DeKalb swim team allowed to compete in state meet

67-member DeKalb team can take part in meet by 4-3 board vote

The DeKalb Swim League will be allowed to compete in the state swim meet this weekend in Carrollton, state officials decided late Tuesday.

Board members for the Georgia Recreation and Parks Association voted 4-3 to allow the team back into the water, despite repeated failures by DeKalb County Parks and Recreation officials to comply with state rules for registering the team.

“The past five days have seen a tremendous amount of dialogue between GRPA committees and leadership to come to this ruling,” board president James Dodson said in an e-mail sent out to media and parents Tuesday evening.

The 67 youth on the team were back in the water earlier Tuesday, practicing in anticipation that they would get to attend the meet that begins this Friday.

“You kind of feel like you were on a roller coaster,” team coach and parent of two swimmers Mandi Bell said of the team’s response to up-and-down news.

“The kids are really thrilled. All of this seems like a gift that they are able to go.”

DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis spent Monday and Tuesday lobbying the GRPA leadership to reconsider their position to keep the DeKalb team out of the meet.

Ellis apparently struck a chord at GRPA headquarters late Monday evening when he fired DeKalb’s parks and recreation director, whose office was responsible for entering athletic teams into competition.

“They were influenced that we took ... swift and immediate action,” he said Tuesday evening about the GRPA’s change of heart.

“While our parks and recreation department dropped the ball on this one, the children should not be penalized.”

Director Marilyn Drew said she would fight the dismissal through civil servant protections, but Ellis said her position as a department head was not merit-protected.

Ellis also placed Al Sheppard, the acting deputy director of recreation services, on paid administrative leave. Ellis said he would immediately search for a new director of parks and recreation.

The move came after a weekend of outcry from parents of the swim league youth, who learned last week they were never entered in the annual GRPA competition. This apparently is the second time in recent months that the department failed to register a county team for a tournament, Ellis noted.

DeKalb will be required to pay a $200 late fee and additional sanctions set by the GRPA as a condition of the team’s participation, county officials said.

Ellis acknowledged that Drew, the second department head he’s fired since taking office in January, was being closely watched.

“We knew where there were weaknesses” in county administration, he said. “We’re going to expect all of our department heads and employees to perform to task.”

Ellis in February fired former DeKalb Police chief Terrell Bolton, who like Drew, was hired by former CEO Vernon Jones.

Drew, an African American who’s been director seven years, had been under fire in the past for the alleged wrongful firing of white parks employees.

She currently is named as a co-defendant with Jones in a pending law suit alleging she and other black county leaders discriminated against white managers in what one former employee called an attempt to create a “darker administration” in the parks department.

Because of inaction on the part of the DeKalb park’s department — including missed registration deadlines, unattended meetings and an unpaid fine — the team wouldn’t be able to participate in the swim competition, GRPA officials said.

Parents rallied together over the weekend to get the GRPA to change its decision.

Tom Brinks, whose 12-year-old daughter Jesse will be in the competition, said after parks officials botched registration eligibility for the swim team, he was encouraged by Ellis’ action on Monday.

“As long as the individuals were around, there was no credibility,” Brinks said.

--Staff writer Katie Leslie contributed to this report.