May, Thurmond get high marks for steadying county

Jennifer Ffrench-Parker | 12/27/2013, 6 a.m.
Interim CEO Lee May has received high marks for his willingness to meet with residents all over the county on a range of topics. Photo by Ken Watts

— After a year of harsh headlines about corruption, flight of top leaders, and other turmoil in county government and school system, community leaders and residents are crediting interim CEO Lee May, new School Superintendent Michael Thurmond, and the appointed DeKalb School Board with helping to calm the waters.

But most everyone is anxious to put behind them the school district’s accreditation probation; the raids on the home and offices of DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis and his indictment on 15 counts of corruption; the removal of six elected DeKalb School Board members, the indictments of police officers, doctors and business leaders; and jail sentences for the school district’s former chief operating officer Pat Reid and former school Superintendent Crawford Lewis.

Gil Turman, president of the South DeKalb Neighborhoods Coalition, said that at one point it felt like the county was falling apart.

“It was just a mess,” he remembered this week. “It was very hurtful.”

At one point in July, both county government and the Board of Education were being operated by an interim CEO; an interim school superintendent; and an appointed school board.

But now residents say they can see light at the end of the tunnel and they give thumbs-up to May, the District 5 county commissioner who became interim CEO because he was presiding officer of the Board of Commissioners when Ellis was removed from office. The county organization act provides for the presiding officer to fill in if something happens to the CEO.

When May took the office, he promised he would make his time count. Many say he is making good on that promise.

David George, a 25-year county resident and president of the newly formed South DeKalb Improvement Association, remembers having reservations about May’s capabilities.

“I felt that he was not up to the task because of his youth and inexperience,” George recalled Dec. 24. “I felt he did not have enough experience in running a county.”

Now George says May has overcome that perception with his willingness to meet and listen to residents.

“I am feeling a bit more confident of his leadership,” he said. “I feel that he is trying to reach out and fix the problems in South DeKalb. I feel that he is trying to understand what the citizens want. I feel that he is stepping up to the plate.”

Turman said he also had misgivings about May when he took the helm.

“He was one of the newest commissioners and the youngest one,” he said. “I wondered whether his inexperience would allow him to win the respect of his colleagues and people across the county.”

For Turman, May has dispelled those reservations.

“I think he is doing the things that a true leader would and getting the input from the people and he is going all over the county,” Turman said. “He is not meeting in the living room or basement of a handful of people. He is meeting with all the people.”

Turman likes the fact that May brought the CEO office back to the Maloof building, in the same building as the BOC.