agreed instead to sponsor legislation creating the study committee.
The committee, which included lawmakers from across the state, met once a month in August, September and October. Its report, dated Nov. 13, includes criticism of DeKalb policies allowing the CEO to veto county commission actions while retaining nearly absolute control over employees.
“Such limited authority of the commission undermines any political balance between the CEO and commission in this governance structure,” the report said.
The committee also spent a large portion of one meeting discussing issues with DeKalb’s Department of Watershed Management and how they contributed to unexplainably high water bills and water main breaks and outages in Metro Atlanta.
Although the study committee recommended changes in how water utilities are operated, members chose not to weigh in on eliminating DeKalb’s CEO form of government.
Among those listed in the report:
- Voters should determine how counties are operated, but balance of power should be an important factor.
- The General Assembly should clarify succession laws in sole-commissioner counties so that mid-term vacancies are filled by the governor until a special election is held.
- Operate water and wastewater utilities as an independent authority to cut down on political influence.
- Create a “Water Consumer Bill of Rights” that outlines a correction process with water utilities fail to address major issues.
- Establish a statewide financial threshold that, when reached, requires local governments to carry out a formal bidding process.
The House of Representatives is not required to act on any of these recommendations.
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