Everyday Lee May wakes up with one mission on his mind: Restoring the faith of DeKalb County residents. A year ago, May hit the ground running after Gov. Nathan Deal appointed him to the county’s top seat as DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis stepped down to face a corruption court case. DeKalb was not only reeling from that case, but a racketeering case involving former DeKalb School Superintendent Crawford Lewis.
“That was an interesting moment and a unique experience for myself and the county. We were in a position as a county that we were never in before. The anxiety, the uncertainty about the future leadership of DeKalb really was at stake. People were wondering what was going to happen next,” said May. “Most people enter into a role like this with a transitional period of two to three months. I had a two-hour transitional period. Operating a government with a billion dollar budget, you have to keep an open dialogue with the thousands of employees here, keep a good relationship with commissioners and always think about what you can do next to successfully govern the county.”
May, 38, is the youngest person to lead DeKalb, Georgia’s third-largest county with more than 700,000 residents. May served as DeKalb’s District 5 commissioner before he was tapped to serve as Interim CEO on July 17, 2013.
May discussed the challenges and accomplishments he has made in the last year during a July 30luncheon hosted by the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce at the DeKalb History Center. WSB-TV news anchor Jovita Moore served as moderator, asking the questions.
May said he has promoted progress through collaboration with the local school district, responsive public safety, community beautification initiatives, economic development and enhanced government efficiency. He said one of the things he has done to get the county on track is seek outside help. He took a special grand jury report filed against the county to a group of outside experts to analyze the allegations. May said the board gave him 72 recommendations for improvement and he is implanting many of the suggestions.
“It keeps me up most nights, figuring out how we can rebuild the confidence in our county government. You hear the stories, the P-card story that will never die, and you see the ethics reports in the media, so we’ve had to take some real tangible steps to move us in the right direction,” said May.
DeKalb’s Board of Commissioners have come under scrutiny recently for purchases made with their county credit cards (purchasing or P cards). Commissioner Elaine Boyer issued a public apology in March after an investigative report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that Boyer and her chief of staff, Bob Lunsten, spent more than $11,000 between 2012 and 2013 for restaurant meals using their P cards. Since that time, all of DeKalb’s commissioners have come under fire and face ethics allegations for use of their P cards.
“Everyday we are working. We’ve updated the P card regulations, which hadn’t been done in more than 20 years. We began annual audits and we’ve mandated training for people wanting to use privileges such as p-cards and we’ve improved our ethics board with more members and a bigger budget. We then worked with them to improve ethics polices such as meals and travel,” said May. “We’re doing all these things to make people feel confident in the work we are doing. We will continue to seek outside help to offer guidance on these issues. We must regain the trust and support of every DeKalb resident.”