After overriding a veto by DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, the Board of Commissioners has set in motion plans to move $75,000 from his budget to fund a public information officer position for the board.
But commissioners are leaving the door open for some internal communications between commissioners and Ellis.
“We need to sit down… and work this out,” said Commissioner Elaine Boyer. “I think there’s opportunity to clear this up.”
Commissioners proposed getting their own public information officer after Ellis’ administration denied requests to cover the board’s February budget process.
The board voted to use the funds for its own public information officer who would broadcast via the internet all public meetings of the Board of Commissioners and its various committees.
Burke Brennan, the county’s chief communications officer, said the administration will “continue to work with the Board of Commissioners and try to address their needs and balance them with the county’s needs.
“As the legislation stands now we stand to lose $75,000 out of the DCTV budget, which is going to be very detrimental to our operations,” Brennan said.
The board’s plan will go into effect in July unless commissioners decide to leave DCTV’s budget in place.
“The question is whether there will be four people on the Board of Commissioners that will introduce, support and pass a piece of legislation supporting DCTV between now and July,” Brennan said.
Commissioner Lee May said the board intent was not to be “divisive.”
“It was meant to offer more transparency to the general public about the real work that this board does during the committee process. What the public generally sees is when we take our official vote in our official Board of Commissioners’ meetings. The real questions, the real answers and the real debate…occur during our committee meetings.”
Commissioners voted 6-1 take the money from the CEO’s budget to force a conversation between board members and Ellis “about what our real needs are,” May said.
“We took that step, which I admit was a drastic step, in order to get this done,” May said. “Hopefully we can sit down and come up with a consensus that allows our meetings to be aired. That was the ultimate point.”
At the first of the year, the commissioners’ finance, auditing and budget committee, chaired by May, requested that the committee’s meetings about the 2012 budget be televised on DCTV, which is shown on Comcast channel 23.
DCTV’s response was that covering the additional meetings would adversely affect its onging operations, according to an internal memo.
When commissioners could not get additional airtime on DCTV, Boyer spent less than $400 to set up Board of Commissioners TV, an online site with streaming and on-demand video of commissioners’ committee meetings.
Ellis’ April 30 veto states that moving the funds would also take away a $75,000 reimbursement from the county’s special tax district unincorporated fund.
“At a time when the county faces a number of potential adverse financial impacts…it would be irresponsible to burden the tax funds with an additional $75,000 expenditure,” Ellis stated in a memo to commissioners.
Ellis also said that “the operation of broadcast, digital and cable television services by the Board of Commissioners violates” the county’s organizational act.
“If there are some resources that the board needs in order to implement a public information officer function we may be able to support [it], but we’ve got to be able to have a discussion first and foremost about where the funds could potentially come from and how we do that without impacting our tax funds and our revenue picture,” Ellis told The Champion.
“What I understand is that the board has now passed this ordinance, made it effective July 1 so that they can have an opportunity to sit with the chief communications officer and have some direction over how he operates [DeKalb County TV] and communications,” Ellis said.
This is against the county’s organizational act, he said.
Ellis said commissioners should have approached him about their communications needs before voting to take the money.
“They didn’t talk to me about it,” Ellis said. “To my knowledge, I’ve never had a commissioner come to me and say, ‘We’d like to put our committee meetings on television.’ I’ve never had a request for that.”
May agreed that there was not much face-to-face talk between him and Ellis.
“The CEO and I rarely talk,” May said. “I feel like if I’m talking to his staff, his department heads, his executive assistants, then I’m talking to the CEO.”
Ellis said DCTV has already implemented some of the programming requested by commissioners, including Commissioner’s Corner, which highlights the work of commissioners.
“Probably, at the end of the day, we’re going to do a lot of what the board has asked us to do,” Ellis said.