“In the past we’ve had a vibrant business community with no real voice,” he said. “And that’s really why we wanted to start the chamber … to help drive economic activity to our area.”
Last week, the chamber hosted DeKalb Interim CEO Lee May for its monthly breakfast meeting, where May discussed winning the public’s trust in the county government, as well as ways to drive economic development to the county.
During his speech to an audience of chamber members and local elected officials such as new school board member Stan Jester, Dunwoody Mayor Mike Davis and Chamblee City Councilmembers Brian Mock and Tom Hogan, May said the cities and county have to get on one accord.
“We are really trying to restore the partnership between our cities and DeKalb County government,” he said. “We are family and we have to act like that. Regardless of what perspective you have, regardless of what political party … we just have to sit down and have a conversation.”
May mentioned the issues regarding controversies of purchasing cards, and said while he is a proponent of allowing those individual cases to be adjudicated, having the focus on the controversy prevents the county from moving forward in the right direction.
“The confidence that you all have is at a record low … I have issues with it,” he said. “I’m concerned about it. And the thing that keeps me awake at night is how do we project the confidence in the work that we are doing as a county? How do we let people know that we will no longer stand for corruption or unethical practices that are not operating in a very transparent way? How do we do that?”
Regarding ethics, May mentioned the board of ethics — which has the power to remove a county elected official from office — was underfunded for several years, which made it unable to have a quorum and kept its members from effectively doing the work they were appointed to do.
“They had a budget of $12,000 to conduct their business,” said May. “So immediately we invested in our ethics board. We increased their budget for $118,000 at the beginning of the year and since then we’ve added another $97,000 to allow them to conduct the business in which they were appointed to do.”
A full-time chief integrity officer position was added as an employee of the ethics board. May said an investigator and administrative assistant were also added. The district attorney’s office also received $100,000 to construct a public integrity unit to make sure county employees and public officials abide by the law.
“We need to make sure we are conducting business in a very open and transparent way,” said May. “So we are doing some very tangible things to address where we are.”
In terms of funding these new initiatives, he said the county has a budget well over $1.2 billion, with a reserve of $91 million, which May said is a good financial position for the county.
The county has also partnered with the development authority to create an economic development agency. May said his goal is to make DeKalb one of the most competitive in the state when it comes to gaining new business.