A divided DeKalb County Commission deadlocked again Tuesday on confirming a temporary commissioner for 140,000 residents in the southeastern part of the county who have gone without representation for nearly a year and a half.
The seat has been vacant since Gov. Nathan Deal in July 2013 appointed Lee May, who previously represented the area, to serve as the county’s interim CEO while CEO Burrell Ellis is suspended as he faces criminal charges.
Newly elected Commissioner Nancy Jester failed to break the stalemate, which has lasted for four months. She and two other commissioners opposing George Turner’s nomination called on May to resign his commission seat and trigger a special election.
“We do need a resignation and a special election. That’s the conclusion I’m coming to at this point. That’s how I got here,” said Jester, who was elected Dec. 2 to replace Elaine Boyer, who resigned in August and pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges.
Commissioners supporting Turner’s appointment accused their opponents of playing games to preserve their political power. May nominated Turner after a panel of three citizens reviewed 20 applicants.
“We’re being held hostage,” said Commissioner Stan Watson. “We’re at peace now, but we’re going to be at war after we take this vote.”
The vote was 3-2 in favor of confirming Turner, a member of a DeKalb community council that reviews zoning proposals. Commissioner Jeff Rader, who opposed Turner’s nomination, abstained from voting to prevent May from casting a tie-breaking vote. Four votes are required for the commission to take action.
“This is about power, trying to control this board and playing with the lives of the people of District 5,” Sutton said.
If May resigned his seat on the commission, he would remain as the county’s interim CEO at least until the resolution of Ellis’ retrial, which is scheduled to begin June 1. Ellis is accused of shaking down county contractors for campaign contributions, and a mistrial was declared in October after a jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict.
But May’s problem with resigning is that he would be out of a job if Ellis were found not guilty or the charges against him were dropped. Then Ellis would resume his elected role as the county’s leader.
During public comments, several residents urged the commission to move forward.
“I know we do some things in DeKalb dysfunctionally, but I’d like to get this right,” said Charles Peagler. “Let’s not play politics with DeKalb County. Mr. Turner is the chosen pick. Let’s vote him in.”
Commissioners Larry Johnson, Sutton and Watson supported Turner’s nomination, while Commissioners Gannon, Jester and Rader opposed it.