DEKALB CO., Ga. -- DeKalb County's newly-appointed, interim Chief Executive Officer, Lee May, promised Tuesday evening to be a pro-active CEO, not simply a caretaker, whilethe now-suspended CEO, Burrell Ellis, fights a multi-count felony indictment.
"Some people are congratulating me, some are giving me condolences," May said to reporters. "I'm just honored to be in this position, and with God's strength, we're going to move this county forward."
May, the DeKalb County Commission Chair,stood with other commissioners in the Maloof Auditorium in Decatur andtook the oath of office as DeKalb County's interim CEO about an hour after Governor Deal announced that he was suspending Ellis and appointing May to the post.
"Today, I am entering an executive order that accepts the recommendations from the review commission," Deal told reporters in his office at the Capitol, "and I hereby suspend Mr. Ellis from office immediately.... I am further, pursuant to the provisions of Georgia law, appointing District Five Commissioner Mr. Lee N. May to fill the temporary vacancy in the office of CEO of DeKalb County, pending the final disposition of the cases against Mr. Ellis, or until the expiration of that term of office."
Deal said he appointed May, in part, because DeKalb County has "a local statute that would seem to indicate that there was a succession in place that would have made him [the Commission Chair] assume the position of the CEO in the event of a vacancy. I did not consider that that local statute preempted the authority of the governor, but in keeping with the spirit of that local statute, I felt that it was appropriate under these circumstances that Mr. May be appointed."
It was onMonday whena special, three-person panel made a unanimous recommendation that the governor suspend Ellis from office.
Ellis is suspended with pay -- he will continue to receive his $150,000 a year salary unless he is convicted.
Ellis' suspension comes a month after DeKalb County DA Robert James announced a 15-count extortion indictment against Ellis.
Ellis said on Monday he expects to be acquitted and get his CEO job back.
"I've done nothing wrong," Ellis told reporters then. "Should the governor make a decision to suspend, I will devote myself 100 percent towards defending myself against these unsubstantiated and I would say unprecedented charges."
On Tuesday, just after the governor announced that he'd suspended Ellis, Ellis's spokesman, Jeff Dickerson, spoke to reporters in the lobby of the governor's office, pointing out that Ellis has been indicted, not convicted, and is presumed innocent.
"He respects the governor's decision," Dickerson said, "he wants to devote all of his efforts to ensuring that these spurious charges are vigorously defended, and returning to office once having done so.... He will be able to continue to serve once he's vindicated."
"I am clear that this is a temporary position," May said after he took the oath of office.
May said he talked with every county commissioner Tuesday afternoon, and he said he wants the citizens of DeKalb to know that he and they would cooperate with each other.
"I have some great ideas," he said, "now is the time to make it happen."
May will stay on as interim CEO through the rest of Ellis's term, which runs through 2016 -- unless Ellis is acquitted, and is acquitted before his term ends.