Senate bill would make DeKalb CEO nonpartisan

A bill (SB-95) introduced by Sen. Fran Millar (R-40) would make the DeKalb County CEO a nonpartisan position.

DeKalb CEO candidates are typically Democrats running in a predominantly Democratic county; Republicans make up approximately 30 percent of the population, Millar said.

“By doing this election on a nonpartisan basis, what it does is gives [Republicans] a voice,” Millar told the Georgia Senate ethics committee Feb. 11.

Millar said the bill would help “bring the county together.”

“It means whoever is elected, which will probably be a Democrat, would have to spend some time in the northern part of the county,” Millar said. “If he’s in a race and there’s 30 percent of the people up there, he has to spend some time up there. We haven’t seen that in quite some time.”

Millar said the bill would only affect DeKalb County.

During the Senate ethics committee meeting, Sen. Hardie Davis (D-22) asked Millar, “If it only affects DeKalb, why not handle this with local legislation?”

Davis said measures that only affect one county are usually handled through the local legislative delegation “as opposed to taking local political fights and bringing them before the full body.”

Millar said he presented the legislation as a general bill instead of letting the county delegation vote on it partly because of politics.

“There’s a lot of people on the county commission that would like to run for the CEO position,” Millar said. “Some of the people don’t want to get involved within the delegation. I want to give some people some cover.”

Davis questioned the motive for making the CEO position nonpartisan.

“In communities that have burgeoning minority demographics, there’s a move afoot to make those elections in local communities nonpartisan,” Davis said. “The reason for that is …to dilute the strength of minority voters.”

Millar said his legislation would allow more people to participate in the process.

“It’s not just one particular group that’ll be voting,” Millar said. “Republicans [are] not allowed to vote in these particular races. By making it nonpartisan, they’ll be allowed to vote. I don’t think that dilutes minorities. What it does is brings people together. So it’s not a Black-White situation.”

Millar said he sponsored the bill to take a step at fixing problems with the county’s form of government, which has been the source of “continual battles between our CEOs [and Board of Commissioners] ever since we created the position.”

“It hasn’t been pretty for the past 20 years between our CEO and commissioners. It’s been divisive to say the least,” Millar said.

“I don’t believe that the votes are here in the house and senate to look at changing our form of government anytime soon,” Millar said. “Since we cannot talk about doing that, then I felt that this gave us an opportunity for people to at least be involved in the election of the CEO.”

Commissioner Lee May said legislators should focus on changing the county’s form of government.

“I’ve been on the record as saying I think our form of government ought to change,” May said. “That form of government breeds conflict.”

Sen. Bill Jackson (R-24) said, “It looks like we’re trying to baby-sit a situation that needs to be handled back home.”

The bill was tabled for study.

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  1. Andrew Cauthen says:

    I received this comment from CEO Burrell Ellis after the story was published:

    “The author of Senate Bill 95 has not communicated with my office regarding his intention for introducing the legislation. I see no logic behind changing the election for Chief Executive Officer to non-partisan, yet allowing for County Commission races to remain partisan. At the municipal, state and federal level, the election for executive and legislative office are either wholly non-partisan or partisan, not a combination of the two. Such a dramatic change could lead to voter confusion and apathy in DeKalb County.”

    Burrell Ellis
    DeKalb County CEO

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