Ten days from the July 31 primary, Ellis has yet to sit down at the same table with his opponents to discuss the county, his record and plans for his second term in front of interested voters.
He missed the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce/Leadership DeKalb’s July 12 forum; on July 16, he missed a forum at Berean Christian Church; and on July 17, he skipped a forum co-sponsored by CrossRoadsNews and Ray of Hope Christian Church.
Ellis said the forums were held on dates on which he had previously scheduled appointments, including an Association of County Executives conference in Pittsburgh, where he was being sworn in as president and receiving an award for his One DeKalb programs and $5,000 for scholarships for DeKalb students.
He blamed forum organizers for setting dates without first checking his schedule and said that he has had dozens of town hall meetings with constituents.
“You can’t send me a date and then say this is when we are going to have a forum,” he said. “Call me and say, ‘We have 17 days to go, when are you available.’ I am the CEO. You don’t schedule it. That is a setup. You have to ask me what date is available.”
Ellis said that he will put his record up against his opponents.
“I wanna hear their record,” he said. “I want to hear their background. I want to hear their level of experience. I want to hear what their vision is for this county. I want to hear what they plan to do.”
Ellis said that he has made sure that the citizens know his background, experience, where he has come from, and how he intends to move the county forward.
“We have done 25 town hall meetings this year alone, over 60 since I have been CEO,” he said on July 14. “We did 12 in the month of June and two in the month of July so far. Plus I have been present at major events.”
Observers say the CEO has not attended candidate forums because he doesn’t want to be give his opponents legitimacy or doesn’t think the forums are a priority.
He is not the first incumbent to miss forums with his challengers. In 2010, former CEO Vernon Jones, who was a candidate for the 4th Congressional District, famously addressed questions to an empty chair when incumbent Hank Johnson did not show up at a forum.
DeKalb NAACP President John Evans said Ellis will not be attending the forum the organization is hosting for CEO, Board of Commissioners and School Board candidates during its July 21 monthly breakfast meeting.
“It’s not a priority for him to be where his opponents are,” Evans said. “Some incumbents feel they don’t have to come to give publicity to their opponents.”
When Ellis missed the DeKalb Chamber’s forum co-hosted by five other organizations, Leonardo McClarty, the chamber’s president, said he got an earful from some board members.
“There were some folks who were definitely looking forward to seeing him,” he said.
McClarty said Ellis told them he had a conflict and that they tried to work with him on the time of his arrival at the forum.
“We tried to work with him on it,” he said. “Could he come early, could he come late. Nothing worked.”
McClarty said they couldn’t change the date because the conference room was booked and that they were working with schedules of five other organizations and the 12 other candidates for the CEO and commission races.
Edmondson, who has attended five CEO forums, said Ellis has been a no-show at all of them.
“It’s an insult and a total [lack of] respect to citizens who want answers about the county and their CEO is not there,’ he said. “I feel that a campaign strategy should not be to not show up to give credibility to your opponent. The people deserve to see him.”
Adams, who attended three of the four CEO forums and will be at the NAACP’s event, said he doesn’t understand Ellis’ absence.
“I think that it’s very sad that he doesn’t consider the citizens well enough to show up,” he said. “He is not focused on the electorate. If he was, he would come out and defend what he has done.”
This week, Will Sellers, his campaign manager, said that with his tight schedule, there are not many opportunities left to arrange a forum that Ellis can attend before election day.
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