DeKalb CEO vetoes position cuts

DeKalb County might hire more workers despite officials’ pledge to trim the bloated government staff.

On Tuesday, CEO Burrell Ellis asked the commission to refill 235 positions vacated by county employees who left in May as part of an early retirement program. That’s on top of the about 200 positions already refilled in public safety and another 100 in the court system.

Ellis’ request came along with a veto of the commission’s June 22 vote to cut hundreds of positions instead of refilling them.

Ellis insists the proposed position refills are already included in the commission-approved budget and there is no need for additional revenue.

The commission took no action Tuesday and is slated to vote again next week. The CEO has the authority to veto any commission vote. However, the commission can override the CEO’s veto with five votes.

The veto is the latest battle between the CEO and commissioners in this year’s budget.

To help meet a decline in revenue, commissioners slashed more than $50 million from this year’s budget and implemented an early retirement program. The commission also mandated the CEO trim staff after a study by Georgia State University said DeKalb’s government is bloated and recommended 909 positions be cut.

On June 22, the commission rejected a tax increase proposed by the CEO and opted to slash positions. This included all of the positions vacated by the early retirees, except sworn public safety officers, court staff, department heads and workers in the tax assessor’s office.

“They don’t have the budget to fill all those positions,” Commissioner Jeff Rader said Tuesday.

But it’s difficult to run the county without those workers, Ellis argues. Those 235 positions include 50 in watershed management, 41 in sanitation and 38 in finance.

“By abolishing critical positions such as 911 operators, code enforcement and animal control officers, crime scene technicians, and water maintenance and sanitation employees, an environment is unnecessarily created where life safety and service delivery could be hampered,” Ellis wrote to commissioners.

However, there are other positions that the CEO deemed as critical that may not be so essential, commissioners say. Records show the CEO also wants an office assistant in the cooperative extension department who is responsible for registering residents for 4-H camps and horticulture classes, two supply clerks in the police department, and four directors in finance.

The county has been operating for more than a month without some of those positions, and no major service interruptions have been reported. Officials argue that’s because some employees are working overtime to cover the duties of several employees.

“Sanitation, watershed and fleet maintenance are areas I’m really concerned about. The volume of work is going to catch up with them real quickly,” Chief Operating Officer Keith Barker told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re trying to keep the wheels running now, but I’m concerned that over time there will be problems.”

Rader, who has pushed for a government reorganization, said that he has seen the wait time for building permits and inspections increase because of staff shortages.

Barker argues that the county budget was based on about 600 workers taking the early retirement. More than 800 signed up, which is too much for the government to absorb, he said.

“We want to have as little interruption to services as we can," Ellis told the AJC.

In addition to arguing the positions are necessary, the CEO also maintains that the commission overstepped its boundaries when it slashed staff.

The DeKalb Organizational Act, which is similar to a charter, says the CEO has the power to "change, consolidate or abolish" any department, but is subject to the approval of the commission. Ellis says the commission was exercising his powers when it abolished those jobs. The commissioners argue that they have final approval on all changes.