Ploy lets DeKalb CEO exceed budget by $237,000

At least four people on DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis’ staff are paid from other department budgets – essentially allowing Ellis to exceed his budget by more than $237,000.

Those salaries – for an administrative assistant and three different levels of managers – come from Watershed, economic development and the planning department, according to county records released Tuesday.

Those jobs, along with a spokesman position, make up 26 percent of the salary funding for the CEO’s staff. And that’s without adding another $132,000 from the county Police department for two officers who serve as Ellis’ drivers and security at events.

“To me, this is half a million dollar problem that needs a solution,” Commissioner Elaine Boyer said. “They work for the CEO. They need to be moved to the CEO’s budget.”

Boyer sought the salary information after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report earlier this month that showed Ellis had paid the $125,000 salary of a new spokeswoman with money from the parks office.

The practice of hiring positions for the CEO’s office out of other department funds pre-dates Ellis’ election in 2008.

But Boyer said she heard from residents who were fuming that the county was spending parks money after slashing that department’s budget nearly in half, blaming the down economy.

Hakim Hilliard, Ellis’ new chief of staff, said he made the decision late last year to hire Jill Strickland as the spokeswoman with park money. But he also pledged to move her position to the CEO’s office, which was done Tuesday afternoon.

It will be up to Chief Operating Officer Zachary Williams to figure out how to move the other workers to the CEO’s budget and still keep spending within the $1.9 million set aside for that office in 2013.

Williams said he will return with a plan within 60 days that moves Gordon Burkette, a policy analyst who has led the administration’s efforts on issues ranging from animal services to water services; Bettye Davis, who heads Ellis’ Office of Neighborhood Empowerment; Christopher Hayward, a project manager helping with the county’s efforts to overhaul its permitting system; and Trumondia Williams, an administrative assistant to Hilliard.

If moved to the CEO’s budget, the four will join 20 other employees who work under Ellis, with a total salary budget of $1.4 million. It was unclear Tuesday if the two police officers will be shifted to the CEO’s budget as well.

Zachary Williams said he plans to develop a new policy to put an end to the practice of funding outside the CEO’s office. He also hopes to the county can changes its budget so that programs are more specifically funded and explained in department budgets.

“We too don’t like waking up and seeing things in the paper,” Williams said. “We intend to clean that up.”

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