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District 5 residents seek County Commission representation

Jennifer Ffrench-Parker | 1/24/2014, 6:34 a.m.
Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton (left) and resident Gina Mangham tell legislators about the lack of full representation for District 5 when Commissioner Lee May was appointed interim CEO.

After six months without representation on the DeKalb Board of Commissioners, residents of District 5 have called on Gov. Nathan Deal and the DeKalb Delegation for relief.

The district lost full representation on the board on July 16, 2013, when Commissioner Lee May was appointed interim CEO by Deal.

May’s departure from the board leaves it with six voting commissioners instead of seven.

Gina Mangham, a 20-year resident of the district, told the delegation at a Jan. 22 meeting at the Maloof Auditorium that District 5 is unrepresented.

“Lee May cannot vote for District 5,” she said. “He is now the CEO and I understand the interim situation, but if in fact an interim situation, then we must have an interim commissioner for District 5.”

Each resident in the county also is represented by a super district commissioner. With May’s departure from the board, the 145,000 District 5 residents now only have Super District 7 Commissioner Stan Watson, who represents half of the county.

Mangham asked the senators and state representatives at the meeting to look into the district’s plight to see how its residents can be represented.

May is serving as interim CEO because CEO Burrell Ellis has been indicted on 14 counts of extortion, theft, coercion, bribery and perjury and is awaiting trial.

“No one knows what the outcome is going to be,” Mangham said, “but in the meantime, life doesn’t stop for the rest of our citizens. The goal should be, not so much what we do legally, or whether there is a special election, or whether there is an appointment, we need to find to find a way that is legal, viable and makes sense to make sure that the citizens of District 5 are represented on the commission, so we can move forward in the best way possible.”

Sen. Fran Millar asked the board’s interim presiding officer, Sharon Barnes Sutton, if the county has received a legal opinion on the status of the District 5 seat.

“Yes, there have been many legal opinions,” she said. “But as you go down the scenarios, there isn’t law to support any of those requests. So at this point we are waiting for an answer. We have reached out to several different legal bodies to give us an answer.”

Pressed by Millar to be specific, Barnes Sutton said they had counsel from the county’s attorneys and have reached out to several law firms, other elected officials and the state Attorney General’s Office.

“When you start looking at the scenarios, there isn’t law to support any of the remedies,” Barnes Sutton said. “And it’s all based on the type of vacancies that is there.”

She said the county’s organization act addresses vacancies but not a suspension and there was not an answer from the attorney general indicating that he had the ability to do anything about it.

“So this is a case of first impression for everyone in the state,” asked Sen. Ronald Ramsey.

Mangham, who is an attorney, said the better question is, Is there law to support a district not being represented on the commission?