by: WSBTV.com web staff Updated:ATLANTA —
Gov. Nathan Deal has announced DeKalb County commission presiding officer Lee May will replace current county CEO Burrell Ellis.
Monday, a panel had recommended suspending Ellis, who faces allegations that he shook down vendors for campaign contributions.
Ellis faces a 15-count felony indictment. The indictment said he assigned staff members to create vendor lists, which he allegedly used to solicit contributions. Ellis then threatened to withhold county business from companies that didn't contribute, according to the indictment.
Deal announced Tuesday he has suspended Ellis with pay in light of the investigation against him.
"The responsibility to suspend and replace elected officials is one that I do not relish, but one I will not shy away from. The laws of Georgia give the governor the authority to appoint an interim official, but with my appointment, I will respect the spirit of the local statute which calls for the commission chairman to succeed the CEO should the office come open," Deal said.
May was sworn-in as interim CEO of DeKalb County at an already scheduled commission meeting Tuesday night.
“I’m humbled by the opportunity to act in this position,” May told Channel 2’s Amy Napier Viteri. “This is a temporary position and I will operate in its full capacity to move this county forward.”
May is currently the presiding officer of the DeKalb County Commission. May is the youngest person in the history of DeKalb County government to be elected to the board of commissioners.
May has previously served as the deputy presiding officer for four years on the board. May said he will work hard to keep the county on the right path.
“(The) number one priority is to calm the minds of our over 6,000 employees. A lot of them are not knowing what’s going on. They don’t have any clear answers,” May said. “What I would ask our citizens of DeKalb County is to stay strong, be confident that we are working together. You have elected us to work on your behalf and that’s what we’re going to do.”
DeKalb County spokesman Jeff Dickerson said he hadn't talked to Ellis yet about the governor's announcement, but said he expects everyone will respect the governor's decision.
"I think that the commission, and I'm certain that the CEO respects this decision, and we're all going to abide. And I seriously doubt that you would see any challenges from DeKalb County," Dickerson said. " He (Ellis) wants to devote all of his efforts to ensuring that these various charges are vigorously defended and returning to office once having done so."
When asked about Ellis' performance after the indictment was handed down last month, Dickerson said nothing changed.
"He's gone to work every day, he's been focused. Now he gets to shift his focus from going to work and serving the citizens of DeKalb County every day, to fighting these charges and doing it with every ounce of his being between now and the time he's acquitted," Dickerson said.
Ellis could not be reached for comment Tuesday but his attorney J. Tom Morgan said Ellis would devote his time to fighting the charges of theft, extortion and conspiracy.
“He looks forward to getting his job back,” Morgan said.