From: Burell Ellis DeKalb County CEO
During these tough economic times, with record job losses, home foreclosures and rising fuel costs, it's more important than ever to stay focused on the priorities of the citizens we serve.
In virtually every community across the nation, property values have fallen due to the recession and its lingering impact. As a result, cities and counties, which are primarily funded by property taxes tied to the value of homes and businesses within their borders, have seen their revenues drastically slashed and are forced to make difficult decisions about the services they deliver and how to pay for them.
In DeKalb, our county operating budget peaked in 2008 at an all-time high of $635 million. In 2009, when I took office, we reduced that amount to $606 million (a savings to our citizens of $29 million). We made painful, but necessary decisions to make that happen.
With commercial and residential property values still in decline, our 2010 county revenues could fall as low as $550 million. That's an $85 million budget reduction over a two year period, which forces us to make even more difficult decisions about how we will continue to best serve you.
There have been news reports lately that some commissioners want to change our county government from its present dual-branch form - with checks and balances and an elected executive who is accountable directly to you - to a single-branch county commission, with no elected executive, and a hired manager who reports only to a majority of the commissioners. This is the same "county manager" system that was rejected by our citizens in 1986 when they voted to have an elected executive, with a separate legislative branch modeled after our federal government.
It has since proven to be a wise choice. DeKalb County has continually operated as one of the more progressive, efficient, and accountable governments, largely because the person charged with day-to-day management is elected by the people he or she serves and must answer directly to those very same people.
Throughout the United States, elected executive governments are among the best, such as Montgomery County, Maryland; King County, Washington; Westchester County, New York; and Essex County, New Jersey. Here in the Atlanta region, in addition to DeKalb, the best run counties tend to have vested strong full-time powers in a chair elected by the people, such as Cobb County, which is roughly the same size as DeKalb and faces similar challenges. Conversely, many county governments with hired managers and no elected executive teeter-totter on the verge of bankruptcy and dysfunction.
So, let's stay focused. This is no time to play politics by drumming up make-believe issues that are not being driven by the real concerns of our citizens. We have difficult work ahead of us and tough decisions to make; decisions that will impact your quality of life for years to come. Let's continue to make your priorities the priority of DeKalb County government.
I was elected by you to serve as your CEO. Unlike a commissioner or county manager, the CEO is elected county-wide to serve all of DeKalb. In seeking this office, I traveled the county from corner to corner, having face-to-face conversations with you in your homes and neighborhoods. I listened intently when you told me that you were tired of divisiveness and polarization. I heard you when you raised concerns about public safety, code enforcement, fiscal accountability, and neighborhood empowerment. You asked for an open and transparent county government that emphasized results, not politics. I made a promise to you that the way I campaigned would be the way I govern, and that these would be my priorities because they are your priorities.
Since my election, I have focused my attention on fulfilling your priorities: reforming our police and other public safety departments, including Recorders Court; bringing new standards of trust and accountability to DeKalb County and creating a citizen-driven Board of Transparency and Accountability; empowering our communities and holding our first ever Neighborhood Summit; breaking down the bottlenecks and cutting through the red tape that separates county departments and appointing fresh, new leadership to better serve you; meeting with our mayors and other key constituency groups to ensure that everyone has a voice; building a close partnership with the Obama Administration so that we receive our fair share of federal stimulus dollars; and, when we faced crisis flooding, promptly responding to provide our citizens with the protection and resources required. This is the type of responsive leadership you expect and deserve when you have an elected executive accountable to you.
At the December 8 Board of Commissioners meeting, one or more commissioners plan to introduce a resolution to eliminate the CEO position. Please contact your commissioners and let them know your real priorities. (For your information, I've attached a letter (below) sent by the DeKalb Grand Jurors Association.) On December 15, I will present a 2010 budget to the Board of Commissioners and to you, the citizens of DeKalb, so we can continue our conversation on setting your priorities. In the meantime, let's stay focused and not distracted by someone else's.