Reform DeKalb government

Elected officials, pundits and several grand juries can agree on one thing: DeKalb County’s form of government is broken and has been since Manuel Maloof left office in 1992. Some would say even before then. This is not meant to impugn the character of elected officials who have held the CEO office over the years. But unless our form of government changes, the amount of time spent, whether full time or part time, is irrelevant. Even the best people cannot exact good government in a flawed system.

In 2004, my good friend and fellow commissioner, Dr. William C. “Bill” Brown, wrote a piece entitled, “Democratize the Structure of the Government of DeKalb County.” Years later, we are still having the same issues because of the CEO’s absolute power under DeKalb’s Organizational Act. Many of our citizens may not know that DeKalb is the only county in Georgia with an elected CEO. Nowhere in Georgia does any other county government invest as much power in a single office with broad authority for managing daily operations.

At one time, DeKalb was structured similar to other suburban counties. This was changed in a grand experiment in 1985. Almost all power was vested in the CEO’s office. The CEO was anticipated to be Manuel Maloof, who was adept and knowledgeable about government operations. No one really understood how much power would be instilled, unchecked, in one person. This miscalculation has had disastrous long-term consequences for DeKalb that include a bloated government, operational inefficiencies, high taxes and infighting.

Brown described DeKalb’s governance as “a dictator/czarist model.” Under the current system, commissioners, who bear the brunt of complaints, have no control over the budget or daily operations. Yet residents expect their locally elected representatives to be advocates on their behalf.

Brown’s metaphor was as accurate then as it is now. It should be pointed out that Brown originally supported the CEO government system. In 2003, there was another series of grand jury investigations into the workings of DeKalb. They reached the same conclusion that the recent grand jury did: DeKalb’s government is broken and needs to be fixed. The question we should ask is, how would the citizens of DeKalb be best served?

We are currently in the throes of the exact scenario that Brown predicted almost a decade ago: “Remember and heed the following words of Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the most distinguished theologians of the 20th century: ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ Therefore, at some point in the future, there will likely be a CEO who will prove this adage to be correct.”

If you are a DeKalb citizen, this is a call to action to appeal to your House or Senate representative for reformation of DeKalb’s government. The time for change is now.

Elaine Boyer is the District 1 DeKalb County Commissioner.

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