A lawsuit filed July 3 against three county officials over a land displacement permit calls into question the DeKalb CEO’s hiring of an interim planning director.
Bobby Buckler and Anthony McCullar filed the lawsuit “because they won’t let us put a cul-de-sac on our property,” Buckler said July 13.
The lawsuit names DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, interim planning director Gary Cornell, and associate planning director Hari Karikaran as defendants.
Buckler and McCullar are asking a judge to compel Cornell and Karikaran “to issue the land disturbance permit to which [the plaintiffs] are legally entitled following the decision of the DeKalb County Planning Commission approving the plaintiff’s sketch plat.”
The plaintiffs contend that the planning department’s approval of their sketch plat gives them the authority to subdivide their 4.62 acres on Clifton Road into seven residential lots.
The lots will range from 0.4 acres to 0.6 acres, Buckler said.
The lawsuit asks a judge to make a “declaration that defendant Gary Cornell does not lawfully occupy the office of director of the department of planning and sustainability because the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners has neither confirmed his appointment, nor recognized his authority to act as director because defendant Ellis wrongfully delegated his authority to the department’s director to a private party, namely the Druid Hills Civic Association.”
“Ellis effected this illegal delegation by refusing to nominate anyone for the director position so he could fill it on an ‘interim’ basis with Cornell who he knew would never be confirmed by the board,” the lawsuit states.
In December 2011, Ellis announced that he had hired Cornell as an interim planning director and the next month, the board decided not to vote on Cornell’s appointment by Ellis.
In one board meeting, some board members expressed concern that Ellis had hired an interim planning director when interim positions are usually filled by an existing employee.
“I believe this action is illegal,” said Commissioner Lee May at the time.
“Ellis is charged by law with the nomination of all county department directors,” the lawsuit states. “Those appointments must then be confirmed by the board before the nominees can be appointed and actually serve in the position. Ellis has intentionally circumvented the nomination process.”
The lawsuit by Buckler and McCullar also seeks “a declaration that all of defendant Cornell’s official actions since his illegal appointment are void since he was without legal authority to act in an official capacity.”
Buckler said he is not a pawn in a larger conflict between the Board of Commissioners and Ellis.
“I am the game,” Buckler said. “Cornell is there because of me. Period.”
Buckler said it was because of his conflict with the county that DeKalb’s former planning director was fired and Cornell put in place.
Cornell has used his position “to effectively veto the decision” of the Planning Commission to allow the plaintiff to subdivide the property, the lawsuit states.
Cornell’s actions “are intended to further the interests of private citizens acting through the [Druid Hills Civic Association], which has used its political power to…prevent development within the Druid Hills community.”
Burke Brennan, the county’s chief communications director, said the county does not comment on pending litigation.
“We conduct ourselves in complete accordance with the law,” Brennan said about the allegations in the lawsuit.