First, to the volunteers appointed to serve on the Interim CEO’s Operations Task Force, thank you for your time and service. As constituted the missing link to the Task Force seems to be the citizens of our communities. The Blueprint to Redefine DeKalb was launched in January 2014 as a citizens’ reform effort and perhaps our work can complement your efforts.
DeKalb County reached a ‘tipping point’ in 2013 and in 2014 matters even further deteriorated: nearly everyone now agrees that fundamental reforms are due. The attached Blueprint to Redefine DeKalb was drafted and electronically distributed in January. In February a group of citizens from across the County reached consensus on its main issues. A diverse Blueprints leadership team emerged and began focusing upon the consensus issues: Internal Auditor, Ethics, Procurement Procedures, Elections, Government Structure and HOST.
This is the Blueprint leadership team’s first Report to the Community. But first it must be noted that there has also been consensus that reform should follow some key principles:
We need comprehensive solutions as big as our problems. Marginal adjustments will not work.Governmental transparency is a must. We cannot negotiate changes so fundamental and so diverse behind closed doors. Citizens’ voices count.
We ask the Task Force to consider all of the principles contained in the Blueprint as they move forward. Here is the progress to date:
IN THE AREA OF ETHICS
The Blueprint speaks to the need for an Internal Auditor and all that continues to happen in DeKalb County reinforces the need. Many governments use this method to provide independent, technical oversight of government procedures and operations. Best practices are available through the Institute for Internal Audits and others. A white paper is being prepared to include best practices for how an internal audit function should be established with an independent oversight structure. This white paper will be presented to the Legislature in October.
Board of Ethics:
A Carl Vinson study of Ethics Commission best practices revealed that these boards should be nominated and vetted by an independent/neutral body comprised of community and business organizations. Recommendations for strengthening the Ethics Commission are being researched and will be proposed in a white paper. If legally appropriate a formal request will go to the Board of Commissioners to adopt a new process, otherwise this will be included in the October Report to the Legislature.
IN THE AREA OF OPERATIONS
Consensus was reached specifically around Procurement procedures, which are not codified and are subject to change as solely determined by the CEO. Procedures should be vetted by the Board of Commissioners and the State, standardized and codified for accountability. This will require an adjustment to the Organizational Act by the General Assembly.
IN THE AREA OF ELECTIONS
Term limit change for local election:
Many citizens believe that the power of incumbency is a major barrier to new voices participating in local government. The quality of the appointees to the Board of Education demonstrates the depth and quality of leadership available in a county of 700,000 people. Those attending the consensus meeting endorsed term-limits but it has not garnered support from elected officials. The team will request the Legislature to conduct a straw poll on term-limits.
Consensus was not reached on non-partisan elections so it is being deleted from the recommendations.
IN THE AREA OF GOVERNMENTAL STRUCTURE
Apportion all of unincorporated DeKalb into equitable boundaries and Charter Commission:
As noted, the “Genie” is out of the bottle with forming new cities, and there is no way to turn back. We all agree that people have the right to self-determination; the “problem” with cities is the way the state allows them to be formed. The current proposals for new cities and annexations have set off a panic. We should not form cities based upon our fears, but instead we should form them with an understanding of the benefits and costs for everyone.
The County must have a better understanding of the fiscal impacts upon unincorporated DeKalb of new cities and municipal annexations. The Blueprints effort does not have the resources to conduct such a study, and hopes the Operations Task Force will explore this issue. The motivation for new cities will remain particularly strong as long as corruption or the perception of corruption exists. We hope that our efforts to strengthen ethics, hire an internal auditor and alter the procurement policies will help abate corruption and begin to restore the public trust in DeKalb County.
There are people who question the current form of DeKalb government. A well-staffed Charter Commission, with strong citizen participation, dedicated to this specific issue is the preferable method to examine the options for DeKalb. However, it is premature to redefine County government when we don’t know what functions it will be performing. The issues of cityhood and annexation will require changes to County government that we can’t predict. A Charter Commission should be established after we understand the role of DeKalb County and any new cities being formed.
IN THE AREA OF INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDING
HOST Sales Tax:
HOST has been a very successful tool to reduce the burden of residential property taxes, but it fails to fund repairs and improvements to a large, aging infrastructure. The creation of new cities has further limited the viability of HOST as a source of capital funding. The larger community needs to be more informed about HOST in order to accomplish needed revisions. If the Legislature will not change the HOST formulas, as they have already done on two occasions, the Leadership Team will be recommending a long-term, two–year comprehensive approach to changing this law with public education as a focus. AGAIN, the existing cloud of corruption needs to be lifted first to restore our trust in the County government.
The Blueprints Leadership team will continue to meet this summer to research best practices and to draft recommendations to the Board of Commissioners and the DeKalb Delegation to the General Assembly. We will also be working to inform the citizens of DeKalb County. We are happy to collaborate with you in any way possible and hope that you will consider our efforts complementary to yours.
The Blueprints to Redefine DeKalb Leadership Team:
Website coming soon.
July 1, 2014