Kathryn Rice speaks in favor of creating the city of Greenhaven during a press conference at the State Capitol last month. TIA MITCHELL/TIA.MITCHELL@AJC.COM

DeKalb bills to abolish CEO and create Greenhaven city fall short in Ga. House

Two bills affecting DeKalb County — one eliminating the CEO form of government and one that created the path for the city of Greenhaven — failed to get a vote on the House floor Wednesday.

That means both measures are likely dead for the 2018 session.

Proponents of House Bill 644 said they were surprised to learn Friday that the bill sponsor, Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, was no longer in support.

“We found out a new person is going to present our bill and the map is going to change,” said Kathryn Rice, who has led the Greenhaven effort for four years.

Mitchell said he backed off the bill because fellow members of the DeKalb delegation were not on board.

Supporters say the cityhood bill is a fairness issue and that south DeKalb residents should get the chance to vote on forming Greenhaven. Opponents have argued the new city is a bad idea because of its large footprint with 300,000 people and relatively small amount of commercial property.

Although a committee approved the measure largely along party lines with Republicans in favor, it did not come up for a floor vote. Rice said she and others will huddle soon to determine next steps. They aren’t ready to throw in the towel.

“We don’t tolerate suppression of the vote from anybody,” she said.

Ed Williams, chairman of Citizens Against Cityhood in DeKalb, was happy with the outcome. He believes there should be a moratorium on creating cities until new procedures are in place.

“We hope the Georgia General Assembly reforms the cityhood process before it allows any other cityhood or annexation bills to be passed,” Williams said in a news release after the vote. “We hope DeKalb County will have completed its study on how cities impact its services and budget before any other cities are allowed to be created.”

The DeKalb Board of Commissioners and CEO Mike Thurmond discussed a special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) in 2017. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM File photo
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A second bill that would have dissolved the county CEO position also failed to get a floor vote. House Bill 961 was introduced and approved in committee before DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond and most members of the Board of Commissioners knew it existed. Rep. Meagan Hanson, R-Brookhaven, said she sponsored the legislation after becoming convinced the unique CEO government structure was causing many of the county’s issues.

In addition to facing criticism for being fast-tracked, the bill was panned by those who said DeKalb voters should determine whether the CEO position should be eliminated.

For two years, county leaders have asked members of the DeKalb delegation to create a Charter Review Commission that would come up with recommendations about how the government can operate more effectively. So far, the delegation has not acted.

Hanson said Thursday that she plans to file a resolution showing support for creating a study committee.

Commissioner Jeff Rader, presiding officer of the board, envisions a panel of private citizens and elected officials. If their suggestions include doing away with an elected CEO, he would put it on the ballot as early as 2019, Rader said. Thurmond, who was critical of Hanson’s bill, said he would support the formation of a committee.

“I will work with the DeKalb County Commissioners and the legislative delegation to establish a Charter Review Commission that includes a comprehensive review of our county government,” Thurmond said in a statement. “This will include robust public involvement and rely ultimately on the decision of DeKalb citizens.”

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