Incoming DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond seeks to heal divisions

Newly elected DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond is outlining a vision for the county’s future that emphasizes unity, optimism and competence.

Thurmond, who won 80 percent of the vote Nov. 8, says residents sent a clear message that they want change in DeKalb's government.

"The voters of DeKalb County are united in their desire to see a different focus, different vision and different direction," Thurmond said in an interview.

Thurmond’s broad goal is to find common ground across the county to heal its long-standing divisions.

“We’re all in this together … Not north not south, not black not white, not rich not poor,” Thurmond said in a Nov. 10 speech to the Council for Quality Growth.

Thurmond will take office in January after DeKalb’s government has been troubled by years of corruption investigations, political infighting and criminal convictions. Suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis was found guilty last year of attempted extortion and perjury, and Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May has led the county since July 2013.

He'll have to confront major problems including 400 miles of pothole-filled roads, inexplicably steep water bills, high crime rates in some areas and a spill-prone sewage system.

But besides fixing DeKalb’s issues, Thurmond said he wants to build on its strengths, including MARTA, parks and colleges and universities.

“Our challenge is to transform and create and embrace a more realistic narrative about who we are and what our hopes are,” Thurmond said in last week’s speech. “Often times, we’ve completely ignored the assets and only focused on the liabilities. We will never solve the problems in DeKalb unless we clearly understand the assets.”

Thurmond hasn’t announced new initiatives or staffing changes that he will put in place. For now, he’s talking with residents and preparing for the county’s leadership transition.

“The key right now is just to listen,” Thurmond said in the interview. “This is not a one-man job. It will take each and every person, not just the employees but the citizens of the county — all of us — working together.”